The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced changes to the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF), which will provide £10m to support green community energy projects in the UK.
The funding is aimed at rural sports clubs, schools and churches looking to power their buildings with clean electricity, cut their bills and reduce emissions.
New community projects – including co-operatives – can apply for feasibility grants of up to £40,000 for green initiatives, including solar battery storage, wind, hydro and geothermal heat projects. Viable proposals will also be considered for further grants of up to £100,000 for business development and planning applications.
Energy and Clean Growth minister, Chris Skidmore, said: “It will take all corners of the country and sections of society to help us to tackle climate change on our path to becoming a net zero emissions economy and communities are at the heart of our mission for a greener planet. This £10m fund can help sports clubs, churches and schools not only save money and reduce emissions by creating their own clean energy but also make money by selling it back to the grid.”
Mark Billsborough, head of trading and renewables for Co-op Energy, which purchases energy from 79 community energy sites across the country, welcomed the announcement but said that more needed to be done to support community energy groups.
He said: “As the leading supporter of community-generated renewable energy in the UK, we welcome any additional funding in this area – but there is much more that government can do to support successful community energy projects.
“Financial support in the early stages is clearly crucial but the closure of the Feed-in-Tariff has made it harder for projects like these to prove a business model, getting schemes through planning can be challenging while the obligations on suppliers to pay fair prices for electricity – like we do – are too weak.
“The changes announced today are positive, but we would call for the government to go further still and take a more strategic approach to supporting this sector, starting with reinstating social investment tax relief for community energy schemes as soon as possible.”
Emma Bridge, chief executive of Community Energy England, the voice for the community energy sector, also welcomed the announcement.
But, she added, “the Government has yet to demonstrate how it will ensure community groups receive a fair market rate when it sells energy back to the grid, and this scheme does nothing to support those groups operating in more urban areas.
“That’s why in addition to this public funding, we’re calling on Government to reinstate Social Investment Tax Relief for those who are willing to invest in community energy projects; helping local groups generate their own clean, green energy, supporting the transition to a decentralised smart energy system and lowering energy bills.”