Community energy – a powerful partnership for the future

Nicholas Gubbins, Chief Executive, Community Energy Scotland

Community involvement in renewable energy projects has the potential to be a powerful partnership for the 21st century, creating both renewable energy and sustainable communities  – and nowhere more so than in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

There are a variety of different ways in which communities can benefit from renewable installations, and these can be categorised broadly as community benefit payments, joint ventures or wholly community-owned projects.

Community benefit payments are typically associated with privately owned large-scale renewable projects, such as wind farms. In these instances, the project is developed by a private developer and landowner, who then retains a majority of the revenue generated from the site and a percentage is given to the local community.

The second type of project is a joint venture. In this instance, a community will invest in the project, and take its share in the risks and rewards. A great example of this is the co-operation between the Girvan family farm and the community charity Soirbheas, who together are working to establish a five-turbine wind farm at Corrimony, south of Cannich .  The community will receive one fifth of revenue generated – the equivalent to their owning one turbine. Soirbheas, which is a charity for the two glens of  Glen Urquhart and Strathglass, has held a number of consultations with the community to ask how they felt the money from the project should be spent. Suggestions include: public hall upgrades, play areas, sheltered housing, a community mini-bus and recycling initiatives, amongst other things. This is a commendable example of a community seizing an opportunity to take its future into its own hands.  

The third type of community involvement is a community-owned development, which is initiated, developed and realized by communities and 100 per cent of the revenue is retained locally to be used and distributed how the community sees fit. One recent example can be seen on the western side of the Isle of Lewis. Here, a 900Kw turbine was installed and is set to generate up to £100,000 annually for the Dalmore, Dalbeg and South Shawbost communities. The area has long struggled with de-population and fuel poverty and it is hoped that this new stream of income will help to re-generate the local community.

The Highlands and Islands have lead the way in community-owned renewable energy projects, and this is a large part thanks to the support and funding provided by Highlands and Islands Enterprise over the years.

When communities develop their own renewable energy projects not only are they playing a vital role in the global climate change agenda, they can also directly address other pressing socio-economic needs.  

Community-owned projects are a beacon for all those who believe we must take greater responsibility for our own energy generation and use.

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