Hundreds of thousands of volunteer owners and operators of Britain’s potential-rich but beleaguered community energy movement are recovering from their ‘most challenging year yet’, diving deeper into fighting fuel poverty, a new report claims.
Umbrella organisations representing 400-plus clean power co-operatives in the UK’s four home nations call this week for more intelligence from Whitehall & Westminster, joining them to exploit community renewables’ unique potential to change public attitudes to energy, and thus secure Net Zero.
Since mid-2021 D-BEIS under the Conservatives have continued to ignore or under-appreciate calls from activists, councils and even from Parliament’s Environmental Audit committee, national bodies Community Energy England, Community Energy Scotland and Community Energy Wales, according to a new report, “State of the Sector 2022”.
Ministers’ and civil servants’ continued failure to embrace fully the potential of grass-roots, community-controlled initiatives in energy use embeds central government’s patronising of the sector, leading to missed opportunities, and a ‘Whitehall-knows-best’ condescension, local co-ops complain.
Launching the report during Community Energy Fortnight ending on 25 June, the lobbyists urge serious action from ministers, delivering on honeyed words poorly supported by delivery.
More than 217,000 individuals invest in Britain’s energy co-operatives, according to the report.
Investment in local wind and solar advanced in 2021 to £21.5 million, with private individuals paying as little as £50 to secure a stake in new projects.
Yet government’s removal of pump-priming cash leads to a record number of co-ops this year reporting their projects as ‘stalled’. Together these total 68MW.
“The government is making it harder rather than easier for communities to take their own action towards net zero”, State of the Sector 2022 observes.
Community energy funds distributed nearly £500,000 to over 4,000 recipients last year.
Fighting fuel poverty in their localities is a key, growing activity among those individuals, according to the lobby groups’ report. Nearly 650 people are employed full time in the sector, predominantly in fuel poverty advice.
Chief among Whitehall dead weight snagging the sector’s progress remains the government’s abiding failure to shape laws permitting co-ops to retail their power direct to their localities.
Three hundred MPs and Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee came out independently in 2021 in favour of a ‘right of local sale’ enjoyed successfully in by clean power co-ops in Germany and Denmark.
Beside the call for local retail, three reforms head the sector’s demands on energy ministers Kwasi Kwarteng and Greg Hands:
- Setting up a National Community Energy Fund to re-mobilise the sector
- Elevate community energy co-ops to front and centre of initiatives fighting fuel poverty
- Ordering DNOs and councils to put community energy at the heart of local energy planning
Duncan Law, Community Energy England’s policy chief and its acting co-CEO commented:
“Community energy will continue determinedly to drive local climate action and deliver community benefit.
“With a little investment from the government it could grow exponentially and be the indispensable local champions of net zero”.
Our report highlights not only the increasing local engagement and impact of community energy projects, but also the sector’s adaptability and resilience in the absence of support from government”, Law concluded.
From Bristol to London, Nottingham to online, nineteen events are planned for Community Energy Fortnight, sponsored by Thrive Renewables. Oxfordshire’s Euro-prizewinning Westmill energy co-operative near Watchfield hosts an open day to its 5MW of wind and solar assets this Sunday 12 June at 11:00.
Read the full ‘State of the Sector’ report here.
Interest declared: The current author invests in three energy co-operatives.