Article written by Energise Sussex Coast
This month marks a momentous day in the world of community energy. On Monday April 17th, transformative amendments to the Government’s Energy Bill were voted through by a majority of the House of Lords. These amendments, based on the Local Electricity Bill put forward by Power for People as part of their Community Energy Revolution campaign and tabled by a cross-party group of Peers, would allow community energy schemes to sell their clean, renewable power to local people - as well as providing a guaranteed price for their electricity.
These changes to legislation would transform the UK energy sector, and form a pivotal part of the UK reaching its Net Zero targets by 2035. Community energy groups currently save at least 143,000 tonnes of carbon annually, and with legislative blockers removed they could save 2.5 million tonnes of carbon each year by 2030. There is a final step to go before this can become a reality however: next, the amendments must be voted through by MPs in the House of Commons.
Energise Sussex Coast Directors Kate Meakin and Richard Watson shared their excitement at the news:
“This is an incredible achievement and we’re proud of all those whose tireless work has made this step possible. Whilst we still have to get the amended bill past MPs, this really is a pivotal moment in the fight to give communities the chance to forge their own futures. The difference this new legislation would make to the work we do is astronomical. We stand with Power for People and are delighted at the show of support from the House of Lords.”
Supporting local MP Sally Ann-Hart, Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, also shared her thoughts on the win:
“The Local Electricity Bill has huge cross-party support of nearly 320 MPs. I believe that community energy is a key part of clean growth and can help decarbonise energy in local communities whilst bringing economic and social benefits. Whilst I understand that there are concerns regarding changes in the licensing framework, I urge ministers to work with campaigners to address their concerns and make community energy a reality”.
During the debate, a number of House Members were vocal about the need for community energy schemes. One such member, Baroness Boycott, spoke out strongly about their importance for our society in this challenging time:
“...in the midst of an energy crisis when cheap clean home produced energy has never been more vital…we are far behind where we could be with the amount of small-scale renewable energy, especially community energy schemes…they provide cheaper and Greener power and they distribute benefits locally as against benefits up to the big power companies.”
Baroness Boycott was joined by others including Baroness Bennett, Baroness Young, Baroness Meacher, Lord Teverson, and Baroness Blake. Baroness Meacher in particular highlighted the absurdity of the current legislation, stating that:
“The fact is it's ludicrous for us not to be enabling community energy production when this does not involve a subsidy and when this could create additional energy equivalent to something like…2.2 million homes. This is a completely neglected area, it can be resolved as set out in these amendments, really in a straightforward way… so it's very very strong support for these amendments and I do hope that the minister will actually be able to accept them, I really do, I can't see any reason why not. It's not going to cost the government anything.”
The significance of community empowerment and ownership brought by community energy schemes was also highlighted, with Lord Teverson stating that:
“…what community schemes allow is for communities, individuals, households, families, small businesses to participate themselves in the decarbonization of our economy and Net Zero…that's why these amendments are so important.”
In spite of this widespread support for the amendments across the House of Lords, Lord Callanan, Minister for Business, Energy and Corporate Strategy disappointingly made it clear that the government was remaining firm in its stance of prioritising company profits over supporting community energy schemes.
“The government does recognize the role that community and local energy renewable energy schemes can play in supporting our Net Zero targets but we continue to believe that small-scale low-carbon electricity generation should be brought forward through competitive market-based solutions.”
Despite Government resistance, the House of Lords nonetheless voted 197-186 in favour of the amendments being added to the Government’s Energy Bill. You can watch a video of key points of support in the debate shared by Power for People here.
The House of Lords also voted through other amendments to the Energy Bill; adding a requirement to for Ofgem to “have regard” for the UK's net zero emissions target, as well as new clauses bringing forward both the regulations to ban the building of of new coal mines in England and a plan for low carbon heat, energy efficient buildings, and higher standards on new homes.
The 17th April debate followed Baroness Boycott, Baroness Bennett, Lord Lucas, Lord Teverson, and Baroness Young sending a strong letter of support to the Energy Minister in February, requesting a meeting to discuss the proposed amendments. Their letter argued that:
“In 2017 community energy scheme capacity accounted for 249 megawatts. This had only risen to 331 megawatts in 2022 – a mere 0.5% of UK generating capacity.
