What are the major parties' plans for community energy?

17/01/2024

The Conservative Party

In 2023, the Conservative government introduced the Community Energy Fund (CEF). Worth £10m up to March 2025, the fund is designed to support feasibility and development for community energy projects. Before the CEF was announced, the community energy sector had not had any bespoke funding since the closure of the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) in 2022. While a boost for the sector, the CEF offers significantly less funding than previous schemes and by itself will not facilitate the levels of growth in the sector enabled by policies such as feed-in tariffs, which were cut in 2016 and closed in 2019.

The government has also pledged to consult on the barriers facing the community energy sector and report on progress towards overcoming these barriers annually. This has not yet been delivered. CEE is lobbying to ensure that the consultation is launched as soon as possible to ensure that it is delivered before the general election expected this year.

As of January 2024, the Conservative Party has not made any further commitments to support the community energy sector.

If you get the chance to speak to your local Conservative MP or candidate, you could tell them about the potential for community energy to effectively address fuel poverty. Bristol University researchers have calculated that for every pound spent on fuel poverty alleviation by two community organisations (SELCE and Energise Sussex Coast) had a social return on investment of nine to ten. Supporting community energy represents a pragmatic and effective way to support their constituents.

If the Conservative Party is in government in August 2024 they will make a decision about whether to continue the Community Energy Fund beyond March 2025. So if you’re speaking to your conservative MP or candidate please emphasise how important this is to local regeneration, energy resilience and net zero and ask them to write to the Energy Secretary asking them to retain or expand the Fund.

The Labour Party

One of the five missions set out by the Labour Party over the last year is to make Britain a clean energy superpower. In 2023, the Party published its Local Power Plan, which set out some of its underlying policy proposals to help it achieve this goal. It included a pledge to support community energy to scale up by offering £400 million per year in low interest loans for community projects, alongside £600 million per year of funding for local authorities to support local power.

This level of support would be genuinely transformative for the sector. For context, the scale of low interest loans proposed would be worth 80 times that offered by the current CEF in grant funding. This could drastically increase the capacity of the sector to shape Britain’s energy transformation and could enable the sector to achieve our 2030 Vision of growing 12-20 fold.

However, Labour has retreated from its initial ambitions. In 2021, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves announced plans to spend an extra £28bn per year on climate investment, with the figure becoming symbolic of the party’s broader commitment to climate action. After a series of interventions from senior figures watering the commitment down, Labour has now dropped the £28 billion figure altogether. Their current more modest offering contains far less ambition on retrofitting homes, but retains the Local Power Plan.

If you get the chance to speak to your local Labour MP or candidate you could impress upon them how much community energy has to offer in achieving their mission to make Britain a clean energy superpower and that they must prioritise implementing the Local Power Plan if they win the general election.

The Liberal Democrats

At their 2023 Conference, the Liberal Democrats passed a policy paper which can be seen as a precursor to their general election manifesto. ‘For a Fair Deal’ covered a wide range of issues and pledged to ‘promote community energy’. However, no further detail on how they would go about this was provided.

Their Leader Ed Davey served as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for the coalition government between 2012 and 2015. In this role, he published the government’s Community Energy Strategy, which supported substantial growth for the sector before funding cuts by the Conservative government after 2015 eventually put the brakes on.

If you get the chance to speak to your local Lib Dem MP or candidate, you could ask them to set out a more detailed and ambitious plan for community energy, using Labour’s Local Power Plan as the benchmark to beat. ‘Community’ and ‘Environmentalism’ are two of the party’s stated core values and alongside their leader’s record of working with the sector, the party should be comfortable going further in its support for community energy.