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The Community Energy Strategy can empower communities and accelerate grass roots action

How the folks of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire wish that they had the backing of DECC’s Community Energy Strategy in 2006 when they set out to become England’s first carbon neutral village! When we embarked on our journey towards carbon neutrality we even had to take time off work to go and convince the local council to support our actions.  Then we worked hard raising the cash needed to run an awareness raising campaign. However, we did get immense free support from the like-minded leaders of the local school and businesses and the University of Chester has been an invaluable project partner.

Eight years on we have learned a lot. We have cut our emissions by 23%, have a community owned Power Company that generates a profit for Ashton Hayes and other thriving social enterprises. The dedication of our community in striving for more sustainable lifestyles has been also recognised by the Government and media. And the whole process has been great fun too!

We have been pleased to do our bit to help DECC develop the Community Energy Strategy which addresses the big issues for communities wishing to take ownership of their power consumption and generation. The Strategy sets out how to remove the numerous obstacles that took us too long to overcome and brings fresh mentoring support and incentives for communities with vision. It will also force the large power companies to take community energy seriously and encourage community ownership. It is a major step in the right direction.

No Government strategy can remove the hard work involved in grass roots action but the Strategy provides a key with which to unlock the inherent potential in many communities across the UK.

Let’s now all leverage the support provided by the Community Energy Strategy to bring community power to the people!

12 Responses to “The Community Energy Strategy can empower communities and accelerate grass roots action”

  1. Gary – – In conjunction with the local District Council, we are keen to set up a community-led energy project in South Somerset – prrobably based on the bio waste to bio fuel principle. In this light, the experience of Ashton Hayes could be invaluable in avoiding pitfalls and saving time. Can you provide more detail of their successful project – – or put me in touch with their management. Thanks

  2. Tom Fletcher says:

    Excellent. The more community energy schemes that can be encouraged, can only help all those who participate to protect against energy price rises.

    Keep promoting this area aggressively and enough people with eventually listen. With Government et al providing many incentives – then perhaps Government should take/pay for a minor stake in each venture to show confidence?

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Tom. I really hope that we can inspire others to take control of their energy use and development. It is not easy but just starting the process has led to so much community cohesion and confidence that has changed the mindset of people in Ashton Hayes. Good luck with your efforts.

  3. Finn Jensen says:

    Ashton Hayes has been an inspiration for many of us. Some of us wish we had the support you had – but well done in what you have achieved.
    Just one correction to Garry’s blog: I do not think DECC’s strategy is forcing the larger energy companies to take community energy seriously. The strategy only encourages this and DECC will monitor how it develops.
    If the DECC strategy really wants to be radical it should force renewable energy always to first right to grid connection over electricity generated by fossil fuels or nuclear. The national grid should also be forced to upgrade the grid so any renewable energy project can be grid connected as is the case in other European countries. A higher FIT tariff for community energy projects would also help, like the government could set a national target for how big a share of the energy production should come from community energy by a certain date.
    The big unknown is how can communities with low skills and little social capital benefit from the DECC strategy. These communities need our help.

    • Hi Finn. I agree with you to a point but we are finding that energy companies and DNOs are wanting to talk with us. We think they can see the writing on the wall and they are not all bad. Scottish Power Energy Networks could not have been more helpful and has invested a lot to help us monitor our use and understand our grid. But if agree that we have some big hurdles to overcome. The CES can strengthen our case but we need to make sure DECC lives up to it’s promises. I have been impressed by the community energy team at DECC – it’s not easy to get cross government agreement on some of the issues we are trying to tackle. I will keep on batting for communities.

  4. […] Read the blog by Garry Charnock, “The Community Energy Strategy can empower communities and accele… […]

  5. Jon Lewes says:

    Thanks for that insight, Garry..we have been working towards that same situation for the last four years, through waves of setbacks and disenchantment..inertia as always has been the main obstacle..inertia of citizens has been fairly undestandable but it has been the inertia and disinterest of the Establishment which has been the real difficulty..
    ..and now, more disillusion having studied the eagerly-awaited Community Energy Strategy..we see no sign of the “key with which to unlock the inherent potential in many communities across the UK”.
    We have run a pathfinder “one-stop shop” for 3 years, our pathfinder Home Energy Centre, unique in UK, funding it from many small revenue streams..it has helped many householders to reduce their energy bill, by swapping old appliances for new with our help, by adjusting their uasge profile, by putting in place energy-efficiency measures, even to getting them to bring in their plastic bottletops for recycling as a part of our Keep A Million Bottletops out of Landfill initiative..and not a flicker of interest from the Establishment , neither to come in for a cup of tea, nor better still provide funding..
    We helped launch the Green Deal locally, and have been picking up the pieces of that pancake ever since..
    We are getting a reaction now, to be fair, after we badgered our MP..maybe that’s the key you refer to..
    We”ll press on, absorbing our disillusion, because we know what and why we do what we do, without needing to jump on govt’s bandwagon in the same they are trying to jump on our..
    Jon Lewes, coordinator, Home Energy Centre, Ilminster, Somerset

    • Hi Jon. It makes me sad to hear this but not too surprised. What a lot of effort you have made only to faced with apathy. We have called tackling this problem ‘squeezing out the jelly’. When we faced apathy or worse from officialdom we found several things helped to change their attitudes – good media coverage of our project forced them to sit up, having a democratic project meant we could use the power of the Parish Council system, and the might of Pure Leapfrog who provided top lawyers and advice at no cost who helped us fight our case.
      We have never allowed any politician to address a Carbon Neutral meeting – but they can ask questions if they sit in the audience. We also do. It argue with anyone, we just find another route.
      We also make all our meetings as much fun as possible and this helps keep the interest going.
      But every case and place is different, we have been to over 150 community projects and sometimes they find it really hard to overcome the inertia.
      I’d be happy to talk offline if it would help.

  6. Victoria Lancaster says:

    Great blog, thanks Garry. My frustration with govt is that it has taken SO long and now feels like a bit of an exercise in slapping on some green gloss. Remember Cameron’s ‘greenest government ever?’. Now we have fracking.
    Not wanting to be too negative, however, this is a chance for communities to show what they can really do at local level and to confirm that this country can catch up with those which are lucky enough to have long term strategic plans, unlike our reactive, short termism!
    There are some key ways in which govt can help this process. Let’s hope the coalition can really make this happen.

    • Hi Victoria,
      At times, I have also wondered whether all the volunteer time I have put into the CES is worth it. But I think it is best to engage with DECC to try and ensure things go in the right direction. It is up to all of us to now hold all governments to account and make things happen. There are more and more folk attempting to bring community energy into the mainstream and we can see how projects benefit communities in a multitude of ways.
      I hope this is not green gloss and I will do my best to make sure the paint never dries on the CES. We see this as a living document and DECC has has the sense to keep the Community Energy Contact Group on board so we can hold them to account.
      Are you involved in a project you might like to talk about?

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