Perched on a fell above the Lakeland town of Ulverston, just down the road from me, are four wind turbines. They’ve been turning steadily since 1997. The turbines all look the same. But one of the four is very different. It was the first in the UK to be owned by local people, who established a co-operative to buy shares in the turbine. The other three are owned by a commercial renewables developer.
More than a decade on, government has realised that it’s really quite a good idea to let local communities buy into local renewable energy schemes. I’ve written elsewhere about the advantages of this approach. In short: it’s very popular, with poll after poll showing that people are more likely to support renewables if they’re part-owned by the community. It provides a way to engage people in energy issues more generally, providing a positive local alternative to fossil fuels. It provides a welcome source of investment, too, with money coming directly from individuals. This sort of approach has the potential to turn people from passive consumers into active participants in the energy system.
So I was very pleased when the government decided, as part of its Community Energy Strategy, to ask commercial developers to offer local communities a chance to buy into renewables developments. They say it should be the norm for communities to part-own schemes.
And government are approaching it in a sensible way: rather than just passing a law, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has asked the industry to work with the community sector, to agree on a way of achieving this shared ownership. At the same time, though, they’re developing a law, called a ‘backstop power’, which could be used if there’s no progress through a voluntary approach.
And so to work. I’m part of the group – called, as is the way with all things Whitehall, a Taskforce – whose job it is to come up with a voluntary agreement, that both the industry and the community sector will use to develop the shared ownership approach.
Discussions so far have been fascinating. There’s a lot of support, from commercial developers and from the community side, and a huge amount of willingness to work together. But the challenge is to come up with a workable agreement, which provides communities with a meaningful stake in developments, and which developers can integrate into their project plans.
We would really welcome views from all sides, particularly renewables developers, and community groups who might want to buy into a scheme. The more people we talk to, the better our recommendations will be. There’s a website for the Taskforce here, and get in touch if you want to feed in your own thoughts or experience.