There is growing support for community energy schemes, says Merlin Hyman.
We’ve seen an extraordinary growth in community groups who want to harness natural resources and generate their own energy. Not only are they reducing their impact on the climate, but they are also generating an income, reducing their existing energy costs and creating local jobs.
Across the South West, many inspiring communities are now actively pursuing community energy projects. Low Carbon Ladock in Cornwall, a co-operative with more than 100 members, has been very successful in installing pioneering renewable energy projects. In 2009, with support from Community Energy Plus, it won £500,000 through the Government’s Low Carbon Community Challenge to introduce low-carbon technologies in the parish. Eight houses, two village halls, two pubs and three other local businesses were selected for installations which included solar PV, solar thermal, biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps, insulation and a 20kW wind turbine. As well as reducing energy bills for homes and community buildings, these generate income for the co-operative which is re-invested in further energy generation and grants to community clubs and facilities.
Low Carbon Ladock is now turning its sights to a larger-scale project – a 500 to 800kW wind turbine in partnership with Green Trust CIC, a not-for-profit renewable energy enterprise. As well as producing up to a third of the community’s energy needs, the turbine will also offer significant benefits locally. It is estimated that it could generate around £30,000 per year or more for the co-operative’s community fund. There will also be the opportunity for locals to own a share of the project through an investment offer that will provide a rate of return of around 7% for 20 years.
Finally, the community is exploring the development of a local supply arrangement to enable local consumers to purchase energy generated.
All this is proof that where a determined, motivated community group works together with the right support, they can deliver innovative renewable energy projects with significant community benefits.
Nationally, the government is waking up to the importance of the community energy movement, with recent renewable energy policies featuring specific benefits, or recognition for, community-led projects. For example, last week the government announced the launch of the Renewable Heat Incentive Premium Payment for Communities. The £8m scheme helps organise local buying groups for renewable heating systems, potentially accessing bulk discounts.
Recent announcements regarding changes to the Feed-in Tariff for renewable electricity projects also hope to address some of the challenges and barriers facing community groups. For example, solar PV projects on non-domestic buildings, such as village halls, will no longer have to meet the minimum energy efficiency requirements that were preventing some projects going ahead. This provision will also apply to schools and colleges, due to the important role they can play in educating youngsters about climate change.
We are expecting to see further government support for community energy projects in the next year. A £15m Rural Community Renewable Energy Fund is due to be launched in early 2013. Its aim will be to help communities meet the up front cost of developing renewable projects with the intention that it is run as a “revolving loan fund”.
In addition, a call for evidence on onshore wind is expected this autumn. This will include consultation on how communities can have more of a say over, and receive greater economic benefit from, onshore wind farms. We would argue that there are already substantial opportunities for pro-active communities to ensure they receive the benefits from local wind projects, most notably by taking the lead on developing their own.
Recognising the need for more communities to follow the lead from Low Carbon Ladock and others, Regen SW has launched Communities for Renewables. Supported by a range of partners, including the EU Interreg IVb programme and South West Water, the community support programme has produced an online resource for communities in the South West. A Community Energy Group Network to enable groups to meet, discuss the issues and co-ordinate lobbies to government will be launched in the autumn.
Regen SW and Green Trust CIC have also set up Communities for Renewables CIC to work with energy co-operatives and landowners to fund and develop medium to large-scale renewable energy projects under a social business model.
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