While the community’s past has been shaped by hydro, part of its future sustainability is pegged to water power too. In comparison to 150 megawatt Sloy, the new Arrochar Community Hydro Scheme, opened in May 2018 provides a relatively modest 125 kilowatts. But Duncan, who is chairman of the Arrochar and Tarbet Community Development Trust, remains enthused about its potential as a community asset. Up a steep hillside above the shore of Loch Long, not far from where her older big sister sits at Sloy, the scheme, which runs a turbine off a fast-flowing burn, lies just a matter of metres away from power lines that link into the national grid. It is projected to generate £76,000 each year, and its 402,000 kilowatt hours will provide enough power to meet the equivalent demand from 130 medium use households annually. Crucially, in contrast to the seasonal tourist trade on which the local economy is so dependent, Arrochar Community Hydro Scheme offers a revenue stream that is constant. Indeed, unlike the tourists, it thrives in the dreich damp days of which visitors are seldom fond. In addition to support from Community Energy Scotland, Arrochar Communtiy Hyrdro Scheme was developed in partnership with Energy4All, a family of 24 independent renewable-energy cooperatives, with a strong network of schemes and shareholders from Sussex to Sutherland. Its share offers are extremely popular and it also provides a collective economy of scale which is invaluable in providing communities with good, consistent tariffs for the electricity they produce, in addition to motivation: “It does fill you with enthusiasm for the whole project, knowing that some other communities can benefit somewhere down the line,” notes Duncan. Despite the country’s cold climate and energy riches, around a quarter of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty. Like Labour’s policy of nationalising the grid, unveiled during the last General Election campaign, a new publicly owned Scottish energy company would not, in and of itself, solve any of the immense systemic challenges involved in achieving a just transition. The twin objectives of providing cheap energy to tackle fuel poverty and a transformed network of decentralised, democratically accountable supply do not necessarily work in tandem. A properly resourced common plan – a Green New Deal – is required. Research by economist Robert Pollin contends that a Green New Deal programme would require investment in energy efficiency and clean energy of between 1.5 and 2% of global GDP every year, and that this would drive down global carbon emissions by 40% within 20 years. In Scotland, this would amount to £3.41bn, roughly equivalent to the Scottish Government’s current education spend. While it remains to be seen whether Scotland’s politicians have the boldness to surmount these challenges, to commit the resources and confront all the vested interests that stand in the way of such radical change, the precedent is there. It can be seen to this day in the thousands of remote Highland households offered “light and hope” by the Hydro Board in the previous century, in place of chronic emigration and decline.
The National 26th Nov 2018 read more »