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A new approach to renewable energy is needed

Posted by Merlin Hyman on 9 October 2012 at 12:08 pm

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. 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. Our work with Dorset on its renewable energy strategy found a very supportive public. Communities need access to investment and expertise to help shape schemes and engage with the professional expertise required to deliver them.

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 £750,000 in a local share offer. Wadebridge in Cornwall also has an ambitious approach to creating a renewable energy powered town involving the whole community.

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.

RegenSW 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.

DECC is currently consulting on community renewables and after the 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, and
  • extend the incentive for community renewables in the Feed in Tariff and include incentives in the Renewable Heat Incentive.

RegenSW recently launched a community support programme and a new social enterprise Communities 4 Renewables.

Photo by Sebastiano Pitruzello

About the author:

Merlin Hyman is chief executive of RegenSW.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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