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Community power has been instrumental in helping Scotland establish itself as a leader in renewable energy and keeping the Scottish Government on track to meet its ambitious target of the equivalent of 100% demand for electricity to be met from renewable sources by 2020. Support for community energy will be critical to meeting nationally binding greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020 and 2050, and decarbonisation of the power sector by 2030.

The Scottish Government continues to demonstrate support for community energy, for example, through its unique ‘locally and community owned’ energy target of 500 MW by 2020 and various funding opportunities. These include the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES), the Renewable Energy Infrastructure Fund (REIF) and the £20 (€25) million Local Energy Challenge Fund, which was announced in August 2014. In addition community energy projects can benefit from UK wide support mechanisms including Feed-in Tariffs and the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Wind power is the fastest growing renewable energy technology in Scotland, which is not surprising as the country holds 25% of Europe’s estimated wind resources. However, the rapid spread of wind farms is sometimes met with opposition by local residents. This illustrates that both the environment and people have to be at the heart of the renewables transformation.

It’s not all about wind

Despite the prominence of wind farms, examples of community power schemes in Scotland provide great diversity in terms of legal structures, scale, geographic location and technology. They range from independent mini grids fed by a mixture of solar, wind and hydro on the isle of Eigg, to partnerships between commercial wind farm developers and local communities in Neilston. This case study report demonstrates the diversity of initiatives in Scotland.

Key challenges

There are already many great community power examples and significant levels of support. However, there are nonetheless significant barriers that need to be addresses before community energy can become mainstream in Scotland. Here it is important to recognise that unlike planning law, much of energy legislation is reserved which means decision regarding this are made at UK level and not by the Scottish Government.

First, while in Scotland a target of 500 MW of community and locally owned renewable energy has been established at national level, there is a need to integrate and prioritise community energy into local policies and planning frameworks.

Scotland has largely facilitated renewable energy development through planning laws and regulations. However, this framework could better integrate community energy considerations. A number of local authorities are expressing a desire to assume leadership roles in renewable and community energy development, and there is a need to develop sufficient policy tools to assist them.

Second, lack of infrastructure, in particular limited grid capacity affects the space available for additional projects to connect. Processes imposed by Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to connect to the grid are long, complicated and costly. This can easily prevent community projects, which often rely on volunteers or outside help, from progressing forward. Communities often find it difficult to compete with large developers familiar with the process involved in setting up a renewables project.

Furthermore, because community groups often have little choice in where to site a project, they do not have the luxury of choosing a connection point with available capacity, thereby increasing connection costs.

Third, there is a natural wish by community energy projects such as the Spirit of Lanarkshire Co-operative to supply energy that they produce and feed into the national grid, directly to their members or local customers. This is in part motivated by the desire to see greater competition in the energy market and suppliers that can provide local and sustainable energy.

The legal framework of the wider UK context virtually excludes the possibility of smaller or local suppliers entering the market or supplying customers directly. ‘License Lite’, the current framework for licensing smaller decentralised energy supply, maintains too many administrative burdens and reinforces the dominant position of big energy utilities.

Recent restrictions imposed on energy co-operatives by the Financial Conduct Authority underline the contradictions between wishing to supply and limitations imposed by regulators and the current structure of the energy market.

For links to community energy organisations in Scotland click here


Friends of the Earth Scotland
Anne Schiffer
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: +44 131 243 2700
Website: www.foe-scotland.org.uk

Northern Ireland, England, Wales

The UK Government sets the law and policy stage for energy issues for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In 2008, the Government set a bold and legally binding goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% (from the 1990 baseline) by 2050. Supportive of an overall renewable target of 20% for the EU, the Government is also committed to providing 15% of its overall energy from renewable energy sources by 2020. Recently, however, the Coalition Government has changed its stance, and it no longer supports a renewables target past 2020. In terms of policy, the Government is currently about to release its Community Energy Strategy for how it will continue to support community power. It has also included some aspects of community energy into its pending Energy Bill, which is currently still in Parliament. Alongside the Energy Bill, the Government is embarking on Electricity Market Reform, in order to ensure energy security, which will also affect community energy throughout the UK.

Legal framework

The area of energy policy is reserved to the UK Government. However, through devolution some powers – particularly in the area of land planning – are within the competence of the governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Although it cannot officially legislate, the Scottish government has also set in place ‘soft’ policy measures to demonstrate stronger political commitment to renewables. The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) is responsible for regulating gas and electricity markets in the UK, particularly through its oversight of distribution and transmission networks.

Competing priorities

The UK is blessed with renewable energy resources, from wind to hydro and solar. Despite initial support for renewable (including positive policy statements on community energy), however, the UK Government’s priorities have turned towards support for shale gas, and additional nuclear energy. This largely stems from reaction to higher energy prices, and increasing dependence on imported sources of energy. Furthermore, there has been a strong pushback against renewables, particularly wind, in many rural areas throughout the UK.   


Since 2010 community energy projects in the UK have been able to benefit from financial support programs such as the Feed-In Tariff (FiT), and Renewable Heat Incentive. However, the Government has sent mixed signals to the market, quickly changing its position on rates and eligibility to receive FiT. Furthermore, rather significant barriers have been put in place that have limited access to direct Government funding for community and locally-owned renewable energy projects. This has been a direct result of the Government’s conservative stance toward State Aid rules. The Government’s latest proposals under the Energy Bill include eligibility for FiT for installations under 10 MW.

Interesting links:

The Community Energy Coalition

Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)



ClientEarth, UK
Josh Roberts
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: +44 20 7749 5975
Website: www.clientearth.org/

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