News from the renewable energy frontline
Community Renewables: September 2012
This is another in my occasional updates on the lessons learnt from my experience of delivering renewable energy on the ground, for those whose meetings are in Whitehall rather than on Dartmoor. This message draws on my experience of moving from the national policy world, to the frontline of renewable energy delivery and low carbon jobs, as chief executive of Regen.
For those of you that haven't come across us, Regen is the independent centre of expertise on renewable energy - based in the south west of England. We work to enable pioneering renewable energy projects with thriving local supply chains.
Community renewables has been much talked about and the government published a consultation last week. But what is happening on the ground and how do we support it in practice? Regen recently launched a community support programme and a new social enterprise (www.communities4renewables.co.uk). Below are our conclusions:
Community renewables have great potential
To us, a community renewable energy project is one that is designed around the community's needs and where the community has proactive involvement in initiating and supporting it. This turns the traditional development model on its head.
In the south west there is great interest - planning applications for community wind turbines have been submitted in recent weeks in Totnes in Devon and Ladock in Cornwall. Bath and West Community Energy raised £750k in a local share offer. Wadebridge in Cornwall also has an ambitious approach to creating a renewable energy powered town involving the whole community (www.wren.uk.com).
Local authorities are also putting in place planning policies favouring projects with community involvement.
However, barriers to progress mean that energy from community renewables is still less than 0.5% of total renewable energy - far less than in countries such as Germany. Community schemes could play a much more important role in meeting renewable energy targets, but action is needed to release this potential.
A new approach to renewable energy is needed
The south west is one of the windiest parts of Europe and a pioneer of wind farms, with the first UK site at Delabole in Cornwall. Our work with Dorset on its renewable energy strategy found a very supportive public (www.dorsetforyou.com/media.jsp?mediaid=164881&filetype=pdf).
Yet each new proposal for a wind farm faces strong opposition from a vocal minority. This toxic process slows the development of renewable energy and makes it more expensive.
Forcing through projects in the world of localism is unrealistic and unsustainable. We need an engaged population seeing direct benefits in jobs and local income to de-risk projects, bringing them forward faster and more cheaply, building broader support for all projects.
Communities want access to investment to lead schemes – not just incentives to accept them
Communities need access to investment and expertise to help shape schemes and engage with the professional expertise required to deliver them.
Regen and partners successfully persuaded the Treasury to exempt social enterprises developing renewable energy from a ban on receiving tax advantaged EIS investment. And DECC has announced incentives for community renewables in changes to the Feed in Tariff.
Following DECC’s current consultation the government should build on these initiatives, in particular they should:
- focus social investment through Big Society Capital and other mechanisms on community renewable energy enterprises
- work with local authorities to provide guidance on support for community renewables in planning policies
- extend the incentive for community renewables in the Feed in Tariff and include incentives in the Renewable Heat Incentive
All feedback/comments welcome.
'Your independent centre of sustainable energy expertise'