Co-op Party slams government ‘dither and delay’ on community energy

‘When given the opportunity to remove a real barrier to clean, community-owned energy, the government once again let communities down’

The Co-op Party has accused the government of “more dither and delay” after its latest announcement on community energy.

The government said on Tuesday (5 September) that it would follow up its new national Community Energy Fund with a report and consultation on barriers facing the community energy sector.

But Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Co-op Party, says it is time for action rather than words.

“The government’s announcement of a new report and consultation on the barriers faced by community-owned energy is yet more dither and delay on delivering for this vital sector,” he said, “when what is needed is urgent action.

“That this announcement came on the same day as the government also watered down its pledge to repeal the de facto ban on onshore wind speaks volumes: when given the opportunity to remove a real barrier to clean, community-owned energy, the government once again let communities down.”

Fortune said a Labour government, including its sister organisation the Co-op Party, would invest £400m a year in community energy schemes, “the biggest ever investment in the sector”, and tackle the regulatory barriers facing the sector.

The government’s announcement said it had streamlined planning rules to give local areas have a greater say in how onshore wind projects should be considered.

“The measures include broadening the ways that suitable locations can be identified,” it said, “including by communities, and speeding up the process of allocating sites by giving alternatives to the local plan process. This will ensure the whole community has a say, not just a small number of objectors – paving the way for more onshore wind projects to come online where they have community support.

“This will mean local policy on onshore wind continues to be decided by elected local councillors, accountable to local people, and plans are taken forward where they can demonstrate local support and address planning impacts identified by the community.”

It added that it has “consulted on proposals for improved benefits and rewards for communities backing onshore wind farms and will set out next steps this autumn.”

Levelling up, housing and communities secretary Michael Gove said: “To increase our energy security and develop a cleaner, greener economy, we are introducing new measures to allow local communities to back onshore wind power projects.

“This will only apply in areas where developments have community support, but these changes will help build on Britain’s enormous success as a global leader in offshore wind, helping us on our journey to net zero.”

Energy and net zero secretary Claire Coutinho added: “The Energy Bill is the most significant piece of energy legislation in a generation and will help us provide a cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy system for the UK.

“Onshore wind also has a key role to play and these changes will help speed up the delivery of projects where local communities want them.”

The government says communities will be able to bring forward proposals for onshore wind – planning policy will be changed to make clear onshore wind developments can be identified in several ways rather than through local plans. This includes through Local Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders.

“Councils should consider the views of the whole community, rather than a small minority, when considering a planning application,“ it added. “This includes addressing the planning impact of onshore wind projects as identified by local communities.

The government says it will respond in full to the National Planning Policy Framework later this year.

Two weeks ago, the government announced a new Community Energy Fund, committing £10m over two years to help projects to generate clean energy, such as rural heat networks or rooftop solar.

MPs from all parties have long been calling for more support for community energy to help drive the transition from carbon. In April 2021,  the Environmental Audit Committee wrote to then energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to highlight the benefits of community energy in terms of creating jobs, boosting local economies, tackling fuel poverty and engaging citizens engagmeent from community energy.

In January this year, Chris Skidmore, the government’s net zero tsar said the community energy sector had been “neglected by government”, adding that it ‘“not only contributes to net zero” but also an example of “energy security”.

Labour has been criticised by green campaigners for revising its pledge to invest £28bn in green industries every year for a decade, instead promising to reach £28bn in the second half of the first parliament, citing concerns over a “crashed economy”.

But it says it establish a publicly owned business, GB Energy – which will invest in thousands of local clean energy project with the goal of cutting domestic energy bills and providing clean energy by 2030. And its Local Power Plan pledges to partner with communities and invest up to a billion pounds annually in green energy schemes, with £400m earmarked for community energy.