Communities demand stake in renewables
Susan Smith, TFN
A MAJOR fund of at least £200m is needed over the next five years to ensure that Scottish communities benefit from the dramatic growth in the renewable energy industry, heralded by first minister Alex Salmond this week. The investment could generate a net annual income of at least £20m to communities, such as declining towns and villages in throughout Scotland.
The move would also help to boost Scotland’s diminishing rural population and ensure that Scottish people benefit from the huge potential of renewable energy. As the First Minister this week heralded the growth of Scotland’s renewable energy industry as a "turning point in human history", national bodies supporting community ownership and voluntary organisations urged the govemment not to repeat the mistakes made with North Sea Oil.
The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and Community Energy Scotland (CES) demanded the government ensures that ordinary Scots as well as big businesses benefit from the renewables revolution. Alison Cairns, SCVO’s rural development manager, said: "We are concerned that the current predominance of the private sector energy industry is short sighted and means that many more long term, sustain- able opportunities for the people of Scotland are missed.
"Broadening and deepening the opportunities for Scotland’s existing voluntary sector to own the production of renewable energy (on shore and off shore) offers multiple outcomes. It simultaneously builds greener energy, achieves greater public buy-in and , helps strengthen communities and public services." In cases where communities have joint or full ownership of renewable installations such as Gigha, Eigg, Fintry and Neilston, the financial benefits are regenerating and empowering their communities. Profits have been re-invested in community organisations and activities that include infrastructure and key services for vulnerable groups.
These include building affordable housing, community transport schemes, keeping a petrol station or local shop open, even funding and expanding meals on wheels, befriending, care and child- care services in their communities. The First Minister announced late last week that the government was aiming for 80 per cent of Scottish electricity consumption to be generated by renewable energy by 2020.
Following the announcement, Nicholas Gubbins, chief executive of Community Energy Scotland, high- lighted that it is currently supporting 140 community groups across Scot- land to develop their own revenue generating wind and hydro projects. "Eighty per cent of electricity consumed is a big target reflecting the scale of the Scotland’s renewable energy resource," Gubbins told TFN. "The enthusiasm and voluntary commitment of Scotland’s communities is another great resource but communities need help to build their confidence, skills and capability to engage and develop projects." He said existing community plans: "Will require investment of over £200m over the next 5 years but if successful could generate a net annual revenue of around £20m. This will be transformational income for Scottish communities – reaching places that public services cannot normally reach."
Speaking at this week’s Low Carbon Investment Conference in Edinburgh, rural affairs minister Richard Lochead said the government would consider introducing a loan scheme to secure community ownership of renewable energy schemes. "It is vital that Scotland can unlock the huge potential this country has for the local ownership of energy production which would reap such great community benefits,” said Lochhead.
“This Government is determined that communities should share in the opportunities opening up before us and we will be consulting shortly on a range of options to ensure these benefits are secured for the people of Scotland.”