Community energy can transform UK energy markets


By guest contributor Rebecca Cooke
News of the Government’s new community energy strategy has been met with positive reaction from the industry.
The Government’s first Community Energy Strategy for the UK could be the first step towards loosening the grip of the Big Six on the UK energy market.
The strategy involves the creation of an Urban Community Energy Fund and a Community Energy Unit within the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It will see local communities given up to £150,000 each to distribute their own solar panel and wind turbine projects.
Ed Davey, the Climate Change Secretary, has today launched the £10m Urban Community Energy Fund with aims to have one million homes’ electricity generated from “home-made” sustainable energy projects by 2020.
A spokesperson from Community Energy Enterprises said: ”Community energy offers a viable, attractive and responsible channel for energy saving and delivery, alongside the existing dominant commercial providers; but has hitherto been hopelessly under-exploited in the UK compared to other countries.”  
The group also said that community energy enterprises from around the UK would be coming together to ensure that the sector itself played a full part in delivering the vision for a community powered UK.
Westmill Solar in Oxfordshire, believed to be the largest community-owned solar power station in the world, is one of the community energy schemes taking a lead in the community energy action programme.
Philip Wolfe, Chairman of Westmill Solar Co-operative said: “The eventual success of this initiative will depend on the government’s follow-through, and the response of those of us active in the sector. The strategy must lead to real action to overcome some of the barriers it identifies, such as the ability of community schemes to sell energy to their own members and into the broader marketplace. Government must also recognise the special potential of community energy, when it tackles obstacles common to all renewables such as planning, grid access and the need for new heat networks.”
“While it’s good to see that community energy will now have a seat at the table; many of these talking shops have been around for years, without any tangible action to improve the deployment of sustainable energy”, said Wolfe.
The new government strategy was also welcomed by Communities for Renewables (CfR) and Regen SW.
Cheryl Hiles, director of Regen SW and CfR said: “The Government’s new strategy is far reaching and positive news for our vibrant local community energy sector. It affords the rightful recognition to the long standing dedication of community groups that have achieved a great deal, and encourages newcomers to tread their own path knowing they will be operating within a supportive national framework.”
Maf Smith, deputy chief executive said:”RenewableUK is committed to helping communities engage in renewable energy, and sponsored a report from Respublica on this last year. We look forward to working with Government, communities and our members on addressing some of the barriers that currently exist to the development of further community ownership. With wind power already enjoying massive levels of popularity with communities around the country, the industry is eager to do what it can help find ways of maximising local participation in the future energy supply”.
As part of renewed efforts to decentralise power over the energy industry, Ed Davey has also been actively encouraging communities to engage in a collective switch, grouping together to change their domestic energy providers in an effort to save money and undercut the Big Six. 
This was first published Trillion Fund. 

Rebecca Cooke is Trillion Fund’s content editor. She graduated with a BA (Hons) in Journalism from The University of Sheffield in 2012.

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