WITH momentum slower than expected in the development of offshore wind and increasing opposition in rural areas to sizeable onshore developments, it would be easy to be downbeat about renewable energy in Scotland.
However, the sector is thriving at a localised and small-scale level – and making a genuine and positive difference to many rural businesses and communities.
Last year, while working with Scottish Renewables, I was involved with the Made in Scotland from Renewables project. This highlighted a ‘clean dozen’ of businesses across Scotland – including well-known names like Farmlay Eggs and Mackie’s ice cream – who were using renewable technologies to power their operations.
Niall Stuart, the Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, noted that businesses using renewable technologies on site were getting payback on their investment in just a few short years, delivering savings in the long term.
He identified four persuasive reasons why these businesses were moving to renewable generation:
- Lower future energy costs;
- Reduced carbon footprint;
- Potential income generation; and
- Growing consumer demand to understand the environmental credentials of what they buy.
While working on a story about independent renewables, I was hugely impressed with the wind development at Loch Carnan on the island of South Uist. This is Scotland’s largest community-owned wind farm. The three-turbine development is predicted to deliver revenues of £2 million per year for Storas Uibhuist, the community company which owns the Hebridean island.
Profits will be reinvested in communities in South Uist, Benbecula and Eriskay, including very practical projects like flood defences to protect the low-lying islands.
Storas Uibhist chief executive Huw Francis said: “This is the biggest community wind farm in Scotland – but there has not been any real criticism of the turbines because people see the revenue they generate is staying in the community and helping maintain and enhance the environment of our islands.”
If a local community can see such direct benefit from renewable developments at an early stage, they are far more likely to embrace the project.
There are many interesting approaches to delivering genuine community benefit right across Scotland. Heartland Community Wind is a new Community Benefit Society which will install and own two wind turbines near Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire.
Public Affairs Co-op worked with Heartland to help them identify a local delivery partner for the community fund associated with the project. In April a bursary scheme for students from the PH15 postcode (covering Aberfeldy and Kenmore) was announced to support their studies at Perth College UHI – with the college’s full support.
So what are the key considerations for those who want to bring renewable developments to Scotland? Here are five suggestions:
- Involve the local community from the very start of a project;
- Look at things from locals residents’ point of view – don’t develop a detailed scheme and then try to ‘sell’ it to them;
- Remember that ‘community benefit’ has moved on and is not just a handout from final profits to refurbish a community hall. It needs to be a partnership to delivers something which builds capacity in communities in terms of people, not just buildings;
- Marry up economic and environmental objectives. Many rural businesses and communities want to ‘do the right thing’ and create clean energy, but they also want a viable business and a sustainable local economy. Show them how a renewable project can help in this respect; and
- Look ahead – how will a local community benefit from a renewable energy scheme over the next 20 or 25 years? What does it mean for the next generation in terms of jobs and economic sustainability, not just this one?
Developers that follow these suggestions have a much better chance of taking forward a project in partnership with the local community and securing their support. This can be a critical consideration for elected representatives as they consider their approach to a wind development application in their constituency or ward.
To find out how Public Affairs Co-operative can help you achieve successful outcomes for your renewable energy project please contact us.