Carbon Co-op launches planning toolkit for community-led energy

The toolkit aims to support community-led energy planning and prompt discussion of a just transition to renewables

A toolkit has been launched to help local authorities and community organisations to deliver local community-led energy planning processes in their areas.

It is hoped the toolkit will ensure community ownership is included in conversations about a just energy transition.

Developed by Carbon Co-op in partnership with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and URBED, the toolkit lays out practical advice on how to prepare and deliver a community-led energy planning process and communicate its findings.

Community-led energy planning (CLEP) is an approach which puts local people at the centre of activities that build knowledge, understanding and confidence in lower-income communities, enabling them to influence and benefit from the energy transition. 

It was first trialled in 2020 as part of the Oldham Energy Futures project, which worked with Oldham Council to engage with residents in the Sholver and Westwood neighbourhoods to diagnose local energy challenges and opportunities and identify community-led solutions. The lessons learned from this project have informed the toolkit that is now being launched. 

Oldham Council deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and low carbon, Cllr Abdul Jabbar, said: “Oldham Energy Futures is a new kind of community energy project – we have never before seen an approach to community engagement on energy issues on this scale.

“The only way we will be able to achieve our Green New Deal ambitions as a borough is by all working together – and the OEF methodology gives us a way to do this.”

The toolkit includes guidance around who to involve and how to recruit them, how to gather data, generate ideas and plan action through participatory workshops and how to create and share a community-led energy action Plan.

Project coordinator and facilitator at Carbon Co-op, Britt Jurgensen, said the toolkit is a response to the huge challenges facing local authorities as they respond to the climate emergency.

“Because the budgets are being cut so immensely, [councils] really struggle not having that kind of additional expertise on their team, to really engage people at a local level,” she said. “At the same time they need to do that because they really badly need the buy-in – they need us as people locally to make those changes, to own them, to to buy into them. 

“So, that kind of gap is what this programme was trying to close, and the toolkit is our way of saying, ‘So this is what we tried, how we worked and then this is what we would say if you were to replicate something like that. These are the steps that we propose to take.’”

She added: “We know there are local energy infrastructure planning processes, like local area energy planning (LAEP), but they don’t really provide that piece that connects directly to communities, and particularly to low income communities that might not have the resources or the time to volunteer.”

Recommendations in the toolkit include offering citizens appropriate payment for their time, so that people can take part in energy planning no matter what their financial situation.

The project is one of a number of initiatives from Carbon Co-op to further its long-term vision of an energy transition that is locally shaped and owned by citizens – with the wealth it creates retained in local economies for the benefit of its communities. 

In a blog post about the launch of the toolkit, Helen Power, policy and external affairs manager at CLES, wrote: “When we talk of a just transition, the question of ownership must be front and centre.”

The toolkit provides practical resources for future CLEP projects, and also addresses these debates about ownership, she added. “This is an important leap forward – not only for climate action in our places, but for people’s understanding of what a truly just transition could look like.”