Communities across England will be supported in setting up local energy projects, thanks to a new £10 million government fund.
Both urban and rural communities will have the chance to win grants from the new Community Energy Fund, primed to help civic-minded locals to develop renewable energy projects.
The Community Energy Fund will open to applications in early autumn. Small-scale wind farms and rooftop solar generation, fuel poverty alleviation schemes, battery storage, heat networks and EV charging points are all eligible, says the government.
Andrew Bowie MP, 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.
“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 designed to attract private investment to scale up projects further down the line, supporting high-quality jobs and growth in the area.
Today’s new Community Energy Fund builds on the former Rural Community Energy Fund, expanding its remit to cover renewables investment into both rural and urban areas.
As with the old fund, its replacement will be delivered through Local Net Zero Hubs. These support local authorities to develop Net Zero projects and attract commercial investment.
Thanks to government funding, the Congleton Hydro project is producing electricity from a local weir, powering the equivalent of 60 homes. Cutting local carbon emissions, the hydro provides £5,000 every year to support community projects. These have included a re-wilding programme to protect nature, and educational outreach for young people to deliver local sustainability.
Bob Owen, an engineer at Congleton Hydro, said: “The Rural Communities Energy Fund (RCEF) has been a real enabler for Dane Valley 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 focusses 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.”
Energy co-operatives are advised to draw the new CE fund’s existence to sympathetic officers at their local councils. More details are here.
Response from Community Energy England, the umbrella body for nearly 300 co-operatives, was guarded. Emma Bridge, its chief executive, 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.
“While this announcement is a positive step”, Bridge went on, “we believe that the current allocation falls short of adequately supporting local communities.
“Community energy brings so many more benefits. To unlock its full potential, 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.
“We thank the Minister for this first step. 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.”
Interest declared: The current writer invests in and actively promotes local energy co-operatives.