Solar Farming & Support for Local Communities

by Jarrah Harburn on September 20, 2012

Wind Farms and Solar Farms should offer perks to local communitiesEd Davey, Energy Secretary with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), recently stated that the wind industry ought to offer perks to surrounding communities in which they are developed. This notion could be carried over to solar farm developers as a unique way of overcoming some of the remaining critiques of large scale renewable projects in the UK. On the back of this and the wake of recent ROC reduction announcements, the suggestion is one that could be of benefit to this sector of  solar farm developers in winning over the communities in which they are being planned.

Large Scale Renewable Development in Communities

A recent article in ReCharge News highlighted Mr Davey’s opinion that the on-shore wind farm developers could try to offer incentives for local communities to back wind farm developments. Lower power bills and funding for schools or local amenities could be considered as ways to overcome the often published views towards wind farms as being unsightly obstructions on limited land and a blight for the local area.

The fact of the matter is that big scale renewable energy developments such as wind farms and solar farms do take up a lot of space. Wind turbines range up to 120 meters high and can be seen from miles around, especially as they are often installed on peaks and in valleys to maximise output. Solar farms can span dozens of acres and use of areas of land previously used for farming, grazing or simply the green ambiance of the countryside so many of us enjoy to see. Many of the criticisms aimed at these projects are their long term presence in the surrounding areas; so it makes sense that local people should benefit from them more so than the power companies and investors based out of sight from the project.

Community Incentives

There are a number of ways local communities could receive perks from solar farms being developed in the UK.

Solar Farm Renewable Energy Subsidising Energy Costs

The renewable energy being produced is a simple place to start, with Power Purchase Agreements being put in place that could lower energy bills for surrounding businesses. If local homes could see a reduction in their bills as well, even if only by a penny or two a unit during peak production times, this could spread those savings out even further. This would require negotiations with the respective DNO’s and retailers, but isn’t above question for solar farms specifically.

Amenity Funding from a Solar Farm

Local Schools or community groups could also be the target for some kickbacks. If the financial models can accommodate the returns, solar farm developers could offer up grants to local community members or groups annually. A few thousand pounds each year aimed at installing energy efficiency upgrades for town halls or community buildings could be examined.  This could effectively turn the generation from a solar farm into funds the local community centre could use on more efficient lighting or a roof-mounted solar power system of their own.

Scholarships and Local Education

Renewable Energy and Solar Farm focused university scholarships would be an easy starting point; re-investing the generation of the farm back into the education and development of local people. Solar farm developers could work with universities or colleges based in the area to bring renewable energy courses into new realms of accessibility for school leavers and young people. Who knows, the scholarship that trains a local person in electrical maintenance skills and allows them to maintain the farm itself would be a full-circle example of how the farm’s generation can be sustainable and helpful for the community in which it resides.

Solar Farming for The People

The point is that large scale renewable energy projects in the UK are being looked at currently purely from a cost/return perspective from those looking to establish them. Of the many hurdles and pitfalls that they come up against, opposition from the local community, councils and broader government is one that can cut down prospects quickest.

By looking at a solar farm as a community benefit, not purely a self-rewarding investment from developers, we can turn around some naysayers and make some ground on the constant incentive reductions and digressions the government is imposing.  Whilst the wider financial considerations that guide the DECC and government in their management of the renewable incentives that are our lifeblood are enigmatic and powerful, if we work with what they are giving us we can’t blame ourselves for our lack of diligence.

Written by Jarrah Harburn

020 7205 2267

© 2012 Solar Selections Ltd

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