Opinion: Once Again, Scottish Communities will not Reap the Benefits of their Natural Resources.

By Niall Houston

14 March 2022

(Wind Turbines spinning at Holm, Isle of Lewis. They provide power for nearby sewage works. Photograph: Uisdean Russel.)

New revelations by The Ferret show wind farms only give 0.6 percent of £3bn produced to Scottish locals and communities. More action must be done to ensure Scots are not left behind as the country transitions into green energy. 

Living costs are rising at the fastest rate seen in thirty years. Energy, fuel, and food prices are soaring to record highs. Diesel has been averaging at a huge £1.61 a litre, while petrol is now at £1.55 per litre. Prices are still going to increase.

This surely must be the time when we all band together, switch to renewable energies, and finally reap the benefits of wind in Scotland – seeing as we are without a doubt the windiest country ever to exist. 

However, after recent revelations of an investigation by The Ferret, this possibility now seems as unlikely as Boris Johnson singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ in a kilt.

The Ferret’s investigation showed how Scotland’s onshore wind farms could together produce electricity valued at over £3.5bn. Yet just over £22m will go to the communities who live nearest the farms in payments to support local initiatives. 

Locals will receive just only 0.6 percent of the electricity that is produced on their very own doorstep. To put it into perspective, based on energy prices from 2021,  it will take a wind farm just two days to produce the energy worth what communities will be paid in a year.  

When large developers usually apply to build wind farms in Scotland, they pledge to pay a community benefit fund which is in the Scottish Government’s Good Practice Principles

The community controls this fund to help boost initiatives and help support the local economy. There are positives in the community benefit fund, such as bursaries for higher education and money to refurbish community halls. Many developers even appoint a community officer to liaise between the developers and the community to help maintain a relationship between the two. 

Yet, with the amount of money the windfarms produce, it still feels like the communities are getting a bit short-changed. The locals accept having these gigantic, colossal, and view-spoiling farms to be built virtually in their front garden, in exchange for having a renewable energy source that helps the environment. However, the locals only get mere tuppence from developers, money that wind farms could produce in two days. 

Feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth. 

Although, it is not necessarily all doom, gloom, and world ending corporations. Yes, it is infuriating. But we must ask ourselves – can anything be done? 

Well, luckily, one must not look too far. 

One idea could be community-owned wind farms. There are already a few in operation around Scotland. A study in 2019 found Scotland’s community-owned windfarms have provided 34 times more benefit payments to local communities than privately-owned wind farms. 

In Denmark, around 70-80 percent of the 6,000 wind turbines are locally and community owned. Where the energy sold to the grid goes straight back into the community. Surely this is a no brainer?

Alas! These revelations come at a time when houses all over Scotland are going to be plunged into fuel poverty. Figures analysed by Energy Action Scotland (EAS) show that in some local authority areas, almost 43% of the households will be plunged into fuel poverty within the coming months. 

The areas most affected are the Highlands and Islands, The Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, which have higher fuel poverty rates than anywhere else in Scotland. Which is ironic, seeing as these areas are coincidently ‘energy rich’ in renewables; areas where there are also the most wind farms. 

Modelling done by EAS show 57 percent of people living in the Western Isles will soon be spending more than 10 percent of their income on energy. 

The Scottish Government announced the Fuel Poverty Act (2019) with a target by 2040 to have no more than 5 percent households within fuel poverty. This act was set out when 25 percent of households were in fuel poverty. The number has now significantly risen within the past few months. 

More action must be done by the Government. This cannot turn out like the discovery of North Sea oil in the seventies. A time when yet again Scots were stripped from the benefits of their natural resource. 

It is easy to compare Scotland to Norway. They discovered North Sea oil around the same time as Scotland. They set up a sovereign wealth fund, setting aside a tenth of oil and gas revenue each year to help offset some of the problems caused by the price fluctuations. Look at Norway now. Once again, those across the North Sea are setting an excellent example for us all to follow. Even the Americans are getting jealous – which takes some doing.

Many Scots, in 2022, now find themselves in fuel poverty, even after the plentiful discovery of oil and having thousands of renewables on their own land producing up to £3bn in energy. No wonder many Highlanders and Islanders are furious.

The need to transition into renewables is as urgent as ever. But Scottish communities must not be left behind when the country tries to achieve carbon neutrality. Too many times and for too long have communities across Scotland suffered for not reaping the benefits of their resources. As the green revolution gathers its momentum, please let it include us all and make sure no one is left behind. 

Especially those at the source of the energy. 

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