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Social benefits of community energy

Mark Walton

As part of Community Energy Fortnight we are publishing a joint report with the National Trust and the Clore Social Leadership Programme that looks at the social and economic benefits delivered by community owned renewable schemes.

It includes a case study of the Anafon community hydro scheme in Gwynedd, North Wales. Abergwyngregyn Regeneration Company, a local community enterprise, is developing the scheme on land owned by the National Trust and Natural Resources Wales (previously Forestry Commission Wales). The case study is reproduced below.

The report identifies many of the wider social benefits delivered by community renewables and how these can best be measured and multiplied. In particular it highlights the potential for local economic development, and the autonomy and resilience that communities can gain, from securing a long term income from their own community owned renewables scheme.

The report also examines some of the barriers faced by community energy projects and highlights the positive role the National Trust can play as an enabler and an advocate for community energy.

You can read the full report here.

 

Case study – Anafon Community Hydro Scheme

Abergwyngregyn is a small village in Gwynedd, North Wales. It has a population of approximately 250 people and contains about 100 properties. Like many rural villages Abergwyngregyn has witnessed the withdrawal of local services and amenities including its pub and shops.

Abergwyngregyn Regeneration Company
The Abergwyngregyn Regeneration Company (ARC) was established in order to improve the social and economic wellbeing of residents. Over the past 10 years it has successfully developed a range of community projects, including the purchase and renovation of an old mill which now houses a café and community centre, annual summer and Christmas fairs and the management of two local car parks.

Hydro Scheme Initiation and Development
Since 2011 ARC have been working with the National Trust to develop a proposal for a hydro electric scheme that will harness the power of the nearby Afon Anafon River. The National Trust were aware of the hydro potential of the site, but due to complicated land ownership issues, it was not a high priority. Other sites offered more straightforward opportunities. However ARC were made aware of the opportunity and in 2011 met with other organisations where it was agreed to explore the potential to develop a community managed hydro scheme.

Current Development
Working with the National Trust Environmental Advisors, ARC secured funding that enabled an initial feasibility study to survey the site.

Feasibility and survey work can cost tens of thousands of pounds, up to 10% of the capital cost of a scheme. It must be done before applying for planning permission and at any stage issues may be found meaning the project cannot continue.

At Anafon these risks were managed by identifying the most high risk areas at the start, and surveying them first before moving on to the lower risk issues. So far survey work has found a rare grassland fungus which has resulted in changes to the proposed route for the pipeline as well as reducing the size of the project from 500kW to 300kW in order to protect bryophyte habitats.

The Trust and ARC are exploring joint venture options which would enable the National Trust and Forestry Commission to lease the land required for the scheme to ARC who would finance, develop and operate the hydro. The proposed model allows the group to apply for support and grant financing as well as benefiting reduced borrowing costs for post planning capital construction.

Funding
Funding for the pre-planning stages of the scheme has been provided by the Welsh Government’s Ynni’r Fro, Cooperative Community Energy Challenge and the Waterloo Foundation. Funding required for the capital works themselves will be sought from a commercial lender or investor based on a sound business case model. This will be repaid in 5-10 years. The      total life span of the facility is expected to be up to 100 years.

Community benefits
ARC have considered the range of benefits that could be delivered using the income from the sale of energy.

Priorities for the use of funds are likely to be:

  • improving energy efficiency through e.g. improved insulation (powering down)
  • reducing carbon emissions through e.g. installed solar PV (powering up)

With only 100 properties in the village there will be a limit to the need for these measures. Other options include:

  • improving the local economy by establishing a village shop, community bus service or village pub,
  • creating a new children’s play area,
  • providing educational opportunities such as a college bursary.

Role of the National Trust
In the case of the Anafon scheme the National Trust has been able to provide a wide range of  practical and technical support to the local community.

The main benefit has been the identification of the site and the offer to the community of the opportunity to develop it. Access to land is a critical issue facing many community renewable projects.

A further key benefit to the community has been the technical expertise that the Trust has developed as result of pursuing its own renewables programme, including the installation of similar hydro schemes at other local sites.

It has also been able to provide access to a range of additional expertise and support programmes, and credibility with other statutory bodies and agencies.

You can hear more about the ARC community hydro scheme as part of a “Mountain walking tour of hydro scheme sin the heart of Snowdonia” which takes place in 8th September as part of Community Energy Fortnight.

The research was undertaken as part of Mark Walton’s Clore Social Leadership Fellowship.

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