Community Energy is about much more than just producing low carbon energy – it’s about ‘energy democracy’: a changed relationship between people and energy, from one where consumers are at the mercy of large profit-making energy providers and fluctuations in the market, to one where communities control, generate and benefit from their own energy supply. Many communities in Britain are fractured by social divisions and low collective self-esteem, and community energy projects can help address this malaise. Taking control of one’s own energy can be highly empowering, boosting a sense of what’s possible among individuals and the community as a whole, and bringing a host of economic benefits to boot.(1)
A new Community Energy Coalition, which includes some of the best known and trusted national organisations, including The Co-operative Group, The National Trust, The National Federation of Women’s Institutes and The Church of England, wants to start a revolution with communities at its heart which will drive a clean, affordable and secure energy system. Their vision for community energy in 2020 is “communities across the UK owning, generating and saving energy together for the benefit of all”.(2)
Here are a few examples of Community Energy Schemes:
Bath and West Community Energy Co-operative
Bath and West Community Energy Co-op was established in June 2010. In 2011/12 the Co-op secured loan finance of up to £1 million from SSE and achieved the largest community solar share offer in the UK to date, raising £750,000 from nearly 200 members. The Co-op has installed PV panels across ten schools and community centres and one ground mounted solar array. It has secured planning permision for another ground mounted array in conjunction with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.
Brighton Energy Co-operative
In 2012 Brighton Energy Co-op raised £240,000 through a share offer to install solar PV on two churches and five buildings at the Hove Enterprise Centre. In December 2013 the Co-op raised more than £300,000 from community investors and completed the first phase of a large solar array at Shoreham Port. The Co-op is now fundraising for the second phase of project: Shed 3a at Shoreham Port – almost exactly the same size as the earlier project.
Bristol Power Co-operative
Bristol Power Co-op‘s first share offer ran from October ran from October 2012 to March 2013. This raised £145k to install solar PV panels on a community centre, a primary school and 23 private houses in the Lockleaze area of Bristol. Investors will earn up to a projected 6% return on their investment. Watch the prmotional video for the Lockleaze Streets of Solar Project. On the strength of the Lockleaze project, the Co-op got a £100k eco-loan from Pure Leapfrog to put solar on 25 homes in south Bristol. The co-op now wants to raise £500k to put solar on 120 homes in fuel-poor areas of Bristol – at no cost to the householder. By amplifying this equity with loan finance, we plan to put solar on 250 homes.
Brixton Energy Co-operative
Brixton Energy Co-op has installed 152 solar PV panels on the roof of Elmore House. Eighty-one investors stumped up a total of £58,000 towards the project in three-and-a-half weeks. Most of them live in Brixton, but one donor lives as far away as the Isle of Man. A second scheme has been installed in Styles Gardens, and a third at Roupell Park.
Dingwall Wind Co-op
Dingwall Wind Co-op owns and runs a 250kW wind turbine just above Dingwall in Ross-shire. The turbine was installed in May 2014 and is currently in the process of commissioning. There are 179 members of the co-op, 90% of whom are from the local area. The Co-op will contribute to a community fund estimated at £8000/year. Members of the co-op receive a good return on their investment (projected 7.5%) and EIS tax relief. The landowners, who originated the project, receive a rental payment for use of their land.
Energy4All is the UKs leading expert in Community-owned renewable energy schemes. Energy4All was formed in 2002 to expand the number of renewable energy co-operatives in the UK as an integral part of our transition to a low carbon economy. The history of Energy4All really starts in the mid 1980s when an innovative Swedish Company came to the UK to establish the sort of community ownership of wind farms that was already common in Sweden. This was the beginning of Baywind, in Cumbria, the UK’s first community wind farm co-operative. Andrew King (E4All Chairman) and his wife became founder members, half expecting never to see their money again. In fact, Baywind flourished and by 2001 owned and operated the whole project. It is now by far the oldest co-operatively owned wind farm in the UK, with over 1,300 members and a proud track record of stability and profit.
Fintry Development Trust
In 2003 West Coast Energy informed the Community Council of the village of Fintry in Stirlingshire about its proposals to build a windfarm nearby. Rather than opposing the development the council decided to seek some kind of joint venture. An additional 15th turbine was added to the 14-turbine development that was originally proposed with the developers lending the community the money. Construction on the windfarm took place during 2007 and it was commissioned in December of that year. The community received it’s first tranche of income in 2008. Since then the Fintry Development Trust has arranged for the installation of 85 renewable energy systems in the village including solar PV (22), solar thermal (7), air-source heat pumps (25), ground-source heat pumps (18), biomass boilers (7), wind turbines (4) and heat recovery systems (2).
