Posted 17th July 2023
Social value accounting could be the key to unlocking the potential of wind energy in England and we have are making the case to the UK Government.
Onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of producing electricity in the UK currently, according to the National Grid.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all seen developments in recent years, with more wind farm in the pipeline.
Yet, England has largely been bereft on new wind farms since 2015 when then Prime Minister David Cameron introduced planning application reforms.
Signalling a shift in position, the UK Government recently published updated guidance on how to increase community backing for future wind farms in England and has just ended a public consultation on how to further win support for these developments by using best practice engagement.
SVUK firmly believes the Social Return on Investment Framework is the best solution to improving the likelihood wind farms win approval from local authorities, given its emphasis on engaging with those people (stakeholders) most likely to be impacted.
Our globally-recognised SROI model goes beyond just engaging with local people, but analyses the priorities of stakeholders and the relative importance they place on the changes they are likely to experience.
By using SROI Forecasts, wind farm developers could take into account residents and other key players’ concerns, adapting their plans to better account for the perceived unintended impacts of their proposals.
SVUK’s primary focus is impact on people – social value. But given our ability as a country to meet Net Zero ambitions will impact our future wellbeing and quality of life, as a national body we support in principle the development of more renewable energy hubs.
This does not mean every wind farm proposal will be appropriate, but SROI forecasting is our best opportunity to evaluate the wider impact of such a developments, beyond their proposed energy generation and environmental footprint (accounted for through existing legislation).
SVUK CEO Isabelle Parasram OBE said: “Energy companies and local residents would benefit alike from SROI forecasting, because it encourages closer engagement and collaboration. We know wind farm developers have proven in other areas of the UK they can get this right and such legislation change would only see more profitable results for both energy firms and our local communities, in the form of more successful, appropriate planning applications.”
“Greater emphasis on social value accounting would help to distinguish the developers who look to invest and enrich communities, giving them the chance to prove their commitment to improving the wellbeing of the people they impact.
“We emphasise the SROI or equivalent approach because it’s ground-up engagement style, based on our eight principles, captures unintended consequences alongside intended outcomes of a project.”
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Below is a copy of our response to the UK Government consultation:
Positive social value practice is the answer to the government’s desire to increase the number of onshore wind farms in England, embedding the highest, most productive standard of public engagement to the planning process.
The government should be looking to use SROI (Social Return on Investment) forecasts and evaluations as the gold standard for best engagement practice. Ensuring everybody can readily see the true value of a wind farm development. Social value is impact on people and there is no stronger impact on people than the ability to live on a safe, hospitable planet, which is why SVUK welcomes the move to increase renewable energy generation over fossil fuels, as part of the government’s Net Zero ambitions.
To successfully reintroduce the building of wind farms to England after the 2015 planning application changes, the government recognises it must embed strong stakeholder engagement – the first of our shared principles with Social Value International (SVI). We are extremely heartened to read the Best Practice Engagement Guidance but believe it can be adjusted to ensure the best Social Value outcomes for all and positive results for the applicants.
As the government states, developers should properly engage with nearby residents to create a flow of communication, articulating exactly what change will take place – SVI Principle 2. We suggest these changes should be described both from the developer’s perspective and from the point of view of different stakeholder groups – which may include the local community, wider country, potential employees, customers and service users.
It is essential to understand that the same intervention might bring about different outcomes and impacts for people depending on their background, living conditions, specific needs, etc. We support the use of the varied methods for stakeholder engagement recommended in the consultation document but would like to stress the need to make the engagement as representative of local residents as possible, keeping in mind that those most likely to experience unintended negative outcomes are often those harder to engage.
Such an open and inclusive approach to stakeholder engagement would reveal why some people have reservations about onshore wind developments in their local area and go some way to resolving the issues blocking their development.
To optimise wind farm projects and planning consultations, the social value measurement should not be limited to outputs (power produced, etc), but outcomes and thus must also account for negative impacts – intended or otherwise. But this works both ways, there will also be unintended positive outcomes.
This is key if we are to avoid issues of tick boxing – the social value world’s equivalent of greenwashing – and to ensure a ground swell of support for these developments.
Developers should recognise what holds value for the stakeholders. This could be done by either establishing the relative importance of outcomes for different stakeholder groups through an appropriate system of weighting/ranking, or through financial proxies. The latter translates stakeholder value into monetary units and can make it comparable with the cost of construction and/or benefits for the residents and other stakeholder groups.
Developers should seek to be transparent, i.e. demonstrate the basis on which their analysis may be considered accurate and honest, and take steps to report and discuss it with stakeholders – Principle 6.
This chimes with the government’s guidance on page 15 of Community Engagement and Benefits from Onshore Wind Developments Good Practice Guidance for England: “The engagement plan needs to be flexible and remain responsive. Adapting the plan to provide bespoke information about local concerns is important”.
Further, as outlined in SVI Principle 7, all developers should verify their results using an assurance service, such as the Report Assurance service provided by not-for-profit outfit Social Value UK
Finally, stakeholder consultations alone are not enough – developers should be responsive to the feedback they receive and use it to inform their decisions in line with Principle 8. This enhances the government’s guidance and could be key to achieving successful planning approval for later wind farm applications by the developer.
Renewable energy firms, through their environmental impact statements, have become accustomed to working around wildlife and fauna challenges. This curtesy should be extended to local communities.
We recognise many firms improve road infrastructure and in more rural settings, communications, but the true impact on stakeholders must be assessed from their point of view, not the developer or shareholder.
Although this creates a powerful list of requirements for energy developers to adhere to, we believe it will result in more positive outcomes for all and are aware of existing industry examples of social value practice success.
Planning applications are less likely to be met with objections if stakeholders feel listened to and firms take informed decisions.
A critical issue for renewable energy developers is a shortage of skills and this too can be overcome with proper stakeholder engagement and support, creating a sustainable workforce for maintenance and further projects.
We believe Social Return on Investment (SROI) forecasting and evaluation is how developers should meet the engagement requirements being put forward by the government.
Minimum requirements must include education and skills, health, financial independence, wellbeing, job quality and adequate feeling of engagement.
Social Value UK would be happy to work with the government to collaborate on an appropriate framework or adapted SROI model, should it be needed, and to offer verification and validation to ensure reports are robust.
As a not-for-profit organisation connected to global standard-setter Social Value International, Social Value UK is in an ideal position to accurately adjudicate on SROI forecasts and evaluations prepared for wind farm developments.
By using the SROI framework, the government could be assured of a level playing field and greater chance for equal replication of standards across England, regardless of the local authority involved.