Readers will have noted the headline 'Sharing the Wealth' in last week’s Cochrane’s Column, and Drew Cochrane’s comments about the £60,000 or so received from the operator of the Kelburn Wind Farm.

But is this much acclaimed largesse really as good as it should be?

To encourage support for a new wind farm, it is normal practice for the developer to offer what is known as community benefit to those living near the proposed site. This can take various forms, the most common being the provision of a sum of money each year based on the installed power capacity of the wind farm.

The annual grant is solely in the gift of the company owning the turbines and is not a planning requirement or condition.

To ensure some uniformity between the many different wind farm developments, in April 2014 the Scottish Government published an advice note which recommended that the annual payment should be ‘at least £5,000 per megawatt (MW) per year’. That recommend rate was repeated by the Government in 2019.

As an example, it means that the annual amount of community benefit which should be provided for a wind farm with, say, 10 turbines, each of 5MW capacity, would be £250,000. The Government also advised that the rate should be increased each year to allow for inflation.

The Kelburn Wind Farm (now apparently known as the Green Hill Wind Farm) makes annual community benefit payments to organisations in Largs, Fairlie and Cumbrae through the Kelburn Wind Farm Community Fund. The wind farm comprises 14 turbines each with a rated output of 2MW, thus a total installed capacity of 28MW.

At the Government recommended rate of £5,000 per megawatt this should result in an annual community benefit payment into the fund of £140,000, or about 2.3 times the £60,000 which is currently being provided. What, one wonders, is the reason for this parsimony?

Wind farms are now significant investment assets, and as such are bought and sold to maximise the return on that investment. Both a wind farm owner, many of whom are today overseas based, the companies who manage the asset on behalf of the owners, and the companies who operate and maintain the turbines, all make substantial profits from harnessing Scotland’s free wind.

These profits are even enhanced by the owners getting paid to shut down their wind farms when the wind does blow.

It would appear that the Kelburn, or Green Hill, Wind Farm is currently owned by the London-based asset management company The Renewables Infrastructure Group (‘TRIG’), one of whose stated objectives is ‘to create shareholder value’. In February 2014 TRIG’s chair reported to its shareholders that ‘cash generation has never been healthier’ with revenue after operating costs being £610 million.

Part of this would have come from the Kelburn Wind Farm, where the day-to-day operational management of the 14 turbines is handled by the company Renewable Energy Systems Limited (‘RES’). In 2022 RES, part of the world’s largest renewable energy company, paid a dividend of £79 million to its shareholders.

So why the reluctance of TRIG and/or RES to pay Largs, Fairlie and Cumbrae the going rate for community benefit? It is understood that the excuse for this parsimony is that the rate was agreed prior to the introduction of the 2014 Government guidance, the wind farm becoming operational in 2012.

This, of course, conveniently ignores the rise in value, income and profitability of the wind farm since then.

Just think about the number, and more importantly the value, of the local projects which could be funded if the cash-rich owner and operator of the Kelburn Wind Farm really did share their wealth and increased the annual community benefit to the recommended £140,000!

John Riddell, Fairlie