Government still holding back community energy, says sector body

'It’s frustrating to see so much of the work go unsupported and often limited by government policy,' says Emma Bridge of Community Energy England

Community energy projects are being “ignored and abandoned by government”, the lobbying body for the sector says.

Community Energy England (CEE) has long been calling for more government support for the sector, taking a leading role in opposition to planning obstacles to onshore wind and the withdrawal of subsidies such as the Feed-In Tariff.

Its latest statement follows the government’s efforts to assert its position as a climate leader after the COP26 climate summit in December.

“In a wave of policy claiming to advance the UK’s progress towards Net Zero, from Boris’s Ten Point Plan, to the Energy White Paper, community energy organisations were left in the lurch,” says CEE. “In the recent Net Zero Strategy, the government accepts that ‘Community Energy is an example of how communities can come together to reach local and national net zero targets’, but offers no new financial or policy support for the sector.“

CEE cited reports from the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and the Climate Change Committee calling for more support for the sector and stating that citizen involvement is crucial to achieving net zero targets. It says the sector enjoys strong cross-party support, but warns it is reliant on support being put in place from forthcoming budget allocations from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). “Without this, the community energy sector will have been abandoned with no support. Failing to support community energy is planning to fail to meet net zero.”

Related: MPs’ committee calls on government to back community energy

Emma Bridge, Community Energy England CEO, said: “We have a sector with so much potential to drive the net zero revolution, composed of community organisations across the country. It’s frustrating to see so much of the work go unsupported and often limited by government policy. We were promised a plan for the future of community energy, but this has not been forthcoming.

“We are calling on the government, in particular Kwasi Kwarteng and BEIS to provide community energy with the support it needs to drive the UK forward towards a net zero future. This includes funding in imminent departmental budget allocations and a level playing field for community energy organisations to compete with large energy providers.”

Kayla Ente, founder and CEO of Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-op, added: “In 2014, the government released its community energy strategy in recognition of the power of the people living in communities across the country to work together to tackle important social and environmental issues, like the climate crisis and fuel poverty. 

“This strategy is being ignored, if not undermined by the current government’s propensity to allocate all decarbonisation/energy funding, with the exception of the Green Heat Fund, specifically to local authorities and other government institutions while creating overly prescriptive terms that has been part of the reason they’ve failed. Conservatives claim to be for the market, yet, they are spending more than ever on failed programmes, like the Green Deal and the Green Voucher Scheme as well as a lack of transparency in how funds collected, like the Climate Change Levy, are being spent.”

A spokesperson for BEIS said: “Community groups have a key role to play in our efforts to eliminate our contribution to climate change and they are doing excellent work to help us achieve this goal.

“We are enabling local areas to tackle net-zero goals in ways that best suit their needs through our UK-wide funding schemes, such as the Community Renewal Fund and the Towns Fund. Ofgem also supports these projects through its Industry Voluntary Redress Scheme which, from February, will allow groups to apply for funds to deliver energy related projects.

“We encourage community energy groups to work closely with their local authority as part of these schemes.”

BEIS pointed to the £10m Rural Community Energy Fund which supports rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects. The department says it is planning to reintroduce the Community Energy Contact Group to support community energy groups and strengthen engagement with the sector. 

Ofgem also supports community energy projects, the spokesperson added. It has announced that from next month it plans to welcome applications from community interest groups, co-ops and community benefit societies to the Industry Voluntary Redress Scheme. This will allow groups to apply for funds to deliver energy related projects.

BEIS gave the example of a £23.6m Towns Fund grant to Glastonbury Town which includes the Glastonbury Clean Energy project that aims to generate renewable energy for use by other projects within the plan, as well as local businesses and residents.

Community Energy England, in its push for more support, has given case studies of its own from the UK’s 424 community organisations. They include:

Bath and West Community Energy

Since its inception in 2010, Bath and West Community Energy has installed 12.35 MW of community-owned solar photovoltaics alongside a hydro scheme. BWCE works with schools and community groups to install solar arrays on their buildings. The power generated by their projects are “enough to power nearly 4,000 homes and reducing carbon emissions equivalent to the carbon footprint of nearly 1,000 Bath & North East Somerset residents.” Nearly £300,000 of their surplus has been delivered back into local carbon reduction and fuel poverty projects via its independent Community Fund.The fund has supported local food production, energy efficiency in buildings, re-use and recycling, fuel poverty programmes, low carbon transport, schools projects, water conservation, energy audits and advice.

Keep Warm, Keep Well

In partnership between University Hospitals North Midlands, Beat the Cold and the Community, Southern Staffordshire Community Energy helped raise funding from the community to install over 1000 community-owned solar panels across hospital buildings in the North Midlands. This gives the UHNM cheaper energy, which they purchase from the community. The surplus from the scheme is collected into the community fund which is spent on alleviating fuel poverty, particularly where health is at risk. Annually – aside from saving 58t of carbon emissions – 120 people benefit from the Keep Warm, Keep Well scheme. 

Repowering

Repowering works with local authorities, schools and commercial partners to empower some of London’s most deprived communities to take greater control of their energy generation and use. Once up and running, the projects continuously generate both locally owned, clean energy and the social energy that allows communities to flourish. They create wide-ranging impacts by reducing carbon emissions and providing an ethical investment opportunity. On the ground, Repowering also tackles fuel poverty through energy efficiency measures and improving the employment prospects of young people. Alongside saving 114t of carbon emissions annually, 123 interns have been paid to learn new skills, and £154,500 has been raised to put back into local communities. 

In this article


Join the Conversation