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The Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment Committee Chairperson Patsy McGlone MLA and Vice-Chairperson Phil Flanagan MLA recently visited Fermanagh House to learn about the Fermanagh Trust’s work with regards to the relationship between local communities and wind energy developments.
The Fermanagh Trust discussed with the MLAs the potential for communities and government to look at community energy as a way of tackling fuel poverty, reducing energy bills etc.
The visit focussed on the recommendations from the Trust’s 2012 report ‘Maximising Community Outcomes From Wind Energy Developments’. The report highlights that people are entitled to see some return and benefit directly from the natural environmental assets as renewable energy development draws on collective resources and impacts on communities. These communities currently face a wide range of issues in relation to poverty, disadvantage and isolation. Taking these factors into account, the report identifies the opportunities that exist for communities to engage with commercial onshore wind energy development.
Northern Ireland has one of the greatest wind resources in Europe and has set ambitious targets for future renewable energy deployment. Meeting these targets will be challenging for everybody. However, the opportunities that exist for communities to engage with commercial onshore wind energy development can potentially be both very rewarding and of benefit to all sectors.
The Committee members heard that a common way for communities to engage with onshore wind energy development is through the provision of community benefits. Whilst the level of community benefit provision in Northern Ireland has not been significant, the report demonstrates that commercial wind energy development can provide substantial economic and social benefits for communities which host wind farm developments.
The recommendations from the report include a call for government to take the lead role in developing a more coordinated approach involving the government, the private sector and communities towards wind farm developments, which builds upon principals of sustainable development. As well as this of course local communities need to take an active role in relation to wind farm development being considered in the community and explore the range of community benefits which can be provided.
Last month DETI, DOE and DARD launched a joint study on ‘Communities and Renewable Energy’. “Clearly government is starting to consider the importance of this issue, which is good news because the development of renewable energy is of benefit to everyone, helping to meet ambitious climate change targets and generate substantial new economic activity if community benefits and community energy are at the heart of this development” outlined Lauri McCusker Director of the Fermanagh Trust.