Friday, 22 August 2014

Energy Agency fails to spark

EXCLUSIVE - by Doug Collie

Ambitious plans for a Borders Energy Agency, which received the full backing of local councillors two years ago, have had to be mothballed before the project could even be launched after the venture failed to attract any funding. The agency is now said to be "hibernating".

A number of organisations, including Scottish Borders Council, were involved in studies and discussions for more than a year before detailed proposals and a final business plan  for the BEA were presented to the local authority's Executive members in February 2012. The impressive collection of reports and other papers suggest a considerable amount of time, effort and resources had been devoted to the project.

A joint report from council chief executive Tracey Logan and Director of Environment & Infrastructure Rob Dickson concluded: "The establishment of a Borders Energy Agency will support a range of council objectives and it is intended that although the organisation will be wholly independent, it is important the council should recognise, support and empower the BEA.

"There are specific service areas which could in future be delivered jointly, including fuel poverty/home energy advice, carbon reduction advice to communities and energy management advice on public buildings".

Councillors were told by Ms Logan and Mr Dickson that funding for the BEA had yet to be finalised, but the council was already talking to the main energy companies with wind farms in the Borders and asking them to contribute by providing cash over a 25 year period. Approaches had also been made to two banks specialising in renewable energy funding, plus national and local agencies, and bids would be made to the Climate Challenge Fund and various European Union programmes to help fund the agency.

BEA was to have three members of staff initially, according to the Business Plan, including a £50,000 project manager, and would require a total budget of £150,000 in its first year.

The Executive members who rubber stamped the joint report were assured: "The drive towards a low carbon economy, renewable energy and energy conservation is certain to continue and BEA should prove to be a model which can be transferred to other areas across the country and to similar agencies across Europe and beyond."

But now another of the 'partners' involved in the venture has revealed that far from being a blueprint to be rolled out across Europe, BEA has in fact been shelved meantime after failing to attract any financial backing. It is not clear whether that decision has been conveyed to councillors, and the local authority has made no announcement to either confirm or deny that the project has proved to be a veritable damp squib.

The annual report of the Trustees of the Southern Upland Partnership says: "Our efforts to promote community-scale renewable energy have also continued to be frustrated by the fact that the Borders Energy Agency (which we helped to set up) has not been able to attract any funding. The BEA is currently hibernating in the hope that circumstances change. It seems to be widely agreed that the need for such an agency is still great."

The BEA has been a registered charity since February 2012. But according to the Scottish Charities Register it has not received any income and has recorded no expenditure since its formation.

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