Midcounties Co-op relaunches its community energy joint venture with Octopus this month under the branding Younity, in the latest move to grow its socially responsible utilities business.
The joint venture between the two organisations is already the UK’s largest buyer of community-generated energy, and over the 18 months since its launch it has developed innovative ways of working with community energy groups.
Lizzie Hieron, who joined Midcounties last summer as chief operating officer of its utilities businesses, told Co-op News: “Our members have told us they want us to help them find ways to adopt socially responsible low carbon lifestyles. One way we can do that is to offer a community power tariff that is completely powered by renewable community generation.
“The joint venture has been successful in doing that, with almost 100 power purchase agreements now in place, giving enough community-generated energy to power around 45,000 homes and enabling us to meet the demand for our unique energy tariff.
“The joint venture with Octopus has enabled us to build on our reputation and links with so many of these community energy groups, while taking advantage of the leading-edge technology that Octopus are famous for. That enables us to provide co-operative solutions to co-operative members in an innovative way to meet member needs.”
One example of this, highlighted recently by Ms Hieron during a presentation at Co-operative UK’s retail conference, was the introduction of a unique way to access trading dividend – as a credit directly onto members’ energy bills.
“We have entered into a power purchase agreement with Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative and Westmill Solar Co-operative to power our Community Power tariff,” she said. “Their members switch to the tariff to use the energy they generate. Their trading dividend is then credited to them on their bill.”
The rebrand to Younity marks the next step in the evolution of the joint venture. The society says Younity has four main objectives – to innovate through the delivery of ground-breaking products, bring community energy groups together through collaboration, facilitate community energy growth and development and inspire more community energy partners – all of which will help support the growth of the Community Energy tariff itself.
Related: Retail co-ops consider the future: Report from the Co-operative Retail Conference
Ms Hieron also has responsibility for the Phone Co-op, which transferred to Midcounties in 2018. She said she is excited about the prospects for that business, not least in how it can also offer members a way to improve their low-carbon lifestyles.
“It’s a telecoms proposition with a low-carbon approach,” said Ms Hieron. “We want to be able to offer more and more green digital services – we’re looking to push products and services that focus on climate impact, such as Fairphone or refurbished mobiles.”
The Phone Co-op’s support for Fairphone is well established, but Mrs Hieron has plans to drive other services to build on that.
“We’re launching broadband community tariffs – providing members the opportunity to purchase lower carbon telecoms alongside supporting their local communities by donating data to underserved members of the communities – for example, providing free WiFi to a local community centre or charity organisation.”
The Community Power tariff, joint venture and support for Fairphone were all key elements in the society’s recent success at the edie Sustainability Leaders Awards.
“These awards and positive feedback from members means the focus on delivering socially responsible and low-carbon lifestyles is the right one,” said Ms Hieron. “We will continue to work with members to ensure we are meeting their needs in the future.”
Join the Conversation