Figures published by Scottish Renewables yet again show Scotland to be the UK’s green energy powerhouse, producing enough to power all of Scotland’s homes twice over.
Aside from the dog-whistle reaction this news evokes from either side of the wind farm debate, the reality of renewables is coming home to small remote communities and bringing many benefits. In our austerity-battered community of Achiltibuie in the far north-west Highlands, a number of us saw the generation of renewable energy as a potential source of income to fund our drive for sustainability when it became clear that the public purse couldn’t, or wouldn’t, provide for our modest infrastructure aspirations and development projects. After negotiating consents and grid upgrades, our wind turbine has been turning windy days into pay days since March 2017. Our development trust, Coigach Community Development Company, has received its first substantial donation to put towards active projects in the community – more affordable housing, workshop space for new businesses, harbour improvements for our local fishing fleet, and cultural heritage projects to name but a few. Together with the output of a local hydro scheme, started by the community in partnership with local land-owners Scottish Wildlife Trust, we now find ourselves a small community of about 270 producing a megawatt of renewable power, and just like Scotland, we only need a fraction of the power we produce. A positive-energy community in a positive-energy country. With no grants to buy the turbine available and being too sparsely populated for the community to raise the capital required by crowdfunding before building we took on a high-interest construction loan through peer-to-peer lending. Now the turbine is turning and earning, we are refinancing to raise £1.75 million through Triodos Bank crowdfunding. This means we’re going to be able to put more of the income from the project directly into the community. We’re hoping people across the nation will believe in what we’re doing and invest with us to help our community thrive. For us, our positive energy is more than a function of megawatts, it’s the energy that drives change and ambition borne out of what we have gained from turning a community dream into reality. Though it may contribute only a small part to the national green energy drive, what our community has been able to localise from enlightened central policy is set to bring profound benefit to a community beloved by summer visitors but increasingly a struggle to live in year-round. With the right government support, this can be a model for other rural communities to find a way forward by using green technology to develop sustainable economies. Iain Muir is chair of Coigach Community Development Company