Wind farms contribute £485 million to economy and support communities

An investment in renewable energy is also an investment in local communities, our national account manager Gary Stalker discovers

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Recently, it’s been reported that four wind farms in Sutherland in the Highlands of Scotland are expected to contribute an impressive £485 million to the UK economy, throughout their development, construction and operational life. That’s the findings of a report published on 23 April 2021 by SSE Renewables.

It’s great to see these wind farms, which are among the sites that generate 100% renewable electricity for our business customers, contributing to local communities and the economy. I know that supporting jobs and growth here in the UK is important to many of our customers.

£327 million is expected to be contributed to the Scottish economy, with the Scottish Highlands benefitting from £131 million during the lifetime of the four projects. Areas close to SSE wind farms such as Gordonbush, Strathy North and Achany are examples of where this money will be used to benefit local communities.

One example that the report talks about is the community in Armadale, who’ve rebuilt their run-down village hall thanks to a £326,500 grant from the Strathy North Community Benefit Fund, which enabled them to access additional funding. Their new hall is currently being used as a Covid-19 vaccination centre, and long term will host clubs, dances and wedding receptions – a lasting benefit for locals.

“Crofting communities are scattered by nature and it can be hard to get to know your next-door neighbours when you’re two fields apart. The new hall is in the centre of our village and will be a place to gather, bringing the community closer together and fostering community spirit.”

Armadale Village Hall Committee Member, Caroline Jones

The hall also helped boost the local labour market with the contractor (Norbloc) committing to taking on local people to support the build, including the employment of a local school leaver.

SSE Business Energy and SSE Renewables, a leading renewable energy developer and operator, are both part of the SSE Group. The green electricity that we provide our customers is straight from our UK wind farms. As a group we’re building infrastructure for a low-carbon future, and investing in communities to ensure a just transition to net zero emissions.

Millions of pounds and hundreds of jobs have been supported and retained in the local, regional and national economies and – crucially – the benefits will continue throughout the projects’ operational lives. Through our direct actions and that of our supply chain, we create local jobs and make a positive contribution to Scottish and UK GDP.

As well as the economic contribution of the projects, the report shows the wider socio-economic benefits from the wind farms’ community benefit funds which will be provided over their operational lifetime. It’s good to see some of the socio-economic impacts from our renewable development quantified.

And of course, the funds make a huge difference at a personal level, by supporting projects like the Men’s Shed in Helmsdale, near Gordonbush. This safe, friendly and inclusive venue allows local residents with health needs or caring responsibilities to join in on projects, share skills and learn. Alongside the physical and practical benefits, meeting up at the shed enhances members’ emotional wellbeing.

So far, 591 projects in Sutherland boosting education, skills, responsible tourism and helping to build sustainable communities have been supported since 2010. There will be £23.1 million of direct funding available to Sutherland communities over the wind farms’ lifetime with £6.9 million already spent. It’s an astounding return that for every £1 of community funds spent, supported community projects across Sutherland are expected to generate £6.16 in wider value.

As well as investment to sustain local communities, SSE has made emergency funds available. Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has affected all our lives in some way. When the first national lockdown was announced, SSE released 10% of annual funds (£52,000 in Sutherland) for grassroots community Covid-19 projects. This funding enabled communities like Bettyhill and Helmsdale to provide meals for the elderly and purchase PPE for volunteers and community members.

I’m proud to work for a company that quickly offered valuable help in a crisis. As we look towards a sustainable future, SSE Renewables is part of these Highland communities for the long-term and this report lays out SSE’s ongoing commitment to them – to share in the value we’ve created.

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This analysis for the report entitled Delivering Investment, Supporting Jobs – Understanding the socio-economic value for SSE Renewables’ projects in Sutherland was provided by leading economic consultancy, BiGGAR Economics. You can read the April 2021 socio-economic report here, and the December 2020 BiGGAR Economics report, including the full methodology for the economic contribution calculation, here.