How can communities share in the benefits of development activity before a project becomes operational? Could local communities partner in the process of actually getting a site consented, rather than just being offered the prospect of sharing in the ownership in it (should it ever get built)?
It strikes me that this is where the most leverage could be obtained. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if local communities actively engaged in pulling projects through the planning process? Of course they’d never be inclined to do that with an inappropriate project. It would not be a remedy for poor development proposals.
Since investing at the development stage rather than the building stage is a gamble, there are potentially high returns for members of the community participating as “active” investors and share in the benefits that will flow if the project is approved. There may be some SEC issues that would need to be resolved, but that’s doable. This imaginative approach creates a readymade set of positive talking points and messaging that builds the sort of organic enthusiasm that needs to be encouraged at the front end of the project. It is not easy, but there must be ways it can be achieved.
Some renewable energy project developers have been innovative in the community benefits packages they offer. Indeed, this may help them achieve success in comparison with other developers who simply offer to make one-time lump sum payments and leave it at that. Sharing good practice and encouraging more developers to aspire to best practice simply must be a good thing.
There is a difficult balance to be struck between getting benefits to flow to communities and bribing them to accept development. I see this as the industry sharing the financial benefits of renewables development with hosting communities, rather than as compensation. There are many different and valid ways to look at this, and there needs to be a wide-ranging dialogue.