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September 12, 2012

Wind powered turbulence

Wind farm proposals are always contentious and never more so than when the wind farm developer also happens to be a community group. Just ask Neilston Development Trust who persevered with their plans despite significant opposition from a neighbouring community, or Newburgh Community Trust whose proposal (which would have netted an estimated £8.3m over 25 years), has just been turned down by Fife Council. In a letter to the Scotsman Newspaper, Nicholas Gubbins, CEO of Community Energy Scotland tries to bring some perspective to the debate.


The Scotsman Tuesday 4 September 2012

I have followed with great interest the recent debate in your letters page regarding wind turbines and in particular those regarding community benefit. 

Several letters have conflated community benefit payments, with joint ventures and community-owned turbines, but these are very different types of 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.

Projects such as the one by the Neilston Development Trust (NDT), referred to by Aileen Jackson (Letters, 29 August), are joint ventures, in this case between the developer Carbon Free Developments and NDT. 

This project will see the community receive an estimated £10 million over the next 25 years, because NDT secured the finance to allow it to invest in the project, taking a share in the risk and reward. 

Neilston is in the lowest 10-15 per cent of the Scottish Government’s Index of Multiple Depravation; these turbines will provide a sustainable and secure income for the area for a generation.

The website of the Neilston Community Wind Farm outlines ambitions plans to regenerate the town through its “Neilston 2030 Vision” to create a “sustainable, economically robust, well planned and well connected small town”.

I would argue that rather than this being an example of “selfishness” it is a commendable example of a community seizing an opportunity to take its future into its own hands. 

‘The third type of community involvement in a wind project is a community-owned development, initiated, developed and realised by communities and where all 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 depopulation and fuel poverty and it is hoped this new stream of income will help to re-generate the local community. 

When communities develop their own renewable energy projects they are playing a vital role in the global climate change agenda and can also directly address other pressing socio-economic needs. It is understandable that members of the local population may have reservations about wind developments. But these projects are not taken lightly by anyone involved. 

Seeking planning permission is a complicated and lengthy process – and rightfully so, but when communities are involved, there is greater transparency and opportunity for input from a wide variety of viewpoints. 

Perhaps we will never all see eye-to-eye when it comes to wind turbines, but no energy source comes without a cost. Community-owned project are a beacon for all those who believe we must take greater responsibility for our own energy generation and use. 


Community Energy Scotland

Dingwall Business Park