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September 25, 2013

The future is bright

Last week’s news that two island communities (Isle of Gigha and Galson on Lewis)were celebrating the successful installation of their wind turbine projects came as a timely counterweight to our gloomy prognosis for the community energy sector contained in the last edition of Local People Leading. Nick Gubbins, CEO of Community Energy Scotland, got in touch to share an altogether more positive outlook. While losing an important Government contract was undoubtedly a blow, he argues that the community sector will soon feel the benefits of a reshaped and refocused CES.


Nicholas Gubbins, Chief Executive of Community Energy Scotland, writes in response to the article carried in the last edition of Local People Leading 

‘While the ups and downs of government contracts are a challenge for many third sector organisation operating in a commercial environment, we have been reflecting on the fundamentals. As a network of community groups who want to use the renewable energy opportunity to power community empowerment, our membership has continued to grow to over 390. Our associate membership, comprising individuals and businesses, provides an opportunity for communities to link with a bigger hinterland of supporters, campaigners and people with specialist skills relevant to their projects. Our combined membership is powerful because it is unique in Scotland and enables us to effectively represent the interests of the sector and listen to what communities developing projects want to see happen. A few messages have been coming through loud and clear. The community energy sector in Scotland remains in its infancy, with less than 1% of installed capacity in community ownership. There have been towering achievements from individual communities who with the right support have managed to punch through the rules of a system that simply wasn’t designed with them in mind. We need to find ways of making that journey easier, and ensuring that everyone can get involved in developing and owning renewable energy as a way of investing in their community and providing some protection from long term energy costs. Part of that means providing additional support to the communities that haven’t begun to think about the possibility or don’t know where to start, and help them identify opportunities that they may not be aware of. Part of it is looking at the range of ownership models that we have worked on over the last ten years, and making sure that communities know that there are established way of working with other partners, such as farmers or local authorities, or raising money locally. But a big part of the problem is that despite the financial support from the Scottish Government, policy remains stacked against communities- grid connection costs and delays are unworkable; incentive payments crash unpredictably and are mired in obscure guidance; it is nigh impossible to sell electricity to your immediate neighbours rather than one of the big  six energy companies; and the planning system often fails to recognise the social benefits that community ownership can bring. Responsibility for many of these issues is split between Holyrood and Westminster which just adds to the confusion. Taking these challenges on board, we have taken the decision to re-focus our work on key areas: working closely with our members; providing bespoke support and advice to individual communities; facilitating joint ventures and new business models; driving innovation to increase the direct benefits to communities and find a way through the grid blockade; sharing learning from communities in other countries in Europe and around the world; and investing in our policy influence to get the results that our members need. We will be looking into all this and more at our annual conference in Glasgow on the 5th and 6th of November. Please join us.’