Fermanagh Trust wind report 12 March 2012
Research by The Fermanagh Trust has found that communities in Northern Ireland are being financially disadvantaged by wind farm developments in comparison to the rest of the UK. Other models of community benefit, such as community ownership, have also not been made available locally.
The report has implications for government and the onshore, wind industry – with some of the same companies operating and/or owning wind farms across the UK.
The research findings – the result of a three–month study which was supported by the Building Change Trust – found that the higher levels of payments into community funds in Great Britain have generally not been achieved at approved wind farms in Northern Ireland.
In Great Britain for example, amounts reaching and exceeding £2,000/MW, per annum have increasingly been seen. However, only one of the fourteen community funds in Northern Ireland identified by The Fermanagh’s Trust’s research was found to offer £2,000/MW per annum – this was a recent development which occurred during the lifetime of the research project, offered for a wind farm which has yet to be built.
Throughout the UK average levels of payments being paid into community funds have been found to be increasing through time but in Northern Ireland there appears to be a mixed picture. Whilst some wind farms have seen higher levels of payments in recent years, substantially low levels of payments of between £500–£1000 MW per annum are still being made into community funds for recently approved wind farms.
In relation to community ownership, there are numerous examples of wind farms where developers have taken very innovative approaches towards the provision of community benefits, and have incorporated community ownership into the development. In Northern Ireland, there are no instances of community ownership in a commercial wind farm development, or similar innovative approaches.
The report launch, which was attended by approximately 100 people, heard from representatives from frost–free ltd, a Scottish company that helps communities develop their own wind energy enterprises and helps them benefit from initiatives already proposed in their area.
Bill Acton from frost–free said: “It is important to unlock the potential for local communities to benefit from renewable energy projects. Communities, as well as private developers, must be incentivised to develop their own renewable energy projects or to engage with commercial projects in their area. The significance of the income that can be generated from such ventures has the real potential to create long term, sustainable income streams that will help many communities in the current financial climate.”
Graeme Dunwoody, Researcher with The Fermanagh Trust, said: “There are important recommendations in this report for government, local communities, local councils and the industry. For example; communities need good practice guidance, including a policy on community engagement and a toolkit on community benefits and a minimum payment should be offered by developers which is in line with the rest of the UK; and they should explore, where local communities want it, a form of community ownership.
“Local Councils should formally establish guidance protocols (based on good practice) which provide a framework for engagement by developers with the Councils and local communities and government should develop a public register of community benefits from wind farm projects similar to that currently being established by the Scottish Government.
“Government could also actively support local communities and their potential, positive role in implementing wind farm projects and the contribution they make in the development of a low carbon society. The implementation of this policy should address the need for active community involvement in shaping Northern Ireland’s community energy agenda. Policies ensuring effective support mechanisms need to be in place, such as a local energy assessment fund.”
Read the full report and summary document here.