Tuesday 23 April 2024
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Energy / Community benefit fund in touch with offshore wind developers

An image of a floating wind turbine.

THE TEAM behind Shetland Community Benefit Fund has been in contact with a number of developers proposing offshore wind farms around the isles.

The fund – which administers the community benefit pay-outs from the Viking Energy wind farm – is keen to get its “feet under the table” regarding offshore developments.

But fund chair Chris Bunyan stressed community benefit payout schemes for offshore wind are still in their infancy and it remains unclear what this could look like for developments around Shetland.

Last month it was announced that developers had been picked for three offshore wind sites to the east of Shetland as part of the ScotWind leasing process.

Offshore wind developers picked for three sites east of Shetland

Shetland Islands Council has already set in stone principles for energy development in and around the isles, including a suggestion that the recommended £5,000 per megawatt community benefit scheme for onshore wind farms is appropriate for offshore too.

This would mean that the three sites to the east of Shetland could, in theory, bring in many millions of pounds to Shetland a year.

But there is also a suggestion that community benefit from offshore wind could take other forms, such as energy contributions.

Bunyan said Shetland Community Benefit Fund has held meetings with the council so “we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet and if we work together we can try to ensure we get the best deal for the islands”.

Regarding talks with offshore wind developers, he added: “It’s very very early days. We’re just trying to establish ourselves as the point of contact for community benefit.

“Community benefit for offshore is less established than onshore, just by the nature of the technology.

“Quite what that community benefit would look like, we’re a long way off knowing.”

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The fund chair said one ScotWind developer – Irish company ESB – approached the benefit fund off its own back.

Bunyan added that the community benefit fund team has also met with Shetland Fishermen’s Association, which remains concerned about offshore wind plans and their effect on the industry.

He said, as with onshore wind, the benefit fund does not take any view on proposed developments. “Our view is if something is going to happen, we want to try to make sure Shetland gets the best deal possible,” Bunyan said.

The fund has also had contact for instance with Nova Innovation, which has tidal turbines in the water in Bluemull Sound and is proposing a larger site in Yell Sound.

Meanwhile Bunyan confirmed that any money not used in the current Viking Energy advance grant scheme will not be lost.

It will instead be carried over into the main programme which will run when the wind farm goes live in 2024.

One of the Viking Energy wind farm’s 103 turbine bases. Photo: dave Donaldson for Viking Energy

Community councils are given shares of an annual payment from Viking developer SSE worth around £400,000 during construction, with members deciding whether to fund projects.

It has already supported a host of projects across the isles, such as Cullivoe Up Helly Aa’s galley shed renovations, community hall upgrades and a new 40-berth marina at Catfirth.

But Bunyan confirmed there are some community councils which are not using up their full allocation.

“There are some that know they have projects coming up and are keeping money back for it,” he said.

“Or they are waiting for people to come forward with schemes.

“There is an understanding that if come the summer of 2024, that any sort of funds outstanding from this scheme will be carried over into the main fund.”

But he stressed the advance grant scheme is “reactive” – and if there are no projects seeking funds then the money will sit unused.

Bunyan said he would encourage any community projects to apply for funding.

Meanwhile rules of the fund were changed recently to allow projects that aim to alleviate poverty the chance to bid for funding more often.

A consultation was recently launched to gather views on how the main £2.2 million-a-year Viking Energy community benefit scheme could work once the wind farm goes live. 

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