Communities across the country located next to windfarms are benefiting socially and culturally thanks to funding from ScottishPower Renewables

We’ve come a long way since community benefits from onshore wind farms amounted to funding flower beds and football kits. Last year alone, ScottishPower Renewables contributed £7.6million in benefit funds across the UK, putting the total value awarded at more than £60m in over 20 years.
It’s much more than a financial exercise, however. The company puts great emphasis on being a good neighbour to those who live and work in the communities in which it operates. 

“We believe it’s right to share social and economic benefits from our operational wind farms with the communities actually hosting this nationally significant infrastructure,” explains Gillian Arnot, Senior Stakeholder and Community Manager. “That’s why for more than 20 years we’ve been committed to sharing benefits from our renewable production at a local level. This is key to the way we build relationships with people. It helps shape and inform our future plans, while delivering a lasting legacy for generations to come.”

Arnot firmly believes local people are the stakeholders best placed to make financial decisions that bring the greatest value and most relevance, adding: “We encourage and empower them to decide themselves how best to spend what we provide. “The end result is we’re seeing a really wide range of initiatives delivered. These all come from locally-led decisions and we’re proud to see the tangible difference our funds make. We anticipate that over the lifetime of ScottishPower Renewables’ current operational wind farms, community benefit funds will provide more than £200m to the communities we work in.”

Arnot adds that it’s important to understand a ScottishPower Renewables funding contribution is not simply a one hit wonder: over the operational life of a wind farm, Arnot and her team continue to have an ongoing relationship with local groups. “It’s very easy to say: ‘Here’s some cash, good luck, go spend it!’ However, regardless of how big the fund is, there’s a real importance attached to ensuring there’s good community capacity and understanding,” Arnot says.

“In fact, probably one of the most enjoyable parts for me and my team is getting to meet a wide range of fantastic people, all of whom are taking the time and energy and effort to really take on what is quite often a big responsibility in relation to managing funds. I’ve found they have a huge amount of drive and desire to make sure they are delivering the very best possible outcomes for their communities. It’s a responsibility they take square on their own shoulders and want to do well at. It’s always satisfying for us to be able to be part of that conversation. 

“After all, community benefit funding is about facilitating a forum and in many places this enables people to come around the table and have conversations and connect, giving them power to make decisions about the direction they want to take things.”

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From her personal experiences meeting people all across Scotland, Arnot says it’s interesting that sometimes the more remote the community, the more resilience there exists at a local level. 
“There’s an understanding that they need a bit of extra get up and go to deliver projects. They recognise there’s an even greater role for them to play in ensuring things happen. The provision of benefit funding helps connect some of the moving parts that maybe were a bit harder to connect previously.”

No matter how small a project might seem, often it will directly or indirectly feed into the wider supply chain and local economy so that there is an accumulative effect. Arnot says: “This is something we see through our community events in particular – such as the festivals we help sponsor – that encourage more people to become involved. That kind of knock-on effect on the supply chain positively impacts areas such as hospitality and accommodation and allows the community benefit to have a much bigger and wider impact.”

In recognition of the fact it may be a small number of people who have the drive, ability and time to do all of the things required to deliver initiatives, Arnot and her team also ensure connections are in place to link to support services – for example, Local Energy Scotland, an arms-length group of the Scottish Government that provides professional assistance and manages CARES, the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme. 

Experienced third party administrators can also help ensure communities follow the correct governance and conflict of interest processes. Community benefit funding also supports development officers, who help communities to drive forward projects and address local priorities.  Arnot says: “All of these support mechanisms ensure funds have a good framework around them so communities are able to maximise the opportunities to deliver a sustainable legacy.”

When building such legacies, in recent years there has been a stronger focus on proposals that help the journey to a net zero future. “Funds have always been available to be used for improvement to local facilities and services, promote upskilling and further education or boost local heritage and tourism and a number of other things. Now we have started to focus more on encouraging communities to finance initiatives that help reduce their carbon footprint and become net zero. There is definitely an increasing trend towards these types of initiatives.”

This has seen the emergence of projects such as the installation of electric vehicle charging points and the introduction of electric bikes that local people and tourists alike can use to get around. 
Community buildings that had been all but forgotten have been brought back into daily use, with a number also having heat pumps or solar panels installed to make them more efficient and able to function again as social hubs. 

“The message we’re delivering to communities is we want them to consciously consider ways they can make their initiatives more sustainable,” says Arnot. A significant element of this sustainability can also be found in the drive to create new employment. Arnot says: “A lot of our funds are used to help with local employment and that can be in all different ways. £4.2m has already gone towards helping to employ people to deliver local services or training or upskilling.

“It can be something as simple, as in one of our communities, as having a handyman who does the gardening for elderly people and the general maintenance upkeep of the village.”
The team have also worked with Argyll and Bute Council and ALIenergy (Argyll, Lomond & the Islands Energy Agency) for many years to support educational work with schools and communities across the region.

Since 2015, 40% of the Beinn an Tuirc 2 Wind farms community benefit – amounting to more than £400,000 – has been committed to funding an Education and Skills Development Programme delivered by ALIenergy. This encourages and facilitates young people to seek careers in STEM-related sectors. Ultimately, Arnot and her ScottishPower Renewables team is focused on creating what they call ‘connected communities’. These are places where flowers may well grow and footballers have new shirts but, most importantly, they are places where benefits nurture real and tangible change – where volunteers come together, make decisions and reach out to the rest of the community, delivering projects and initiatives that matter most to them.

This article was brought to you by ScottishPower Renewables