The Scottish Government should issue national level guidance on community benefit provision of wind farm developments to local government, according to a recent study by Robert Gordon University (RGU).
Professor Peter Strachan, who is the Strategy and Policy Group Lead within the Department of Management at RGU's Aberdeen Business School, has recently presented the initial findings of a survey of Scottish local government – Community Benefit Provision for Wind Farm Development in Scotland.
The survey aimed to critically assess the extent to which formal policy guidance had been issued on the topic of community benefits provision, including ownership arrangements, for wind farm developments in Scotland.
All 32 local authorities in Scotland contributed to the study, with it being the first and most comprehensive survey undertaken on this issue to date.
Prof Strachan said: "Scotland has witnessed a rapid expansion of onshore wind power during the past 12 years. Much of this is corporately owned, with very few examples of individual, farmer and cooperative ownership arrangements prevailing.
"Most corporate developers have found wind power projects to be problematic, with local opposition to siting proposals often being very fierce and prolonged adding significantly to project costs. In trying to win over local communities however, many developers now routinely offer affected communities a community benefits package. Such packages often take the form of a community benefits fund where the developer sets up a fund with a set payment per annum per megawatt of installed capacity to be spent on local projects.
"In rural areas, these packages can have wider social benefits contributing significant amounts of much needed revenue to local economy. However, community benefit packages retain a curious position within the Scottish planning system, as they must not influence the determination of a planning application.
Prof Strachan and his team of researchers, comprising Dr Abhishek Agarwal and Sean Huff, found that Scottish local government had been slow to respond to debates on community benefits provision.
The survey found that while some local authorities, such as The Highland Council and Argyll and Bute had issued formal policy guidance, the majority of Scottish local authorities have not.
Prof Strachan continued: "It is clear that after more than ten years of wind power deployment, Scottish local government lacks robust and nationally coordinated frameworks for strategically managing community benefits provision.
"The reason for this lack of action appears to arise from the fact that wind power applications are controversial and that local authorities face significant resourcing constraints in terms of time, people and money.
"Many local authorities were concerned that action in this arena would lead to accusations that the planning system has been brought into disrepute or that the planning process had become corrupted.
"Finally, my team and I found that inter and intra organisational collaboration lacking with little policy learning having taken place across Scottish local government. High quality community benefits guidance from local authorities such as that produced by the Highlands Council has not been transposed elsewhere."
Having outlined these initial findings, Prof Strachan recommends the Scottish Government should issue national level guidance on community benefit provision of wind farm developments to local government.
He also recommends the Scottish Government should encourage a variety of ownership arrangements including individual, farmer and cooperative ownership and further increase its 500MW of community owned renewables target to at least 1,000MW and Community benefit packages should be made an integral part of the planning process, with individual, farmer and cooperative ownership arrangements to be given special treatment.
His final recommendation is that developers should become more creative in community benefits provision particularly in terms of promoting a variety of joint venture and stockholding ownership arrangements – with this much can be learnt from the Danish and German experience of wind power deployment.
For more information, please contact Professor Peter Strachan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stacey HorneCommunications Officer | Aberdeen Business School