Church challenges Government on Community Energy Policy

Rev Sally Foster-Fulton

The Scottish Government must streamline the long and arduous process facing community energy schemes if they are to reach their potential. The Church of Scotland is challenging the government to simplify the 'spaghetti' of legislation and professional bodies which make the process too difficult and complex for many small communities to take on.

In its response to the Scottish Government's Community Energy Policy Statement, the Church is welcoming the government's ambition to make community energy a central part of Scotland's energy mix. But Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, who convenes the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council which prepared the response, says the obstacles currently presented are too great.

"Communities seeking to develop local renewable energy have to deal with issues of land ownership, planning, setting up community businesses, negotiating feed in tariffs, securing access to the grid and dealing a range of professional bodies like local authorities, power companies and environment agencies who do not necessarily know how to work with communities or have the flexibility or motivation to ensure community schemes come to fruition. The Scottish Government must help to reduce these barriers as the difficulties are too many and complex for most small communities to take on."

The negative experience of one Church congregation on the Orkney island of Papa Westray who wanted to erect a wind turbine was summed up by the local minster, Rev Iain Macdonald.

"Despite unanimous support from all community bodies, no resident objectors and meeting all planning regulations, there was one very strong objector, who lived south but owned a holiday cottage in the isle - their objection led to a planning enquiry which held up the whole process for several weeks and took us to the very edge of losing out on grant funding."

Another project manager from Argyll commented on the 'spaghetti tangle of interlinked, interwoven activity' needed to develop a community energy project. Rev Sally Foster-Fulton said

"We know community energy projects can help support local communities and can make a considerable contribution to tackle fuel poverty. They can also be a transformative experience that can help revive communities self-belief. We suggest an ambitious target: that every community which has the opportunity to develop a community energy scheme should be encouraged to do so and that the Scottish Government examine what practical steps would be needed to achieve this ambition."

Read the Church's full submission to the Scottish Government.

The Church of Scotland supports the charity Eco-Congregation Scotland, which is recognised as one of Scotland's largest and fastest growing environmental charities. There are currently 319 eco-congregations, with 116 of them holding the Eco-Congregation Award recognising their work promoting or contributing to sustainability.