UK's community owned RE progress blocked by councils, group claims

The U.K. could grow its community owned renewable energy sector to 89 times its current size if local councils were committed to nurturing rather than blocking the industry, claims a report commissioned by Westminster think tank, ResPublica.

The report, titled “The Community Renewables Economy: Starting up, scaling up and spinning out“, revealed that the U.K. lags way behind industry leader Germany in this sector, where community energy production accounts for 46% of all energy produced from renewable sources, In the U.K., that figure is a mere 0.3%.

The report suggests that community energy programs could raise an estimated £30m million ($47 million) a year in tax revenues for cash-strapped councils, drive down high energy bills, and help the U.K. achieve its green energy. Support from local councils, however, is not forthcoming, the think tank argues, warning that they must step up to the challenges required in understanding how they could help, rather than hinder, community driven energy initiatives.

There is a growing appetite for such energy ownership in the U.K. The past decade has seen community energy capacity grow to nearly 60 MW – an increase of 1,300% in ten years. By 2020, based on current trends, that figure will reach 550 MW. Yet ResPublica calculate that with the right national policy framework in place and investment and leadership from local authorities, the sector could be capable of delivering a fifth of all renewable energy, equivalent to a 5.27 GW output by 2020.

The argument appears a simple one. Community energy generation is a self re-enforcing model, where two-thirds of communities reinvest revenues from renewables into further renewable energy projects. The key to achieving optimum scale is joint ownership, says the report, bringing communities and local authorities together with private developers and local businesses.

?While recognizing that there are a number of barriers to overcome – funding, know-how, legal hurdles – the financial benefits far outweight the initial roadblocks, says the report, suggesting training for local planners and councillors in order that they are able to make informed decisions.

Greg Barker, U.K. MP for Energy and Climate Change, responded to the report. ”The coalition is committed to helping hard-pressed consumers with the rising cost of living,” he said. ”When it comes to energy bills, this includes supporting communities to take more control over local generation projects, while also empowering them to reduce their energy demand, tackle local fuel poverty, and get the best deal on their energy supply.

”I warmly welcome the ideas in this report on helping communities navigate the planning system, and on forming productive partnerships so that they are better able to take an active role in their own local projects. Our aim is to help communities and local businesses seize this exciting opportunity.”

Ramsay Dunning, General Manager, Co-Operative Energy said: ”We whole heartedly support this report and the belief that community energy could be a major player in the UK energy mix. Co-operative Energy plans to increase six-fold the amount of community and independent renewable energy in its supply in the next twelve months, and to then double it again twelve months thereafter. The vast majority of the UK welcomes renewable energy projects when communities are meaningfully engaged.”