80% drop in community owned energy following government u-turns

10 September 2016

80% drop in community owned energy following government u-turns

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New data released by Co-operatives UK has revealed an 80% drop in community owned energy after u-turns by the government.

Ten new community energy organisations were registered between 1 January and 6 September this year, compared with 76 green energy start-ups in 2015. The picture is even bleaker in terms of energy generation, says the sector body.

“Local communities have put in extraordinary efforts to encourage clean renewable energy in the face of extraordinary barriers put in their way by national politicians,” said Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operative UK, which is demanding action around the issue.

“We are in the midst of Community Energy Fortnight, a time to celebrate this hopeful and grassroots movement. But the government’s policy changes have dealt it a hammer blow, causing confusion and bringing growth to a virtual standstill.”

The fall in community energy projects follows a series of policy changes by government. In 2014, the Coalition government launched an ambitious community energy strategy, but the last 12 months has seen tax reliefs axed and energy generation (feed-in tariff) payments cut.

“The public backs community owned green energy, people want more control of their local economy and what we need from government is a clear and consistent framework, including appropriate support, so that the thousands of local people wanting to invest in and generate community energy are able to do so without fear of policy upheavals,” said Mr Mayo.

Read more coverage of the 2016 Community Energy Fortnight at thenews.coop/CEF2016

Several community energy projects currently nearing completion have admitted they could not have gone ahead in the current climate. Chester Community Energy, a co-operative that was formally established in January (2016), is now struggling to complete a 50kw solar installation on a council-owned leisure centre in time. The project only went ahead due to securing ‘old’ feed-in-tariff payments under the pre-accreditation scheme.

One of the founding directors, Francesca Moore, explained that without pre-accreditation the scheme would have been “dead in the water”.

“We would not have done it,” she said. “We would have ended it a long time ago. We would not have been able to give a return to investors. We might have been able to squeeze 1% but that’s not enough for people – and we wouldn’t have been able to generate a community energy fund.”

Government policy change has left the CCE director frustrated and disillusioned. She added: “I don’t know if [government policy change] was ever thought through at a proper level. We should be doing everything we can to curb the effects of climate change. [Community energy] is something very positive that’s volunteer-led and community funded and focused. It delivers a lot of value and efficiency savings.”

Emma Bridge, CEO of Community Energy England, said the organisation was “saddened but not surprised” by the decrease given the obstacles thrown down in the path of community energy groups over the past 18 months.

“The variety of events taking place during Community Energy Fortnight demonstrate the breadth of activity and benefits related to community energy and the missed opportunity to spread this further,” she said.

The Fortnight (3-18 September), organised by the Community Energy Coalition in association with Co-operative Energy, celebrates successful current projects, but is also exploring options for the development of new models to face the challenges ahead.”

Rebecca Harvey is deputy editor of Co-operative News. Rebecca manages the day-to-day operations of Co-operative News from allocating stories to writers through to the design of the printed publication.

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