The Energy Bill announced in the Queen's Speech is sure to ignite intense debate about nuclear power, costs to consumers and the prospects for renewable energy development.
But another agenda that's been simmering away for 20 years is now coming to a head – how can massive investment in energy infrastructure be delivered in ways that benefit the communities affected?
The community dimension has been the 'Achilles Heel' of British renewable energy policy. While the roll-out of wind power in Denmark and Germany benefited from the widespread participation of local cooperatives and farmers, British projects are typically large, commercial, mostly benefit distant shareholders and encounter local disquiet. It seems unlikely that the Energy Bill will change that.
For this reason, the spotlight needs to shine on ways of channelling some benefits from renewable energy to affected communities, and that is what our Viewpoint for JRF – Wind energy and justice for disadvantaged communities – tries to do.
We focus on how wind farm developers have conventionally delivered benefits to local people, through the provision of community benefit funds. But our research poses three main questions:
We would not pretend that community benefit funds can resolve all the conflicts of a transition towards a sustainable energy system, but we do need a vigorous debate about what constitutes a fair relationship between such major projects and the communities that live with them. Improving the level and application of community benefit funds is a pragmatic and vital focus for immediate action.