Over 150 people attended the 2-day conference, ‘Sustainable Communities – the Way Forward’ in Lochgilphead High School Joint Campus on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 November.
The conference was focused on Argyll and Bute and was aimed at community groups who are interested in sustaining their future through generating renewable energy income, Council officers, Climate Challenge Fund projects, Transition groups, Permaculturists, Citizen Ethics groups, Farmers, crofters, estate owners and land managers with an interest in diversifying their income through developing mid scale proven renewable technologies.
BBC Scotland broadcaster Ken MacDonald very ably chaired the day one of the conference; titled ‘Community Resilience – routes to sustainable growth’. Whilst delegates heard about the many challenges facing rural communities renewable energy development was highlighted as being a significant opportunity. The challenge, however, is how do we ensure that the benefits this technology brings are retained within the local communities and Argyll. Much discussion evolved around our need to move towards a low carbon economy and how communities will need to be prepared for change. This will inevitably lead to the need to build new relationships and collaborative approaches.
Scottish Energy Minister, Jim Mather chaired day two of the conference, titled ‘Route to Market — generating income through renewable energy’. The aim of the second day was to enable participants to gain a greater understanding of proven routes to market involving collaboration between communities and landowners. Ed Laughton, from Ardrishaig Community Council outlined the process that they went through when working with a local landowner on a new wind turbine development. This partnership will see the local community have a one twelfth share when the development is operational. Delegates also heard from Angus Robertson about a number of hydro scheme developments at Ardtornish Estate in Morvern. Initially grid connection had been a significant constraint on the Estate’s ambitious plans for a number of hydro schemes, but after lengthy consultation with the power company this issue was resolved.
In a series of workshops delegates were able to explore a number of related issues such as planning, legal advice, environmental issues, accessing finance and funding. A recurring theme was the recommendation to consult as early as possible in any development with the relevant authority/agency e.g. Local Council, SEPA, SNH etc. The opportunity for landowners to work with a local community was also highlighted, with the emphasis being that it can lead to a win-win situation and helps to keep the wealth generated local.
Wind, hydro and wood fuel were highlighted as the three technologies with probably the most potential to contribute to sustaining local communities, though Jim Mather also emphasised the opportunities for wave and tidal power.
One of the key constraints identified was the limitation of the grid infrastructure, as the current grid structure was never designed to export power out of Argyll. It is likely that the potential for the large off-shore developments will drive grid connection and capacity. The lack of accredited consultants and installers, with experience of seeing a project through to completion, is also causing a backlog in projects that are able to progress.
Feedback from the event was extremely positive with one delegate commenting, “We have been approached by a local community regarding a renewable energy project. The conference has given us an insight into progressing this”.
A full report and delegate list can be seen by clicking the links below
SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES CONFERENCE REPORT