A community benefit fund – worth more than £100,000 a year and set up following the installation of two neighbouring windfarms – is due to be launched in the next few weeks, allaying concerns raised by a county councillor.
And in a further boost, the Gazette has been told that the Sisters and North Steads Community Benefit Fund – managed by the Community Foundation Tyne and Wear on behalf of Infinis Wind – will make an extra £50,000 available in the first year for local projects and good causes.
It follows the construction of the nine-turbine North Steads Wind Farm, at Maiden’s Hall and Steadsburn, and the four-windmill scheme, known as the Sisters Wind Farm, near Widdrington Village.
The Infinis schemes will provide an annual benefits package to the local area totalling £133,500 per annum (circa £92,000 North Steads / £41,000 Sisters), for the lifetime of the schemes, plus that extra £50,000 in year one.
Last week, Druridge Bay county councillor Scott Dickinson raised concerns about the fund, citing a lack of action and saying that it had all gone quiet after members of the community had last year applied to become part of a select panel which will help decide how the benefits package is spent.
He also said that rumours are rife that Infinis had sold the sites or the turbines are being managed by someone else.
In response, Infinis and the Community Foundation have confirmed that the fund will launch shortly, while the former gave an update on the turbine sites.
Rob Williamson, CEO at the Community Foundation, said, “We expect the fund to formally launch within the next few weeks. The interest and commitment shown by local people who will give their time by contributing to the advisory panel is fantastic.
“It takes time to finalise legal agreements, however we have kept those who applied to be on the panel updated as much as possible and we are looking forward to working with them to provide support to many vital local projects and community groups over the lifetime of the fund.”
An Infinis spokesman added: “We take our community responsibilities very seriously and rest assured we will be fully meeting our community-funding commitments with the support of Community Foundation Tyne and Wear.
“I’m also pleased to inform that there is a further £50,000 in year one only. The figures are index linked over the project life and the money, if not spent, rolls over to the next year so there is no need for anyone to be concerned about losing out in any one year.”
He continued: “The Infinis windfarm portfolio was sold to institutional investors earlier this year as an ongoing concern, as managed through Infinis Wind Services Limited.
“The operation and management of North Steads and Sisters therefore remains with the same management team. There is however a plan in place to change our company name, replacing the Infinis name with a new brand which better reflects our identity as we increase our operational sites to become one of the UK’s largest owners of onshore wind energy.
“A full communication of the name change to stakeholders and communities around all our sites will be made as part of a detailed communications plan during September and October.
“As part of this we will also be arranging some community engagement events, including an event at Sisters and North Steads. The date is to confirmed.”
Afterwards, Coun Dickinson said: “It is great to hear that the commitments and obligations will be fulfilled and hopefully it will press forward now and make up the lost time.”