FORMER First Minister Lord McConnell is to chair a new multimillion-pound fund for communities living near wind farms which campaigners claim could threaten the integrity of the planning process.
Ramblers Scotland has claimed that many will see it as a form of bribery.
However, the Labour peer says he is delighted to chair the new panel set up by energy firm SSE to oversee community funding potentially worth around £90 million over the next 25 years.
Loading article content
The fund will be available to non-profit making organisations, community groups and charities within regions in which SSE is constructing a wind farm.
It will support projects which promote skills development, community energy developments or improve the built and natural environment.
The panel also includes Professor Jan Bebbington, professor of accounting and sustainable development and co-head of School, University of St Andrews; Nicholas Gubbins, chief executive, Community Energy Scotland and Damien Yeates, chief executive of Skills Development Scotland. The managing director, corporate affairs for SSE, Alan Young, is also included.
Lord McConnell will be paid £5000 a year, while the other board members will receive £3000 from the energy giant. Mr Young will not be paid.
The first round of funding will open to applications from organisations in the Highlands in September when around £325,000 will be available, shortly followed by funding rounds in Perthshire and Dumfries and Galloway in the spring of next year.
Lord McConnell said: "This fund aims to support large potentially transformational projects in local areas, supporting skills, jobs, community energy and environmental enhancement.
"This is a significant amount of money made available by SSE and I know they want us to make sure these funds are allocated effectively, making a real difference.
"I hope we will see high quality applications with strong support from local communities.
Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive of SSE, said "The fund we're launching today is in addition to the sizeable sums we set aside each year for communities within the immediate area around our wind farms, for existing and new sites.
However, Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, said: "Many will see the fund as little better than a form of bribery to persuade local communities to accept wind farm development in their areas, irrespective of the effect of such developments on the landscape.
"SSE themselves indicate the level of funding is dependent on whether 'our planned wind farms get the go-ahead'.
"It is a well established principle that decisions on planning applications should be independent of any financial benefits that might accrue to individuals potentially affected by the planned development."
Linda Holt of the Scotland Against Spin campaign group said: "This community fund is a callous PR stunt which will do absolutely nothing to help low and middle-income families with galloping electricity bills over the next 25 years.
""Like all community benefit schemes, this is no more than a bribe for some communities and an insult to others forced to live with wind farms.
"Worst of all, the benefit is a miniscule fraction of the profits SSE will reap from its wind farms, and these profits would not be generated without the subsidies which are paid directly by every UK electricity consumer."