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Community / Viking community fund business plan agreed as £2.2m a year scheme prepares to open

A rural landscape featuring a small road, two houses, and a large wind farm with multiple turbines on a hilly terrain under a cloudy sky.

SHETLAND Community Benefit Fund (SCBF) and SSE Renewables have signed a new legal agreement for managing the Viking Community Fund for the lifetime of the 103-turbine wind farm – with priority areas including reducing the cost of living, improving broadband and encouraging young people stay and return to the islands.

It opens the way for the start of the £2.2 million a year fund, the largest community benefit fund in the UK.

The first payment into the fund will be made once the Viking wind farm starts feeding electricity into the national grid via the new subsea cable, expected later this summer.

Following an island-wide consultation last year, SCBF has now published a five-year business plan which sets out how the funds will be used.

SCBF chair Chris Bunyan said most of the annual payment from SSE Renewables would be used on strategic projects that will help make a lasting impact on the isles.

He said fund manager Eleanor Gear and the committee were keen to hear from individuals, businesses and community enterprise organisations to help develop projects that would make a difference.

“We want to use the fund to complement what is already there [in other funding mechanisms],” Bunyan said.

The £400,000 community grant scheme, which has been in operation over the last few years, will continue through community councils. However, fund managers are hoping to be able to invest around £1.6 million a year on their strategic work along the priorities identified in the consultation.

These are:

  • Encouraging young people to stay to return to the islands – £200,000 allocated for 2024/25;
  • Helping reduce the cost of living in the islands – £397,000 annually;
  • Improved broadband and mobile coverage – £100,000 annually;
  • More affordable housing – £100,000 annually;
  • Preservation and enhancement of natural environment – £200,000 annually;
  • Transport between and within local communities – £200,000 annually.

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There is also an existing commitment of £200,000 towards the MRI scanner appeal during the first financial year of the fund.

Bunyan said: “The legal agreement and business plan represents the culmination of many years work but, to coin a phrase, is only the end of the beginning.

“The really hard part starts now in identifying and supporting local projects.  We will be publicising widely what the fund can support and how to apply.”

SSE Renewables senior community investment manager Lindsay Dougan said the company was committed to providing a lasting legacy for Shetland’s communities.

“The announcement today is a pivotal point and further underlines our commitment to work with local people to ensure Shetland benefits,” she said.

Administering the largest community benefit fund for an onshore wind development in the UK are (left to right): SCBF chair Chris Bunyan, fund manager Eleanor Gear and SSE community investment manager Lindsay Dougan. Photo: Shetland News

Asked whether SSE Renewables would support proposals that seek a higher level of community benefit that the current £5,000 per installed megawatt, she said the company was taking its commitment towards communities very seriously.

“We were the first to deliver the mandatory level of community benefit, we recognise the value {…} but we are led by the Scottish Government good practice principles.

“We are committed to the dialogue that both the Scottish and the UK Government are having around the future of community benefit, and we are participating actively in that, but we also recognise the responsibility to ensure that there is affordable clean green energy for all, and cost associated needs to be balanced with that.”

Bunyan added: “When you are looking at the whole of Shetland and tackling the sort of issues that we are trying to tackle, then it’s not a lot of money.

“If we were starting again today, we might look for something different, but this what was there when we started with this fund 12 years ago. In that context I think we got a good deal.”

He said that the approach of communities hosting the three smaller wind farms which are set to be constructed over coming years by Norwegian state-owned energy giant Statkraft, might be different, but expressed the hope that any future benefit fund would also have a Shetland-wide element.

Copies of the SCBF business plan, the consultation, and details of the various funds that can be applied for are all available on the organisation’s website.

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