WITH the roll out of wind power across the Sperrins, Magherafelt Sinn Féin councillor, Brian McGuigan is putting a strong focus on how massive investment in energy infrastructure can be delivered in ways that benefit local communities affected.
The Ballinascreen based elected representative who successfully proposed that Magherafelt District Council members and officials be briefed by Fermanagh Trust who have recently published research entitled ‘Maximising Community Outcomes From Wind Energy Developments’ described the community dimension of renewable energy policy as its ‘Achilles Heel’.
Councillor McGuigan said: “Ireland and its rural west in particular has one of the greatest wind energy resources in Europe and as renewable energy is of benefit to everyone helping meet ambitious climate change targets and generating substantial new economic activity, local people are entitled to see some return and benefit directly from the natural environmental assets as renewable energy development draws on collective resources and draws on communities.
“While the roll out of wind power in Denmark and Gemany benefited from the widespread participation of local cooperatives and farmers, projects in Ireland and Britain are typically large, commercial and mostly benefit distant shareholders and encounter local disquiet. The spotlight needs to shine on ways of channeling some benefits from renewable energy to affected communities, and that is my party’s aim by having council colleagues and staff be made aware of the interesting findings contained in the Fermanagh Trust research.
“Key findings from the Fermanagh Trust research show commerical wind farm developments as presenting significant opportunities for affected communities which host them through the provision of community benefits. Community benefits are viewed as key components of the way in which communities can engage with wind energy development. In the context of wind energy, community benefits tend to be in the form of a voluntary financial contributions made by a developer to a community fund in an area which host a development. These funds can be used to help support local infrastructure projects, local activities and community groups.
“Whilst these can provide new opportunities for local communities, it is important to be aware that the nature and scale of community benefit differs between sites and between developers. The higher level of payments into community funds in Britain have generally not been achieved at approved wind farms in the north of Ireland. In Britain for example, amounts attaining and exceeding £2,000/MW per annum have been increasingly achieved. Only one in fourteen community funds identified by this research in the north of Ireland was found to offer £2,000/MW per annum. There appears to be a mixed picture here in the north regarding community funds being found to be increased through time.”