MILLIONS goes back to fund local amenities argues Joss Blamire.
New figures released this month show the amount of money flowing into Scotland’s communities from onshore wind farm developments has risen by almost 75 per cent in two years.
More than £8.8 million is now provided every 12 months from wind farms as far apart as Orkney and Dumfriesshire, the Isle of Lewis and the Scottish Borders.
That money – which would otherwise never have been available – is being spent in a huge number of remarkably diverse ways.
Recent grants have been used to build a new community hall in Daviot, Aberdeenshire, send a dance school from West Lothian to the European Street Dance Championships in Germany and to buy a thermal imaging camera so residents in Sutherland can see where their homes need extra insulation.
The details come from the constantly-updated Local Energy Scotland Community Renewables Register, which is available online.
Payments are made voluntarily by developers from projects of all scales, from just 500kW to the largest entry at 539MW, ScottishPower Renewables’ Whitelee wind farm near Glasgow.
Guidelines produced by Scottish Renewables and the Scottish Government suggest £5,000 per MW as a guideline figure, meaning an average onshore wind turbine is worth around £11,000 a year to those living nearby.
Chris Morris, of Local Energy Scotland, said: “The register shows not just the financial value of community benefit funds, providing sustainable income to Scottish communities every year, but also shows what can be achieved with the revenue. We strongly encourage developers and communities alike to visit the register and browse the information available.”
The new £8.8 million-a-year figure shows quite clearly the huge contribution green energy projects are making to communities across the length and breadth of Scotland.
A perfect example, in South Ayrshire, has helped dozens of youngsters get outdoors, as well as laying the foundations for a tourist boom.
The not-for-profit Adventure Centre for Education, based in Girvan, has spent more than £15,000 of funds from two local renewables projects on ten new paddleboards and 20 new mountain bikes for adults and children, as well investing towards their “Girls ’R’ Ace” scheme, set up in 2011 to encourage more young women to participate in adventure sports and harness the benefits of the outdoors.
Project manager Chris Saunders said: “We have fantastic local resources in Carrick, but very few people taking advantage of them. This money has enabled us to grow our business and help local people enjoy the area they live in, and also start to cater for tourists.
“The value of community benefit money shouldn’t be underestimated – this is money which has been generated locally and is being spent locally, to help local people.”
The community benefit fund money provided to Adventure Centre for Education comes from ScottishPower Renewables’ Mark Hill and Arecleoch wind farms, just a dozen miles from Girvan.
The village of Carsphairn, in Dumfries and Galloway, has benefitted from community benefit funds too, and it’s easy for locals to spot where the cash has been spent. The village hall has been largely upgraded, including new floors and a new heating system and insulation to improve energy efficiency. Carsphairn Parish Church has welcomed repair and redecoration and funding for social events. And the lifeblood of any small village – the local shop – was saved from potential closure by the intervention of local people, who used community benefit money to cover the legal fees for a contract to take on the business, install a new boiler and re-slate the roof.
It’s worth remembering, however, that community benefit payments are just a part of the overall picture. Onshore wind in Scotland is delivering clean energy and jobs and investment, as well as helping meet our 2020 climate change targets. The sector employs almost 3,400 people in Scotland, and latest figures show that it invested more than £700m in the country in 2014.
Community benefit payments, which can last for up to 20 years, are just part of that picture – but they’re a part which is increasingly important to some of Scotland’s most remote areas.
• Joss Blamire is senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables www.scottishrenewables.com