Local communities need support as wind energy projects grow

OffshorewindfarmA new briefing by the Crichton Institute warns that Dumfries and Galloway is predicted to soon be responsible for 18% of Scotland’s onshore wind energy capacity. The reports says local communities must be supported in order to fully reap the benefits of this growth.

The briefing, written by Scotland’s Rural College, which is part of the Crichton Institute, reports that the region presently contributes approximately 8% of Scotland’s wind power and the predicted increase to 18% is due to a large number of projects planned and under construction.

The potential of different regions to produce renewable energy is increasingly important due to ambitious Scottish Government targets which include a need for 30% of overall energy consumption to come from renewables by 2020.

Briefing author, Ellie Brodie, of SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre, said:

“The benefits of these large scale wind projects include employment opportunities and funding for community projects through wind farm benefit funds, but there are key challenges around ensuring wind farm jobs go to local people, and that communities get the most out of benefit funds and fully exploit opportunities to own and earn their own income from energy projects.

“There are a number of ways to ensure communities benefit including national targets, incentives and guidance as well as local initiatives between government, developers, business representatives and educational providers.”

Securing local economic benefits from wind farm developments has been challenging because contracts are often awarded to companies outwith the region. Also, once contracts are awarded, local labour and services are not always used.

However, the briefing argues that there are several ways in which these supply chain issues are being addressed including the establishment of the Renewables Partnership Group which is working with developers and local businesses on a directory of sectors, skills and suppliers needed in the construction and maintenance of onshore wind farms. Skills gaps are also being tackled; for example Dumfries and GallowayCollege has developed a Wind Turbine Technician course.

It also focuses on how communities can benefit from wind generation projects through community benefit funds set up by developers. However in some instances the benefit fund is too small an amount to support long-term, sustainable community development. Both the Scottish Government and Dumfries and Galloway Council have published guidance to help both communities and developers secure genuine community benefits from such funds.

As the impact of large wind farms on local landscapes increases, and as new initiatives and targets supporting the community ownership of energy projects are introduced, community groups are being encouraged to initiate their own small scale, community-owned renewables projects. But not all communities are equally equipped to take on their own energy projects and reap the benefits and need support from national and local government and developers to do so, as this policy briefing sets out.

The briefing also advises policymakers to consider further actions to ensure that the local region benefits from any further wind farm developments, for example through attaching targets to local procurement and supporting the development of local consortia to come together to bid for contracts.

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