Answer is blowing in the wind
Fermanagh Trust director Lauri McCusker reveals how local communities can benefit from onshore power
On January 27, The Fermanagh Trust launched a report of intensive research into the wind farm industry and its relationship with local communities in Northern Ireland and how this compared with good practice in Great Britain.
We agree with the industry and with government that wind power could deliver enormous benefits for Northern Ireland. Communities wish to be partners in meeting government's 2020 targets and partners with developers.
What our research found is for local communities to be equal participants in the future development of wind farms, new models for engagement and partnership need to be innovative, including giving communities the option to acquire shares in these developments and/or be able to avail of forms of ownership. For communities which do not have the capacity to engage in these partnership arrangements, a minimum of £2,000 per MW per annum should be available by owners and operators. Not convinced that this will happen voluntarily, the Fermanagh Trust believes local councils and the Northern Ireland Executive should make both recommendations mandatory.
Groups have been asking us what they can do now. One immediate step is to liaise with the wind farm owner/operator in each local area around the level of community benefit and ask them to increase their contributions into the community funds, so they at least meet the high levels of contributions increasingly seen in the rest of the UK.
In terms of local councils, each can pass a motion supporting new models for community partnership and a fair level of funding. For the industry, a shift in thinking away from the "let's get planning permission approach" to a community partnership model should be initiated.
The Fermanagh Trust will be meeting key stakeholders in the coming weeks to ensure that communities also benefit fairly from the generation of onshore wind power and its potential.