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Community energy is in trouble, but our Bill can fix it

November 7, 2019
November 7, 2019 Steve Shaw

The latest community energy report confirms a lot of what we’ve been hearing for a long time from groups around the country – that UK community energy projects are struggling to stay afloat. Planning restrictions have put a hold on onshore wind developments and a huge cut in financial support for solar farms and other clean energy technologies has wreaked uncertainty – it all paints a picture of a regulatory environment that is hostile to the rights and needs of community energy groups.

On this basis, the statistics for the last twelve months are unsurprising. An 84% drop in community electricity generation capacity. A 79% drop in the amounts of money invested. In Scotland, 2018 even saw an overall drop in green energy, as generating capacity fell by a megawatt to 80MW. At a time when the Government is considering declaring a “Climate Emergency” and when renewables technologies are the most efficient and cost-effective way of generating electricity, there’s no excuse in creating a rapidly hotter world due to such policy failures as these.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the extent to which the outcomes are totally unsurprising. Experts and campaigners warned that increasingly hostile energy regulations would hurt communities around the country – communities doing no more than that timeless and human thing of trying to improve their present and build a better future.

Despite the pretty bleak state of affairs, it would be wrong to present the news without causes for optimism. The authors of the report note that the community groups themselves remain a resounding source of innovation. Threatened by the choke on their resources, people are trying hard to innovate new business models and methods of selling energy. Faced with restraints on energy generation, groups have begun turning attention to equally vital social and climate adjustments like transport policy. Our work with groups around the country leaves us in no doubt that the people in community energy will keep on innovating, but the regulations that set how the market works are leaving these people high and dry, and wasting some of the country’s most valuable resources of talent, passion and commitment by leaving them to overcome obstacles that shouldn’t be there.

The large-scale renewable developments we have all seen or heard of across the UK are certainly welcome, but our energy future must put power back into our communities – right down to how those communities generate and profit from their own energy. And while larger companies can play a valuable role in moving quickly to a green grid, a revolution at community-level is also essential. Only there can you find and tap the viral potential to see every scout troop, church group, youth club, local hospital and grocery store convert their own rooftop, land or nearby river into its very own sustainable power station.

The report certainly makes for disappointing reading, making the case anew for those solutions stacked-up in our Local Electricity Bill. Currently we’re in a danger zone where support mechanisms for community-level renewables have been withdrawn, but none of the colossal obstacles faced by communities wanting to participate in the energy market have yet been lowered or removed.

It doesn’t have to be this way and the solution doesn’t have to be party political – MPs from across the House of Commons are among the 115 already supporting the Local Electricity Bill as it offers to empower communities to turn a local profit, with just their turbines and their panels.

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