Support in securing community benefit from commercial solar developments in Gloucestershire
This briefing is for community groups and town and parish councils. It is intended to provide an overview of community benefits -what these are, what you could expect etc, and to signpost you to useful resources and guidance on securing these from commercial developers.
What are community benefits?
Community benefits can bring tangible rewards to communities which host commercial solar developments beyond the wider energy security, diversity and environmental contributions made by these type of schemes. They enable the community to share in the value that solar energy can bring to a local area. Community benefits can include(1) :
- Community benefit funds - voluntary monetary payments from a commercial developer to the community, usually provided via an annual cash sum, and
- Benefits in-kind - other voluntary benefits which the developer provides to the community, such as in-kind works, direct funding of projects, one-off funding, local energy discount scheme or any other non-necessary site-specific benefits.
In addition to the above, there can also be:
- Community investment (Shared ownership) - this is where a community has a financial stake, or investment in a solar scheme. This can include co-operative schemes and online investment platforms
- Socio-economic community benefits - job creation, skills training, apprenticeships, opportunities for educational visits and raising awareness of climate change
- Material benefits - derived from actions taken directly related to the development such as improved infrastructure.
The identification of appropriate community benefits should develop from early discussions between the community and the developer. You will need to assess the general feeling towards the solar scheme in your community and what the community could, or would like to, potentially achieve with any income or benefit package that could be secured. Think of projects which could be funded by a community benefit scheme -particularly those for which you do not receive local government funding and consider both short and longer term projects.
What could we expect to secure in community benefit?
Even though the provision of benefits is voluntary, community benefit schemes have become a common feature of commercial solar developments over 5MW capacity in England. Community benefit packages should be relative to the nature and scale of the proposed development. They should not be viewed as compensation payments or awards.
If you are considering securing community benefit funds, there is currently no official guidance or protocol specifically on what communities should expect to secure from solar commercial developments. Although the wind industry (specifically members of the Wind Energy Association body) has committed to provision of community benefits packages to a minimum value(2), there is not yet something similar from commercial solar developers. Having said this, research conducted by Gloucestershire County Council has found that communities should expect to secure community benefit equivalent to the current, benchmark figure of 1,000 per MW per year index linked for a period of 20 years(3). Community benefit funds are normally paid to the immediate host community organisation (e.g. the Parish council) which holds and distributes funds for the community.
Is the provision of community benefits relevant to or required by the planning process?
No. Community benefits are separate from the planning process and are not relevant to nor required for the decision as to whether the solar scheme should be approved or not -i.e. they are not a 'material' consideration (unlike visual and environmental impact, local and national planning policies etc) in the planning process.
What resources are available to help us in this process?
Gloucestershire County Council has identified and reviewed publicly available guidance and resources to enable local people and councils to have an active and informed role in dialogue with solar developers. Most of the guidance currently available is focused on commercial wind energy developments. However, much of the key principles, guidance on engaging the local community, working with developers, good practice etc is largely applicable to commercial solar schemes too.
Department of Energy and Climate Change: Community Benefits from Onshore Wind Developments October 2014
Guidance for communities, developers and local authorities on community benefits for proposed commercial onshore wind energy developments.
Scottish Government: Good Practice Principles for Community Benefits from Onshore Renewable Energy Developments April 2015
Guidance for Scottish commercial renewable energy developers but also useful for communities and local authorities on understanding good practice principles of providing community benefits
Local Energy Scotland: Community benefit guidance package
Online and paper based guidance designed to help communities secure local benefit from commercial developers from the initial approach through to evaluation of the success of securing community benefit. In particular, there is a helpful module on negotiation: http://www.localenergyscotland.org/communities/benefiting-from-commercial-operations/guidance/negotiation/
Dorset County Council: Community benefit from solar farms in Dorset January 2015
Guidance for town and parish councils and community groups to successfully negotiate, set-up and manage community benefit funds
South Gloucestershire Council: Renewables, Supplementary Planning Document November 2014
Guidance for Council staff, developers and communities on engaging with local renewable projects and community-led projects
Opportunity to secure match or capital project funding for renewable energy community benefit packages
The Gloucestershire Environmental Trust provides grants from funds generated by the Landfill Communities Fund for the benefit of Gloucestershire. Parish councils and/or community groups may be able to secure match funding (up to 75% of the scheme value) for secured revenue for communities from renewable energy developments. Local councils and people could also secure funding from Gloucestershire Environmental Trust to help deliver capital projects largely funded by solar developers. Applications for funding will only be considered if projects meet specific criteria set out by the Trust and fall into the following types: Community Buildings, Community Open Spaces, Heritage Buildings & Places of Worship and Wildlife & Environmental Projects. If Parish councils and/or local groups wish to develop their own renewable energy projects which provide an income to the community, funding may also be available for 1/3 of the total project cost. For more information and detail on how to apply see the following: