A Lanarkshire-based developer has included an £8,000 job skills and training package to local community councils as part of an overall community benefit of £8.5 million if its proposed wind farm in Sutherland goes ahead.
Muirhall Energy, an independent Scottish energy developer, has signed an agreement with Lairg and District Learning Centre to deliver £8,000 of funding to cover the Community Council areas of Creich, Ardgay and District and Lairg.
The 20-turbine wind farm at Caplich, with a generating capacity of 68 MW and a blade tip height of 132m, could power the equivalent of 39,300 homes and offset 1,522,215 tonnes of CO2 over 25 years.
It is anticipated that approximately £81 million will be spent within the Scottish economy to realise this project at the currently proposed scale, £5 million of which is anticipated to be spent directly within the Highlands through local contractors and suppliers.
The site at Caplich, near Oykel Bridge, was chosen due to its setting within a natural basin which partially screens views from neighbouring settlements and much of the surrounding area. If consented, Caplich would be one of very few wind farms in Scotland with no housing within 2km of the nearest turbine and no visibility to any neighbouring villages or towns.
The Caplich Skills Fund will deliver a variety of courses, including chainsaw training and First Aid training, but the Lairg Learning Centre is open to suggestions from the community as to further uses. Discussions are taking place with organisations in Ullapool and Assynt to deliver similar programmes in their areas.
The funding comes on the back of a fuel poverty programme which Muirhall Energy ran to deliver a contribution towards the cost of logs or match funding towards the cost of home insulation materials.
The funding is on top of the proposed community benefit funding, amounting to £340,000 annually (£8.5m over the 25-year lifespan of the wind farm), to be shared with the five community council areas local to it should the wind farm receive consent.
In addition a Recreational Enhancement Fund (REF) for the improvement of tourism amenities in the Assynt Coigach National Scenic Area worth £32,000 annually at the current scale is proposed
There would also be an opportunity for shared ownership of up to 10% of the wind farm company, providing a genuine partnership opportunity with neighbouring communities and a share of wind farm profits.
Significant infrastructure upgrades will also be undertaken, including improvements to the fragile and busy A-class single carriageway road between Ledmore Junction and Oykel Bridge.
Commenting on the Caplich Skills Fund, wind farm project manager Peter Marshall said: “We are very keen to demonstrate to members of the community the socio-economic benefits that a wind farm like Caplich, not just through its construction and maintenance alone, can bring.
“That is why over and above the community benefit fund, amounting to £340,000 annually, we are committing this additional funding. We hope that this will help to encourage young people in particular to stay in an area which has a declining population, to take advantage of the opportunities that these developments bring”.
Jane Dixon, Manager of Lairg and District Learning Centre, said: “The signing of the MoU represents an exciting opportunity for individuals and businesses in the area around the wind farm.
“We welcome any initiatives directed at improving employability and need to be developing the next generation of skilled workers. Providing individuals, especially young people, with the chance to gain the skills and qualifications which will provide local all-year round employment opportunities is to be welcomed.”