The Community Renewable Opportunity Portal
Argyll and Bute has a distinguished track record of pioneering and delivering renewable energy developments, including
Beinn Ghlas in Lorne, one of the first commercial scale Scottish wind farms; and
Cruachan Power Station at Loch Awe, Scotland’s largest pumped storage hydro-electric power station.
This pioneering spirit is not limited to the private sector; communities in Argyll and Bute have been at the forefront in developing and owning income-generating renewable energy projects since 2004. The residents of Gigha established the world’s first wholly community owned, grid connected wind farm to enable them to pay back the loan used to purchase the island and to make improvements to housing stock and services.
Together with our community planning partners, Argyll and Bute Council have developed a Renewable Energy Action Plan (REAP) to deliver our vision which is;
“Argyll and Bute will be at the heart of renewable energy development in Scotland by taking full advantage of its unique and significant mix of indigenous renewable resources and maximising the opportunities for sustainable economic growth for the benefit of its communities and Scotland.”
One of the specific areas of focus within the REAP is to assist local communities to secure socio-economic benefit from renewables and to assist in the development of local renewable energy projects. This Community Renewable Opportunity Portal (CROP) is a key outcome of the REAP and aims to provide advice and guidance to enable communities to secure the social, environmental and economic benefits that renewable energy can provide.
The CROP will also help to support the Scottish Government’s ambitious 2020 Renewable Energy Route Map which outlines a target of 500MW of community and locally-owned renewable energy by 2020 and has put in place a series of measures to enable communities to reach this goal including, the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) and Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF). The CARES loan scheme can provide an applicant with £150,000 of pre-planning funding for the development of a community renewable energy scheme. Beyond the planning stages communities may be able to access REIF funding to help pay for some of the capital costs of construction.
Benefits to communities
There are two principal ways in which communities can benefit from renewable energy.
- Firstly, some forms of commercial scale renewable energy, most notably onshore wind farms, will make a community benefit payment. This payment will usually be in the form of an annual payment to local communities and/or a regional fund but it could also be taken as a share of the investment in the wind farm itself.
- Secondly, communities can develop their own renewable energy scheme. These schemes can range in size from small scale developments designed to reduce running costs for community buildings through to more commercial scale projects which will generate an income for the local community which can then be used to achieve wider objectives.
Whilst community benefit payments can make a significant impact to a local community, Argyll and Bute Council recognises the enhanced benefits that community ownership of renewable energy can provide but also that developing renewable energy projects can be extremely challenging.
For example at the end of 2013, approximately 2.4MW of operational community owned renewable energy within Argyll and Bute provided more profit per annum to their respective communities than the total community benefit payments from all commercial scale wind farms throughout Argyll and Bute.
In recognition of the challenges faced by community groups and the benefits which can be accrued as a result of community owned renewables, the CROP focuses on providing information and links to organisations that can help communities in realising their renewable energy ambitions.
Methodology of developing the CROP
In developing the CROP we consulted widely with organisations operating in Argyll and Bute. The consultation consisted of a survey that was undertaken between March and May 2012 and distributed to over 600 community groups. From the responses and subsequent interviews, six key elements were identified as the being the most challenging for groups developing or delivering a community renewable energy project.
- The development of the project as a whole e.g. getting it off the ground, pulling together the different elements.
- Access to funding, whether it is accessing information on finance or securing development or capital finance.
- Scoping your project. The primary reasons for the development of community renewable projects stem from wider aspirations for the benefit of their community; usually to play a role in mitigating climate change by reducing the community's carbon footprint or to stimulate economic development by securing income to deliver direct community benefits such as regeneration, provision of community grants, employment, etc. It is recognised that community renewable projects are not developed to meet a market demand but to satisfy other objectives.
- Ensuring that community groups had sufficient capacity within their organisations to develop renewable projects is another important issue although some community groups have easier access to skills, knowledge and possibly more people within their organisation than others.
- Developing partnerships with other organisations to help deliver projects was identified as being difficult suggesting that some assistance is required for community groups in developing partnerships.
- Access to information about the electricity grid was difficult to obtain.
This feedback was used to define the outcomes/purpose for the CROP:
- To make the development of a community owned renewable energy projects as simple as possible through the provision of a route map with clear impartial guidance.
- To provide an overview of the different renewable energy technologies.
- To highlight the free support and guidance available from Argyll and Bute Council and other agencies.
- To advise on funding opportunities for community renewable energy projects.
- To highlight the opportunities for building capacity within groups through training and knowledge transfer opportunities.
- To provide guidance on grid connection issues.
What the Council will do
To ensure that communities benefit from renewables Argyll and Bute Council will
- Maintain a Community Benefit Framework and encourage developers to provide a fund which can be made available to local communities and/or an Argyll and Bute wide body for the benefit of all of the community.
- Continue to offer the legal framework (The Argyll and Bute Wind Farm Trust) to enable communities to manage community benefit for their own purposes at no cost.
- Support communities to develop their own renewable energy projects through the provision of the CROP to guide them through the process.
- Host an annual event focusing on renewable energy subjects to inform local communities and to build their knowledge and capacity to maximise the benefits from renewables.
- Host an annual meeting of community groups developing renewable energy projects to enable them to meet with SSE and discuss issues surrounding connection to the grid.