The Secretary of State for the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy promised to set out his plans for community energy in the Net Zero Strategy published on Tuesday 19 October. Unfortunately it seems he has no plans for the sector as it contains no “practical support measures to harness the potential of community energy” as recommended in April by the Environmental Audit Committee. Nor does it, as the Select Committee specifically recommended, “emphasise the importance of community energy” to achieving net zero.
The Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget said unequivocally, “if the people of the UK are not engaged in this challenge - the UK will not deliver Net Zero by 2050… people need to be brought into the decision-making process and derive a sense of ownership of the Net Zero project.” Community energy is a key way of engaging people to ‘own’ the Net Zero project and is essential to achieving it. The Strategy acknowledges that, “Community empowerment, engagement, and action can play a role in supporting the UK’s transition to net zero and enable communities to access the benefits that it brings, from greener jobs to improved health. Communities are especially well placed to help raise awareness and engage people in adopting net zero behaviours. For example, community ownership of renewables and other assets, often in partnership with other organisations, can be an important driver of reducing local emissions. It can also enable people to learn more about climate change and build sustainable behaviours.”
It continues, “We want to work in partnership with people and communities across the country. To do so, we will empower local leaders to kickstart their own net zero initiatives,” But ‘local leaders’ seems mostly to mean local government leaders and much of the funding signposted seems to be for local government which it deems "best placed to integrate activity on the ground so that action on climate change also delivers wider benefits”. This disregards the local leaders of the 424 community energy groups across the UK who have done far more by way of integrating activity on the ground, kickstarting their own net zero initiatives and delivering wider community benefits from them, than the vast majority of council leaders over the last 10 years.
Failing to support community energy is planning to fail to meet net zero.
Community energy is at least mentioned in the Strategy - indeed has a short section to itself, (with a case study from Cuckmere Community Solar and Riding Sunbeams). It cites the State of the Sector report and the potential of community energy shown in our 2030 Vision but omits to say that realising that potential is dependent, at least in part, on some support from government for the sector. The WPI Economics 2020 report, The Future of Community Energy, on whose finding those growth projects were based warned that “Government policy risks squandering the potential of the sector”. Nothing has changed.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) intends to build on and continue close working with Community Energy England and to re-establish the Community Energy Contact Group as “a dedicated forum for community groups to engage across Government.” This will work alongside the Local Net Zero Forum, designed to connect government and senior local authority officials. It mentions the “scale and pace of work being taken forward”, but as yet we have no sight of what this might mean for community energy.
The Net Zero Strategy boasts of the Rural Community Energy Fund but omits to mention that it ends in April 2022 and that the Urban Community Energy Fund was prematurely withdrawn in 2016 with £8 million unspent. No successor to these schemes is promised.
It also mentions the support for knowledge sharing given to Community Energy England (a few thousand pounds, with match-funding requirements) and that this “can help communities develop their own schemes”. Sadly this is unlikely when the sector struggles to make an investment case for all but very exceptional projects.
The Strategy mentions the widening of the Industry Voluntary Redress Scheme to include Community Energy from 2022 but fails to mention that this only applies to 30% of the available funding which would be a maximum of around £2.3m a year.
We are informed that support for community energy may be forthcoming early next year, depending on the departmental budget that BEIS receives in the Comprehensive Spending Review. (See CEE’s recommendations to the Treasury) This will very much depend on BEIS ministers being convinced that it is important and good value for money over the next four months. The campaign begins here!
Please write to your MP expressing your extreme disappointment that the government did not follow the advice of the Environmental Audit Committee to “emphasise the importance of community energy in the Net Zero Strategy” and put in place “practical support measures to harness the potential of community energy”. (See suggestions for writing here)