Powering community funding across Northern Ireland

Airtricity-pic-1With over 100,000 domestic and commercial customers, SSE’s supply brand Airtricity is the driving force behind competition in Northern Ireland’s energy market. However, in addition to supplying over 100,000 customers with cheaper electricity, the company is also one of the country’s greenest corporate citizens, with an unsurpassed commitment to community funding that delivers real community benefits to the people and economy of Northern Ireland.

SSE generates 79.1MW of renewable energy from its four operational wind farms in Northern Ireland, producing 200million kWh of green energy each year to power Airtricity (equivalent to the energy needed to power around 63,000 homes) and making it the No.1 renewable energy generator in the country. The green energy generated by SSE to power Airtricity helps to offset 90,000 tonnes of harmful CO2 emissions every year from fossil fuel generation. In addition to its operational portfolio, the company has around 100MW in construction or with consent for development.

However, Airtricity is not only a powerful force behind renewable generation in Northern Ireland but it is also a pioneer for community funding. Through its funding programmes for its 28.5MW Tappaghan wind farm, its 14MW Bessy Bell wind farm and its 9MW Bin Mountain wind farm, Airtricity is making real and significant investments into local energy efficiency improvements in communities in Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. In the coming weeks, the company will present £64,000 to projects promoting energy efficiency and sustainability in local communities around these three wind farms. And later this year, Airtricity will extend its Community Fund initiative to County Londonderry/Derry with the launch of its Community Fund for its 27.6MW Slieve Kirk Wind Farm.

The Airtricity Community Fund represents the most significant contribution being made by any renewable energy provider to Northern Irish communities.

Making energy better

“At Airtricity we believe in making energy better. That’s why as well as promoting green energy generation we believe the communities in which we locate our wind farms should be able to see and experience the benefit of that wind farm in their locality,” Anne Reynolds, Community Liaison Officer at Airtricity, comments.

“Working with communities has always been a core focus of the Airtricity business. Our goal is to empower and fund the local communities around our wind farms to tackle energy inefficiency and promote sustainability so that we green the communities in which we generate our power.
“We do this each year by promoting active green behaviour among local communities through the Airtricity Community Fund – the largest such community fund of any energy generator in Northern Ireland and on the island as a whole – which financially supports local energy efficiency and sustainability infrastructural improvements.”

The Airtricity Community Fund is paid out annually to communities within a 12-mile radius of any of the company’s four wind farms across Northern Ireland and operates for the lifetime of each site. Following a recent Community Fund Information Day held in Ederney, County Fermanagh, a record number of applications have been received for the combined 2011-12 Community Fund for Tappaghan, Bessy Bell and Bin Mountain wind farms. The company will announce the allocation of these funds in May 2012.

“The Community Fund is our way of saying thank you to the communities which host our wind farms,” Anne Reynolds continues. “We place a particular emphasis on prioritising those communities within a direct 3-mile vicinity of each wind farm. In most instances this community investment is made into rural areas of Northern Ireland which are otherwise often starved of direct investment.”

Airtricity’s dedicated Community Liaison Team works throughout each year to empower local communities to identify, assess and promote suitable energy-efficiency and sustainability projects for investment under the Community Fund.

Sports clubs, community halls, schools and local charities are just a few of the community groups to benefit from the Airtricity Community Fund. The variety of projects grows every year as communities learn more about their facilities and how Airtricity can help make their communities greener.

Over the past two years Airtricity has invested into a wide variety of local retrofit projects. These have ranged from double-glazing for a youth and community group in Gillygooley, County Tyrone, to the installation of low-energy sensor lighting and a solar water heating system for a community hall in Altamuskin, County Tyrone, among others.

One recent community fund investment is Airtricity’s support for energy-efficient traffic warning signs and lighting along a busy stretch of road at a primary school in Lack, County Fermanagh.

The Lack Village Safer Routes Scheme aims to encourage parents, teachers and children in Lack to use sustainable methods of transport. Lack Primary School applied under the Community Fund for funding for the provision of new Roadsafe traffic warning signs, powered by solar energy, to help slow down traffic coming into the village and to help protect children making their way each day to the school. With its commitment to both sustainability and safety, Airtricity proudly supported the total cost of delivering the new project under its Tappaghan wind farm Community Fund for 2010-11. More importantly, without Airtricity’s funding, these vital energy-efficient safety devices would not have been delivered.

Jill Knox, Principal of Lack Primary School, credits a safer start to the school’s new academic year to Airtricity’s support. “Through the Airtricity Community Fund, we have been able to instil in the children the importance of road safety and the impetus of the new system has allowed the children to demonstrate greater care whilst using the road. The entire school community is very proud of Lack’s new solar-powered warning system.”

Airtricity-pic-2Tackling fuel poverty

Airtricity is also working with local communities in the vicinity of its wind farms to tackle fuel poverty head-on through energy-efficiency interventions.

As Aoife Power, Airtricity Community Development Manager explains, the energy provider has been working with charity Bryson House to identify homes in County Fermanagh and County Tyrone considered fuel poor for a Smart Heat Trial with Glen Dimplex. “In the last year, we have assessed energy efficiency in target homes. In addition to providing cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and lagging jackets where needed, we have partnered with Glen Dimplex to undertake a major upgrade to each of the homes’ heating and water-heating systems through the installation of an energy-efficient electric heating solution.
“These homes are being monitored for comfort levels, energy costs and ease of use. This new heating solution will help these homes manage their fuel bills and enable the families to move out of the fuel poverty trap.”

Energy efficiency education

As Northern Ireland’s leading green energy generator, Airtricity takes energy efficiency and sustainability very seriously. The company’s online education programme, Operation Energy, is helping schools to make tangible differences to their energy usage by giving them the advice they need to make practical changes, as well as offering free online teaching resources for saving energy and teaching about sustainability.

To help schools across the country progress along their sustainable journey, Airtricity has teamed up with Tidy NI to become principal programme partners of Eco-Schools Northern Ireland as well as energy topic promoters.

Through its Community Fund, Airtricity is making direct local investment and interventions into those rural wind farm communities in which the company operates. “The Airtricity Community Fund makes Airtricity the largest net contributor of any renewable energy company in Northern Ireland to community energy efficiency projects. Our Community Fund is empowering local communities to become greener and is bestowing a living, sustainable legacy into local rural societies to combat energy inefficiency and fuel poverty into the future,” Anne Reynolds says.

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