Scaling up Community Energy: a how-to Guide

First Published by Brighton Energy Co-op by Will Cottrell

We’ve done well. Really well. The 40-odd energy coops that exist across the country have so far raised £18m quid for spanking new renewable installations. In 2013 131 new energy coops were registered, so we’re looking forward to seeing things grow hugely in 2014. Exciting times.

Reclaiming the Energy Sector

And yet while this is a fantastic achievement, things need to be bigger still. A few years back I went to an imaginatively-titled seminar ‘Reclaiming the Energy Sector’. It was – and is – a great aspiration. Yet what it really showed to me was that – for communities to really grab the energy sector from the behemoths that currently own it – we need to get much, much larger.

How could that happen? The biggest energy coop in the country provides an instructive example. Spread across 30 acres, Westmill Solar Coop raised £16m in 2011 to take ownership of a 20,000 solar panel (5MW) installation. Westmill has over 1600 members and is the world’s largest community-owned solar farm: Brilliant. But an important aspect of Westmill is that their solar park was already built. A private developer did the legwork, the community took ownership a year after it had been plugged in.
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BWCE and Community Owned Solar Farms

There has been a scramble to build larger solar farms in the past year and practically all of these are commercially owned. These larger projects have been too expensive to develop ourselves but we have been talking to several project developers with a view to buying their projects, once permitted, so that they become community owned. Ironically, it is easier and cheaper to obtain a bank loan for the large projects than the small ones. These projects are in the range 2 to 7 MW so are a step up from the projects we have developed ourselves. If successful they would help us to get to our 2015 target of having £10m invested in community owned projects. At this level we would be starting to make a significant contribution to local energy needs and place BWCE on a sustainable footing for future growth.

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Community Energy Strategy: Opportunities and Strategies

Our chair Pete Capener is a member of the ministerial Community Energy Contact Group that has been advising DECC during the the development of their recently published Community Energy Strategy. He was also author of the report modelling potential community renewable electricity sector growth to 2020, referenced in the strategy and published by DECC at the same time.

In this blog – first published on the DECC website – he gives us his thoughts on the process and where it may lead.

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BWCE advises Government (part 2)

BWCE chair Pete Capener writes:

The Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recently launched a ‘Call for Evidence on Community Energy’ with the intention of collecting information to help them develop a Community Energy Strategy in the Autumn. The strategy will outline what Government and others could do to ensure community energy projects flourish and become a central part of the UK’s response to climate change and peak oil.

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Community Initiative Award

BWCE wins RegenSW Green Energy Award

Dinners at Regen SW Green Energy Awards are always grand affairs, held for many years in the Assembly Rooms in Bath. Packed to the molded Georgian ceilings with the great and good from the renewable energy world. This year’s dinner was no exception and was made that much tastier by the fact that we won an award, for Best Community Initiative in the South West.

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BWCE shares exemplary

Following work by BWCE chair Pete Capener – local MP and now Junior Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) cites BWCE as exemplar  at launch of Community Shares Unit – watch here about 13 minutes in. Also mentioned in notes to editors in CLG press release here. From footnote to major news item – it’s only a matter of time!

Hydro projects

After a recent trip up north I took a detour to a couple of the most well known community hydro projects. They’re both pretty impressive Archimedean screw projects funded by community share issues.

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Government asks BWCE for advice

BWCE, in the form of our chair Pete Capener, have been invited to take part in a Community Energy Contact Group set up by the Energy Minister, Greg Barker.

There have been two meetings of the group so far where Greg Barker has highlighted the key questions he would like to see addressed and the group has discussed at some length the Feed in Tariff (and the absence of a Community Tariff to date). The group will be looking at the Green Deal and the Renewable Heat Incentive at future meetings. Pete Capener says, “It is encouraging to see that both Government ministers and senior civil servants are keen to hear the community perspective. Though of course the test will be to see the degree to which discussion translates into supportive policy and practice.”

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