People living near new windfarms will be able to buy a stake in them for as little as £5 under new plans, as part of a fightback by industry to win over opponents of wind turbines.
In a report produced for the Liberal Democrat energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, renewable energy trade bodies, community energy groups and academics say that major future wind and solar farms should give communities the chance to invest and own as much as a quarter of projects.
Onshore windfarms have proved emotive and politically divisive in the UK, despite polling showing 70% of people would be happy to have one in their local area. The Tory party has promised to pull the plug on onshore windfarm subsidies if it wins the 2015 election.
The new voluntary guidelines from the ‘Shared Ownership Taskforce’ are partly designed to avert the threat of government legislating for community ownership of renewable energy projects, which Davey has warned he would push through if companies do not act.
Maria McCaffery, the chair of the task force and chief executive of trade body RenewableUK, said the move was intended to cement goodwill with existing supporters of wind power but to win over vocal opponents as well.
“We hope with this vehicle to attract some of those that haven’t liked us in the past. There will be people motivated by a financial return, and under present economic circumstances there are not many risk-free ways of getting a decent return.
“We’ve knocked ourselves out to make it an affordable thing. There was a very strong message from the outset that this wasn’t just to be for the wealthy, not just for those who could afford new share certificates for £250.”
The ownership offer will only apply to projects of £2.5m and up, which in the case of onshore windfarms is around 80-90% of developments.
Davey said: “By giving communities the opportunity to buy in and benefit from renewable energy developments in their area, they can play their part in generating power at a local level which could supply enough electricity for 1m homes by 2020.”
But the suggestion that developers should engage with local people and offer the chance of ownership at the earliest possible stages of a project is not binding and is entirely voluntary for companies.
Renewable energy companies have also raised concerns over the cost of such engagement but the task force report says shared ownership should be “cost neutral”.
Leonie Green, a spokeswoman for the Solar Trade Association, one of the members of the task force, said: “Forming direct financial relationships with communities is exciting, but there are still important unknowns on the costs of some of these approaches.”
McCaffery said companies would likely recoup any costs if the planning system works more quickly as a result of local people being on board.
The report admits some towns and villages might simply be uninterested in taking up the offer of shared ownership, and says developers “should not be judged harshly” by planning officials if that happens.
However, in a statement, McCaffery said: “It’s clear that local authorities will look more favourably on projects where local people are fully engaged and wholeheartedly supportive.”
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