The co-operative model cannot in itself overcome local opposition to wind farm proposals, but it can provide opportunities for those who are open-minded about wind energy in their locale, offering them the possibility of gaining revenue from a relatively safe investment. For the community, wind farm co-operatives have the potential to develop a network that will serve it well, strengthening social relations and putting the community in a good place to take advantage of other opportunities.
However, co-operative schemes should not be conceived without some form of community benefit that would give the entire community the ability to derive some advantage as a consequence of hosting a wind farm. Otherwise, this might create a situation in which those who oppose the wind farm, and hence do not join the scheme, will not benefit from the wind farm at all.
As mentioned above, “trust” is a crucial aspect in judgements even about the co-operative model—whether, as in the Westmill case, the main party proposing the co-operative is also the landowner who would benefit from its presence on his land, or somebody else who could be seen to gain some personal advantage from it. This would clearly compromise the possibility of generating trust between the developer (whether this is a co-operative or a coimnercial entity) and the community. Hence, it makes sense that policymakers should, first, consider making it mandatory for local authorities to assist communities interested in community ownership schemes, as suggested by Haggett and Aitken (2015), by providing information and project management assistance. Second, local authorities should also directly step in, overseeing the process of building community ownership schemes, ensuring that pre-established guidelines are set to provide a fair community space for discussion and deliberation and that these are then followed. This would help prevent, or at least mediate, potential conflicts and help to generate a sense of fairness and ultimately trust in the project.
As several scholars have pointed out (e.g. Haggett and Aitken, 2015; Slee, 2015), there are numerous potential benefits for communities that develop community ownership schemes, but these risk remaining untapped if current national legislation does not change to provide the resources communities need to develop these opportunities. In particular, establishing a mandatory requirement that any wind farm development must provide both a community benefit fund and an opportunity for the local community to co-own at least a share of the project (as current Danish legislation requires; see Slee, 2015) would reduce opposition by ensuring that the perceived costs of wind deployment are minimised, while its perceived potential benefits are maximised.
In this regard, in 2014, the then UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) outlined a “community energy strategy” (DECC, 2014), which attempted to address the issue of availability of resources to engage in community schemes and aimed to make community ownership widely available for renewable energy developments. A voluntary scheme was encouraged led by the “shared ownership taskforce” (DECC, 2015b), a consultation group including commercial developers and representatives of community organisations. The UK Government stated that if this approach failed, the provision of shared ownership would be made mandatory for any commercial development (DECC, 2015a).
In Scotland, by contrast, the Scottish Government (2018) has recommended, since 2015, that developers offer shared ownership for all renewable energy projects above 50kW. This position has been further strengthened by a communication by Scotland’s chief planner, John McNairney (2015), who, in a letter addressed to the heads of planning at Scottish planning authorities in November 2015, stressed the significance of shared ownership. Although shared ownership does not form part of the material considerations in determining the acceptability of a project in planning terms, it is nevertheless important because the economic and socio-economic impacts of a project are relevant material considerations.
In conclusion, while a growing number of policymakers now understand the importance of community benefits and community ownership, a number of ambiguities remain regarding both the policy discourse and national legislation concerning these schemes. A clear policy choice that makes community benefits and the provision of shared ownership schemes mandatory for each renewable energy project would help in making renewable developments more acceptable, and in enabling a positive role for citizens in the energy transition.
National legislation making community and shared ownership schemes mandatory would also support an energy justice policy approach based on the tenets of distributional and procedural justice (McCauley el ah, 2013), thereby advancing an egalitarian view of energy policy (Pellegrini-Masini, 2019; Pellegrini- Masini et ah, 2020).