Green Fox Community Energy
Green Fox Community Energy is a volunteer-run co-operative, which was set up by a team of local volunteers in 2012 to facilitate community-led action for sustainable energy in Leicester and Leicestershire. Our vision is of a sustainable and affordable energy supply for all, with a great increase in renewable energy generation under community ownership. Our first major project is the John Cleveland College (JCC) Community Woodheat Co-operative, which will install woodchip boilers at a Leicestershire school to replace an existing oil-fired heating system.
Halton Lune Hydro
Halton Lune Hydro is a community hydro project in Lancaster. The first stage of the project started in mid December 2013 with environmental works including river bank protection, fish screens and best practice fish and eel/elver passes. This work is funded mostly by a grant from the Rural Communities Challenge Fund, administered by Defra. Following this, the first 100 kW Kaplin turbine will be installed. This is expected to be operational by Autumn 2014. A second turbine is scheduled to be added once the first has operated successfully for 12 months. This turbine will be eligible for the rate of Feed in Tariff prevailing at that time. Its share offer raised £749.690 from 261 investors by June 2014, so the deadline was extended to try to raise the full amount required – £965,000 – rather than take out a bank loan.
Harlaw Hydro Community Scheme
Harlaw Hydro Ltd has been established as an Industrial and Provident Society, for the Benefit of the Community, for the specific purpose of owning and operating a micro-Hydro scheme in the Pentlands Hills in Edinburgh. Harlaw Hydro Ltd will generate revenue by selling ‘green’ hydro-electricity. The income generated will allow Harlaw Hydro Ltd to contribute to other projects and initiatives within the local area through the Balerno Village Trust. A share offer raised over £313,000 to fund the community hydro scheme at Harlaw Reservoir.
Sharenergy is a not-for-profit organisation which helps communities find, build and own renewable energy generation throughout the UK. It helps people get involved in running local green electricity generation plant; invest some money and get a decent return; and provide an energy generation site and earn rent. Shareenergy is a spin-off from Energy 4 All. A list of projects it is involved with includes Leominster Community Solar Co-operative: Woolhope Dome Community Woodfuel Co-operative; Ludlow Hydro Co-operative and Malvern Community Energy solar project.
The Sustain Eden partnership, led by local charity Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS), is one of only 12 communities awarded up to £1million pounds from The Big Lottery’s Communities Living Sustainably fund. With 71% of the population living in rural areas, Eden has the lowest population densities in England at 25 people per square kilometre compared with 13,886 in the London Borough of Islington. Transport links are often dependent on exposed routes which are closed during extreme weather and a high proportion of solid walled properties, which are not on the gas grid, contribute to Eden’s fuel poverty rate of almost 30%, the highest in England. The £955k SustainEden project will deliver a three year programme of work to help local communities become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The scheme will include test draught proofing for hard to treat older homes, advice on efficiency savings, and the development of a social enterprise energy supply company to set up a ‘green tariff’ to reduce local energy costs. The project will also raise awareness on local resource use, implement emergency planning and support residents living in rural isolation through a trial bus service and car sharing schemes.
Solar schools is a new project set up by the 10:10 campaign to help schools generate their own power from the sun. When a school joins the Solar Schools campaign they are given their own special website where students, parents and businesses can sponsor solar panels. When they have raised enough money and the panels are installed schools find they have more money for extra things like after school clubs. Not only do the panels help cut carbon but they also help teach the pupils about energy and climate change. At the time of writing St Gregory & St Patrick’s Catholic Community School in Whitehaven has raised £822 towards a target of £10,000 to go solar.
Wedmore Community Power Co-op
Wedmore Community Power Co-operative Ltd was set up in 2013 by people living on the Isle of Wedmore in Somerset to enable their community to use solar energy. As well as giving members a return on their investment, we will also plough some of our profits back into the area in the form of community grants. With funding from our shareholding members, we have installed a 1mW solar photovoltaic plant in two paddocks screened by new hedges, just to the north of Wedmore. It has been generating clean energy since October 2013.
Westmill Solar Co-operative
Westmill Solar Co-operative is a 5MW solar park covering 30 acres of land across Westmill Farm which launched a share issue after it was built.
For more information see the Department of Energy and Climate Change Guide to Community Energy.
A £15m renewable energy fund for rural communities opened to applications on 28th June 2013. This offers funding to community groups in rural areas (in England) for feasibility studies and planning applications for renewable energy projects. A range of heat technologies, including biomass, anaerobic digestion, ground and air source heat pumps will be eligible. A key objective of the fund is that local technologies deliver benefits for local communities where the installation is sited.(3)
Local authorities in Cumbria could encourage community organisations, including Parish Councils, to establish community energy projects. Local authorities should be prepared to work with community organisations, by for example, making available energy audits of council properties.