Wind farms: Anderson puts focus on the need for the community to benefit

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With the roll out of wind power across the Six Counties, Sinn Féin MEP, MARTINA ANDERSON is putting a strong focus on how investment in energy infrastructure can be delivered in ways to ensure maximum community benefit.

Welcoming the Fermanagh Trust’s recently published research entitled ‘Maximising Community Outcomes from Wind Energy Developments’, Ms. Anderson - a member of the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) - described the community dimension of renewable energy policy in the Six Counties as its ‘Achilles Heel’.

“Ireland and its rural west, in particular, have one of the greatest wind energy resources in Europe. As we strive to meet ambitious climate change targets, set by Europe, communities are entitled to derive some beneficial return from their local natural environmental assets, such as renewable energy being developed commercially,” she said. “While local communities in Denmark and Germany benefited through the widespread participation of farmers and local co-operatives in these developments, this has not been the case in Ireland and Britain. Because Wind Farms here are typically large, commercial projects which mostly benefit distant shareholders this contributes to local opposition. Local communities need convinced of not just the environmental benefits of renewable energy but also local economic benefit if we are to garner their support and co-operation. The focus must be on how the communities can benefit and not on commercial exploitation.”

The MEp said she would direct her attention and that of Sinn Fein to “making social economy and local enterprise agencies aware of the interesting findings contained in the Fermanagh Trust research”.

“Key findings from this research show commercial wind farms can present significant opportunities for communities where such developments are proposed. Community benefits in the context of wind energy can be derived through agreement with the developers of financial contributions to a community fund or other methods of developing community facilities. Such arrangements can assist in supporting local infrastructure projects, community activities and the social economy.

“Whilst these developments can provide new opportunities for local communities, it is important that communities have access to the required expertise to negotiate the best terms possible from the developer. For instance, the higher level of developer payments to community funds in Britain have generally not been achieved at approved wind farms here. In Britain, amounts of £5,000/MW per annum have been increasingly achieved. Only one in 14 community funds in the Six Counties was identified by this research to contributions in the region of £2,000/MW per annum and even this arrangement has yet to be finalised.

The Sinn Féin MEP, who sits in the European Parliament’s United Left/Nordic Green Left Confederal Group (GUE/NGL), said: “There is no reason why communities here should not benefit to the same degree as those in Britain. I will be working with a range of party colleagues in Europe, the Dáil, Assembly and local government to have all opportunities for community benefit maximised for rural communities. The alleviation of fuel poverty which many disadvantaged local people face could be the outcome of such community benefit.

Ms. Anderson concluded: “Proposed developments by large companies. if they are to be welcomed by local communities, need to demonstrate real community benefit and not just engage in PR exercises.”