Community energy is not yet commonplace in England, but CPRE and a growing number of rural communities believe it should be.
The essence of community energy is that − whether it is about saving energy through improving the energy efficiency of local buildings or producing renewable electricity or heat locally — it is led and owned by communities. This means that a range of benefits, including financial payback and reduced energy bills, will go to local people.
This is particularly important in rural communities where, on average, energy costs are higher and home energy efficiency lower than in urban areas. Community energy projects will generally be relatively small scale and, if they are well sited and well designed, the negative impacts on the countryside will be low.
This is more likely to be the case if the communities where the projects are situated also lead in designing them. CPRE’s summer 2015 workshop on community energy identified a number of key ingredients for success in community energy projects:
- develop a sound and realistic project plan;
- ensure there is sufficient focus on delivering the community benefits;
- keep the project simple, at least to start with;
- communicate how the project is different from the current way energy is ‘done’ and avoid jargon;
- take your time and listen to make sure everyone that wants to be included can be;
- make it fun and positive e.g. through community social events and keep people posted on progress.
Case Study: The Ouse Valley Energy Services Company (OVESCO) in East Sussex was formed by members of Transition Town Lewes in 2007 and has installed solar panels on the roofs of two schools, a farm, a nursery and the town’s local brewery, with more than 250 shareholders benefiting.
It is now dedicated to passing on its know-how to other community energy groups through the Government’s Community Energy Peer Mentoring Scheme. It has produced a guide to help other communities to set up their own projects which can be found at www.ovesco.co.uk and is simplified and expanded below:
- Form a Local Energy Group
This can be done by holding an event such as an Open Space Day about energy efficiency and local power generation for the future. You might have a Transition Town Group, Low Carbon Group or a Parish Council already in place and willing to support the development of a project. Any project will need a governing body of some sort to manage the project. For information on legal structures visit www.planlocal.org.uk.
Try to get a wide range of skills on your group. You will need:
^ someone who is comfortable negotiating contracts with a certain amount of legal expertise;
^ a great communicator who can enthuse local people;
^ a good project planner who can see things through to the end and keep an eye on important details;
^ leaders who can see the big picture, keep everyone motivated and celebrate each successful milestone.
- Survey your community
Your community will need one or more potential sites for a project. Use local knowledge and support from your council to draw up a map of potential sites for heat and/or power generation or energy efficiency measures.
It is also important to make sure you are sensitive to the landscape and wildlife impacts of any site you chose, as well as gaining the full backing of local residents.
Another case study: A group of residents of Gamlingay in Cambridgeshire have installed a single 33m diameter wind turbine just outside the village, in an open field approximately 1.75 km (1.1 miles) south east from the centre of Gamlingay. The turbine is over 1km from the edge of the village and 500m from any other dwellings.
- Apply for planning permission
Once you have identified the sites you will need to contact the building or land owner to see if they are willing to work with you as a project partner. You will then need an advice from an accredited installer of the practicalities of your project, and from a financial adviser to make sure your project is financially viable.
At some point you will need a solicitor to draw up legal documents such as a lease. In most cases you will need to apply for planning permission. You can find out more about a planning application through your local council.
In some cases (wind turbine, micro hydro, AD and biofuel) you will need additional assessments, such as an Environmental Impact Assessment. When you are considering applying for a planning application you should also consider a structural survey. In the case of simpler technology such as PV panels this may only require a structural calculation for a roof and a roof inspection to check the roof is in a fit state for fitting the PV panels.
- Finance your project
There are various ways to obtain finance which could include donations, grants, loans and share issues. There are loans for community groups via organisations such as http://www.pureleapfrog.org, although Gamlingay’s turbine was funded entirely by local residents and businesses. Priority was given to smaller investors to ensure that the opportunity was there to as many local people as wanted to invest. The turbine generates 16% of the village’s energy needs, helps offset 300 tonnes of carbon each year and provides £6,000 a year for 20 years to be spent on local charities and community projects.
- Remember energy efficiency
CPRE believes community energy projects could and should encompass energy efficiency and other demand reduction as well as generation. We would like to see reducing the amount of energy we use become a much stronger part of the community energy approach as well as in our energy system more generally.
Community groups can play an important role as a trusted local voice providing friendly energy advice and helping people take action to insulate their homes, improve their heating and use more efficient appliances.
In November 2015 CPRE was calling on the Government to deliver a significant programme to improve home energy efficiency and get half a million low income households every year up to a minimum of Band C on the Energy Performance Certificate. Such a strategy would require just a small proportion of spending already set aside for infrastructure but would stimulate economic growth, create jobs and reduce the need for intrusive new energy developments across the countryside.
Much more political support is needed for community energy too, and in particular, the Government needs to reduce barriers. CPRE intends to help identify ways this can be done, for example drawing on the experiences of rural communities to identify possible solutions.
More people also need to get involved in community energy projects, which could help convince the Government to do more to support them. In early November, CPRE signed a joint-letter to the Chancellor from England’s community energy groups and supporters. The letter highlighted that changes to the Finance Bill will deny community energy investors access to the tax relief that can make these schemes cost effective.
This is potentially a major blow for future projects, and we urged George Osborne to reconsider and “help communities build a competitive, popular, clean energy system for the future.” In more positive news, there is now a new web-based community energy information hub backed by the Energy Saving Trust and Community Energy England. Find community energy groups with common interests, meet potential supporters or partners, share information and promote projects at http://hub. communityenergyengland.org/.
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