Scotland’s consumer watchdog says Community Benefit Funds from renewables can help tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency
Hundreds of thousands of pounds paid by renewable energy developers to local communities could be invested in improving energy efficiency and helping take thousands more Scottish homes out of fuel poverty.
In a report published today, Reaping the Benefits of Renewables, Consumer Focus Scotland points out that it has now become standard practice for developers to set up a so-called Community Benefit Fund (CBF) in recognition of the impacts on communities of nearby major developments taking place. As the number and scale of on-shore developments increases, some CBFs – which have previously averaged some £30,000 per annum –are predicted to pay out over £100,000 a year.
Consumer Focus Scotland Deputy Director Trisha McAuley says the wishes of communities should remain paramount in deciding how these funds are spent. However, she says, as all consumers ultimately pay for Scotland’s growing renewables sector through their energy bills, so consideration has to be given to how more people can benefit:
“Fuel poverty is greatest in rural areas. Although there have been significant and welcome improvements in the energy efficiency of Scottish housing, these improvements have not been sufficient to compensate for rising energy costs, while levels of fuel poverty in Scotland have also continued to rise.
“In the early stages of managing Community Benefit Funds, local groups have typically prioritised small-scale projects to improve local amenities such as their village hall or play park. Now our research shows that there is growing interest in activity to improve energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty among some of these groups. The Scottish Government and local authorities are ideally placed to support communities to spend CBF money in a more sustainable way.
“Ultimately, however, we also need a debate on how we want CBFs to be used in the long term as all consumers pay for the infrastructure and, by extension, for the CBFs. All consumers therefore have a right to expect CBFs to be used effectively and transparently.”
The report says that some of the groups in receipt of CBF money identified a range of barriers preventing them taking forward energy efficiency work, of which a lack of expertise and knowledge of the sort of wider help available to them were identified as the most significant.
The two main conclusions the Consumer Focus Scotland research are that:
- there are opportunities to better integrate existing energy efficiency work with CBFs in the short term, helping address the barriers identified by communities themselves, and improving transparency;
- there is a need for a longer-term discussion among both communities and stakeholders on the strategic use of CBFs generally, and on the way that CBFs can best add value to wider energy efficiency work in particular
- The Scottish Government should take the lead in working with developers and local authorities to integrate fuel poverty and energy efficiency concerns at an appropriate level into community development approaches and structures.
- Local authorities should continue to support the strategic use of CBFs.
- Organisations supporting community development should encourage communities to consider fuel poverty and energy efficiency when baseline mapping is undertaken. Communities should, however, retain the choice of how best to develop energy efficiency projects in response.
Questions raised for Scotland in the Reaping the Benefits of Renewables report
- How can development and allocation of the funds be made more transparent?
- How can communities be supported to maximise the long-term value of CBFs?
- What should be the role of the developers in this process?
- Could CBFs support a structured network of community energy efficiency organisers or champions?
- How best can CBFs complement other funding streams, including energy efficiency funding?
The full report can be read by clicking here
Media contact: John Macgill 0131 557 7727