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October 13, 2010

Communities still in the renewables frame

As the First Minister raises the bar again – 80% of our electricity consumption to come from renewable sources by 2020 – last week Rural Affairs Minister Richard Lochead reaffirmed his commitment to make sure that local communities remained a key part of this emerging picture.  Proposals to create a new specialised loan scheme are being worked on which will facilitate community ownership of energy schemes

Susan Smith, TFN

A MAJOR fund of at least £200m is  needed over the next five years to ensure  that Scottish communities benefit from  the dramatic growth in the renewable  energy industry, heralded by first minister Alex Salmond this week.  The investment could generate a net annual income of at least £20m to communities, such as declining towns and villages in throughout Scotland.

The move would also help to boost Scotland’s diminishing rural population and ensure that Scottish people benefit from the huge potential of renewable energy.  As the First Minister this week heralded  the growth of Scotland’s renewable energy  industry as a “turning point in human history”, national bodies supporting community ownership and voluntary organisations urged the govemment not to repeat the mistakes made with North Sea Oil.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and Community Energy Scotland (CES) demanded the government ensures that ordinary Scots as well as  big businesses benefit from the renewables  revolution.  Alison Cairns, SCVO’s rural development manager, said: “We are concerned  that the current predominance of the private  sector energy industry is short sighted and  means that many more long term, sustain-  able opportunities for the people of Scotland are missed.

“Broadening and deepening the opportunities for Scotland’s existing voluntary sector to own the production of  renewable energy (on shore and off  shore) offers multiple outcomes. It simultaneously builds greener energy,  achieves greater public buy-in and  , helps strengthen communities and  public services.”  In cases where communities have  joint or full ownership of renewable  installations such as Gigha, Eigg, Fintry and Neilston, the financial benefits  are regenerating and empowering their  communities.  Profits have been re-invested in  community organisations and activities that include infrastructure and key  services for vulnerable groups.

These  include building affordable housing,  community transport schemes, keeping a petrol station or local shop open,  even funding and expanding meals on  wheels, befriending, care and child-  care services in their communities.  The First Minister announced late  last week that the government was  aiming for 80 per cent of Scottish electricity consumption to be generated by  renewable energy by 2020.

Following the announcement,  Nicholas Gubbins, chief executive of  Community Energy Scotland, high-  lighted that it is currently supporting  140 community groups across Scot-  land to develop their own revenue generating wind and hydro projects.  “Eighty per cent of electricity consumed is a big target reflecting the  scale of the Scotland’s renewable energy resource,” Gubbins told TFN.  “The enthusiasm and voluntary commitment of Scotland’s communities is  another great resource but communities need help to build their confidence, skills and capability to engage  and develop projects.”  He said existing community plans:  “Will require investment of over  £200m over the next 5 years but if successful could generate a net annual  revenue of around £20m. This will be  transformational income for Scottish  communities – reaching places that  public services cannot normally  reach.”

Speaking at this week’s Low Carbon  Investment Conference in Edinburgh,  rural affairs minister Richard Lochead  said the government would consider  introducing a loan scheme to secure  community ownership of renewable  energy schemes.  “It is vital that Scotland can unlock  the huge potential this country has for  the local ownership of energy production which would reap such great community benefits,” said Lochhead.

“This Government is determined that communities should share in the opportunities opening up before us and we will be consulting shortly on a range of options to ensure these benefits are secured for the people of Scotland.”