Community activists clashed with council officials in a stormy meeting at New Cumnock Community Centre last week.
Hosted by the local community council, the event was arranged to allow an exchange of views between residents and officers responsible for administering the Renewable Energy Fund (REF).
More than double the expected attendance turned up and the small hall was filled to capacity as around 35 representatives of various community groups gathered.
East Ayrshire Council (EAC) has changed the criteria by which REF contributions are distributed, which will impact on several future developments, and subsequent grants, in the area.
Since 2009, qualifying projects have received an annual rate of contributions of £2,500 per megawatt of installed capacity but that could increase to £5,000, with negotiations ongoing with companies to bring this around.
For the first 10 years, only local projects within a 10km radius of the energy installation will qualify, changing to a split after that period, when 50 per cent of the funding will go to applicants outwith the 10km limit.
Both these issues proved to be contentious as the funds will go straight to EAC, with a Grants Committee deciding their final destination, while residents are concerned that grant money could go to the wrong recipients.
Jerry Mulders, secretary of New Cumnock Community Council, said: “Why does money have to be shared with people, not affected by energy company developments? Does this mean that, in nine years time, I can apply because my view is impaired by Whitlees Farm when I am driving to Glasgow?”
Councillor Eric Ross added: “The communities would be better deciding where the money is spent, not the council, I have grave concerns on behalf of my constituents that EAC taking another 50 per cent of the funding is a poor show – everyone would have been happy with the £2,500.”
Karl Doroszenko, Development and Regeneration Manager, who is responsible for EAC planning policy for windfarms, said: “It is not the intention of EAC to take the extra 50 per cent.
“All we are doing is making a request, as part of the council’s local plan, to ask developers to provide another £2,500 per megawatt – we are trying to maximise funds on behalf of community projects.
“But it has to remain on a voluntary basis, as the Scottish Government will object if we try to make it mandatory. They will then appoint a reporter who could take the funding away altogether.”
Head of Democratic Services at EAC, Bill Walkinshaw, added: “All we are doing is trying to create a framework (for groups making applications), we are not trying to take money away from you.”
This drew several angry responses, including “Why not just give the community groups the money direct?”, and “The council could still oversee it, if we were given the money.”
Mr Walkinshaw replied: “You will have access to professional help, such as architects, by the main thing for us is that the money is invested in communities, by whatever means.
“It will be paid out based on applications backed by feasibility studies, and business plans, with the grants committee comprising elected members, given the responsibility by the council to make such decisions.”
Cllr Ross suggested that the various community groups and organisations get together and decide on a strategy for making applications to the REF.
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