24 May 2016

Transitioning to a decentralised, renewable energy system is never going to be easy. The changes are visible in the landscape and raise highly political issues about energy bills and security.

In our view there is no path to a new energy system that does not involve the support and active participation of the public.

Five years ago, we started supporting the development and integration of the community energy sector. It was our view that where communities established their own capacity and had a direct stake in the development of renewable energy, they would start to build an effective grassroots movement that could influence the public and political opinion.

Regen created a thriving network by; running events and training, helping community energy groups develop partnerships with businesses and local authorities, share knowledge and expertise and apply for funding. We started the Accelerator project to support groups with technical and engagement expertise, helped set up Community Energy England, and worked with developers to encourage good practice; such as managing Vogt community benefit funds. We’ve recently created a set of resources to help local authorities and communities integrate aspirational sustainable energy policies and allocate sites for renewable developments in neighbourhood plans.

We now have over 200 communities in the network and approximately 500 groups in England. By this time last year community energy projects in the south west had generated more than 7.4 GWh. All of these work in partnership with renewables businesses; 45 per cent of their spend goes on local contractors, and many have industry experts volunteering on their boards.

During the government’s consultation on the FIT in the autumn, we began to see how this could affect the political landscape. Our community energy day of action saw over 30 communities and local businesses meet their MP’s which resulted in the first meeting between a minister, Andrea Leadsom, and anyone from the community energy sector. We’ve been encouraging community energy groups to continue visiting their MP’s and to share their renewables stories.