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Written Statement - The Ynni’r Fro programme – Mid-term Evaluation

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Ynni’r Fro is the Welsh Government programme of support to community scale renewable energy schemes.
Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food

The Ynni’r Fro scheme was launched in 2010; it is a jointly funded Welsh Government and ERDF programme that promotes community scale renewable energy generation.  Ynni’r Fro supports business growth and new business opportunities by enabling the creation and expansion of sustainable social enterprises.

The programme offers grants of up to £30,000 to cover pre-planning costs, and grants of up to £300,000 and loans of up to £250,000 towards capital build costs.  A network of technical development officers has been established across Wales to provide guidance and support to social enterprises planning or undertaking a renewable energy project.  To date, over 200  communities throughout Wales have applied for support through the programme.

A mid-term evaluation of the programme was commissioned in May 2013 and completed in October 2013.  The final report is published today following a robust guidance process.

The evaluation highlighted many positive features of Ynni’r Fro including its national coverage, broad remit and the high quality of the advice service. The programme’s unique combination of advice and  financial support, and the fact that Ynni’r Fro is a longer term (5 year) initiative, were also recognised as valuable elements that distinguish Ynni’r Fro from other renewable energy support programmes.

The evaluation also identified a number of challenges to developing a community renewable energy project; it looked at ways in which the Ynni’r Fro programme was already addressing these challenges, and made recommendations on how the work could be developed in the future.  The main challenges to delivering community renewable energy projects that the review identified are as follow:

  • the shortage of capacity, skills and experience within community groups;
  • difficulties in obtaining planning permission and consents; and
  • challenges in finding funding for preparatory work and capital for scheme development.

The findings from this mid-term evaluation suggest that ‘Ynni’r Fro is having a significant impact in enabling community groups to progress through the initial stages of developing a renewable energy initiative.  In particular, the wide-ranging advice and support delivered by its network of Technical Development Officers (TDOs) has often been crucial to this development’.

The report also highlights the significance of the funding available to community schemes through the Ynni’r Fro programme.  There were a number of recommendations for the current programme, many of which have already been incorporated into the way that the programme is delivered. The evaluation was helpful in identifying the areas in which groups will require support in the future, and this will be used to inform the Welsh Government’s approach to future support for small scale renewable energy.

The challenges of planning and consenting are common to any development scheme.  Natural Resources Wales’ permitting processes have recently been changed to enable hydropower development scheme applications to progress more smoothly. These changes have been largely welcomed by the community hydropower sector, whose members were involved along with other stakeholders helping NRW to in developing the revised approach.

My colleague the Minister for Housing and Regeneration has also written to planning authorities to remind them of the requirement to consider the economic and social benefits of renewable energy schemes when considering planning applications.

The full mid-term evaluation report on the Ynni’r Fro programme can be found online.