LOCAL ownership of small-scale energy projects can empower communities and improve resilience across Scotland, one project in the Highlands is proving.

The “Apple Juice” hydro electric project has been up and running in the iconic Applecross peninsula for six years, after raising some £755,000 to get established.

“People bought shares and that funded the project, so as we generate income we have to buy back those shares. Anything additional to that, after the maintenance and after running costs, is profit back to the community,” Roslyn Clarke, who sits on the board of community benefit society Apple Juice, told The National.

“At the moment it’s generating over £15,000 per year to the community, which is really amazing. Then obviously going forward, as we buy back more shares those benefits will increase.”

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The money generated by the project, which is netting something above £100,000 every year, is being used to further create a resilient community in Applecross, which like other rural Scots areas has a glut of tourists and second homes.

“To date, the £60,000 that’s come back was used to build, to co-fund the An Toll Bàn housing development (below),” Clarke says. “That’s three affordable houses for the community.

“Housing demand in Applecross is incredible. There’s a lack of access to land and the amount of properties that are second homes, people are just priced out of the market on the average salary in rural communities.

“Like other areas all throughout rural Scotland, it’s difficult to live in these places. We’re really pleased that three families have moved in and it’s going really successfully.”

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Those families are paying rent to the community company which runs the hydro project, bringing another long-term income stream. A pay-to-use EV charging point is also planned for the village, which should add another.

But the output of the hydro project – turned by the Allt Breugach burn which flows into Applecross Bay – is limited by the power grid in the area.

While the hydro turbine has a capacity of 90kW – and there is the potential to simply double that to 180kW – export is capped at just 50kW.

“Like many communities across the country, grid constraints are a real problem,” Clarke said.

And it was further deemed not commercially viable to use the energy generated by the hydro project to power homes in the local area due to further grid and cabling constraints.

But land adjacent to the turbine has recently been purchased with the aim of building more affordable housing on the peninsula. These should be directly connected to the hydro power, and will provide another income to help benefit the community.

Overall, Clarke says the model is one which other rural Scots communities could “definitely” follow and benefit from.

“It provides long-term income and the benefits from community empowerment and that idea of energy resilience, of making your own energy where you live, it’s a really powerful thing,” she said.

One report also found that community ownership of windfarms generates 34 times more benefit to locals than commercially operated schemes.

The study was carried out by Point and Sandwick Trust, which operates the UK’s biggest community wind farm on the Isle of Lewis.

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It recently launched a new energy support service in response to the cost of living crisis, which includes a hardship fund to help vulnerable households manage electricity bills.

There are other similar examples – tenants of social housing charity Fyne Homes, which built a community windfarm on the Kintyre Peninsula, were offered £130,000 to help with the cost of living crisis, which was generated from wind turbine profits.

Mark Hull, head of innovation at charity Community Energy Scotland, said the benefits of community windfarm projects extended beyond generating revenue and achieving decarbonisation goals.

He said: “Community organisations have clubbed together and organised and come up with a plan to own some of the solutions to what they need to do.

“By having that money, it lets you do things and let you takes on responsibility for stuff that other folk probably don’t have as a priority.

“We should still expect what we can get from the statutory bodies, from local authority or from our national government, and things like that.

“But in Rousay, for example, it let us tackle things that only we would take on and to try and make it a place people would stay and thrive in.

“So we looked at helping with the roads, or broadband – we had a grant as it is really expensive to get broadband.

“It is those kind of ways a community based windfarm creates a direct money benefit but also an indirect benefit as it is used for social good.”

Hull also said community ownership could potentially help with the frequent issue of local residents objecting to having windfarms built on their doorstep.

He said: “I think part of that is owning it – and owning it is also owning the problems of what you are going to do, it not just about getting lots of money, you are saying where do we want our community to be.

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“If you have that vision, it changes the way you think about it – it is worth doing the project.

“If someone has no investment in an emotional sense, never mind money, they just hate it.”

He said he had been told of a resident in one community who was opposed to a wind turbine for a long time, which she could see from her home.

“One of her younger relatives was visiting and told her every time it went round, it earned the community seven pence,” he said.

“So he got another relative to cut down her hedge so she could see it turning.”

He added: “It’s not a magic wand and a badly sited turbine is a badly sited turbine wherever it is - but a turbine that people feel is part of their community we can put them in places where others can’t potentially.”