FAMILIES benefitting from a community energy scheme in the Highlands have been given a Christmas bonus payment from the “windfall” profits made by the project.

Around 200 households in Sunart, a small village in Lochaber, will be given a cheque of £150 from the unexpected £30,000 bumper profit generated by the community-owned hydro power company which operates in the area.

Sunart Community Renewables (SCR) is currently working its way through the mountain of cheques which are going to every household in the area which is occupied by at least one person who lives there permanently – holiday homes are not eligible for the payment.

Robert Dunn, the chair of SCR, told The National: “We’re trying to get them to everyone before Christmas.

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“There’s around 200 households in Sunart and we’ve given out about 130-something cheques so far.

“Holiday homes aren’t getting them, we reckon if folk have got a second house they probably don’t need £150.

“But it was really important to not have to get local people applying to other local people for a hardship grant because it’s a really hard thing to do.

“We thought long and hard about it and thought if we can include everybody there will be recipients who don’t need it.”

Those who feel they are well-off enough to forgo the cash are being urged to donate it to charity, Dunn added.

“We’re particularly pushing Lochaber Food Bank as that’s helping people who are known to be struggling in the Lochaber area – but at the end of the day, they can spend it down the pub if they want to,” he said.

The bumper profit came after the community company made a windfall because of the soaring price of energy – which has seen companies make bumper profits as their customers struggle to make ends meet.

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Dunn called on the “big boys” to mimic SCR’s scheme and hand back their huge profits to consumers.

He added: “Ever since we set up SCR in 2014, we’ve always wanted to help our local community with energy costs, but selling electricity direct to them has proved practically impossible for small generators like ourselves under current UK energy market arrangements.

“Being able to share this unexpected windfall with them is the next best thing”. 

“The money will be distributed via local charity Sunart Community Company, with every resident household receiving the £150 payment, and the first payments going out before Christmas.

“We’re aware this isn’t a unique idea and we’re not the first – but it’s significant that so far it only seems to be community generators who are doing it, so we’re calling on the big boys – SSE, EDF and so on – to do the same."

The company owns and operates a section of the Strontian River hydro scheme nearby which generates 100kW of renewable power. 

Currently it is sold to the National Grid but SCR hold a long-term ambition of directly powering local homes.