Turbine Benefits Blowing in the Wind
THE Scottish Executive is to be pressed to set clear national guidelines on the benefits communities could gain from wind farms being built on their doorstep.
The current going rate for community benefit from turbine developments is £1,000 per megawatt (Mw) of power.
However, Highland Council has been calling for the figure to be raised to £5,000 per Mw, with Michael Foxley, its vice-convener, suggesting double that amount.
Yesterday, Alison Magee, the council convener, said there is a need for guidelines to be set down.
Mrs Magee also suggested that instead of individual communities negotiating with developers, larger areas, or even the Highlands as a whole, could set the level of benefits that it derives from renewable-energy developments.
Highland Council has been campaigning to guarantee a higher return to local people from the unprecedented level of interest in siting renewable-energy schemes in the area.
The area has just two operational wind farms at present, at Novar in Ross-shire and Forss, Caithness.
However, another 66 turbines have been approved, although not yet erected at Edinbane in Skye and Causeymire and Dunbeath, in Caithness.
While developers cannot be forced to make payments as part of planning regulations, the council sees a huge opportunity for communities to cash in on firms exploiting the natural resources around them.
Mrs Magee said there is scope for a variety of approaches to seek community benefit, including local people taking a stake in a wind farm. But she said some companies will not negotiate directly with community councils, preferring to talk instead to Highland Council or other public agencies.
She added: "We have requested on more than one occasion that the Scottish Executive should issue guidance to potential developers on community benefit.
"You can look at community benefit in a number of ways. You can either look at the community itself, or a combination of communities seeking to take a stake in the development and getting benefit directly from the profits. Although that sounds ambitious we should look to see if it is feasible."
She said a Highland-wide fund raised potential difficulties regarding how it would be distributed across such a large geographical area.
"But it is something that has been raised and it is a possibility", she said.
She said it may also be difficult for the authority to take a direct share in developments to maximise profits.
"In order to take a direct share you have to have the money to put down. A council like Shetland can consider this, as it has the reserves, but its only an option if you have the money to do it. ."
Councillors yesterday discussed a report by IPA Energy Consulting and Brodies, commissioned by the Highland and Western Isles councils, which said it is difficult to measure the impact a renewable-energy scheme has on a community and therefore the amount of community benefit which can be set.
It also suggested that if the level of community benefit made a project uneconomic, developers could turn their back on a particular area.
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