This week, MPs got down to the tricky business of line-by-line scrutiny of the Energy Bill, to see whether it’s doing what it should. And at last, we’ve had a proper debate about whether the UK is serious about community ownership of energy.
As I’ve said in previous posts, we pay lip-service to its importance, but until now, politicians have not really believed that community ownership could be a significant part of the energy mix, as it is in Denmark and Germany.
But on Tuesday, the government and the opposition frontbench teams were jostling over who was doing most for community energy – a far cry from where we were a year ago. Tory minister Greg Barker even hinted that his coalition partners were to blame for the lack of progress to date.
Both sides agreed that community and co-operatively owned energy could be at scale – and gave examples, like the 6.5MW Westmill wind farm and the 7MW Lochcarnan scheme on South Uist. And, crucially, both sides agreed that the Energy Bill could make it harder for these schemes to get off the ground later. (independent analysis of why this is so is here)
There was a good debate, too, about what can be done about it. Co-operatives UK, who I’m working with, and a wide coalition of supporters, think the Feed-in Tariff threshold should be raised. This would mean that community schemes aren’t put at a disadvantage compared to large commercial developers. The Labour frontbench proposed this, and the minister’s reply was that “this measure is under active consideration”. That’s a big step forward for community energy. We’ll be working with government to help that active consideration.
I’ve pasted the transcript from the Committee here, for those who want the detail.