Ed Davey: A local revolution is here

Across the UK we are transforming the ways we generate, buy, distribute and use our energy. This means a huge national change, with a major shift to low...

Across the UK we are transforming the ways we generate, buy, distribute and use our energy. This means a huge national change, with a major shift to low carbon generation driven by world-leading reforms to our electricity market. But while the big projects, like nuclear power stations or offshore windfarms, may grab the headlines, our move to a sustainable society will principally be a local revolution. It will be local people making human-scale changes to how their communities and homes are heated and powered. 

Communities and local authorities are uniquely placed to lead this revolution. Why? Because so much of our energy infrastructure is local infrastructure — the insulation in the school hall or a local heat network for example. Communities themselves are best able to identify the opportunities to save energy and money through energy efficiency, and there are real opportunities for them to generate the power needed to run their homes and businesses from the resources available in their area. 

The Coalition Agreement recognised this potential and committed to encourage community-owned energy schemes, and that is what the Government is doing. Our Community Energy Strategy, published in the autumn, will set out how we will help increase investment and realise the potential of community and co-operative energy in the UK. The co-operative movement has a vital role to play in this area.

The work I did as a BIS Minister with Co-operatives UK in developing collective purchasing showed the important facilitation role which co-ops can have. I was pleased to be able to develop these ideas for collective energy purchase through the Better Energy Together initiative which I launched last year with local authorities and community groups. 

We want to help communities spot and unlock the opportunities in their area, and successfully grow projects from planning through to commercialisation where appropriate. Schemes like the Awel Aman Tawe community-owned wind farm near Swansea has the potential to provide a new source of community income to a former coal mining area. Or like Energy Efficient Widcombe, which is joining up local organisations to target and reduce fuel poverty. 

There are many other exciting schemes taking shape that are harnessing local resources for local good. So that future schemes will be able to follow more easily in their footsteps, our strategy will help community groups navigate the regulatory and planning system, and be better able to assess and develop local projects. 

We also want to make sure that it is local people and local businesses that benefit most from these schemes. Our move to a low-carbon economy is vital for the good of our planet, but it is also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring about growth and regeneration, tackle fuel poverty and generate new sources of employment. Our aim is to ensure communities and  local businesses seize this moment and play a central role in our wider transition.

Finally, we want to put communities at the forefront of policy implementation. The low-carbon revolution has to be bottom up if it is going to work. This means partnerships, community groups and local conglomerates supporting each other and working with Government at all levels to make it happen. 

It is immensely encouraging to see The Co-operative and the Community Energy Coalition taking a lead on community and co-operative energy. This is an exciting opportunity to unlock untapped potential in the UK as we increasingly move, as individuals and communities, from passive consumers to active producers that engage with the energy we use and generate. 

It is therefore a real pleasure to welcome the inaugural Community Energy Fortnight as another sign of the building momentum in this area, and I look forward to seeing much progress in the years ahead.

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