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The paradox of Community Benefits


Any discussion on windfarms invariably involves debating the merits or otherwise of Community Benefits. Make them stack up and you’re cleverer than I. It seems that the deeper you dig, the more questions you unearth.


We are told that Community Benefits are benefits voluntarily contributed by windfarm developers to communities inconvenienced by a windfarm development. The compensatory payment suggested is of a value equivalent to £5000 per annum per installed MW of electricity. (See ScotGov Community Benefits website) In the case of the Scoop Hill windfarm this amounts to an annual potential payment of £2.625m a year for forty years, index linked, to be distributed between six communities of which Moffat is one. Community Windpower Ltd (CWL) are currently talking about a lesser payment of £500,000 per year, the reasons for the discrepancy are not known to me but our Community Council may be able to help with this.


Even the lower figure is, at first sight, an impressive sum. It is only when you look into it that the questions begin to surface.


Note that the contribution is voluntary with no obligation to actually pay it. This is not helpful for anyone drawing up a budget. What happens if the economic climate changes or the operator hits hard times? In that case, according to ScotGov website, the payments are expected to be followed for the life of the windfarm. Whether that is enough to placate the accountant in charge of the Community books is a matter for him to decide but an agreement based on an expectation of materialization might sound a bit leaky to some.


Then there is the question of how to arrive at the form and scale of the Community Benefits. It is suggested that Community Councils or representative community bodies should work with the developers to get an agreed plan settled in advance of the project approval. That sounds a very good idea; clearly the only leverage a community has on reaching a good deal is by making it clear they will actively object to the planning application if the deal fails to reflect adequate compensation for the adverse impacts on the community resulting from the development. Trying to approve a water-tight deal after the developer has obtained planning consent is likely to be an uphill task!

Turning now to the source of the Community Benefits funding. CWL state “The community benefits are a voluntary payment which are funded directly from the operator of the wind farm following the sale of electricity to market.”


It was this disclosure that set bells ringing for me. There seemed to be a simple progression that I and perhaps others had overlooked. CWL stated that the profits that funded the Community Benefits payments came from the sale of electricity they produced. That poses the question: who bought the electricity from CWL? Answer: the utilities. And who bought the electricity from the utilities? The consumers of electricity. You and I, through the payments of our monthly electricity bills.


If that is the case then we are in the paradoxical situation of both paying for Community Benefits (through contributing to CWL’s profits) whilst also receiving our own money back through Community Benefits payments paid to our community. Hmmm.

I’m sure this is all legal but I’m not comfortable with it. This of course is only my view of things. Others will see it differently and it would be good to hear other opinions to counter my own.


Anon

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