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June 27, 2012

Praise from Ban Ki-moon for Scottish renewables

Most commentators seem to agree that last week’s Earth Summit in Rio achieved little in the way of binding commitments to tackle climate change. But amidst the gloom, some rays of light.  Ban Ki-moon, Sec Gen of United Nations made special mention of Scotland’s crucial commitment to community owned renewables – global recognition for work in our own back yard. Last week’s main article in SCVO’s Third Force News seems strangely at odds with the views of Ban Ki-Moon.



Nicholas Gubbins, CEO of Community Energy Scotland responds to TFN’s article Winds of Change

To the editor of TFN

In his important centre-spread on community renewable energy projects (Third Force News –  15th June) Robert Armour could have included the increasing list of great achievements by community groups across Scotland, to give a bit more of a balanced picture.

It is true that revenue generating community energy projects are challenging and should never be taken on unless group members are prepared for at least several years of work.  But on the other hand, for those communities who have that determination, there is the opportunity of securing a very significant long-term revenue, wholly owned and controlled by the community. And we at Community Energy Scotland will provide help throughout the whole process.

Within the last 4-5 weeks two community energy projects have moved significantly forward from project development to financial agreement which means that they will soon construct and join the 8 large community-owned projects already built and generating renewable energy across Scotland. 

One is on the Orkney island of Eday, where a 900 Kilowatt wind turbine will be built which will be wholly owned by the Eday Partnership,  joining 5 other Orkney Island communities, each of which has successfully installed their own community wind projects totalling around 5 Megawatts.  

The other project is a new ground breaking joint venture wind farm between a local community group, Soirbheas, near Drumnadrochit and a local farming family, with the community having a 20% stake in this wholly local 11.5 Megawatt windfarm. 

In Neilston, referred to in the article, the community trust has bought in to a commercial development which will now provide £400,000 every year for a whole generation. These projects take time and effort – but the returns are definitely worth it. 

It’s right that the planning process can be truly tortuous and no-one should expect communities to get an easy ride. On the other hand, so far, all community projects where CES has been involved and which have applied for planning consent have been approved. That’s a total of 35 projects so far. On the Western Isles, there are 8 community wind farms that have secured planning consent, 6 of which we expect to be up and generating by this time next year – that’s 19.5MW of Western Isles community-owned power alone!

It’s not a bad thing that there are dozens of projects pending – it’s an active and developing sector. But its  not the case that many others have failed, or that only a fraction are expected to become a reality or that for every successful project there’s a tranche of unsuccessful projects. It’s most unfortunate that the PEDAL / Greener Leith project mentioned cannot proceed but it did face a particular problem that proved insurmountable in that location, and, nationally, it is by far the exception rather than the rule.

It’s also important to distinguish between community-owned projects  and  private projects offering community benefit arrangements, where communities receive smaller and discretional proportional payments. Community Energy Scotland is currently drawing together a register of community benefit arrangements on behalf of the Scottish Government and expect that this will provide greater transparency on community benefits to all involved. We are also facilitating communities to take forward joint venture arrangements with commercial developers so that communities do get a chance to play an active part in projects local to their area. 

When the income from a community turbine starts mounting up, communities have the chance to decide on the range of activities which can be funded and also on individual applications.  On the Isle of Tiree there have already been three rounds of grants for community projects covering a vast range of actions all funded by their own  very productive 900kilowatt turbine called Tilley.  Tiree Community Development Trust has granted over £138,000 for social care, heritage, arts, youth and education projects which have a wide benefit on the island.  The community now has its own source of revenue to improve opportunities on the island without having to go begging for funding. Bagpipe tutors and pony club tutors have been brought to Tiree, work is underway to develop a plan for a progressive care centre, community buildings have been purchased and upgraded, the church has been helped to buy its own small wind turbine and improvements to  slipways and boat facilities have also been awarded funds. There’s a new playpark too, whilst the Tiree Agricultural Show has been improved and the Tiree Feis, a traditional festival which attracts many additional visitors can now be enhanced.  What’s clear on Tiree is that it is vital to bolster the social and economic fabric of the island. Every grant supports a community activity which enhances opportunity, employment and economic prospects.  Tiree is like Scotland in microcosm.  Imagine if every community had their own income generating wind turbine! 

Finally, its our view  that the 2020 target of 500MW community local generation is challenging but certainly on track and that the Scottish Government is taking real action to support community energy development. Community Energy Scotland alone is currently supporting around 200MW in development. Where else is there a scheme like the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme, which offers unsecured loans for high risk (pre-planning) costs that can be written-off in the event of a project failing to gain consent, along with a wide-ranging advice service and technical support?  

There is real interest and enthusiasm across the world in our approach in Scotland- indeed our approach was strongly endorsed several times recently by the OECD at its  launch of its investigation into Linking Rural Energy to Rural Development, and closer to home Wales has recently established Community Energy Wales to help facilitate Welsh communities to follow the lead of Scottish communities.  

Sure, this is a challenging arena, there remain significant issues to crack and it has it’s fair share of frustrations. But community energy development remains a very potent opportunity to achieve radical, bottom-up community development whilst strengthening the third sector in Scotland. Don’t let’s blow it.