Community groups call for fairer treatment in the energy system to save the sector

Embargoed: 00:00 25 February 2019
Twenty community energy and affiliated groups, including impact investors, from across the UK have launched a manifesto calling on the government to recognise their role in meeting the UK’s aim for a low carbon energy system. [1]

 The Community Energy Manifesto, supported by 20 groups with thousands of members, including Community Energy England, Regen and Co-operative Energy, is calling on the government to change its approach and help local energy projects to thrive and achieve their full potential, including creating new routes to market for community supplied energy.

Recent policy changes mean that local groups running small scale solar and wind energy projects will no longer be paid for the electricity they supply to the grid, requiring them to provide it instead for free. The groups say this is unfair and threatens their survival, that energy policy is leaving them behind and is failing to consider their significant social value; at the detriment to the energy system as a whole.

Many groups are now struggling to make a business case. Since 2015 the number of new community energy schemes has fallen dramatically from 33 in 2015 to just one in 2017, after years of steady growth. [2]

In 2014, the coalition government set a target of a million homes to be powered by community energy schemes by 2020. The current government has abandoned those plans with only seven per cent of that target met today (in England and Wales). This is despite many local community energy projects being poised, ready and willing to develop renewable energy for their neighbourhoods.

Local energy schemes bring significant economic benefits to their areas. In 2017 alone, they raised a collective total of £1.1 million in community benefit funding in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; while in Scotland, over the past decade, an estimated £50 million has been pumped back into the community from local energy projects. One estimation suggests that community owned energy projects have the potential to generate up to half of the UK’s current electricity demand by 2050. [3]

A new report from Green Alliance highlights that, as more people opt for different small scale energy technologies, like solar and electric vehicles, the development of community energy is an inevitable reflection of an evolving energy system. It sets out a vision for 2030 with a prominent role for community energy. [4] As trusted suppliers of local, visible, low carbon energy, local groups offer social benefits too, feeding profits directly back into the local community. [5]

The manifesto and report are supported by the Friends Provident Foundation, which has written, with a group of other leading investors and grant makers, to Climate Minister Claire Perry, urging her to support community energy projects to become more viable, stating that it has an important role in ensuring a ‘just transition’ to a decarbonised and more decentralised energy system. [6]

Emma Bridge, CEO of Community Energy England said, 
“The Community Energy Manifesto is a clear set of asks for government, none of which cost the earth but all can help communities do their bit to reduce carbon emissions and help avert climate catastrophe.

Community energy schemes break down barriers, showing local people how renewable energy can work and benefit everyone, they're an opportunity to practically demonstrate what a green future can look like. We urge the government to respond to this manifesto and allow everyone to play their part in a decentralised and digitised energy system fit for the future.”

Chaitanya Kumar, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance said,
“Community energy is at a crossroads. The government can either choose to ignore consumer preferences and the community led energy revolution or support it and its clear role in helping to accelerate decarbonisation.

“Community energy adds value by helping more people to play an active part in the UK’s low carbon energy transition while directly benefiting local communities”.

Colin Baines, investment engagement manager at Friends Provident Foundation, which funded the report and organised the impact investor letter, said,

“We are very supportive of community energy due to the environmental, social and local economic value it brings, and believe it has an important role to play as part of a ‘just transition’ to a decarbonised and more decentralised energy system.

However, changes in government policy in recent years have somewhat stacked the system against communities. We hope the Manifesto can assist government in bringing about a regulatory environment that supports community energy to survive and thrive.”

Chaitanya Kumar
020 7630 4514

[1] Community Energy Manifesto, 2019

[2] Story illustrating the effect of cuts to feed-in tariffs:

School Energy Coop
“Working with local community energy groups and schools, we have installed 48 solar panel systems on schools across the country, and there's a further five projects underway. Installations have saved money for schools and more importantly normalised green energy. 
The closure of the feed-in tariff means that fewer schools will be able to install solar. Now only schools that fit a particular, narrow criteria in terms of geographical position and type of roof will be able to develop financially viable schemes. At a time when children are engaged in the fight to tackle climate change, we're having to roll-back projects that first hand demonstrate everything from the science curriculum to jobs in the renewable energy sector.

We would like to see an alternative policy solution that supports community organisations working to make community buildings more energy efficient and powered by renewable sources. It's a clear way to show young people we want to invest in a sustainable future for them”.  Mike Smyth, Chair, Schools Energy Coop

[3] CE Delft, The potential of energy citizens in the European Union, 2016

[4] Green Alliance, Community Energy 2.0, 2019

[5] Story of community energy innovation:

Carbon Co-op
Carbon Co-op is an energy services and advocacy co-operative based in Manchester. The co-operative is one of the few groups that is at the forefront of innovation, exploring new approaches for community energy groups to participate in the future energy system. The co-op is currently working on how electric vehicle chargers and smart appliances in homes can provide automated demand response. It also has a track record of innovative refurbishment projects and a range of energy efficiency services.

Carbon Co-op also piloted a community smart grid in Manchester and Lancaster with 100 households and businesses, assisting them to work together to save energy, reduce bills and reduce carbon emissions and to provide tools and new business models for ESCOs, aggregators and DNOs.

[6] Impact investors supporting letter

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