Changeworks is committed to helping people and communities across Scotland live a low-carbon life, and renewable and sustainable energy is a key part of our low-carbon future. That's why we're really proud of our role with Local Energy Scotland, an organisation helping take that sustainable energy right to communities.
Local Energy Scotland is a consortium of agencies (including Changeworks) that administers the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES). That means supporting community groups to be involved in renewables projects, whether as community-owned schemes or in commercial endeavours.
To get an insight into the important work that Local Energy Scotland does, we spoke to Development Officer Catriona Knott about what her job entails.
In her role, Cat is normally the first point of contact for enquiries from local groups. From there, she provides impartial advice and support, through from funding to completion. Working in the Highlands, Cat’s job involves a lot of travel – and a lot of different locations! That means they make use of tools like Skype to keep in touch.
One major area of work for Local Energy Scotland is the Solar Connected Communities group, bringing together community-owned solar projects from across the area. Local Energy Scotland supported 35 groups to pre-register 65 buildings before the feed-in tariff closed to new applications, and now Cat and the team are supporting those projects through procurement and install. Managing those processes together helps secure savings and efficiencies for the groups, which can be vital when working to a tight budget.
Local Energy Scotland also awards Innovation Grants and Development Loans to community groups, businesses, housing associations, local authorities and other eligible groups of up to £150,000. The panel meets to review applications every few months – the first panel of the 2019/20 financial year approved seven of the 11 applications submitted, and that funding will now be put to work. For Cat, this includes two projects she has been working with.
“I look forward to giving the good news to my two successful applicants – both very different projects! One is just beginning on their renewable journey and keen to explore an energy-focused options appraisal, while the other is moving towards implementation of an off-grid heat and power energy system.”
Sometimes Cat will call in the experience of other specialists within Local Energy Scotland, like the Energy System Specialist team or the Shared Ownership Manager. With access to this expertise, Cat can direct assistance to even complex projects, including legal and financial support through CARES.
It’s not just about solar and the more common renewables – the unique geography of the Highlands presents opportunities for all kinds of innovation. One of these is hydro-electric power, and Local Energy Scotland is currently supporting six community hydro projects. Cat brings these groups together for a conference call every two weeks, to make sure their timelines are still on track.
There are so many amazing projects already underway all across the Highlands, but there’s scope for so much more. So Cat and the team love nothing more than getting out and about to increase awareness of what they can do. That involves speaking to community groups, getting out on the streets, and even attending major events like the Black Isle Show – the jewel of the Inverness social calendar!
As you can tell from just this short summary, the Local Energy Scotland team have an incredibly varied job.
“No two days are ever the same whether that be the variety of energy projects I’m overseeing or the opportunities to get out and about. Being able to empower a community through renewables and the project journey is extremely rewarding to me and hopefully encourages more groups to act and get involved.”
The next round of CARES funding is open for applications until Monday 30 September. A funding pot of up to £400,000 is available for innovation grants to support early stage development work to support local energy systems projects, alongside loan funding to support renewable projects in the development phase.
If you have a group of likeminded people in your community who need support to get your area switched on to renewables, get in touch with Local Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2288 and start the journey.