In Snowdonia, the little village of Abergwyngregyn lost its shops, station, pub, petrol station and most of the community fabric in less than 20 years. This seems to be a recurring theme in small communities across the UK, but luckily for Abergwyngregyn, the development of a community hydro project, with the help and advice from the National Trust, has helped to arrest and reverse the pattern of degeneration — and villagers may dare to hope someday for a reinstated village pub!
These clear social, economic and environmental benefits for the village of Abergwyngregyn are the reasons why the National Trust joined the Community Energy Coalition.
As an organisation, we care for a large amount of land which includes more than 3,800 tenanted houses and 1,900 leased farms, virtually all located in rural areas. With fuel poverty becoming an increasing concern, the need for rural communities to find other ways to generate energy as well as stay warm in the winter months is becoming increasingly necessary. By joining the Coalition, the National Trust is making a commitment to work collaboratively with other organisations, helping create more resilient communities.
On top of the economic benefits, we firmly believe community energy brings social and conservation benefits too. While we appreciate the direct environmental benefit from getting off fossil fuels, communities who garner the power of natural assets produce further indirect conservation benefits too; increased awareness and respect for the local landscape leads to a respect and willingness to preserve what is in it.
Recent research carried out by Clore Social Leadership fellow Mark Walton on behalf of the Trust highlights the social benefits of community energy too.
Taking the village of Abergwngregyn as an example; Mark’s research identifies better education, increased resilience, community empowerment and a stronger sense of place as some of the key social benefits. The full report is being released as part of Community Energy Fortnight and can be found on the website: www.ukcec.org.uk.
Similarly to the Abergwyngregyn project, other opportunities have sprung up across Wales and the regional Environmental Advisers are busy facilitating the development of more community energy schemes.
The next is assisting in the possible restoration of an old 1929 quarry hydro around the town of Bethesda, the second is working with community energy group YnNI Padarn Peris to look at energy generation options in the valley, and the third is a community and farm-based generation project in South Wales in association with a collection of farmers.
While most of the projects around Snowdon National Park are hydros, the project in South Wales is looking into other energy options such as PV and biomass, so that the renewable option used will depend on what is most appropriate for the area, from a finance and output perspective, but also from an aesthetic and appropriateness perspective. By working with communities in these early consultation stages, the National Trust can ensure the right renewable energy option works in harmony with the natural landscape, making everyone’s special places fit for the future.
• For more, read the NT Going Green blog: ntenvironmentalwork.net