Event: Unleashing the Power of Us - how we grow community energy


Last week we held a reception in London to galvanise support for community energy ahead of the general election and enthuse influential people and decision-makers about its potential to drive the UK’s net zero energy transformation. Community energy practitioners spotlighted some of the most exciting work going on in the sector and built connections with politicians, civil servants and energy sector leaders.

Barbara Hammond MBE, CEO of Low Carbon Hub, outlined how more than 14,000 homes are now powered by community energy.

“Our next ten years will be focused on decarbonising the grid edge, the low voltage end of the network where we all live and work. If we manage that everyone will benefit through lower bills. Community energy will be really good at making that happen.”

Dave Tudgey, Co-founder and Project Development Manager at Bristol Energy Network set out how community energy had delivered England’s biggest rooftop solar array and biggest onshore wind turbine.

“We’ve got the largest onshore wind turbine in England installed in one of the poorest communities in England, where 100% of the surplus goes back to that community to deliver their community plan. This is about net zero happening because communities want it.”

Tom Parkinson, Chair and Director of Westmill Solar, spoke about how since 2012, Westmill has provided over £700,000 in community funding for projects. They plan to spend twice that amount over the next decade.

“We want community ownership to be fostered. We want to be able to sell electricity to local people. We want to scale up. None of that is impossible. Many other countries are already doing it. We need to do the same here to decarbonise our electricity system fairly.”

John Malone, Development Director at Energy4All, profiled a collaboration with North East Lincolnshire Council which has saved local schools £100k this year, and has garnered interest from several other local authorities.

“The most effective way of developing renewable energy projects is with the full engagement of the local community. That’s the way Energy4All works.”

Afsheen Rashid, CEO of Repowering London, spoke about their work in Brixton on the first inner city community energy project and across the 10 energy coops they have started, which not only delivers physical infrastructure, but also social benefits exemplified by the 150 young people who have gained skills and experience through their paid training programme.

“Our vision of community energy is to give people the power to be able to participate and benefit from the transition to net zero…. Our  local electricity supply trials have saved residents up to 30% on their energy bills.”

Labour Coop Party Chair, Jim McMahon MP and Lib Dem Energy and Climate Spokesperson, Lord Teverson, both gave speeches throwing their weight behind community energy.

Lord Teverson: “Community energy is not just about getting more firepower for net zero. It also makes local people stakeholders in the national and global net zero mission.”

Jim McMahon: “Where we’ve got to in the Labour Party is genuinely game changing: £1 billion per year for renewable community owned energy creating 1 million new community energy owners and 8GW of energy generated.”

Leonie Cooper, Labour’s Environment Lead at the London Assembly, spoke about how community energy successfully lobbied Sadiq Khan to include the sector in his 2016 manifesto, which resulted in the creation of the London Community Energy Fund in 2016. She also invited people to join her in lobbying the London Mayor to make sure community energy is a big feature of next year’s election manifesto.

“Since 2016, 139 community energy projects have been supported across virtually every London Borough. This has led to the installation of 2.3MW of solar pv and has supported low carbon heating, insulation and EV chargers at community sites.”

Steve Shaw, Director of Power for People, relayed his experience of running parliamentary campaigns. He spoke about the growing momentum of community energy as a priority for MPs over the past two years and how this is reflected in the government’s announcement of a new community energy fund.

“What I’ve seen is that when lots of people get together and advocate in a coordinated way, you can achieve amazing things… We now have over 300 MPs from all parties backing the call for local supply.”

Giulia Privitera, Head of Sustainability at Renantis, soon to be the second largest onshore wind developer in the UK. Renantis has worked with community energy for nearly 20 years and believes shared ownership is key to successful rollout of renewable energy. She offered to partner community energy organisations in their wind and solar projects.

Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK, the representative body for the solar industry said, “Given what we know about the threats climate change brings to our very existence as a species… the work you are doing… is possibly one of the most important jobs in human history.”

Mike Smyth, Energy4All Chair, who hosted and sponsored the event, said, “Community energy is my passion. I think it is absolutely vital in the battle against climate change. We can’t tackle climate change effectively in a democracy without a mass movement and community energy is already a mass movement - but it needs to become much much bigger!”

The Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP, author of the Net Zero Review, which noted the sector had been neglected by government and urged it to “turbocharge community energy”. He sent apologies and a short statement. “ …Empowering those on the front lines of our race to net zero is critical if the UK is to achieve our climate obligations... There is incredible potential for community energy projects to deliver lower bills, secure our energy supply, and alleviate the various pressures on our grid. I fully believe incorporating local community energy sources is a key to unlocking the benefits of net zero.”

Duncan Law, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Community Energy England, emphasised that the sector, which doubled in size every year between 2014 and 2017, was ready to grow again, with government support. Politicians are increasingly recognising the vital roles it will have to play and the huge benefits it delivers and are prepared to value that with radical policies such as Labour’s pledge of £400m a year in low interest loans alongside £600m a year in grants to Local Authorities. We are urging all parties to match that.

This event is a spring-board to increased activity in the lead up to the election and beyond, in communities and councils and through politicians and political parties. The government has promised a Consultation on the barriers to accelerating community energy, which we will be supporting all stakeholders to respond to. Meanwhile the government’s recently announced Community Energy Fund gives an opportunity to explore and develop new projects, building towards growing exponentially again!