Councillors back study into wind farm advice agency

PLANS for an independent renewable energy agency to operate in the region took a major step forward last week.

It came when Scottish Borders Council’s executive unanimously agreed to a feasibility study looking into creating the specialist charity.

And one of its purposes will be to get a fairer share of money for local communities affected by windfarms.

The idea for an agency to provide information, training and agree benefits with energy companies came from a scrutiny watchdog working group of the council.

The group’s chairman Councillor Gavin Logan said: “This is a new and exciting prospect, which could bring together various strands of renewable energy in the Borders. We hope this will be driven forward over the coming months to ensure that the Borders can fully benefit from renewable energy and the creation of this agency.”

Councillors agreed to carry out a feasibility study into developing the Borders Renewable Energy Agency (BREA) to deliver the renewable energy and carbon reduction information, advice and support. Wind farm companies are to be asked to contribute towards establishing BREA.

A council spokesperson said: “One of the potential key aims of the agency would be to ensure that Borders communities receive sound advice at an early stage in any wind farm development, as well as assistance to ensure the best possible level of benefit is secured for the local community.”

In a report to councillors, Brian Emmerson, the council’s business consultancy unit’s senior consultant says: “There are risks to the Borders economy if the current position on the level of wind farm benefits is not improved.

“Some rural communities enjoy wind farm benefits but the amounts vary greatly.”

Community benefits average around £2,000 per generated megawatt per year, while a developer in Peeblesshire is proposing the Eddleston, Lamancha and Howegate communities enjoy annual profits of £120,000 a year through the equivalent of owning one of the Spurlens Rig development’s turbine.

After they have contributed to setting up BREA, councillors agreed energy companies should be asked to donate a fixed proportion of any future benefit. And the recommendation is that 60 per cent of future funding should go to the local community and 40 per cent to part-fund BREA.

But communities would not be losing out for the council will be asking companies to pay more overall than they are now.

The council spokesperson explained: “Energy firms would be asked to agree a division of funding at a higher level than most currently pay – so communities would not be asked to give up 40 per cent of what they would normally receive. They would ultimately receive a higher level of benefit.”

The feasibility study will consider the potential roles of BREA which, aside from agreeing levels of community benefit with energy companies, could also include providing information and advice on energy efficiency and renewable energy to homes, community groups and businesses, delivering education programmes on energy to schools, colleges and community groups and training on energy related skills.

Councillors agreed funding to set BREA up should be sought from the European funding programmes, the Scottish Government, the Forestry Commission, Scottish Enterprise, the Climate Challenge Fund, housing associations and the private sector as well as from energy companies operating in the region.

According to figures from property agents CKD Galbraith’s renewable energy department, the Borders has one of the highest average MW outputs in Scotland.

Mr Emmerson said his recommendations “are designed to improve the overall level of wind farm benefit and to share it more evenly, in particular by establishing BREA to provide a service to the whole Borders.”

SBC’s executive will consider a final proposal for BREA before October 31 this year.