First community renewable energy project gains support

Esther Brown and Donald McNicol, both trustees of Arran Eco Savvy and directors of Arran Community Renewables, visiting the Auchrannie Hotel.

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By Hugh Boag

The first community-owned renewable energy project on Arran has secured the necessary funding to proceed, bringing some cheer for the start of the new year.

It has the potential to be a template for other high energy buildings on Arran to reduce their carbon emissions and help build a community benefit fund that can progress other environmental work.

And the new Arran Community Renewables (ACR), a not-for-profit benefit society, hopes it will be the first of many and will shortly launch a community share offer to help fund the work.

The first project will see solar PV panels erected on the Auchrannie sports hall roof. It comes after the group was successful in securing a £24,000 enablement grant from Scottish government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) to proceed.

This also came with the offer of a 60 per cent capital grant if the project became viable. The intention is to raise the remaining funds through launching a community share offer.

Using the development grant ACR has engaged technical, legal and commercial support, negotiated a grid connection and used the resources to set up the new community benefit society.

Director Esther Brown said: ‘Community-owned renewable energy can be a part of the green recovery that is happening across the globe. Building local resilience and energy independence brings community wealth building benefits.

‘If Arran can start to move towards innovative, proven and inspiring ways to work together then the benefit will be for everyone in our community.

‘Green tourism is also an important consideration, helping to keep jobs and improving Arran’s general green credentials. Green recovery is our best way forward in these uncertain times and every project counts in our ability to balance the environment and economy.’

Arran Community Renewables started when a volunteer steering group for Arran Eco Savvy  formed the organisation and made applications earlier this year for funding to investigate the possibilities and develop potential schemes, bringing the island one step closer to the first community-owned energy.

Challenges of an island location, the end of feed-in tariffs and the limitations on how much energy can be exported to the grid have not made the journey an easy one.

Since 2013 Arran Eco Savvy has been talking about and working towards a renewable energy project.

Over the years it has held public meetings and consultations with various proposals which have not been possible to progress for a variety of reasons. In 2018 a small steering group began to focus on renewables and were active in 2019 working with a development officer at CARES.

These included an energy-from-waste proposal which involved a collaboration with Strathclyde University for circular economy modelling.

It became clear that this ambitious project was not going to be possible when grid connection constraints were highlighted, preventing large generation on Arran from connecting via the undersea cable to the substation in Carradale.

The second application and project proposal was for an island-wide assessment to look at what was technically feasible but it was not successful in attracting funding as the scope was assessed by CARES to be too wide.

By February 2020 the group had carried out its own assessment as volunteers and began to work on a proposal for funding with a model that used the energy on the island and avoided the need to export to the grid.

There were three possible projects – district heating for the new affordable housing with Arran Development Trust; heating and electrical generation for Montrose House care home with NAC; and electrical generation for the Auchrannie Hotel – with the latter being chosen.

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