Pete West writes
Introduction to the Wessex Community Energy Network at the meeting held on 6th July on ‘Local Authorities and Community Energy’
The Wessex Community Energy Network has been established to enable community energy groups in the Somerset/ Wiltshire/ Hampshire/ Dorset region to meet up to discuss topics of common interest. As you are probably aware there are similar community energy networks in Devon, Bristol and south-east England.
At our launch event in Salisbury in April we had a brainstorming session and one of the key motivators for people participating in the community energy movement is to play a part in helping to tackle the threat of climate change.
Looking at the bigger picture I am amazed by how quickly the business sector is adapting to this new reality- either we develop a low carbon economy or we will have no economy. My daughter is a member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants who recently carried out a survey of Chief Finance Officers of the top 100 FTSE listed companies. Around 70% of respondents said that climate change and the ensuing social and political disruption was the biggest threat facing their company. The business sector response is encouraging. There are many positive examples from fossil fuel multinational increasingly investing in renewables, Jaguar/ Land Rover stating that they will only manufacture electric vehicles after 2020 and many companies installing renewables to power their operations.
Renewable electricity supplied 30% of total UK power supply in the first quarter of 2018.
Unfortunately, as recently confirmed by the Committee on Climate Change, UK government policy support for the renewable energy sector is inadequate. Simple examples include the lowest cost renewables, solar PV and on-shore wind energy, being locked out of competitive tenders for ‘Contracts for Difference’ whilst bizarrely new nuclear power has been awarded 35 year index linked contracts for the electricity generated, starting at twice the current wholesale ‘pool’ price of grid electricity without any competitive tendering . At the same time the feed-in tariff for smaller scale renewables has been set to such a low level that it would take householders 20 years just to recover the capital cost of a domestic PV installation and according to the Solar Trade Association leading to 14,500 job losses to date. As another example, Greg Barkers’ 2014 Solar Energy Strategy stated that every industrial building in the UK with a suitable roof should have solar PV. This ambition was completely undermined when 2 years later business that had installed solar panels on their roofs were notified they would be charged 6 times higher business rates per kW of solar panels compared to ground mounted solar farms.
So where do the local authority and community energy sectors fit into this movement towards a low carbon economy? Many local authorities have demonstrated outstanding leadership, developing low carbon strategies, installing renewable energy on their own estate and in several cases setting up public sector energy supply companies.
There are currently 230 community energy groups in the UK with a total of 48,000 members. However one of the main benefits of the community energy sector is engaging the wider community in the change to a low carbon economy. For example:
• Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust held an open day earlier this month at the Westmill Wind and Solar Farm site which attracted 1000 visitors.
• Nadder Community Energy organised a Green Fair last summer which attracted over 1000 visitors.
• Dorset Community Energy has installed solar panels on 12 schools which are attended by a total of 8,500 pupils. The teachers and pupils are being actively supported to learn more about solar energy from the PV installation on their own school through Internet-based solar monitoring.
Local authorities and community energy groups have much in common and we hope today’s meeting will help start a discussion on how we can work more closely together.