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Talking about a community energy revolution

One of the younger visitors to Westmill Wind Farm and Solar Park during the inaugural Community Energy Fortnight in 2013 One of the younger visitors to Westmill Wind Farm and Solar Park during the inaugural Community Energy Fortnight in 2013 Photo: © Andy Cantlon

This Saturday, 13 September 2014, sees the start of Community Energy Fortnight with a wide range of events going on around the country.

The fortnight aims to explore and celebrate how communities Nick Clackacross the UK are taking the lead on saving and producing energy themselves.

What is community energy?

You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with the idea of community energy because it’s not yet commonplace here. CPRE and a growing number of organisations and people believe it should be.

The essence of community energy is that — whether it’s about saving energy through improving the energy efficiency of local buildings or producing renewable electricity or heat locally — it's led and owned by communities. This means that a range of benefits, including financial payback and addressing fuel poverty, will go directly to all of those within the communities taking them forward.

Unlike elsewhere in Europe, such as in Denmark and Germany, the vast majority of UK energy projects − mainly generation − are led and owned by commercial developers. Major landowners also play a significant role in shaping them. Too often the benefits flow out of the communities. And the impacts, often significant in the case of large developments, are most keenly felt locally. In contrast to the situation here, over half of renewable energy generation in Germany is owned by its own citizens.

An energy revolution

Community energy projects could and should encompass energy efficiency and demand reduction as well as generation. In fact we’d like to see reducing the amount of energy we use become a much stronger part of the community energy approach as well as in our energy system more generally. However, there is no doubt we need new generation too — ideally smaller scale and decentralised with at least some of the energy used locally, rather than relying on big central power stations. Renewable energy developments owned exclusively and led by communities will generally be relatively small scale and consequently the impacts on the countryside will be low, especially if they are well sited and well designed. This is more likely to be the case if the communities where the projects are also lead them.

Community energy isn’t, and never should be, another name for “goodwill payments” paid by commercial developers of energy generation projects to communities, which can bring the planning system into disrepute and be divisive. Neither is community energy a route for commercial developers to secure inappropriately sited and badly designed infrastructure.

There is significant scope for increasing community led and owned energy projects to create a community energy revolution. We believe that it offers a positive way forward for communities and the country as a whole by promoting a much more democratic approach within our energy system currently dominated by large corporations.

Taking the lead on community energy

Despite our current government producing the country’s first ever Community Energy Strategy early in 2014, there are still major barriers preventing such a revolution. For example, there are financial and bureaucratic barriers and insufficient incentives provided by energy subsidies or through the tax system.

We need the Government — the current one and future ones — to break down these barriers. But we also need communities to take the lead and get involved, and that is what we’re encouraging you to do over the next fortnight and beyond.

Find out more

Visit the Community Energy Fortnight website for details on the events taking place and to find out how you can get involved.

 

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12 September 2014

There is significant scope for increasing community led and owned energy projects to create a community energy revolution.




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