Boris Johnson’s government must free up the UK’s 200-plus voluntary energy co-operatives to sell self-made clean power direct to their communities, a Conservative-led committee of MPs this week told energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng.
Volunteers in English & Northern Irish local co-ops struggle against fragmented policy, ineffective financial support, obstructive planning rules and inconsistent aid from Whitehall, regulators & councils, Parliament’s environmental audit committee tells Kwasi Kwarteng in an interim letter.
Studying local energy co-ops’ role in getting Britain to Net Zero by 2035, the committee has written to Beis’s boss, specifying government actions urgently needed to remove obstacles faced by the nation’s voluntary energy sector.
Committee chair Philip Dunne MP tells Kwarteng that, without more locally based behaviour change in energy usage, the DNO Northern Powergrid believes Britain will not reach its net zero target.
Voluntary groups selling self-made carbon-free electricity are common across northern Europe, the committee heard. Germany alone boasts over 900 local energy co-ops.
But Whitehall’s ignorance and English exceptionalism have left community energy outside Wales and Scotland as the UK’s energy Cinderella. Last year’s study of its 163 members by Community Energy England complained of ‘unclear government strategy’.
EAC chair Dunne tells minister Kwarteng his committee is ‘disappointed’ that the government’s current Energy White Papermentions ‘community energy’ only once, and ‘local energy’ twice. Issued in December, Beis’ proposals are 170 pages long.
Closure in March 2019 of the Feed in Tariff stopped the sector’s growth, Dunne relates. Supposed replacements the Smart Energy Guarantee is variable and short-term, exposing small community projects to the market dominance of big power wholesalers. Witness Paul Hallas of SE24, a London power co-op, told the committee that the SEG was neither smart nor a guarantee.
Beis’s forthcoming Net Zero strategy must emphasise community energy, Dunne tells the minister. The committee recommends that Beis “develops, with the support of the devolved administrations, a complementary UK-wide community energy strategy, to include practical support measures to harness the potential of community energy”.
Specific asks from the committee to Kwarteng include on finance, that Beis:
- allows community energy projects to sell their energy to local communities
- “introduces a minimum Smart Export Guarantee floor price, and extends the guarantee on the energy export price.
- “reinstates the Urban Community Energy Fund, or a combined fund with the Rural Community Energy Fund when it ends in 2022;
- “reinstates Social Investment Tax Relief for CE investments, and
- “a replacement non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, designed to support community projects.
On planning and support from councils, the committee says Beis and government should “support local authorities to develop local area energy plans, harnessing the potential of community energy.
Via Beis, the EAC urges Robert Jenrick’s Department for Housing, Communities & Local Government to “adjust the National Planning Policy… to allow prioritisation of community-owned energy developments, produce guidance on …procurement, and investigate what impact mandatory participation between local authorities and community energy groups would have”.
The MPs have given Kwarteng until 7 June to reply, and will publish his answers.
Among interests declared at witness hearings by EAC members, chairman Dunne said he supported Ludlow Hydro Co-op. He claimed Brexit made procurement easier for power co-operatives.