#CATJRF: Wind powered community development coming to Fermanagh?

Last week, I was lucky enough to catch up with Lauri McCusker of the Fermanagh Trust to talk with him about a relatively recent project, which is no so much about asset transfer as asset development by developing a revenue stream for rural, often very isolated, communities.

At the core of it is the concept of community benefit being trailed off wind farms over its life time (about 20 years or so). This sort of payoff has been associated with the establishment of the first major wind farms in northern Europe some twenty or thirty years ago, and is probably as much to do with the relatively low success rates in planning applications.

But as the Trust notes on its website, the potential pay off for small rural communities already suffering from fuel poverty, resulting largely from high dependency on home heating oil, is not insubstantial:

In Great Britain for example, amounts reaching and exceeding £2,000/MW, per annum have increasingly been seen. However, only one of the fourteen community funds in Northern Ireland identified by The Fermanagh’s Trust’s research was found to offer £2,000/MW per annum – this was a recent development which occurred during the lifetime of the research project, offered for a wind farm which has yet to be built.

Throughout the UK average levels of payments being paid into community funds have been found to be increasing through time but in Northern Ireland there appears to be a mixed picture. Whilst some wind farms have seen higher levels of payments in recent years, substantially low levels of payments of between £500-£1000 MW per annum are still being made into community funds for recently approved wind farms.

In Scotland such community benefit schemes are almost universal though the amount going into a local community benefit fund varied quite widely. In Northern Ireland the picture is a great deal more patchy. The Fermanagh Trust has laid out a number of options for community ownership from full to pasty to joint venture and the co-operative model.

In each case it can realise large amounts of cash to communities often struggling to build or maintain existing assets… This private/community partnership model is an interesting digression from the models from the kinds of state to community model we’ve been looking at so far.

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  • Given that community benefit has been standard for years, has anyone from the Planning Service got an explanation as to why Northern Ireland communities have not been benefiting over the same period?