Onshore Wind Energy (Community Benefit)

7 June 2018

Speech in the Scottish Parliament

I thank Richard Lochhead for raising the debate on an issue that was topical when I was the minister responsible for consenting wind farms some 15 years ago and is still topical today.

As Neil Findlay said, the most direct community benefit, now as then, comes from community ownership, and Udny in Aberdeenshire provides a very good example.

Udny Community Trust Company owns the local wind turbine, supplies electricity to local homes and business and uses the proceeds to support local development and good causes.

I have seen for myself the buy-in of local people, from the farmer who owns the site to the volunteers who get together to decide where best to spend the revenue that has been generated in order to benefit their local area.

I am also familiar with plans for a community enterprise on a larger scale, in the Isle of Lewis, where the Stornoway Trust was one of Scotland’s first community landowners as long ago as the 1920s.

The trust is the landlord of crofts and common grazings across the parish of Stornoway, and is now working on the Stornoway wind farm project, which is one of several consented major wind projects in Lewis—in its case, in partnership with EDF.

We have seen the vital role that renewable energy can play in community land buyouts—to which Mark Ruskell referred—from the hydro scheme on the river Don in Aberdeen to single wind turbines in islands like Gigha and Eigg.

If having a share in ownership brings the most direct benefits to communities, then the interconnector to take power from Lewis to the mainland will be an enabler of community benefits.

It must be built with enough capacity to take power from projects that already have consent—such as Stornoway—and to stimulate community-led projects across the islands by allowing them to sell their surplus power to the grid as well.

Not every community enterprise can have ambitions on the scale of the Stornoway Trust, and that is where local authorities can also be vital enablers.

Aberdeen renewable energy group was set up by the city council and helped to attract European Union funding, and now the Swedish energy company Vattenfall has built on that work by deploying the world’s largest wind turbines in Aberdeen bay.

They are due to be commissioned later this month and I was delighted to be able to visit Scotland’s newest wind farm just a few days ago.

It is truly a scheme of scale, and it comes with community benefits to match.

This week, Vattenfall announced a £3 million scheme involving investment of £150,000 a year for the next 20 years.

Ten per cent of that will be ring fenced for communities nearest the point where the power comes ashore at Blackdog, while the rest will be open to bids from communities right across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Projects will have to demonstrate both community benefit and environmental sustainability, but there is clearly great potential there.

It seems to me that, in different ways, all of those wind projects point in the right direction.

Wind energy generation at farm scale and at community-owned small scale bring benefits to the whole of rural Scotland, as in the examples of Udny and others mentioned today.

Scotland’s islands—Orkney and Shetland as well as the Hebrides—offer a whole new platform for both wind and marine renewables, with community enterprise as one partner, as in the Isle of Lewis.

However, they need the right connections in order to succeed, and I hope that the minister will agree with that, and that the Western Isles need a 600MW connection if they are to maximise the economic benefits from wind for communities there.

Aberdeen has been the oil capital of Europe for forty years, and is now developing renewable energy on a European scale, with millions of pounds in benefits for local communities.

We want more projects such as these, and they need to have community benefit and support, adequate infrastructure, and political backing.

We want a diversity of co-operative and community enterprise and an active role for local councils too.

I hope that that is the positive message that we will send from this debate.