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Community Energy Scotland and the reclaiming of Gigha, Scotland

A Scottish island first socialises the land and then the wind

Affected population 167 (Gigha’s residents)
By Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung Brussels Office


The energy transition in Scotland profits from a land reform that has inverted historic property relations. Historically, Scotland is viewed as one of the most important examples for the enclosure of the commons.[1]  Up until the 19th century, large estates in Scotland were still being commodified [2] and sold. More often than not, the former inhabitants were given a free ticket to America and advised to leave the land without delay. Only the tenants, the so-called crofters, and landowners, who often lived far away and are the ancestors of today’s absentee landlords, remained. During the second half of the last century, the Home Rule movement developed to reunite land use and land possession. Its greatest success was the community buy-out law passed by the Scottish parliament in 2003, which until 2010 was followed by a further land reform act. These made land use by landowners compulsory. At the same time those actually living on the land were granted a right of pre-emption at preferential prices. Since then, crofters have been buying land through trusts and funds founded by them as forms of collective and local ownership.

Wind energy plays a significant role here. The land for the community associations needed to be purchased with bank loans that would need to be repaid. New community life, too, needs to be financed. Frequently this led to the erection of wind parks, either as purely external capital investments, or, in many cases also as community energy wind parks.[3]

Financing community projects

To promote a democratic financing of community projects, Scotland established the central state planning agency, Community Energy Scotland (CES). This agency consults and supports communities and residents. Perhaps most importantly, it also provides loans at favourable conditions that make it easier for communities to gather the necessary funds. Alone in 2012, the CES supported 302 projects. This mixed form – combining a central state agency, government loans and municipal participation – is again based on the socialisation of the land, because socialisation would not have been possible for most villages, let alone community wind farms.

In Scotland the political framework for the energy transition is far more favourable than in other parts of the UK. The Scottish government has partial sovereignty over its energy policy planning and uses this sovereignty for the energy transition. It even exceeded its 2011 goal of sourcing 31% of its energy supply from renewables by 4%.[4]  A seldom form of miscalculation. Encouraged by this success, Scotland now aims to produce 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. But before that is the 2014 referendum on independence from the UK. Because the idea of the energy transition in Scotland is linked to the question of independence, the result of the referendum will also impact future energy policies. A debate on energy autonomy in Scotland easily ends in a passionate discussion of the question of national autonomy.[5]

Andrew Cumbers and others argue that an independent Scotland could reverse the mistakes embedded in British energy policy, most importantly the mistakes of privatisation. A nationalised grid like in Norway, municipal energy supply companies (Stadtwerke) such as in Germany, and community-owned energy projects would create a public energy sector for the 21st century based 100% on renewable sources.[6]

Reclaiming the island of Gigha

A good example of a publicly supported energy-democracy initiative is the island of Gigha, on the Scottish west coast. In 2002, the 98 inhabitants bought back their island. To do this, islanders founded the Gigha Heritage Trust as a community company. Two public Scottish organisations, the Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Land Fund, helped finance the buy-out. Part of the purchase price, one million pounds, will be repaid by the new owner of the island, the Gigha Heritage Trust. [7] To finance this, the island inaugurated what was at the time Scotland’s first community wind farm and in December 2004 connected three small 225 kW wind turbines to the grid. [8] Profits go to the Heritage Trust to repay loans for the land and to pay for the refurbishment of buildings on the island.

For a long time, Gigha always brought up the rear in statistics on national living conditions. Most of the houses on the island fell in the category of “below tolerable standards”. Even though many houses have by now been refurbished, are still in need of refurbishment. To finance this, a fourth wind turbine is to be built in line with the current project model. But the current electricity grid, which—like most of the island’s infrastructure—dates back to the 1950s, will reach its limits here. [9] The Heritage Trust, however, is optimistic that it will also be able to raise the necessary funds.[10]

The positive impact of the remunicipalisation of land and energy on the standard of living can also be seen in the number of residents, which nearly doubled between 2002 and 2013.[11]

[1]Linebaugh, Peter: The Magna Charta Manifesto. Liberty and Commons for All, Berkeley 2009;Marx, Karl: Das Kapital. Erster Band, in: Marx, Karl/Engels, Friedrich: Werke (MEW), vol. 23,Berlin 1975.

[2] ‘Commodified’ here refers to Marx’s well-known concept

[3]On the specific background of Scottish land buy outs and wind energy see Murphy, Joseph: At the edge: community ownership, climate change and energy in Scotland, JRF briefing paper, 11/2010: www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/community-ownership-scotland.pdf.

[4]See Scottish government press release from 31 September 2013: More clean energy “essential for Scotland”; www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2012/10/Renewables30102012.

[5]Oral comment by Angela Pohlman, a social sciences researcher who investigated the Scottish energy transition.

[6]Cumbers, Andrew/Danson, Mike/Whittam, Geoff/Morgan, Gordon/Callaghan, George: Repossessing the Future. A Common Weal Strategy for Community and Democratic Ownership of Scotland’s Energy Resources, Glasgow 2013, p. 27.

[7] Information from the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, see: www.gigha.org.u

[8]See: www.renewables-map.co.uk, www.energysavingtrust.org.uk and www.cse.org.uk. These were the Fresh Futures Sustainable Communities Project Fund of the National Lottery, managed by Forward Scotland; the Scottish Community and Householder Renewables Initiative, managed by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise; as well as commercial loans from banks and shares for small shareholders. Furthermore, 148,000 pounds from Social Investment Scotland and 120,000 pounds worth of shares held by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. Total costs amounted to 440,000 pounds. See: www.gigha.org.uk/windmills/TheStoryoftheWindmills.php.

[9]Meta web site Energy Share, see:www.groups.energyshare.com/isle-of-gigha-heritage-trust

[10]In Germany, wind farm operators often cover the expensive installation of power lines themselves.

[11] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigha

This article is presented in the Energy democracy in Europe, A survey and outlook by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in 2014.

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