Wind Farms (Community Benefit)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 1st February 2018.

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Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

6. To ask the Scottish Government whether it has any plans to ensure that wind farm companies deliver adequate levels of community benefit to provide income streams for local communities. (S5O-01729)

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Community benefits from onshore wind projects can make a real difference to communities located near such sites and in many cases can be transformational.

As at 31 January 2018, more than £12 million had been paid out to communities over the preceding 12 months, at an average rate of £5,000 per megawatt, which is in line with our benchmark guidance. Details of known support are published on the community benefit register.

Of course, social housing providers such as Berwickshire Housing Association in the Borders and Fyne Homes in Argyll have developed projects that will invest in new social housing while paying community benefit to communities in line with good practice principles.

We want to ensure that communities continue to benefit from local projects in a manner that is appropriate for the current and future context in which projects are developed, and that is why we have undertaken to review our good practice principles for community benefits during 2018.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am beginning to hear more and more excuses from wind farm developers who are trying to wriggle out of commitments to community benefits or to reduce their existing community benefits. I am also aware that many wind farm developments do not pay the recommended £5,000 per megawatt threshold that is recommended by the Scottish Government. In effect, that means that some communities are already losing out, potentially on millions of pounds, and others may lose out on millions of pounds in the future.

Will the minister investigate the issue and does he agree that all wind farm developers should ensure that they are delivering community benefits to those communities that host wind farm developments?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I certainly agree that, where developers have made an agreement, they must stick to that agreement. That is very important in terms of maintaining the trust of local communities.

We acknowledge that a number of developers have not yet adopted good practice principles. It is important to recognise that the vast majority are adhering to those principles. Of course, in the context of the review that we are about to undertake, I will happily look into particular examples of where that is not happening in Mr Lochhead’s constituency, because I appreciate that it is a matter of great concern.

We want to make sure that good practice principles are providing a benchmark for the sector. They are based on a voluntary principle, but it is important that they are followed by all developers where possible.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

Communities suffering from high deprivation are less likely to receive community benefits. Will the minister consider introducing renewable energy bonds or other measures so that every community can have a better opportunity to benefit from renewables?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Maurice Golden raises an important point. A big thrust of the energy strategy that we published in December is to look at alternatives where they may be appropriate. It may well be a more attractive option for communities that are investing in a wind farm to use a shared revenue model, through which they could get the full economic benefit and the freedom to spend the revenue that comes from that project in the way that they see fit for their community. I am happy to discuss that with Mr Golden if he wishes to contact my office.

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

In my region and across Scotland there are communities such as Wanlockhead that are shaping their own sustainable low-carbon future, some of which choose not to be benefit dependent. How does the Scottish Government ensure easy access to information and support for community groups that want to take forward empowering energy projects themselves?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Claudia Beamish for raising that important point and I am aware of the interest in Wanlockhead. I direct communities that have an interest in developing a community project to contact local energy Scotland, which can give specific help to those projects through community and renewable energy scheme funding and our energy infrastructure fund. That potentially allows communities to invest in their future and to have less dependency on others in determining their economic outlook.