UK government launches £10m funding pot for community energy

Community Energy England welcomed the news but said the sector needs more cash to fulfil its potential to drive a fair carbon transition

The UK government has announced a £10m fund, launching in early autumn, to support the growth of community energy in England over the next two years.

The fund will initially be based on the same criteria as the previous Rural Community Energy Fund, although it will now be opened up to applicants from urban areas. 

The aim of the fund is to help kickstart projects including small-scale wind farms and rooftop solar partnerships, as well as battery storage, rural heat networks, electric vehicle charging points, and fuel poverty alleviation schemes – all proposed, designed and owned by local people.

Andrew Bowie, minister for nuclear and networks, said: “Local communities are at the heart of our plans to boost our energy security and grow the economy. The Community Energy Fund for England will empower communities to do just that.

“With it, they’ll be able to drive forward innovative energy projects that will have a lasting positive impact, bringing costs down, building stronger communities, and securing clean energy for generations to come.

“Importantly, these energy projects could expand beyond local areas by attracting further investment from the private sector, in turn inspiring other communities to power their area with energy from England.”

The fund is expected to support projects like Congleton Hydro, which received £73,511 funding from the Rural Community Energy Fund and is now producing affordable, clean and secure electricity from a local weir – enough to power the equivalent of 60 homes. Revenues from the scheme support an annual £5,000 fund for local community projects. This has so far funded a re-wilding programme to protect nature in the local area and an educational programme on helping young people to deliver local sustainability.

Bob Owen, chartered engineer at Congleton Hydro, said: “The Rural Communities Energy Fund (RCEF) has been a real enabler for Dane Vally Community Energy’s Congleton Hydro, helping us to refine the system design and commission additional environmental studies required by the local planning authority.

“The support received from RCEF is just not monetary, their facilitation of advice and assistance from a great range of contacts has been invaluable. The RCEF support also provided us with the opportunity to develop an education activity that focuses on the sustainability of the environment and a re-wilding programme – giving nature a helping hand.

“Further funds from RCEF have enabled us to successfully specify and design the next Hydro Scheme based on another historic weir in Congleton park and fund the research and the realisation of a Community Solar Scheme —the Community Share Prospectus. Without this incubator funding from RCEF, it is most unlikely that either scheme would have seen the light of day.”

Welcoming the new fund, Emma Bridge, CEO of Community Energy England, said: “We welcome the launch of this much needed fund and the extension of support to include urban areas, which has been a key policy ask for CEE.

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“While this announcement is a positive step, we believe that the current funding allocation falls short of adequately supporting local communities. Community energy brings so many more benefits. It is tackling the cost of living crisis, the climate crisis, while reinvigorating communities. It harnesses the passion, expertise and capital of the local community and returns all its profits to benefit that community.

“Community energy is essential to achieving net zero. To unlock its full potential, and drive the growth of the sector right across the country,  we urge the government to continue to work with the sector to overcome other barriers, to progress local supply and shared ownership of the fast-growing renewable energy sector.”

She added: “We thank the minister for this first step and we look forward to working with him and the wider government to ensure that community energy’s full potential is achieved. 

“We would also like to thank other dedicated MP supporters such as David Johnston, the sponsor of the Local Electricity Bill, and the Power for People campaign who have tirelessly championed community energy in Parliament and who worked to secure this deal.”