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Highland Council agrees ‘a social value charter’ aiming to more than double community benefit renewables developers with £7500 per MW of power generated.

By Scott Maclennan

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Wind farms like this one could bring-in significant cash under a plan from Highland Council.
Wind farms like this one could bring-in significant cash under a plan from Highland Council.

Highland Council has agreed what it calls “a social value charter for renewables investment” that sets out the increased community benefit expectations from renewables developers.

• Read more Highland Council news here and political news here

Currently, community benefit is £5000 per MW of electricity generated but that has now more than doubled through the charter to an additional £7500 per MW in what is essentially a voluntary scheme.

It also allows some communities that are effectively cash rich through renewables to opt-in to a strategic fund for more worthwhile investment after some areas were left seeking new opportunities.

The council co-operate with renewables developers in a public-private sector collaboration bringing benefits to both, whether that be through skills development for the developers while the local authority’s financial burden is lightened.

Some of the key areas are:

▶ Create a Strategic Fund and a Fund Partnership which will set out investment priorities for Highland communities

▶ Create legacy housing to support sustainable communities

▶ Support the development of the Highland Investment Plan projects

▶ Develop shared ownership models of investment in renewables

▶ Support skills and training initiatives

▶ Provide a Highland Project Bank, identifying community projects and initiatives to secure additional investment

▶ Fast-track for grid connections essential to growth

▶ Maximising socio-economic prosperity through the planning system.

It comes as the council said the region is “about to see unprecedented levels of public and private sector infrastructure investment” through the £2 billion Highland Investment Plan – targeting new schools, road investment and other areas.

Therefore the charter will feed into a Highland partnership involving a partnership across public, private and community sectors and support and enable the aforementioned contribution.

The charter aims to embed this approach to community wealth building to maximise economic benefits from the natural environment and resources; engage and involve stakeholders to improve impact; and unlock economic opportunities for the area.

Council leader Raymond Bremner said: “Highland has a wealth of resources and expanding renewables development and the growth of production and investment in renewable energy in Highland has brought opportunities to the area.

“However, as time progresses, and the scale of renewables increases, there is a need to ensure that the wider Highland community can benefit more equally and fairly from profits being generated.

“In May, Highland Council agreed a £2 billion plan which will deliver wide ranging investment across communities in the Highlands, with over £1bn of capital investment in schools and roads over the next 10 years in phase one of the programme.

“This investment, coupled with the vast potential of income from the renewable energy industry, offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure inclusive growth and lasting benefits for all Highland communities.”

Convener Bill Lobban added: “The Social Value Charter does not give support to individual planning applications which will be dealt with as normal taking into consideration the merits of the application.

“In any case almost all of these developments are approved or not by the Scottish Government. What it is intended to do is make sure that the people of the Highlands get a share in the vast profits produced.

“There is a potential for many millions more per annum of investment into the Highlands. The scale of the opportunity is considerable, however currently, despite being at the centre of renewable development and investment, Highland as a region is not being compensated accordingly or able to translate this wealth into the necessary infrastructure to support the economic growth.

“Given the voluntary nature of the social value investors and developers need to commit to, it is important to set out a framework for Highland to support discussions with suppliers, and clarity on the price and privilege of doing business in Highland.

“Developing a more consistent approach to levering social benefit from renewables investment will enable greater benefit for Highland communities.”

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