Leading co-ops join call on government to back renewable energy

Midcounties and Central among co-op signatories asking government to ‘seize renewable energy opportunities’

Co-op retailers the Co-op Group, Midcounties and Central, along with sector body Community Energy England, are among the signatories of a letter urging ministers to ‘green the energy grid’ by powering investment in renewable energy.

The letter – also signed by Tesco, Morrisons and M&S – urges prime minister Rishi Sunak and his government to enact a number of planning reforms and support measures to help the development of renewables.

These are:

• fiscal and financial action to encourage and incentivise investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency;
• reforms to planning regimes so renewable energy schemes can rapidly move from concept to operation;
• support for community energy organisations to develop projects which involve the wider public in the Net Zero transition; and
• changes to the way the energy market operates to ensure a fair price for green energy for households and industry.

“We are writing today as leaders of businesses representing over 50% of the UK’s food retail sector and more than 300 community energy businesses all over the UK on the need for the government to work with us,” reads the letter, “so that unlocking additional renewable energy generation capacity becomes a more central priority in addressing the challenges we currently face.

“It is clear to us all when we look at energy security, opportunities for economic prosperity and moving towards the government’s 2050 Net Zero target that growing the UK’s renewable energy capacity must be a very significant part of the answer for our country.”

Warning ministers to avoid a “missed economic, security and environmental opportunity,” the letter says government plays a “pivotal role” when it comes to unlocking investment. “We ask you today to work with us to help create a framework for the future so together we can seize the opportunities that renewable energy offers.

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“With renewable energy now cheaper than the alternative, quicker to source and better for the environment, there’s every reason to prioritise greater support for greening the grid. We would very much welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how together we can seize the opportunities ahead of us.”

The letter cites independent research by Cornwall Insight, commissioned by the Co-op Group, which has revealed that only 18.5% of planned renewable generation is assessed as highly likely to develop as planned. Findings also show that grid decarbonisation isn’t going fast enough, with data predicting that less than 60% of the UK’s energy will be from renewable generation by 2030. At present, around 40% of the UK’s generation is from renewable sources of power.

The government has committed to decarbonising electricity generation by 2035 to support the wider net zero goal. To achieve this, the Climate Change Committee has suggested that renewables will need to make up over 70% of generation.

The letter states the need for government to work with businesses to unlock additional renewable energy generation capacity, including directly funding wind or solar energy farms – which co-ops have committed to.

“Midcounties Co-operative has been long-standing advocates of greening the grid and have worked with, and alongside, our members over many years to encourage and facilitate locally owned community-owned energy in particular,” said Midcounties Group CEO, Phil Ponsonby. Midcounties has also been supporting community energy, notably through the Co-op Community Power tariff, a joint venture with Octopus Energy.

“We already have agreements in place with over 200 community energy providers, supplying enough energy for 60,000 homes through our Co-op Community Power tariff, and join this campaign on behalf of our members to call for changes to further support renewable energy in the UK,” he added.

From Central Co-op, CEO Debbie Robinson said: “At Central Co-op our purpose is to create a sustainable society for all. We’ve reduced our carbon emissions by 80% since 2011, been zero to landfill since 2012 and been awarded the Carbon Trust Triple standard four times in a row.

“We are committed to generating green energy across our family of businesses installing photo voltaic in 50 of our stores. It’s our long term vision to generate energy to be self-sufficient and potentially deliver a surplus for our communities. We’re supporting this campaign to call upon government for a framework to support investment which will enable more support for renewable energy in our communities.”

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Shirine Khoury-Haq, CEO of the Group, highlighted how the energy market is at a crisis point and “we need urgent Government action to deliver energy security, drive economic growth and move us closer to net zero”.

“The UK is still too reliant on fossil fuels and we need to create more UK renewable energy to green the energy grid,” she said. “Grid decarbonisation isn’t going fast enough and the Government needs to incentivise investment in it and push through planning reforms to allow rapid progress for onshore and offshore developments.”

“The Co-op is directly sourcing energy from a solar farm and will have even more of its energy coming from such sources in the future as part of a multi-million pound programme to increase the proportion of directly funded renewable energy we use.

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Community Energy England, the umbrella group for community renewables, has long been campaigning for more government support for the sector. Its acting co-CEO Duncan Law said: “The community energy sector harnesses local passion, expertise and money to realise local decarbonisation opportunities at scale and engage the wider public in driving the energy transition.

“The sector doubled in size every year between 2014 and 2017 when there was, albeit reducing, government support. Recently local climate action, indispensable to achieving net zero, has been thwarted, not supported, by government policy.

“This must change if we are to succeed in tackling climate change and building energy security for all.”

Several non co-op players in the food retails sector also signed the letter.

Tesco CEO Ken Murphy said: “This is a critical time to take action on climate change. The food industry depends on the health of the natural environment and we must work collectively to drive the transformational changes needed to meet the UK’s climate commitments. At Tesco, we’re focused on reducing our energy demand and switching our supply to renewable sources.

“We already use 100% renewable electricity across our own operations, from green certificates, Power Purchase Agreements and on-site generation. However, we must incentivise more investment in renewable energy if we are to decarbonise the grid and transition to a low carbon economy.”

Morrisons CEO David Potts said: “Harnessing natural energy from the sun is a significant way for us to reduce carbon emissions quickly. We have been utilising our own roofs over the last couple of years to help power our stores and sites, which forms part of our commitment to reach net zero in our own emissions by 2035. However, we are reliant on grid decarbonisation to move at greater pace and a policy framework that unlocks investment in green energy.”

M&S CEO Stuart Machin said: “The UK has the potential to really lead the way in renewable generation – not doing so would be a missed opportunity. The climate crisis demands urgent action and we want to see the Government responding with the same urgency to remove the barriers across planning, investment and pricing.

“We know we have a role to play at M&S. Our UK and ROI stores use 100% renewable electricity, we have the UK’s largest single roof-mounted solar panel array at our distribution centre in the East Midlands and we are working with our food suppliers to make the switch to renewable energy.

“These steps are crucial for us to reach our target to become a net zero business by 2040. We’re determined to get there and as businesses, we want to see that same level of commitment from the Government to decarbonising electricity generation – and ultimately its own net zero target.”