North coast groups to invest in wind farm?
North coast community groups have taken a major step forward towards becoming among the first in the north to take up an invitation from a power company to invest in a local wind farm.
Three community councils – Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra; Strathy Armadale and Melvich and Halladale – along with development group UpNorth - have formed a new group to look into the prospect of buying shares in SSE’s multi-million pound Strathy South development, which has yet to be built
It is hoped such an investment would eventually unlock a substantial and unrestricted revenue stream over the 25-year-lifetime of the windfarm.
Any such funds would be additional to the traditional community benefit from renewable projects and thee money would be used to revitalise the north coast, where fears regarding depopulation are growing.
Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) launched a community co-investment scheme in 2013 offering community groups the chance to take a financial stake of up to 10 per cent in planned renewable energy developments.
Planning consent for SSE’s controversial 39-turbine Strathy South development was granted by the Scottish Government in April last year following a planning inquiry.
The community councils have now formed the Strathy South Community Shared Revenue Working Group with funding from SSE and the Scottish Government’s Community Action Renewable Energy Scheme.
The group comprises 11 representatives from the community groups and met for the first time in Strathy Hall last Wednesday, under the chairmanship of Bettyhill resident Simon Lee.
Jim Johnstone, secretary of Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council, was one of those present at the two-hour meeting.
He said the group acknowledged that obtaining shared ownership would be a “difficult and complex” task but it was agreed it was “worthy of serious consideration”.
He said: “A number of impediments were recognised including the difficulty of raising money to investigate the opportunity and the bigger problem of raising the much larger amount required for investment in the project.
“Then there was obtaining appropriate legal and financial advice, finding the right people to serve as volunteers and eventually staff, maintaining the impetus of the group in a venture which could take years and even the unlikely scenario where the wind might drop for years on end with a resultant drop in profits.”
But the group also spoke about the benefits a new income stream completely in local control could bring - from reversing depopulation to creating affordable housing and keeping keeping services open.
The group intends to meet again next month when it is hoped representatives from SSE will be present.
Mr Johnstone said: “In the interim members will raise the issue in their communities, ascertain public opinion and look out for potential recruits to the group as maintaining transparency and keeping the local communities fully informed is seen as a key factor if there is to be any chance of success.”