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JRF - Urgent action needed to ensure communities benefit from wind farm development

A new report published recently says more must be done to ensure communities affected by large wind farm developments can reap long-term benefits from such schemes.

With substantial investment and expansion of wind energy already underway, the report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation looks at the ways any negative impacts on communities can be redressed.

It says urgent action is needed to ensure growing wind farm expansion is matched by help for neighbouring communities, and that the foundations are laid to help places maintain their viability in the long-run.

The research outlines three key reasons why justice is important in wind energy developments: legitimate concerns over the impact on the environment, an unequal distribution of impacts from wind farms on places (particularly economic), and the concentration of wind farms disproportionately falling on disadvantaged groups.

The report says that a mechanism for deals between developers and local people to ensure benefit for the latter must be put in place now - before the next wave of investment takes place.

It outlines the way this can be achieved, namely through the provision and expansion of community benefit funds, in terms of both size and geographic scope.

An expansion of such funds would help improve the economic, social and environmental prospects of affected areas. This is particularly important in disadvantaged rural and coastal regions, where the majority of wind farms have been built.

There is scope to learn from good practice across the UK (see Notes to Editors) where organisations have managed to increase the level of community benefits that developers provide.

Dr Richard Cowell, of Cardiff University, said: "We are seeing the size of community benefit funds increase in line with the growing scale of wind farm developments. That presents a huge opportunity to address the disadvantages faced by those living alongside wind farms, and ensure these communities become more sustainable into the future.

"What we would like to see is those living near wind farms having locally-embedded energy and jobs, as well as money to fund other community goals and schemes. By widening the remit of community benefit funds, beyond the village or parish in the direct shadow of the wind farm, more people can share in the benefits of investment, and more significant projects can be realised.

"Community benefit funds should go beyond trying to foster acceptance of schemes. They should be provided out of fairness, particularly in disadvantaged areas where wind farm development is often concentrated."

The report looked at three case studies of community benefit provision, two at onshore developments and one offshore. It highlights how Argyll and Bute Council in north west Scotland has introduced local policies to increase benefits for local people.

Land ownership can also be a lever, as the Forestry Commission Wales is demonstrating through its National Forest Estate Wind Farm Programme. This may deliver £75 million in community benefit funding from wind energy companies to some of the poorest parts of rural Wales over a 25 year period.

Katharine Knox, Programme Manager for Place at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: "Climate change requires us to develop new forms of renewable energy, but not at the expense of social justice. The areas seeing intensive wind farm development are often places with below-average incomes, so it's important disadvantaged areas do not miss out on the benefits of investment.

"We need to respond to climate change and its effects by generating energy from sustainable sources. But action is also needed to ensure that communities which live in the vicinity of wind farms are supported to become more resilient long term."

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