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Caithness wind farms: The dilemma-landscape and environment versus community benefit

A Caithness community is to consult locals on how best to use the money brought in by wind farms.

On land three miles north of Lybster, German energy giant E.On Climate and Renewables will soon learn if Scottish ministers will give the go ahead for its Golticlay wind farm, comprising 19 430ft turbines.

It’s near the operational Camster wind farm (25 400ft turbines) and the proposed Camster 2 (a further 14 400ft turbines).

While some in the community are dreading the prospect of more turbines, others have taken a more pragmatic approach.

Lyth and Lybster Community Development Company (LLCDC) bought 40ha of land to develop two small turbines for community income, and then E.On approached them.

LLCDC manager Tom Briscoe said: “They said they were looking at a much bigger windfarm at Golticlay so we partnered up.

“The arrangement is that they would finance it all and we would get the community benefit, a percentage of the profits that would come into the village that we would then use for community activities.”

Mr Briscoe said the community benefit could be up to £200,000 annually for the next 25 years.

He said: “People come to us saying there are too many windfarms and the landscape of Caithness has certainly been challenged as a result of having too many, we totally understand that, we get it every week from people.

“But we also get people who are pretty anti-windfarm but also very pro-community. They object in principle, aesthetically to these turbines, but they also appreciate the community benefit from them is important as well.”

Using money from Camster, LLCDC is about to embark on a detailed consultation on how to develop a co-ordinated approach to all the money coming in from the wind farms.

Mr Briscoe said: “When these windfarms come and go, what we’re looking at with the community council is the legacy that they leave, and co-ordinating all the money that comes in from all the windfarms, from Camster, Burn of Whilk, Beatrice offshore and potentially Golticlay and Camster 2.

“Potentially over the next twenty years we’re talking millions, and we need to co-ordinate that to work for the benefit of people in Lybster.

“A lot of people feel that if we have to have them we might as well get something out of it.”

Trudy Morris, Caithness Chamber of Commerce chief executive said: “We understand that the subject of onshore wind is an emotive one, and one where many people on both sides have strong opinions.

“We believe that Scotland needs a mixed energy policy to ensure sustainable future development, and that onshore wind has a part to play in that, particularly if the Scottish Government’s ambitious carbon reduction targets are to be met.

“It is extremely important that onshore wind developments are planned and developed in a sensitive and responsible way, taking into account the views of the communities affected, and that each development should be assessed carefully on its own merits.

“Community benefit from windfarms can give a real boost to remote and rural communities in Scotland, and it is important that these funds are set up and managed in a way which maximises the benefit available.

“The Chamber administers the Baillie Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund and manages the Caithness Business Fund, both of which receive annual contributions from the Baillie Wind Farm (Stakraft). In both cases, the developer wanted to bring additional benefits over and above the statutory minimum.

“The Caithness Business Fund supports business startups, growth businesses, and apprenticeships across the North Highlands. In addition to directly supporting projects in its immediate area, the Baillie Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund also provides monies to educational and sporting groups across the entire region. Both of these funds provide a good example of how innovative thinking can really maximise the benefits seen by the wider community.”