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March 12, 2024

Clarity is essential

One of the frustrations of working in the community sector is the lack of clarity on all sides about what is meant by concepts such as community empowerment, community led, community owned and so on. And now, with the imminent and massive expansion of the renewable energy sector – onshore, offshore and infrastructure investment – establishing a common understanding of what community energy, community benefit and community wealth all mean becomes a priority of the highest order. Some high level thinking has been developed by a number of community sector interests. Now it’s time to seek the devil in the detail.



Scotland’s communities could benefit by £170 million per year if Holyrood acts now on renewables.
Local communities could benefit by hundreds of millions of pounds if The Scottish Government would commit to community-owned renewable energy and a national community wealth fund as an urgent priority.
Five of Scotland’s Community Development groups – Community Energy Scotland, Community Land Scotland, Development Trusts Association Scotland, Scottish Community Alliance and Scottish Communities Finance – have united to press for reform of the renewable industry to ensure that the huge wealth being generated by Scotland’s natural resources are more fairly shared.
In a new report ‘A Fair Energy Deal for Scottish Communities – Call to Action’, these five organisations have come together to highlight the risk of corporates and multinationals dominating the vastly expanding renewable energy sector, while local communities lose a transformational opportunity. The report highlights how accelerated Government support would bring Scotland into line with many European countries, where the local communities get much greater advantage from the massive growth in renewables.
By contrast, in Scotland community-owned renewable projects are being held back with only one new community windfarm becoming operational in 2023.
The community organisations argue that current community benefit models are out of date, calling for community benefit payments to be linked to the consumer price index, rather than being frozen as they have been for the past 10 years.
Furthermore that a National Community Wealth Fund should be established with a proportion of community benefits from onshore, offshore and transmission developments being placed in a national fund to support the delivery of a just transition to Net Zero for all communities across Scotland, not just those located nearest to developments.
Community Land Scotland, Policy Manager, Dr Josh Doble said, ‘While our Call to Action represents an ambitious and major scaling up of the sector in Scotland, it is entirely deliverable.
‘Denmark and other European nations have demonstrated that community-owned wind power can and should be done at much larger scale than the Scottish or UK status quo’.

‘Local communities in Scotland have long experience of delivering successful renewable projects with a high level of expertise which generates a significant amount of sustainable development opportunities. However, these developments have slowed in recent years and the community energy sector is at risk of stagnation.
‘There is now huge corporate investment in the renewable sector – offshore and onshore. There is a huge opportunity for communities and for ‘Scotland PLC’ to benefit in a transformational way. Unless urgent action is taken, that opportunity could be missed.’
The five community organisations have prioritised a number of steps to reach the new target, calling on Holyrood to set a new target of 1 GW of renewable energy production being community-owned within six years. This would be ten times the current levels of community-owned renewables and entirely possible with the current expansion of the renewable sector.
This higher target would still only represent 12 percent of the current capacity of onshore windfarms alone. But this commitment could deliver £170 million per year directly into communities through earned revenue. In contrast, the same level of installed capacity of private sector developments – paying community benefit at the current good practice rate of £5000 per installed MW – would bring in just £5 million to local communities.
The Call to Action also prioritizes easier access to the National Grid for smaller community projects. It calls for the establishment of a cross-party working group to help accelerate rapid expansion of the community energy sector, and greater support for shared-ownership agreements between communities and corporates.
The community groups state that community benefits should be linked directly to the Consumer Price Index so that income to communities fairly reflects the wider economic situation.

Community Energy Scotland, Policy Manager, Kristopher Leask said: ‘There is a very strong feeling that communities have to benefit properly from renewables which are being developed in and around these communities, using natural resources, like the wind and the sun and the sea.
‘The benefits to society and economy of having community-owned power businesses are clear. That is why most European countries transitioning to green energy have developed their domestically-owned and democratically-owned Green Energy base. ‘This has been achieved not just through large public sector companies, but through community companies and cooperatives.

‘For example, In Denmark, 50 percent of onshore wind capacity is community-owned. In Scotland, it’s 2 percent.’ Dr Doble said, ‘The Government must work urgently to review its onshore good practice guidance and the guidance around Community Benefit funds to ensure community benefit payments are unrestricted, fair and proportionate. ‘Renewable energy in Scotland is a multi-billion pound industry. We now have a chance to enable local communities to be empowered by these opportunities.’ Kristopher Leask said, ‘The Scottish Government’s stated priorities for 2023-24 include equality, building a fair, green, growing economy, and community wellbeing. ‘Community-owned energy delivers on all of these. It could be transformative, with sustainable wealth creation at community level that feeds through to boost the whole country. Without urgent action, there is a real danger that our communities lose this opportunity.’