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What is Community Energy?
Community Energy is about community groups coming together with the aim of reducing energy demand, as well as managing and generating low carbon heat and power (communityenergyengland.org). The overarching objective is to tackle climate change but there are many other benefits too. For example, economic incentives to reduce energy bills and create community income, as well as tackling the issues of energy security and fuel poverty.
Community Energy allows local communities to take back control of their energy supply and keep money in the local economy – this appeals to all people, regardless of economic status or political persuasion, so is a fantastic topic to bring up with your MP.
Support for Community Energy
Starting a community energy organisation may seem like a huge and daunting thing. But there is lots of help and support available for start-up organisations:
- Pure Leapfrog is a leader in providing social investment and support for Community Energy projects UK wide. Pure Leapfrog are able to provide low cost finance and advice and so far have helped 100 Community Energy projects along their journey.
- Community Energy England: provides a voice for the Community Energy sector by representing and supporting projects.
Why does the Community Energy sector need more support?
In May 2014 the Government were granted approval for the Green Investment Bank (GIB) to expand its investment to include community renewable energy schemes. In 2015, 76 Community Energy organisations were registered.
However, this was followed by policy reforms with the Government reducing the feed in tariffs, making regulations more complex and ending tax relief. As a result of this, only 10 new community energy organisations have been registered in 2016 so far.
Feed in Tariff (FIT): A FIT is a payment made for every kilowatt hour generated by a renewable energy system. This can be for almost any property owner including homeowners, businesses, schools etc. The FIT was cut for new installations from July 2016 to control costs. This means a longer payback time for the installation.
Removal of tax relief: In November 2015, the Treasury announced that Community Energy projects would be excluded from the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) which has been vital to the success of many Community Energy projects. They are also excluded from the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and Social Investment Tax Relief. Unfortunately, Community Energy projects were only given 5 weeks notice, as opposed to the 6 months they were previously promised. Read more about it at Community Energy England.
Community energy experts, The Co-operative, have warned about the challenges facing the sector. They have urged for stronger lobbying to ensure better Government support. A survey by the Co-operative Energy showed that 2/3s of respondents would support community-owned renewable projects such as wind or solar farms. This report showed that public support is there, but we need to encourage more support from our MPs on this issue.
A quick summary of the key things Community Energy Projects can bring to our communities:
- Save money on energy bills, both for private and public buildings.
- Help maintain energy security by diversifying energy supply.
- Help tackle climate change.
- Has the ability to supply a great number of jobs in green technology.
- There can be wider social benefits for a community, such as generating an income to be used for community development, or strengthening community relationships.
In April 2014, the Government produced a document called Power to the Pupils: Solar PV for Schools - The Benefits. This is a great document to read to see the reasons why the Conservative Government valued Community Energy within schools. You could bring it to a meeting with your MP to remind them why it is so important.
Asking your MP to support climate policy
- If your MP has shown concern around fuel poverty, then community energy is a great place to start a conversation with your MP, in reducing fuel costs and tackling energy security.
- Ask your MP to show their support for an existing community energy project near you. Sheffield Renewables say that having MPs on their side gives credibility to the project and in turn can increase local Council support.
- If there is a project in your local community, you can use it as an example for your MP on how well renewables are being implemented in your local community. Why not invite your MP to visit the site with you? Or if you’re meeting your MP at their surgery you could invite someone from the project to come with you to tell your MP about the fantastic work they’re doing, as well as some of the challenges they are facing. Find a project near you here.