Seventy five civil society organisations have written an Open Letter to the Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the head of the energy regulator Ofgem to press them to act urgently on the recommendations contained in the Environmental Audit Committee’s Letter to the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng MP.
The influential Select Committee expressed disappointment at the government’s virtual omission of community energy from its Energy White Paper and recommends that, “Due to the urgency of the climate crisis and the vital roles communities will have to play in reaching net-zero, it is essential that a timely solution to support the long-term growth of community energy across the UK is found.”
The Committee recognised that “Regulatory barriers and lack of Government strategy are stalling UK community energy on the path to net zero” and advised that the importance of community energy be emphasised in the forthcoming Net Zero Strategy and recommended a number of “practical support measures to harness the potential of community energy”.
The Open Letter signatories say that it is imperative that funding for these “practical support measures” is provided for in the Treasury’s Net Zero Review and the Comprehensive Spending Review, this autumn.
Community energy has a vital role to play in engaging the wider community, inventing and delivering local climate solutions whilst bringing social and community benefits that commercial projects do not. The Climate Change Committee has warned repeatedly that ”It will not be possible to get close to meeting a net-zero target without engaging with people or by pursuing an approach that focuses only on supply-side changes.”
The Environmental Audit Committee letter recognises that “Successful community energy projects across the country are placing tackling climate change at the heart of their activities”, and that, "Community energy is uniquely placed to engage the public in the energy transition.... vital for energy behaviour change in the coming decades".
The letter also stated that, if supported, community energy projects can “create local jobs and boost the local economies of communities, address fuel poverty and encourage a just transition to net zero across all social groups” in a way that “will not be achieved if energy decarbonisation is only achieved via commercial, large-scale renewable projects.” “Community projects can make the decarbonised and digitised energy transition beneficial for everyone, including the energy vulnerable.”
The Open Letter signatories urge government departments and agencies to work together to ensure that the specific recommendations in the Committee’s letter are taken seriously and enacted. These include removing the regulatory barriers to local supply of energy and providing specific financial supports for community energy such as is available for commercial onshore renewable energy, namely: a Community Smart Export Guarantee, with a long-term floor price; an Urban Community Energy Fund; a replacement for the Renewable Heat Incentive for community energy, reinstatement of social investment tax relief for investments in community energy and funding for Local Area Energy Planning and local authority/community energy collaborations.
Emma Bridge, Chief Executive of Community Energy England said, “The Select Committee’s thorough Inquiry has produced excellent recommendations which we urge the government to act upon. Community energy only needs a ‘fair playing field’ to return to exponential growth, mobilising an army of local allies for the urgent energy transition to net zero. This would represent good value for government money.”
Colin Baines of the Friends Provident Foundation, a co-signatory, said “Community energy has a vital role to play in a just transition to a low carbon economy. Being at the centre of a Venn diagram of climate, social, and local economic impact, it is just the kind of investment the booming impact investment market is looking for. In my experience, nothing provides greater social and environmental returns.
The economics, technology, business innovation, willing capital, and public support are all in place for community energy to thrive and play a pivotal role in achieving net zero. The only missing element for success is fair treatment in public policy. We urge the Government to act upon the recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee.”
The Secretary of State for BEIS has been asked to respond by the 7th June.