Increasing renewable energy generation is fundamental for sustainable development. Over the last 10 years, interest has grown in the potential for communities to take a more active role in renewable energy development. Community renewable energy is associated with sustainable rural development and more locally appropriate projects.
There is currently much interest in the scope for more decentralised modes of renewable energy development with greater community involvement. This is evidenced by recent government initiatives such as the launch of the Low Carbon Communities Challenge and Community Energy Online. The following statement made by UK Climate Change Minister Greg Barker illustrates there are strong political expectations for communities to take greater responsibility for energy provision:
“Community energy is a perfect expression of the transformative power of the Big Society. With the right combination of incentives and freedoms, community groups, businesses and organisations can get together to build a cleaner, greener future. They can generate their own heat and electricity, and their own profits, and as a by-product, help the UK to save energy and help to cut carbon emissions.”
An example of community participation in a renewable energy scheme is that of the Upperlands Community situated in County Derry, Northern Ireland. This community recognised that they could generate money from a micro hydro scheme in which money gained would be pumped back into community-related developments and has helped to pump new life into a once declining village.
Operated by volunteers, Upperlands Hydro-Electric made £9,000 in its first three months and was confidently predicting first year revenues of £20,000. Nowadays it brings in £5,000 a year due to a drop in generating capacity, but this is money that the community otherwise would not have – if not for the hydro scheme.
Over the years, that income has enabled the small village to fund the construction of a community centre, business and retail units, a new British Legion hall and a purpose-built post office. They have also been able to build a pedestrian footbridge across the river and converted a derelict beetling mill into a local history museum. Those properties currently earn a rental income of around £26,000 per year. Together with the proceeds of Upperlands Hydro-Electric, the community has been able employ a part-time community development worker and subsidise the running of the community centre.
Upperlands is a prime example of how community participation can not only help achieve national goals but also benefit those locally who have a chance to speak out regarding the decision-making process. Do you know of any renewable energy schemes that have helped benefit the local economy? Do you know of any that haven’t involved community participation and have maybe hindered community development?
Credits: Photographs by Finbar Gillen. Data linked to sources.