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The Community Energy Strategy; opportunities and challenges

So here we are, the first ever Community Energy Strategy! It’s been nearly two years in gestation, moving between teams within DECC, gathering momentum and political support.

Is it worth the wait? I’ll certainly be welcoming it.

For the first time we have community energy being recognised in a substantive way with an appropriate focus on increasing community ownership and leadership. There will be a new Community Energy Unit established within DECC, responsible for implementing the strategy and an implementation plan developed with specific milestones and responsibilities identified. All of which should make it harder for this to be a one-day wonder.

Overall the process of being involved alongside DECC officials has been a positive one. Whilst not getting everything we wanted, I’ve not been involved in Government policy work where there has been such a commitment to open dialogue.

In terms of content, the strategy does a very good job of acknowledging the issues faced by communities and the range of opportunities for moving forward. And there are some very welcome commitments like the focus on urban as well as rural ‘at risk’ finance for community renewables projects; action to get the Green Investment Bank more involved; increasing the Feed-In Tariff threshold from 5 to 10MW; funding for peer mentoring and capacity building support; and increased funding for Green Deal Communities.

There are some tantalizing glimpses of things that could and should be developed further in the future, such as:

  • community approaches to energy supply as well as generation
  • the expansion of shared ownership schemes with commercial developers
  • the value of neighbourhood planning
  • recognition of the need to address state aid issues
  • an emerging focus on smart grids and communities and,
  • the opportunity for community engagement with the Zero Carbon Home ‘Allowable Solutions’ framework as a source of future finance.

But as in any strategy, not everything is there yet. Whilst there are some good initiatives, it would have been nice to see stronger support on renewable heat where many communities are still struggling to make projects work that are generally more complex than for renewable electricity, even with the innovative RHI. Similarly more support would have been beneficial on energy efficiency where there is not the same potential to generate community income as there is for renewable energy.

Within the Strategy itself, there are also some substantial issues around grid connection, finance, planning and industry dialogue around shared ownership that have been given to working groups to be addressed over the coming months. We are assured that DECC officials and ministers will be pushing for tangible outcomes from these working groups.

It will also be important to see continuing commitment to wider renewable energy and carbon reduction policy, without which any community energy strategy will founder. But ultimately the test will be the degree to which a rapidly scaling community energy sector, underpinned by a successful community energy strategy, begins to make more of an impact on DECC’s core energy agenda.

So whilst a final verdict will need to be put on hold for a little while, there’s no doubt that the community energy sector will be in a much stronger position following the implementation of this strategy, than it would have been without.

8 Responses to “The Community Energy Strategy; opportunities and challenges”

  1. Having just read the proposed amendments needed to ALLOW? Parish councils the same power as Local Authorities to sell Community generated energy. I ask What of “designated Neighbourhood Forums. Surely they have to be included in these discusions?

    NALC Media Release 16 April 2014

    Parishes in bid to light up new community powers

    http://www.nalc.gov.uk/About_NALC/NALCMediaRelease16April2014.aspx

  2. Josh Bower says:

    We are working with Communities to identify renewable assets in the local area and underwrite the entire project (absorbing all elements of risk and overcoming numerous planning, information and capital hurdles). Once planning approved, a significant portion of the project is maintained for Community investment. The first of these projects, a 500kWp Wind Turbine is due for erection in Wadebridge, Cornwall this Summer. The best of both worlds! Josh Bower, Operations Director at Cleanearth Energy.

  3. Peter Macfadyen says:

    As Frome Town Council we’ve commissioned a report on energy usage, and are about to appoint an Energy officer….in part to underpin the work of community groups like Frome Renewable Energy CoOp – in which we have invested £500 towards their start up costs.

    • Pete Capener says:

      Great stuff! I wonder how many other Town Councils have employed an energy officer or supported their local community energy enterprise so strongly? Not many I suspect.

  4. jon says:

    Will this assist parish council_ to get funding and spearhead changw at grass roots level.

    Parish councils are on the ground so to speak and actively involved with communities.

    Their bills and consumption should be a good start point……

    Help me to help my parish council

    • Pete Capener says:

      Yes I’d agree Jon, Parish Councils should be able to play an important role in catalysing change. Anything in your Parish Plan about community energy action or energy issues more widely? In terms of funding, it depends, what you are looking for funding for? Good luck with whatever you decide to focus on.

  5. Sara Grimes says:

    We are reading this strategy avidly to help inform an emerging Sustainable Energy Strategy for our area, Bath and North East Somerset. Thanks for all the work that went into developing it and we look forward to seeing how it progresses.

    • Pete Capener says:

      Thanks for commenting Sara. I know you’re doing a lot to promote community energy action locally so looking forward to seeing the Sustainable Energy Strategy published.

      Any other Local Authorities like to comment on what they are doing to support Community Energy?

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