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A new community energy unit has been established for the Highlands and Islands to help community groups who are interested in developing projects powered by renewable energy or gaining an income from renewable energy generation.

Jim Hunter (right), chairman and Eric Dodd, manager, Community Energy Unit

The unit has been established by Highlands and Islands Enterprise as part of the Scottish Executive's Scottish Community Renewables Initiative (SCRI). It will act as a specialist resource working to promote renewable energy-based projects at the community level and provide advice and funding.

The five-strong team is spread across the Highlands and Islands, with individuals working from Kirkwall, Golspie, Oban, Stornoway and Inverness. 

Dr. Jim Hunter, chairman of HIE said the new Unit has been established to help ensure that communities benefit from the tremendous opportunity presented by the area's renewable energy resources. He said: "There is a great deal of interest in renewable energy among community groups, whether to heat community facilities, generate electricity for local use or sell it to the national grid to gain an income. It is however a technical area and many people will need help to take their projects forward. The Unit will provide this help and in doing so give a boost to the natural creativity of communities in the Highlands and Islands."

The newly formed Community Energy team met at with HIE chairman, Jim Hunter (second right) at Inverness. (LtoR) Anna Johnston and Steven Watson both Argyll; Colin Risbridger, Orkney and Shetland; Jon Priddy, North and West Highland with Eric Dodd, manager, Community Energy Unit and Nicholas Gubbins, head of Community Regeneration Team both Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Community Energy Unit manager, Eric Dodd, who is based in the Inverness and Nairn Enterprise office in Inverness, said: "We are available to voluntary, community and non-profit groups from all areas of the Highlands and Islands, who have an interest in developing renewable energy projects. We can help groups with funding for feasibility studies and actual projects, and will provide support during project development. The team has been contacting various groups and introducing themselves and already we are seeing some promising projects coming forward. We are very keen to hear from groups who are thinking about renewable energy schemes for their community."

The unit is keen to see a range of community projects, such as the installation of solar panels to heat water for the community hall, a community wind turbine or hydro station generating an income for the community, or the community taking a stake in a local wind farm. The unit is also keen to develop community projects that use, rather than just generate, renewable energy. These might be in the form of community transport, wood fuel drying or bio-fuel processing.

More information about HIE's Community Energy Unit can be found on the HIE web site www.hie.co.uk/community-energy