Numerous studies have found the potential growth to be far higher. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee showed in its community energy inquiry that this figure could be nearly twenty times more, but only if local supply is enabled.”
They also rebuffed the Government’s stance on seeking ‘market-based solutions’ (a stance which Lord Callanan nonetheless doggedly repeated):
“Furthermore, this is a market solution. It is not a subsidy. The intention is to adjust the rules governing the market in order to enable local supply.”
This isn’t the first time the House of Lords has stood up for the rights of UK citizens. In the past six months alone, they’ve voted to restrict police powers to Stop and Search, to protect protesters and whistleblowers as well as the right to protest itself, to increase climate responsibility and prevent corruption in public contract procurement (including allowing discretionary exclusion of suppliers found guilty of forced organ harvesting, yes really), to clearly define the NHS as a public body, and to protect tenants and push forward a government strategy making energy improvements on social housing. You can see a full list of Government defeats by the House of Lords here - it makes for interesting reading.
What is the Local Electricity Bill?
The amendments voted into the Government’s Energy Bill follow the same wording as the Local Electricity Bill, which seeks to enable smaller-scale renewable energy schemes, owned and run by people in the local community. Imagine if, instead of paying spiralling and unpredictable costs to an unsympathetic and faceless energy company, you could instead pay significantly less at a consistent price to your neighbouring street for the clean, green, renewable energy they’ve generated from their own rooftops? How about investing your hard earned cash into your own street’s solar panels, powering your homes and generating extra income rather than spending it funding company profits? Better yet, what about a community owned energy scheme that could power your whole town, and sell the surplus to the town next to you?
Despite already being possible across the EU, UK legislation has yet to support these kinds of initiatives. Current rules prevent people from buying their electricity from local renewable sources, instead forcing them to buy electricity from a utility company. Those who already generate local renewable energy, such as schools, churches, or local businesses who have installed solar panels on their roofs, are unable to provide power to their own communities and are themselves forced to sell their energy to a utility company who then profits by selling it onto its customers. This creates a system whereby even those community schemes who do manage to navigate the prohibitive steps it takes to connect to the grid are underpaid for their energy, and those receiving it on the other end are overpaying for theirs to line corporate pockets.
That is, if they can connect to the grid at all - current network agreements and grid balancing codes mean that community energy schemes face huge costs and labyrinthine bureaucracy to even stand a chance at connecting to the grid. In practical terms, once they’ve gone through the long and expensive process to have their application approved, schemes must then, unless they are the only scheme seeking to connect in that grid section, join a ‘queue’. If the project or projects ahead of them are approved, in most cases they are unable to connect to the grid at all due to current capacity constraints. Worse, they will have to apply and pay again to join should the projects in front fail or be withdrawn.
The system, as it stands, is fundamentally broken. These relatively minor amendments to the Energy Bill have the power to create huge changes in our society and the communities that form it - bringing us all clean, cheap, and reliable energy as well as creating extra jobs and keeping wealth within the communities that generate it.
You can read the local Electricity Bill in full here.
What can I do to help?
The most effective thing you can do right now is to contact your MP and share your support for the amendments to the Energy Bill, as well as the Local Electricity Bill as a whole.
For the amendments to go through, they need to be supported by a substantial majority of the House of Commons, which Power for People estimate is around 400 MPs. They and the people supporting them have done incredible work so far - the Local Electricity Bill has the support of a cross-party group of 318 MPs. They’re close, but every single person who contacts their MP will help to sway the vital numbers needed for the amendments to pass.
Power for People have created a step by step guide to help you contact your local MP, and have a full list of the MPs and organisations who support the bill on their website. You will of course find us in the list of ‘Supportive Local Organisations’, along with other local community groups keen for us to take back control of our energy system and build a greener, fairer future for ourselves, our children, and the planet.
For those in a position to do so, Power for People also welcome donations to support their work. You can donate to them directly here.
If you’d like to start a community energy scheme in your local area, please get in touch with us here at Energise Sussex Coast by calling 01424 390062 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.