Are we doing enough locally to develop renewable electricity?

It’s helpful to take stock every now and then and consider whether we are doing all we can in whatever our chosen walk of life. So as we develope BWCE’s plans for the next few years, it seemed like a good idea to consider what has been achieved locally on renewables and what can we do better?

An analysis of the Ofgem database on installed capacity (with a little help from Joel at Regen) tells us that by 2010 we had around 150kW of renewable electricity in Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) and by 2016 this had grown to over 22MW. More detailed analysis is underway for the areas just over the border in nearby Bradford on Avon and Corsham. But as data is most easily extracted for whole local authority areas, this analysis is just for B&NES at this stage.

The massive drops in 2013 and 2016 show the impact of the significant cuts in the Feed in Tariff by central government. 2015 however was boosted by the installation of two large community owned solar arrays by BWCE and Chelwood Community Energy.

So, in 2010 we had enough renewable electricity generation to provide the equivalent annual electricity demand of around 30 homes. By 2016 that had grown to around 5,300 homes, or 7% of the homes in B&NES. This is no mean feat, particularly considering that around a third of this capacity is community owned – thanks to the efforts of BWCE and our friends at Chelwood Community Energy. With Keynsham Community Energy also up and running and looking for its first sites we know for certain there is a lot of enthusiasm for local action on renewables.

In the last 6 years we have seen community solar on school roofs, large scale solar arrays as well as a beautiful new modern waterwheel – all developed through a strong community model.

Over their project life, these community renewables alone will put millions of pounds back into the local economy and offer tangible examples of what can be done when we act together.

However should you ask the question, ‘is it enough?’ The answer would have to be a definite ‘no!”

If you compare renewable energy in B&NES with what’s been achieved across the UK in terms of onshore renewables, as a proportion of electricity demand, we are only at a third of where we should be. Whilst we have ‘over delivered’ in terms of solar PV. We have not even got onto the scoreboard with wind. The fact is over 99% of capacity in B&NES is solar. There has been barely any new wind generation installed since 2010.

It is vital now, if we want to meet our targets, that we move the dial on wind energy. It’s not as if we don’t have the sites. The renewable energy resource assessment B&NES council carried out in 2010 showed that we have significant potential for medium scale wind energy projects.

We know that central government has made the situation a lot more difficult with tighter planning constraints and cuts in subsidies, yet as BWCE we are still looking for new sites that could garner local support.

Technology costs are falling and we are not that far away from being able to develop subsidy free projects. So we also believe there is still potential for more solar PV, other technologies like anaerobic digestion and heat pumps, as well as exciting new opportunities for innovative technology and energy supply arrangements including storage and peer to peer trading.

We at BWCE we will be continuing our policy of member consultation with a meeting on 22 April at the  Old Mill Hotel – the site of our new, modern waterwheel. At the meeting we will put forward our proposals for the next few years and get members feedback so that together we can continue to make an impact within the rapidly changing local energy market. If you are a member or bondholder and are interested, you are more than welcome to come along. The meeting will start at 2pm and end at 5pm.

You are also welcome to stay on to 6.00pm when we, with some fine guests, will be raising a toast to the waterwheel.

I hope to see you there, but to help us with the  catering, please let us know if you plan to attend by emailing Peter Andrews from our contact page.

Pete Capener
Bath & West Community Energy