At 10:10, we love renewable energy. We really love it. You might have noticed. But the one thing we love more than renewable energy is community renewable energy. Why? Because it's beautiful. It's a real life, physical manifestation of everything that reminds us that people are actually amazing.
Any time climate change is getting you down, you need only delve a little in to the world of community energy to have your soul soothed and your spirit steeled. Rural farms kept viable by hydro projects? Check. Local businesses and economies flourishing? Done. Skate park funded by solar? Nailed it.
Which is all well and life affirming, except that it's very hard to distil that overwhelming sensation of obvious goodness into cold, hard consultation facts.
Luckily, Community Energy England have gone and done it for us. With funding from Greenpeace and the Power to Change, they commissioned Quantum Strategy & Technology Ltd to carry out a research project capturing and quantifying just how excellent community energy is. They spoke to 82 community energy groups across England and, spoiler alert, we feel wholly vindicated in our previous stance.
You can check out the full report here (and we'd recommend) but for a speedy overview, here are the headlines:
1) Community energy isn't messing around.
The 82 projects spoken to had almost 11,000 members and had collectively delivered 30MW of renewable energy capacity in 175 separate schemes. Moreover, they had plans to deliver 143MW of capacity in 448 new scheme.
2) Community energy is a raging bargain
38 of the respondent groups had, between them, received £7.4 million in feed-in tariffs (Fits) to date.
Taking the feed-in tariff as public spending of sorts, £7.4 million isn't too tiny an amount. So how hard is that investment working? Well, pretty hard it turns out. Those groups had together:
- Secured £5 million worth of voluntary professional skills and 88 years of voluntary time.
- Leveraged £50 million in private investment.
- Generated revenue to their local economies of over £45 million through local contracts, community benefit pots, and member returns.
3) Community energy knows what 'Big Society' really means
Unsurprisingly, much of what is excellent about community energy can't be captured next to a pound sign. Volunteers speak of a sense of "belonging, worth and wellbeing" through their contributions. 20 of the schemes were providing annual energy savings of £172,500 to schools, parish halls, churches, sports centres and other community buildings, farms and homes. Local businesses are the primary recipients of work, and many schemes were also supporting apprenticeships and skills development in the low carbon market.
"Before I started this project, all I could think about was how to get off this estate, but last year, over many months of the project, I was delighted to see my two older children and some of their friends become part of Repowering’s 30 week internship programme, where every week they were engaged in learning – and getting paid."
And of course, there are the community benefit funds - locally administered and targeted. 30 organisations with projects up and running are set to channel £23 million into worthy projects over their lifetimes - often with a focus on further sustainability and tackling fuel poverty. And there's a near unquantifiable contribution to "social fabric" - 88% of existing community energy groups actively participate in other local events.
4) Community energy is seriously at risk from government proposals
90% of respondents to the survey said their developing projects are completely or partially at risk due to the Fits review. 98% thought their community activities would be wholly or partially at risk. They speak of loss of motivation in volunteers and loss of confidence of investors and potential host sites. With government plans as they are, that's a capital investment of £127 million that is now not likely to happen, plus a squandering of hours and hours of volunteer time already put into developing exciting new plans.
"There is no plan B."
Community energy isn't a hobby. It's a vibrant, thriving sector that is more than pulling its weight and had BIG plans. Under government proposals, these plans will be thwarted, and with them, one of our major chances to really shake things up in the way we own and engage with energy in the UK.
Read the full report. Make your disinterested aunt read the summary. Share the infographics. Get frustrated at the potential senseless waste of it all. Then channel that into making your submission to the consultation and telling the government to rethink their plans.