Under the plans, announced on Monday, 27 January, Government will broaden the support available for community energy projects, whereby people come together to reduce their energy use or purchase and generate their own energy. Specifically, the plans include:
- £10m Urban Community Energy Fund to kick-start community energy generation projects in England
- £1m Big Energy Saving Network funding to support the work of volunteers helping vulnerable consumers to reduce their energy
- A community energy saving competition, offering £100,000 to communities to develop innovative approaches to saving energy and money
- A “one-stop shop” information resource for people interested in developing community energy projects
Ed Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said the country is the “turning point” in developing true community energy. “The cost of energy is now a major consideration for household budgets, and I want to encourage groups of people across the country to participate in a community energy movement and take real control of their energy bills,” he explained. “Community-led action — such as collective switching — gives people the power to bring down bills and encourage competition within the energy market.”
Greg Barker, Energy and Climate Change Minister, added: “The Community Energy Strategy marks a change in the way we approach powering our homes and businesses, bringing communities together and helping them save money (and make money) too.”
The main idea, according to Barker, is to provide much-needed assistance to communities to help them achieve their ambitions and drive forward what he called the “decentralised energy revolution. We want to help more consumers of energy to become producers of energy, and in doing so help to break the grip of the dominant, big energy companies.”
In the future, the generation of electricity by communities themselves could put pressure on energy suppliers to drive down prices, creating warmer homes, cutting carbon emissions and diversifying the UK’s energy mix, Barker believes. Estimates suggest that energy generation schemes involving local communities — such as installing solar panels on social housing buildings — could supply enough electricity for 1 million homes by 2020.
The potential of community energy beyond this is even greater, Barker noted. Community shared ownership schemes with renewables developers will be an important future part of ensuring that local people reap the financial and social benefits of energy developments built in their area. More than 50 per cent of people surveyed by DECC said that saving money on bills would be the major motivation for getting involved with community energy schemes, and around 3.5million bill payers are ready to get together with other people in their local community to take more control of their energy. Meanwhile, while four in ten respondents said they were already interested in joining a community energy group, and taking part in collective switching or collective purchasing schemes.
The initial reaction to DECC’s proposal has been positive. In a press release, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said it welcomes the Government’s Community Energy Strategy. “We are delighted that the Government is really serious about helping ordinary people become active participants in the energy economy,” said REA chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska. “People are beginning to rethink energy, seeing that it doesn’t have to be expensive and polluting, and that they can even supply clean energy themselves. This is why we are seeing such excellent growth in the number of community energy companies.”
To that end, the Secretary of State has asked the REA and other industry associations to work together with the community energy sector to facilitate community ownerships of renewable energy projects, and to set a level of ambition for electricity generation that is partly or wholly owned by communities. The Government’s expectation is that by 2015 “it will be the norm for communities to be offered the opportunity of some level of ownership of new, commercially developed onshore renewables projects”.
Dr Skorupska said REA is looking forward to starting this dialogue with the community energy sector, and that she is confident that greater community engagement and investment in commercial project development will accelerate renewables deployment and the benefits afforded to society – mitigating climate risks, reducing dependence on energy imports and creating jobs in the green economy.
Furthermore, REA announced it is a new resource, the “Renewables Marketplace,” which it hopes will be of use to community energy groups. Specifically, the Renewables Marketplace is an online platform which enables community groups, as well as private and public sector organisations, to make business connections with the renewables industry — all free of charge. It is designed for groups looking to supply their own energy, save money, invest for the future, recycle their wastes; help address climate change; or simply make new business partnerships.
The publication of the UK Government’s first-ever Community Energy Strategy was also welcomed by Communities for Renewables (CfR) CIC and Regen SW. Cheryl Hiles, director of Regen SW and CfR CIC, said: “The Government’s new strategy is far reaching and positive news for our vibrant local community energy sector. It affords the rightful recognition to the long-standing dedication of community groups that have achieved a great deal, and encourages newcomers to tread their own path knowing they will be operating within a supportive national framework.”
Hiles noted that Regen SW will continue to provide a local support programme which is freely available to all communities. “We are pleased to be a part of the working groups established by DECC to address the remaining barriers to community energy such as accessing the electricity grid,” she stated.
CIC embraces the concept of communities coming together to take control of the energy they use. This can be facilitated via community-owned renewable energy generation, neighbourhoods joining forces to make their homes more efficient, or local groups sharing knowledge and shaping their own energy future, according to Jake Burnyeat, managing director of Communities for Renewables CIC.
Since 2008, at least 5000 community groups have participated in energy projects in the UK, according to DECC data. The Ashton Hayes Going Carbon Neutral project in Cheshire, for example, saved local households an average of £300 a year through encouraging behaviour change and installing simple energy efficiency measures.