Industry and community organisations have welcomed the Government's announcement of the UK's first Community Energy Strategy that promises to support the roll-out of locally-owned renewable projects.
RenewableUK deputy chief executive Maf Smith said: “RenewableUK is committed to helping communities engage in renewable energy, and sponsored a report from Respublica on this last year. We look forward to working with Government, communities and our members on addressing some of the barriers that currently exist to the development of further community ownership.
“With wind power already enjoying massive levels of popularity with communities around the country, the industry is eager to do what it can help find ways of maximising local participation in the future energy supply.”
Julia Groves, managing director of Trillion Fund, the renewable energy investment platform, said: “The launch of today’s strategy will give people wanting to invest in community energy projects more confidence that they are not throwing their money into a black hole.
“With returns typically ranging from between 3 and 6 per cent, community renewable energy projects not only reduce bills and increase energy security for locals, they also offer steady, long term, income generating and asset-backed investments that beat inflation.
“They can offer everyone – not just people local to the projects, a meaningful, sustainable financial stake in the future of energy, something which fracking, nuclear and fossil fuel energies cannot boast.
“Through buying shares or bonds in renewables projects, people can become the owners of their own clean power generation and have a financial interest in its success. This is more important than ever at a time when the major utilities are focusing their efforts on shale gas and nuclear power.”
“To those who say renewables do not work, we would say: ‘go and ask communities with renewables installed.’ We are willing to bet there are fewer Nimbys objecting to wind and solar than there are those opposing fracking rigs – and as more people realise the benefits of community renewables, there will be even fewer.”
Will Cottrell, chairman of Brighton Energy Co-op, said: “The new community energy fund is exactly the kind of innovative assistance that will help projects like Brighton Energy Co-op to grow.
“By helping communities help themselves the Government is providing a valuable service – creating energy independence and supporting the delivery of cheap, green energy to UK communities nationwide.”
REA Chief Executive Dr Nina Skorupska said: “We are delighted that the Government is really serious about helping ordinary people become active participants in the energy economy. People are beginning to rethink energy, seeing that it doesn’t have to be expensive and polluting, and that they can even supply clean energy themselves.
“This is why we are seeing such excellent growth in the number of community energy companies.”
Russell Gill, Head of Membership and Social Goals at The Co-operative said: “The Government’s new strategy is positive news for the vibrant and growing community energy sector.
“As its supportive measures are realised, we are optimistic that a huge increase in community and co-operatively owned projects will be forthcoming, giving people the ability to bring down household energy bills.
“We have worked closely with Government on the strategy’s development and are pleased to see the barriers to expansion we highlighted being addressed. We look forward to continuing to work with Government and the other members of the Community Energy Coalition to champion co-operative solutions to the energy and climate change challenges we face, and congratulate the tens of thousands of Co-operative members and customers who have campaigned for this strategy to be brought about.”
Patrick Begg, National Trust Rural Enterprise Director said: “The National Trust welcomes the government’s community energy strategy. At a time of rapidly rising energy bills and growing concerns over the impact of energy infrastructure on our precious landscapes, community energy can offer people a chance not only to take more control of their energy – where it comes from and what it costs - but also feel confident that the places they love have not been sacrificed to generate it.
“We, like the rest of the Community Energy Coalition, are ready to work with the Government to support a big increase in community owned energy and in particular create a step change in energy efficiency schemes. If fully realised, the broad package of policies and the signal of ambition contained in the strategy can be the catalyst for a community energy revolution.”
Giles Bristow, Director of Programmes at Forum for the Future said: "The publication of this strategy marks an important step by Government towards enabling community organisations to realise the opportunity we now have to progress widespread community ownership of energy.
“This sector must grasp this opportunity and help create the big shift we urgently need to a clean, fair and desirable energy system. If we do work together, the vision of one million homes being fully community powered and saving huge amounts of energy, carbon and money is there for the taking."
STA Head of External Affairs Leonie Greene said: “The public are very concerned by the lack of competition in our energy markets and poll after poll shows they back renewable energy. So it's great to see the UK Government recognise the vast potential for everyday communities to directly own renewable energy and by doing so, to break open our consolidated electricity sector.
“International experience shows it is bottom-up investment by everyday people and organisations that can really drive renewables. At the same time this gives people real ownership of the energy they depend on, and increases support for local schemes.
“No technology democratises ownership of the power sector better than solar. The UK’s solar power output is already owned by half a million solar households and by new independent companies outside the ‘Big 6’ utilities, as well as a few thousand businesses and communities. It is clear that solar is already delivering a revolution in ownership, as well as in clean power generation. The further scope for community ownership of solar across the UK is tremendous.”
Nick Clack, senior energy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Community energy has the potential to play a critical role in reducing the impact of our energy needs on the countryside and delivering low-carbon energy. Today’s announcement is a promising first step, but there’s a long way to go if communities are to overcome the financial and regulatory barriers they face in running and getting projects off the ground.
“Robust and sustained support from the government is essential and while the current proposals are encouraging, they don’t yet go far enough. In particular, we need to see much more direct funding for communities to improve their energy efficiency. Increasing energy efficiency is a cost-effective way of meeting our low-carbon energy requirements whilst protecting the countryside.”
Josh Roberts, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “We need concrete legislative and policy action to support the growth of community energy in the UK, and this is a welcome step in the right direction. The announcement of additional financial support for community energy, and the push to give community energy projects a stronger focus within the Green Investment Bank, are both encouraging. Other processes outlined in the strategy are also promising, such as those looking at planning and permitting, electricity network connections, supply, and improving partnerships between developers and local communities. We hope that they will result in legal frameworks to help enable citizen-owned energy production.”
“Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise that this strategy is just a start. We need the government to match its words with actions. We are particularly concerned that in the same week the Community Energy Strategy is released, David Cameron is vowing to cut thousands of green regulations, including renewables building standards.”