Government ignores community-owned energy projects

Government guidelines have taken a positive step to ensure community engagement, but a number of groups have said an opportunity has been missed to highlight co-operative schemes.

Government guidelines have taken a positive step to ensure community engagement, but a number of groups have said an opportunity has been missed to highlight co-operative schemes.

According to recent proposals, residents will be given greater power to stop the construction of onshore wind farms and the amount of money given to communities will also increase, giving householders a large percentage off energy bills and funds for local projects.

Colin Baines, Campaigns Manager of the Co-operative Group’s Clean Energy Revolution, said he welcomed the increase in community benefit payments, but added the Government should be more supportive of community-owned schemes.

He explained: “We welcome the Government’s statement that it remains committed to ‘appropriately sited onshore wind’ and its recommendation to commercial developers to increase ‘community benefit’ payments. However, it is unfortunate that community ownership does not currently factor in its plans. This is a real missed opportunity. We know communities are most engaged when they own and benefit from onshore wind projects."

Mr Baines added that research undertaken by the Group shows that 68 per cent of people are actively supportive of wind turbines in their locality if they were owned by them and benefitted the community. 

Annette Heslop, Secretary and Director at Energy4All, which helps establish and support renewable energy co-ops, said she welcomed the increase in the amount of money given to communities since private developers would also be committed to this also.

Along with Ms Heslop, Marna McMillin, CEO of Energy4All, also raised concerns over the fact that all developers will have to invest more money — and find the 'risk capital' upfront — to consult communities more widely to give a better chance at gaining approval. She added that it was too early too say whether these changes would have a negative impact or not.

The Shadow Minister for Energy and Labour/Co-op MP Tom Greatrex added that he supports plans for energy projects to engage with nearby residents at an early stage. He said: “Most of the planning issues being discussed are what should happen already, whether it’s community or non-community there is more need to get the group involved."

A separate campaign for community-owned projects was recently defeated at the House of Commons. A coalition of partners, including the Group and Co-operatives UK, were supporting an amendment to the Energy Bill to ensure community-owned projects were exempt from plans that favoured commercial renewable energy projects and provided little incentive for electricity suppliers to purchase energy from community generators. 

The Bill is proceeding through the House of Lords in the next few weeks, where peers will have the opportunity to raise the issue again. Added Mr Greatrex: “The Government have said they are sympathetic to the amendments, but we want to see it happening."

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