One of their first actions was the establishment of a renewable energy company and the installation of three wind turbines. This was unanimously approved by the islanders and supported by a mix of grants and commercial loans. ‘The Dancing Ladies’, as the turbines became known, meant that they could now generate around £150,000 a year for the community – over £1,000 per resident – as well as meeting almost three quarters of the islands electricity needs.
At this time 75% of the island’s housing stock was in need of serious repair and remedying this was an early focus. Vulnerable residents were targeted for extensive home renovation including new efficient heating systems and modern insulation. Today the majority of homes has been renovated and 18 new affordable houses have been completed, the first in over 25 years. Community owned renewables allowed them to invest in reducing emissions, fuel poverty as well as allowing the community to grow for the first time in over a hundred years.
In addition to lottery and grant funding Gigha received £1.5 million from the Scottish Government’s ‘Climate Challenge Fund’. The fund was established thanks to an agreement with the Scottish Green Party and initially set aside £27m of funding to support groups and communities to develop a wide range of projects all with the aim of cutting emissions and limiting climate change.
The Climate Challenge Fund allowed Gigha to employ a development officer for two years to run education programs and to examine further green projects such as anaerobic digestion or another wind turbine. Recently, plans for a fourth wind turbine have progressed and soon Gigha will become a net exporter of energy to the UK national grid.
At the beginning of the 21st century Gigha was one of the worst examples of rural decline in Scotland with an uncertain future. Yet within a decade the island has been transformed, with reduced emissions, less fuel poverty, primary school enrolment tripling and one of the greatest growth rates as its population increased by over 50%.
The residents of Gigha experience first hand the benefits of renewable energy and their attitudes are extremely positive, in contrast to many rural communities in Scotland who often oppose new renewables developments. This has shown to be true with community renewables essential to gain higher levels of public support for sometimes controversial technologies such as wind turbines.
Perhaps the most valuable thing to come from Gigha is the example they have set for other rural communities struggling with growing urbanization and isolation. Gigha’s remarkable turn around over the past decade is a shining example of how renewable energy and community ownership can transform fortunes. Since Gigha’s high profile community buy out there have been many other communities seeking to emulate the success seen here with over thirty similar community buy outs since then, with many embarking on their own renewables plans.