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A solar farm in open countryside near Lostwithiel, Cornwall. Photo: bobchin1941 via Flikr.
A solar farm in open countryside near Lostwithiel, Cornwall. Photo: bobchin1941 via Flikr.
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Communites decide - fracking or renewables?

Rebecca Cooke

24th December 2013

Over £1 billion could be paid out by frackers to appease local communities in the UK. Yet Rebecca Cooke finds that wind and solar offers local people a better return ...

Renewables' long-term benefits and the prospect of a clean, reliable energy infrastructure outweigh the compensation being offered by shale gas companies.

A community benefits package - recently agreed by the United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group, the shale gas industry trade body - could see over £1 billion paid out to communities if shale gas development takes off.

In June, the industry promised to pay individual communities £100,000 upfront as a one-off payment in compensation for gas drilling in their area, regardless of whether gas is found or not.

And if gas is found, host communities could receive 1 percent of the overall profits of the sale of the gas. Put the two together and the total could reach £1.1 billion.

It's a figure designed to appease host communities such as Balcombe in Sussex, which have thus far been incredibly vocal about their anger, with protests and petitions to try and put a stop to shale exploration.

But does it truly compensate for the exploratory drilling that will sprawl across the south of England? Entire towns and villages will potentially be inconvenienced with fracking rigs and wells - without any security of a promise of long-term benefits.

By contrast Good Energy, the solar farm developer and energy supplier, offers as standard £1,000 a year for every MW of capacity. For a 25MW solar farm, that means £25,000 annually for 30 years as a community benefit.

With long-term financial reward, Councils can effectively plan to improve libraries, parks and public amenities - as opposed to struggling to apportion a one-off lump sum across a range of community projects.

The planned 30-year annual benefit of £40,000 for the community in Wroughton - where the UK's largest solar farm is to be built - totals £1.2 million, ten times the one-off fracking payment. This provides long-term financial stability for the community and makes planning easier for Councils.

Wind farms offer a similar standard annual benefit, again for the 30-year term. In addition, wind farm developers RES offer an energy bill discount to the 300 homes closest to the wind farm. They get up to £108 off of their energy bill each year.

The community benefits from shale gas will be highest during the first decade, when production it at its peak. After that, the percentage of profits going to communities is likely to decrease significantly. With a solar or wind farm they would be facing a further 20 years of benefits.

It is these long-term benefits and the prospect of a clean, reliable energy infrastructure that outweigh the compensation being offered by shale gas companies: another reason it's likely to take a bit more than 1 per cent to quiet the outrage of communities like Balcombe.


Rebecca Cooke is Trillion Fund's content editor. She graduated with a BA (Hons) in Journalism from The University of Sheffield in 2012. She loves writing, travelling, Xbox and cheese. Not necessarily in that order. 

This article was first published on the Trillion fund blog.



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