What future for community-owned energy?

18th October 2012

“I want nothing short of a community energy revolution”, said Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, a couple of weeks ago. He’s in good company. Today I was part of a group including fellow revolutionaries from the Church of England, the National Trust and Consumer Focus who met with Ed Davey to talk tactics.

It’s hard to disagree with the idea that renewable energy assets, like wind turbines, solar installations and hydro schemes should be owned by communities. It would help meet all the Government’s stated energy goals, of reducing carbon, creating a more diverse system, and finding ways for people to be more engaged in energy issues.

Yet our current energy system is a pretty hostile environment for community projects. Thanks to Feed-in Tariffs, and a smattering of grants from government, we’re seeing an increasing number of smaller energy co-operatives get off the ground – this report that I wrote last year for Co-operatives UK has some great examples. But talk to anyone involved in community energy and they’ll tell you that it’s a difficult, time-consuming, risky process, and not for the faint-hearted. No wonder, then, that community ownership is still the exception, not the rule.

Compare that with Germany, where there are now 600 energy co-operatives, or Denmark, where community ownership of wind power is the norm.

That’s why I’ve been working with Co-operatives UK over the past year, to look at ways of improving the way that the energy market is managed, so that in a few years’ time, Ed Davey will be able to look proudly upon the community energy revolution that he has unleashed.

So, today we’re publishing two pieces of work which show what government needs to do to make the revolution a reality.

The first is a ‘Community Energy Manifesto’, which sets out a path for mainstreaming community energy, and is endorsed by an impressive group of organisations, from the Church of England to the Women’s Institutes.

The second is a splendidly technical piece of work by our friends at Cornwall Energy, which looks in detail at how the forthcoming Energy Bill, due to hit Parliament in November, can make life better for community energy schemes. If thirty pages of technical energy speak isn’t your thing, there’s a handy simple summary document too.

Over the months ahead, we’ll be working hard to influence government and parliament, both on the Energy Bill and the Community Energy Strategy which government has promised next Spring. Let us know if you’d like to join in.

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