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Micro hydro scheme in Skye gets community benefits flowing
Community-owned renewable energy projects such as this are not just a way to reduce our carbon emissions, they also offer massive potential to create community wealth that can help to address underlying local issues.Kenny Nicolson, project officer, Cumhachd Shlèite
Cumhachd Shlèite is Sleat Hydro Community Benefit Society's (SHCBC) first project. The community-owned 34 kW micro hydro scheme went live in August 2021, and is set to bring financial, environmental and social benefits to the local community.
The scheme was built at Allt a' Cham-aird in the community-owned Tormore Forest. It's estimated it will generate 148,000 kWh annually, enough to power approximately 40 homes, all of which will be sold to the National Grid. Profits will be returned to the community through the Sleat Community Trust.
While this is the first project for Cumhachd Shlèite, its founding body Sleat Community Trust was formed in 2003, and has a long and successful history in community development.
The Trust purchased Tormore Forest from the Forestry Commission in 2011, now Forestry and Land Scotland, for £330,000. The forest is managed by Sleat Renewables Limited which investigates new ways to generate income through sustainable development and improve recreational opportunities in the forest for the local community.
Sleat Hydro Community Benefit Society was established by the Trust to develop and manage a micro hydro scheme within the forest. The Cumhachd Shlèite micro hydro project aims to reduce carbon emissions; generate funds for community benefit; and improve awareness of environmental issues and community ownership.
The project was successfully funded through a community share offer which was launched on 7 December 2020 to raise the full £235,000 needed for the hydro construction. It was hugely successful receiving over 200 applications from over 150 different households in only a couple of months.
It realised over £155,000 from Sleat residents themselves, and more than £200,000 in total came from the Skye and Lochalsh area. Everyone who invested in Cumhachd Shlèite became members of the society with equal voting rights. They will receive interest payments on their investment from 2023.
All profits from the sale of electricity will be used for community benefit. The project is set to generate over £150,000 over the first 20 years, with the micro hydro scheme expected to last for significantly longer.
The project’s long-term legacy will be the sustainable generation of hydro electricity for decades. In future, subject to legislative and regulatory changes, it is hoped to be able to provide local households with electricity direct, rather than selling it to an energy supplier through the National Grid.
The community share model enabled so many people to get involved, to make an investment that would not only bring our community together, but also help to increase awareness of environmental issues.Kenny Nicolson, project officer, Sleat Community Hydro
Kenny Nicolson, the project officer who was employed to lead the development, is a 23 year old Skye graduate, who has a master's degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Strathclyde.
He has overseen all aspects from the successful share offer, through the planning and build phase, to the recent handover of the project to the community trustees/volunteers .
His experience has encouraged him to train with Co-operatives UK to become a registered Community Shares Practitioner. He hopes to support other community projects in the Highlands and Islands to realise their goals through community share offers.
Kenny said: “I think that Cumhachd Shlèite has demonstrated the strength of community action and its ability to lead the way in community wealth building. There will be more developments in renewable energy like this in the coming years, so I hope that we have proved how our communities are able to retain all the benefits that such initiatives bring."
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