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Community groups 'disappointed' with government's energy strategy

Posted by Tasha Kosviner on 7 February 2014 at 9:19 am

The government’s new community energy strategy has been given a lukewarm welcome by groups who have already developed their own community energy schemes.

Kevin Frea, part of the Halton Lune community hydro project and a director of LESS CIC, an energy saving community interest company, called the strategy a "massive dissappointment" which he doubted a squeezed government would have the manpower to deliver. 

"The ideas are good but that's just what they are: ideas," he said. "With the massive cuts at places like the environment agency and local planning offices, I wonder what the strategy will really be able to deliver in practise."

The government claims the strategy could generate renewable energy for up to 1 million homes by 2020.

The strategy includes:

  • The provision of a £10m urban community energy fund (complementing the existing £15m rural community energy fund) to kick-start energy generation projects in England.
  • A community energy saving competition offering £100,000 to communities to develop innovative approaches to saving energy
  • A ‘one stop shop’ information resource for people interested in developing community energy projects

The £10m urban community energy fund will be used to help local communities to develop their own renewable energy projects.

There will be grants of £20,000 available for initial feasibility work, followed by loans of around £130,000 to support planning applications and develop business cases that will attract further funding.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: “The cost of energy is now a major consideration for household budgets, and I want to encourage groups of people across the country to participate in a community energy movement.”

“This fund is the one good part of the strategy,“ said Mr Frea. “But like the rural community energy fund, I would be interested to see how many projects actually make it past the feasibility stage."

The ‘one stop shop’ information resource will be driven by a new community energy unit within the department of energy and climate change dedicated to ironing out the challenges facing groups attempting their own projects. The unit will comprise three working groups set up to examine the challenges of planning and permits, connections to the national grid and hydropower, respectively.

Among other initiatives announced under the scheme are:

  • A commitment to negotiating with the EU on allowing projects which receive public grants to circumnavigate the rules on state aid. These rules currently prohibit groups from claiming financial incentives such as feed-in tariffs (FITs) and the renewable heat initiative (RHI) unless they repay the grant.
  • An increase on the FIT ceiling for community projects which raise the maximum power generated from 5MW to 10MW (from 2015)
  • A re-announcement of the commitment made in December 2013 to raise the amount of green deal communities funding from £20m to £80m. The money is for local authorities to promote green deal measures in their areas on a street by street basis, and to include council and housing association owned homes in the campaign.

The strategy has been welcomed by the Renewable Energy Association who said it was delighted that the government was serious about helping ordinary people become active participants in the energy economy.

REA chief executive, Dr Nina Skorupska, said: "People are beginning ot rethink energy, seeing that it doesn't have to be expensive and polluting, and that they can even supply clean energy themselves. This is why we are seeing such an excellent growth in the number of community energy companies." 

But Rachel Coxcoon, from the Centre for Sustainable Energy, said the strategy had “fallen short” on detail. “How will the Government ensure that less able communities are able to participate? How can the neighbourhood planning tools be used to best effect? Exactly what proportion of project ownership will commercial developers be asked to offer for local purchase?”

She added: “We think it’s a real missed opportunity that local authorities, housing associations and local councils have not been included in the definition of ‘community’.“

The strategy encouraged parochialism, not localism, missing the opportunity to truly embed community energy generation into neighbourhood plans, she claimed.

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

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