To keep pace towards net zero we need to build community trust in renewable energy projects

Marjorie Glasgow - Ridge Clean Energy

Home » To keep pace towards net zero we need to build community trust in renewable energy projects

Published: April 10, 2024

This Article was Written by: Marjorie Glasgow - Ridge Clean Energy


Last month, the National Grid Electricity Systems Operator (ESO) published its ambitious £58bn plan to achieve decarbonisation by 2035, suggesting connecting offshore wind parks to the grid via a cross-country “electrical spine”.

The plan lays out a clear need for collaboration – government, developers, regulators and communities must all work together to connect the pylons. And while the industry and the government would like a speedy net zero transition, we are still some way off bringing communities on board. To deliver on decarbonisation, we don’t just need political will and investment. We need to win over hearts and minds.

While many people see the value and importance of transitioning to renewable energy at pace, they understandably also want to know what tangible benefits the transition will bring to their daily lives and their communities. Right now, the renewables industry is struggling to convince the public that we can genuinely deliver a green energy transition within our lifetimes and that this transition can be achieved with respect for landscapes, livelihoods and heritage.

In my 30 years in this sector, I have learned that trust is the fundamental factor for driving meaningful change in renewables. Without communities onboard, in a way that engages them based on their local needs, concerns and aspirations, it is difficult to develop the trust vital to growing the industry and seizing the opportunities in front of the UK. In other words, we will have trouble attracting the needed investment and building long-term projects that benefit us nationally and locally.

The key point is in reminding ourselves that trust is built up through relationships and meaningful action, rather than words alone. A recent King’s College London study found that 98% of the UK population say they trust people they know personally, confirming that trust can only be developed gradually through relationships between real people, not corporate language or platitudes.  This process takes time – there are no shortcuts.

For responsible developers, months if not years of investment in community relations are necessary to understand who they are and what they care about. Consultation processes must not be a tick-box exercise. They must be proactive and truly collaborative, with developers actively approaching community members at the onset of every project. Developers need to demonstrate to local communities that a green energy transition is worthwhile for them socially, culturally and economically as well as being sustainable. Communities, their leaders and stewards should be consulted and allowed to shape projects from the start, considering the potential impacts on their lives.

Some communities may be investing in skills training amongst young people or adult learners, bolstering the renewable energy workforce and fostering economic growth and stability in regions. Others may want to focus on education.

We at Ridge Clean Energy are in the process of establishing a Climate Awards scheme for schools in the vicinity of our projects, to help contribute to their academic growth and foster a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their community and the planet.

And in some cases, communities may seek investment in local initiatives that are not directly related to energy. That doesn’t preclude a developer from helping, they just need to think creatively. For example, we recently lent our fundraising and development expertise to one community in Scotland that wanted help to restore its much-loved local pier, an important point of cultural pride (the Inveraray Pier in Loch Fyne). Developers have so many assets and areas of expertise they can offer communities, should both sides be open to a genuine, real relationship.

As we navigate the complexities of the green energy transition, it is clear that trust is not just a buzzword. There is a profound significance of trust in fostering genuine long-term partnerships with communities.  We need to inspire trust among those local communities with real actions rather than words – one genuine relationship at a time.

  • Marjorie Neasham Glasgow is CEO at Ridge Clean Energy


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