COMMUNITY GROUPS are turning to wind farm cash to help vulnerable locals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The money – part of a £20 million a year community benefit pot paid by wind farm developers to communities in Scotland every year – is usually spent on local projects.

But a growing number of groups are now repurposing the funding to support those in hardship because of the ongoing health emergency.

Community Energy Scotland co-owns a 7.5MW wind farm near Cockburnspath with Berwickshire Housing Association. This arrangement provides around £40,000 a year in community funding and is now working with a newly-established volunteer action group to provide emergency grants to local families in hardship.

Foundation Scotland, which administers around 60 community benefit funds, says it is in conversation with community representatives of around 20 funds to provide similar help.

CES development manager Jamie Adam said: “We have been humbled by the reaction of local communities to the coronavirus emergency, and are delighted to be able to help, if only in a small way.

“The wind farm we co-own provides around £40,000 a year in community funding, which has so far been used to support projects like a new grass cutting machine for local playing fields in Cockburnspath and development work for a new community hall in Oldhamstocks.

“We have now been contacted by a new volunteer action group who want to divert some of the money to provide emergency grants to local families who might be experiencing hardship or redundancy. This is a great opportunity for renewable energy projects to provide direct action on a pressing local issue, and we’d love to see more wind farm owners following suit.”

Foundation Scotland administers community benefit payments on behalf of communities and is working with a growing number on the coronavirus pandemic. The organisation’s head of communities, Rachel Searle, said: “The ethos of community benefit funding is that it is spent on issues which matter locally, and the current emergency has really brought that to the fore for people.

“We’re seeing communities trying to think creatively about how to get funds to where it’s needed most. Some are already promoting availability of emergency funding, others are making established processes more flexible. And to do all this community representatives we work with are hastily embracing different digital platforms and adapting quickly to virtual ways of working to make swift decisions for the benefit of their communities.

“We have contacted a number of the wind farm developers whose funds we administer and they have all been delighted that the money is being spent in this way.”

On the Isle of Lewis, community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust has announced it will use all its free cash for this year to set up a pandemic support fund for the local community.

Chief executive of industry body Scottish Renewables, Claire Mack, added: “Almost £21 million in community benefit payments is given to communities across Scotland every year and this unprecedented response to the coronavirus pandemic shows how industry and communities can work together on the issues which really matter.

"Scotland’s renewable energy industry looks forward to continued engagement with communities as we work towards our ambitious net-zero target.”