Co-operatives have welcomed the government’s first Community Energy Strategy. Released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, it could dramatically scale up community energy, according to the Community Energy Coalition (CEC).
The CEC, which includes the Co-operative Group and Co-operatives UK, was particularly pleased by plans for a pathway for it to be the norm that new clean energy projects offer the local community the opportunity to buy a stake in the development by 2015.
It also welcomed proposals to establish an independent ‘one-stop-shop’ for advice and support for communities, and to introduce a £10 million Urban Community Energy Fund.
The strategy includes commitments to open discussions with the EU about allowing the Green Investment Bank to invest in the community energy sector and to form working groups to address the barriers being experienced by communities, including accessing the electricity grid and navigating the planning process. Both moves were welcomed by the coalition.
Government-commissioned research in the strategy concludes that with the right support communities can renewably power one million homes in the UK by 2020, – a 50-fold increase from today. Community energy currently produces around 60MW of energy, enough power for 20,000 homes. The new strategy aims to increase this to three gigawatts.
The strategy also emphasises communities increasing energy efficiency and reducing fuel bills, which is the coalition’s focus during 2014.
Russell Gill, head of membership and social goals at the Co-operative Group, said: “The government’s new strategy is positive news for the vibrant and growing community energy sector. As its supportive measures are realised, we’re optimistic that a huge increase in community and co-operatively owned projects will be forthcoming, giving people the ability to bring down household energy bills.
“We’ve worked closely with government on the strategy’s development and are pleased to see the barriers to expansion we highlighted being addressed. We look forward to continuing to work with government and the other members of the CEC to champion co-operative solutions to the energy and climate change challenges we face, and congratulate the tens of thousands of Co-operative members and customers who have campaigned for this strategy to be brought about.”
Patrick Begg, National Trust rural enterprise director, added: “Community energy can offer people a chance not only to take more control of their energy, where it comes from and what it costs, but also feel confident that the places they love have not been sacrificed to generate it.
“We, like the rest of the Community Energy Coalition, are ready to work with the Government to support a big increase in community owned energy and in particular create a step change in energy efficiency schemes. If fully realised, the broad package of policies and the signal of ambition contained in the strategy can be the catalyst for a community energy revolution.”
Co-operatives UK described the strategy as a “massive step forward”. Its secretary general Ed Mayo said: “This is a dramatic step forward for local communities, who are queuing up to generate their own clean, renewable energy. Co-operatives are the ideal way for people to become active participants in the energy system, rather than passive consumers.
“Members of renewable energy co-operatives have an equal say and share in the profits. When it comes to planning approval for new schemes, it rightly makes all the difference if the community is onside.”
Rebecca Willis, community energy advisor at Co-operatives UK, said: “We’ve worked closely with government to demonstrate the benefits of co-operatively owned renewables, and to show them how they can support the sector more effectively. The measures outlined in this strategy should make it easier for more projects to succeed in the future.”
The Community Energy Coalition includes the Co-operative Group, the National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Church of England, Energy Saving Trust, NUS, Co-operatives UK and over 20 other civil society and sustainable energy organisations, with a collective membership of 17 million people.