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Scottish and Southern Energy has rejected an appeal to increase the amount of community benefit on offer from the Gordonbush Wind Farm – presently under construction in Strath Brora.
Power company chiefs have indicated that they will not accede to a demand to more than double the community benefit fund from £140,000 per year to at least £350,000, if not more.
The bid for more money was made by Helmsdale development officer, Pete Carson, a co-opted member of Helmsdale Community Council.
He has slammed the fund as it stands as “miserly,” and claims it represents just 0.5 per cent of the total profit the wind farm stands to make.
At a private meeting last week, Mr Carson was given a mandate to ask for extra funding by representatives of three of the four communities set to benefit.
Office bearers from Helmsdsale, Brora and Golspie Community Councils attended the meeting. No-one was present from Rogart Community Council which is currently in disarray following the resignation of three long standing members.
Community councillors also gave Mr Carson the go-ahead to query SSE’s preferred method of paying charitable organisation, the Edinburgh-based Scottish Community Foundation, to administer the fund.
Along with Mr Carson, some councillors are understood to want to set up a community group to manage the fund, as has been done in the case of the Kilbraur Wind Farm.
They would also like the fund to be split on a percentage basis between the four communities rather than be kept in a central “pot”.
Mr Carson sent an e-mail to SSE this week but received a short and to-the-point response stating it was the company’s policy to offer a standard community benefit package for its onshore wind farms. There was also a reminder that the payments were voluntary.
A pre-arranged meeting between SCF representatives and community councillors was set to go ahead last night (Thursday).
The 35-turbine Gordonbush Wind Farm, located on Gordonbush Estate, owned by the Tyser family, has a completion date of next spring but work is thought to be at least six weeks behind schedule because of the snowy weather.
Once completed, it will have a total installed capacity of 71.75 megawatts.
According to Mr Carson, the development will generate revenue of between £21 and £28 million a year from selling electricity to the National Grid and also from Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC).
However these figures have been challenged with one local expert suggesting the income stream would be nearer the £15 million mark because wind farms are only between 25 and 28 per cent efficient.
SSE last year agreed to make a one-off £300,000 payment to Golspie and Brora in recompense for heavy wind farm construction traffic using the A9 through the two villages.
It was also agreed to set up a guaranteed £140,000 per annum community benefit fund, with a bonus based on output.
Speaking to The Northern Times earlier this week, Mr Carson said that he felt the sum was miserly and that the communities were being given the “scraps.”
He referred to guidelines laid down by the Highland Council seven years ago which recommended that developers pay between £4-£5,000 per megawatt. Using this calculation, the fund should be in the region of £350,000.
Said Mr Carson: “The output of the Gordonbush Wind Farm is 72Mw and we can assume that the revenue will be between £21 and £28 million a year.
“That means that the level of community benefit they are offering is just 0.5 per cent of the profit and that just does not seem fair to me, particularly when it is being split between four communities. So, yes, I do think SSE are being miserly.”
Mr Carson said he felt SSE’s insistence that funds be administered through the Scottish Community Foundation was an “insult” to local people who were more than competent to handle the fund themselves.
“We do have people within our community who are totally capable of running a fund – it is not as if SCF have something no one else has,” he said.
And he said that SCF’s method of holding one “pot” of money and inviting applications for funding from groups and organisations in the four different communities was divisive.
“Under this system if, say, Rogart came up with no projects one year, then they would miss out on funding completely,” he said.
“However if they got a percentage annual share, then they could save it for use later when they had something to spend it on.
“One fund for four communities is a recipe for disaster.”
But he concluded: “It may well be that we just have to cave in and accept what is on offer because Gordonbush is going ahead.”
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