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March 9, 2011

Time to stand on our own two feet

The Scottish Government has argued for some time that there are too many intermediaries supporting the community and voluntary sectors and as a result, overall Government investment in this area is going to reduce.  The onus is now on many of these intermediaries to start generating their own sources of income.  A recent venture by Community Energy Scotland points in a direction that many other parts of Scotland’s support infrastructure would do well to follow

Berwickshire Housing Association (BHA) is poised to become the first Housing Association in the UK to develop a community scale wind farm. 

“We are very keen to ensure local residents are fully consulted on our proposed development” said Helen Forsyth, BHA Chief Executive, explaining that the Housing Association has already distributed two editions of a wind farm newsletter to all households within the vicinity, written to all local councillors, MSPs and MPs, and attended a meeting of Cockburnspath Community Council. “We’ve also sought a meeting with East Lammermuirs Community Council in neighbouring East Lothian since the development is very close to the East Lothian boundary. A meeting will be held with Michael Moore MP later in March”. Berwickshire Housing Association will also commission a telephone survey of local residents after the public exhibitions in order to gauge the overall level of public support.

Partners in the development are registered charity Community Energy Scotland (CES), a specialist organisation providing support and advice to communities across Scotland seeking to develop renewable energy projects. “This is a very attractive project” commented Nicholas Gubbins, Chief Executive of CES “and we are delighted to be involved as a junior partner to BHA. Whilst we have provided support to many housing associations, this is the first time we have joined with a housing association as a partner in a revenue generating scheme. It’s a very exciting prospect.” On completion CES will own one third of the project and BHA two thirds, each organisation receiving profits in proportion to their ownership.

Based on average energy use the wind farm will generate twice the electricity used by BHA’s tenants. Given that approximately 1 in 5 of all Berwickshire residents live in BHA homes Helen Forsyth considers this is a very significant development, both for BHA and for Berwickshire. “At a time when public expenditure on new social housing development is being squeezed, yet demand for affordable rented housing remains at record levels, it is important for us to develop sustainable and significant sources of revenue beyond the rentals paid by our tenants. Hoprigshiels Community Wind Farm provides the potential to greatly improve the Association’s environmental impact and to provide much needed funds for investment.”

Beyond the community benefit arising from BHA and CES ownership of the project, the two bodies also plan to establish a community fund contributing approximately £30,000 per year to community projects in the immediate vicinity of the wind farm. Given the proposed scale of the development (6 megawatts) this is a significantly higher level of community fund contribution than that typically made by commercial wind farms. “All profits for community and charitable benefit. That’s the reality of community ownership, that’s the reality of Hoprigshiels Community Wind Farm” said Helen Forsyth.