Councils are “siphoning off” large proportions of windfarm community benefit funds, it has been claimed.
Renewable energy developer Infinergy said the funds, offered by windfarm companies to help regenerate areas close to windfarm sites, should be distributed annually over the lifetime of the farm (about 25 years), through a charitable trust with board members from the local area.
However, it said Scotland’s councils are increasingly pocketing the cash against residents’ wishes and using it across the whole local authority area.
Fiona Milligan, Inverness-based project manager at Infinergy, said: “Local people are often angered by councils effectively confiscating funding which they believe should benefit the immediate vicinity of a windfarm.
“What they are seeing is councils siphoning off sometimes large proportions of funds into vaguely-defined region-wide pots which may end up being spent many miles away where there is no impact from the windfarm.”
Infinergy is proposing £5,000 per megawatt of generating capacity for the community benefit funds at its Tom nan Clach site, near Tomatin in the Highlands. The company said the 17-turbine scheme is currently the subject of an appeal to the Scottish Government.
It said that, if approved, it could provide a fund of nearly £200,000 a year, or £4.9 million over the windfarm’s lifetime, to support a range of initiatives including “rural apprenticeships” to provide training and employment opportunities locally.
Infinergy said Highland Council released a policy statement in February this year which calls on developers to sign up to a £5,000 per megawatt benchmark for community benefit funds, with the first £100,000 per year of benefit going to local communities and managed within a local fund.
The company said Dumfries and Galloway Council has announced that it expects developers to hand over 50% of proposed community benefits to the council’s region-wide “socio-economic” fund, with the remaining 50% going to the nearest communities. In Aberdeenshire, Infinergy claimed the council “insists” on taking 25% of the proposed fund to invest in social housing.
Vivian Roden, chair of Strathdearn Community Council, one of the communities near to the Tom nan Clach proposal, said: “The Highland Council community benefit policy was drawn up without any consultation with the affected communities. A one-size-fits-all policy won’t work in an area like Highland, as the needs of communities on the west coast, for example, will be different from communities around Inverness.”
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