RURAL communities across Scotland are sharing a windfall of millions of pounds from renewable energy in support of community schemes, projects and services.

Power company SSE Renewables has revealed details of the £6.3m it has provided in the past year to local groups ranging from schools to football clubs and village halls.

The money comes from a pot if cash pledged by the company to support local initiatives before it commenced on a series of windfarms throughout Scotland.

But critics have raised question over whether the awards do local communities more harm than good, and whether it is sustainable to fund them in this way.

SSE's report details more than 400 projects supported by community funds, ranging from a £600,000 award to Cill Chuimein Medical Centre in Fort Augustus to a £540 grant for an art exhibition in Dunkeld, Perthshire.

READ MORE: Scots green schemes help fund new GP centre​

The millions of pounds worth of awards handed out between April 2018 and March this year is the largest amount ever provided by the renewable energy company, meaning it is one of the largest community funders in Scotland.

HeraldScotland:

Windfarms have been a boon to some communities.

Jim Smith, Managing Director of SSE Renewables, said: “This is the sixth year of our community investment review and I am very pleased we have had another record year for our funds.
“We pride ourselves on our work with communities and our awards help secure much needed funding in often very rural regions to help them grow sustainably into the future, allowing our projects to contribute to a lasting legacy in the areas we operate in.”

Among the projects receiving grants, which are administered by a mixture of local councils and trusts, was Cantraybridge college in Croy, near Inverness, which received almost £60,000 to support young people with learning disabilities. 

Meanwhile, the Wild Things group in Moray - which brings elderly people together with teenagers and children to visit natural beauty spots - received £30,000.

READ MORE: Prince Charles opens Scotland’s biggest ever offshore wind farm

Also sharing funds of £65,000 of funding was Plastic @ Bay, a recycling project which turns marine plastic into useful objects in the north Highlands.

Around 20kg of plastic material washes up on Durness beach each day and the project encourages residents and visitors to deposit washed-up plastic at deposit sites along the coast. Plastic @ Bay then shreds and moulds the material to create 3D filament, jewellery, furniture and hardware.

Joan D’Arcy, Co-Founder of Plastic @ Bay, said: “The Highland Sustainable Development Fund saw the potential our ocean plastic recycling project had to help our local environment and develop community projects.”

HeraldScotland:

The fund also supported local assets including community shops, museums and village halls. 
Jim Smith added: “The renewable energy sector has an important role to play in tackling the climate change challenge, but it also can play an important role helping rural communities thrive, as this report highlights.”

However, Graham Lang, Chairman of the anti-windfarm group Scotland Against Spin, said that the money given to communities by energy companies may not have long-term benefits.

He said: "It should not be up to energy companies to fund these communities. What happens is a group gets a grant but when they money runs out they face having to apply all over again with no guarantee of success.

"In the case of the village shop, it went out of business before and when it is no longer propped up by this fund it risks the same happening again. It is not sustainable."

READ MORE: Scots let down by green jobs 'revolution'​

Mr Lang, who has campaigned against windfarms for more than a decade, said that the funds amounted to "blackmail" in some cases.

He said: "The people who are the worst affected by these windfarms are most often the ones who do not see the benefits these community funds provide."

"It's usually not the people who open their curtains and have a group of giant turbines blocking the view.
"The way these things go is that the energy company comes along and says it will provide these funds to the community as soon as the planning process starts. It's a bit of blackmail, really."