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How can local communities get in on the renewable energy act? Andrew Smith, Head of the Renewable Energy Investment Fund, discusses how a collaborative approach between agencies, communities and the private sector is key to reaping the full benefits of our natural resources.

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It is a laudable aim: spread the renewable energy revolution to those most directly affected by the developments – the local communities in which many of them sit. 

The mutual wins deriving from collaboration can never be understated, and community groups, renewable project developers and funders are increasingly aware that reaping the rewards is made easier by a co-operative approach.

Challenges? Well, there are a few.

Renewable energy is proving to be quite a daunting space, even for experienced investors – and that’s just for hydro and onshore wind.

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A barge transporting parts for Barra and Vatersay’s part-REIF funded, community-owned turbine

When you look at wave and tidal and district heating projects, the level of thought required grows. It’s one thing to recognise the potential, but quite another to turn a site in to a fully operational, grid-connected device, as anyone who has been through the process of planning, financing and delivering a renewables project will tell you.

"The Pentland Firth has the tidal potential to power half of Scotland"

However, the prize is a big one. Renewable energy projects can throw off significant income and other returns which local communities can utilise to best effect in their area. And these are long-term effects; wind turbines typically operate over a 20 year lifespan, and hydro devices for at least double that. 

The emerging field of marine power is less well established, but the potential is enormous, with recent research showing that the Pentland Firth – the water between Caithness and Orkney, widely considered one of the best tidal resources in the world - has the potential to power half of Scotland. 

Renewable energy projects can throw off significant income and other returns which local communities can utilise to best effect in their area.



Andrew Smith. Head of REIF


And these natural resources have not gone unnoticed by international industry players, with global technology developer Atlantis Resources investing significantly in MeyGen’s Pentland Firth demonstration array, and Scottish Power Renewables – owned by Iberdrolla – taking forward their Sound of Islay tidal project.

But how can communities get directly in on the renewables act? Where on earth to start?

It’s true that funding is often an issue, and in recognition of this, the Scottish Government launched the Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF) - delivered by the Scottish Investment Bank, the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise - in 2012, to provide loans, guarantees and equity finance to both company and community renewable energy projects with economic benefits for Scotland.  

It’s one thing to recognise the potential, but quite another to turn a site in to a fully operational, grid-connected device.


Andrew Smith. Head of REIF

However, the key to navigating the development and financing maze is research, research, research.  

Government initiatives such as the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES), delivered by Local Energy Scotland, is working hard alongside the REIF and the Enterprise Agencies to demystify the processes and give communities a leg up in getting their developments off the ground. 

There is also a wealth of expertise on both the renewable energy sector and the management of community-owned initiatives within Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, including the excellent Co-operative Development Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland.

This co-operation among agencies is vital to the successful realisation of the Scottish Government’s target of generating 500 MW of community and locally owned renewables by 2020. And communities should absolutely make use of these resources from day one. 

Support and opportunities in renewables

Barge and turbine photography courtesy of John McLean and Neil MacKinnon, Isle of Barra.

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