Island backing for community energy schemes in bid to keep benefits local
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
The people of Anglesey should see more benefits from major energy developments, according to a new report, with council chiefs also proposing more help for community-based ventures.
With several schemes in the pipeline, including a string of solar farms and the longstanding prospect of another nuclear plant, this has prompted Anglesey Council to bolster its Community Benefit Contributions (CBC) strategy to try and attract more cash from developers wanting to build.
A report presented to Monday’s Executive meeting said that while the island wants to play a full part in reaching carbon zero status by 2050, “this must not be at any cost.”
But it also stressed a need for more community owned projects, which could include help for local groups and social enterprises to develop their own schemes where all benefits would be reinvested within island communities.
With the vision for Môn noted as being “an exemplar in the transition to a prosperous and resilient low carbon economy,” – and with it high quality jobs, education and supply chain opportunities – it also stressed the need to go hand in hand with protecting the island’s environment, native tongue and culture.
CBC’s are voluntary “goodwill” offerings to host communities, which as well as cash could come in the form of long-term jobs, new public infrastructure, improvements to open spaces and bio-diversity or access to cultural heritage assets.
But officers proposed bolstering the existing 2014 policy in light of a number of solar farm developments, tidal, onshore and offshore wind, hydrogen as well as renewed nuclear interest.
“The council considers that a greater benefit for communities as a whole can be achieved through community ownership involving community groups,” the report stated.
“This could include established community groups, charitable trusts and social enterprises. This form of community benefit can be provided in addition to local ownership by individual investment through share purchase.”
It also lauded the potential of a not-for profit company providing an ‘off-the shelf ’ option, with the council “keen to consider with developers if this arrangement could also hold shares on behalf of the community and distribute any returns in line with the wider community benefit criteria.”
One example of local ownership is that of Menter Môn, with the not-for-profit social enterprise awaiting planning approval for its tidal energy project off the coast of Holy Island.
Expected to create over 100 jobs within a decade, the £35m Morlais scheme would cover up to 35sqkm of seabed to generate up to 240MW of electricity (180,000 households) via the power of the Irish Sea tides.
Council leader, Llinos Medi, said that while they had no powers to force developers, they wanted to be “fair, proactive, consistent, and transparent” in working with them and impacted communities to secure “meaningful benefits which address their needs.”
Cllr Carwyn Jones, the economic development portfolio holder, added: “Community benefits can be financial or otherwise and are agreed upon outside of the planning process, but it’s important that anyone thinking of developing on the island adheres to the principle of respecting our communities, economy, language and culture and actually engage with us.
“If they don’t adhere there’s no point thinking of coming here and setting up.”
Last month saw the Senedd unanimously back calls for legislation that would force backers of major energy developments to provide benefits for the communities they plan to build.
It also heaped pressure on Welsh Government to compel developers to conduct community impact assessments and present a community-benefit plan during planning.
Presented by the island’s MS, Rhun ap Iorwerth, the move was prompted by a flurry of applications on Anglesey including Enso Energy’s for a 750-acre solar farm, Lightsource BP’s proposals to create 350 MW of solar energy over 2,000 acres and Low Carbon identifying another 150 acres for Traffwll solar farm.
Such is the scale of the proposed developments – being designated as Developments of National Significance – the decisions are made by Welsh Government planning officers rather than elected councillors.
With EDF snapping up a 190-acre site with permission for a solar farm in northern Anglesey, Mr ap Iorwerth also raised concerns that such plans could leave “a huge footprint on parts of rural Wales with very little benefit for those communities,” as well as the loss of “good agricultural land.”
But Low Carbon has pointed to the benefits of its proposed scheme, saying it would help de-carbonise the Welsh economy and provide economic, social and environmental enhancements.
“Economic benefits will include the creation of temporary jobs, supporting local supply chains during the construction phase and support the low carbon decentralised energy generation on Anglesey as a key growth sector,” the firm added.
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