On the 13th January the former Energy Minister, Chris Skidmore, published an independent review of Net Zero, Mission Zero. This review makes 129 recommendations to the government on a wide range of subjects, including Community Energy. These recommendations span across eight main focus areas including:
- Using infrastructure to unlock net zero
- Creating sustainable governance structures for net zero
- Backing businesses to go green
- Catalysing local action
- Increasing transparency and engaging people
- Delivering cleaner, cheaper, greener homes
- Capitalising on international leadership
- Setting ourselves up for 2050 and beyond
While the government is not obligated to enact all of these recommendations, it is a great indication of opportunities available to the government as it prepares an update to its official Net Zero Strategy this March.
The review is structured in two parts. The first outlines the opportunities and benefits available to both individuals and the economy. The second part looks more closely at how the government can realise these opportunities, through the use of six pillars: Securing Net Zero, Powering Net Zero, Net Zero and the Economy, Net Zero and the Community, Net Zero and the Individual, and Net Zero and the future.
While we encourage you to take a look at the full review, particularly sections 2.4.1 and 4.2, we recognise it is a long document! And so we have summarised some of the key points of relevance to community energy in the below.
From the start, this review recognises the will and passion of local areas and communities to take action, placing a clear focus on the need for the government to enable people and places to deliver. It states that half of the policies in the government’s Net Zero Strategy rely on individual action and as such there is need for the government to better engage the public, more clearly disseminate information and opportunities, and increase transparency on net zero.
The review recommends the government set up a taskforce each on Solar power and onshore wind, together with regulators and industry, to develop a deployment roadmap that will facilitate the achievement of 2035 goals. We agree it is necessary for the government to create an “enabling regulatory environment” for renewable energy generation so that the wider regulatory framework is supportive, if not encouraging, of such projects. The review exemplifies some missed opportunities for this, such as building standards making rooftop solar the norm for all new buildings, and mandatory solar panels on new car parks. The National Grid is quoted in support of such dismantling of barriers as “significant community benefits cannot be provided in the current regulatory regime due to the lack of a clear policy requirement and the associated regulatory funding”.
At CEE, we are advocates for joined-up thinking and sharing learning, so we were pleased to see the encouragement of annual Local Climate Summits, inviting community groups, social enterprises, businesses, and international leaders to create a local network. We were also pleased to see the review urging the government to release further guidance on the governance and implementation of Local Area Energy Plans, as well as for community engagement on this to increase public understanding of local energy and net zero plans. The review goes on to suggest the development of Net Zero Neighbourhood Plans to foster opportunities within communities, and while we are supportive of such dedicated local action, we hope adequate support and guidance will be offered in their development so as to not further stretch under resourced community groups.
It is in section Pillar 4: Net Zero and the Community (p.183) that community energy is most frequently discussed. This section rightfully recognises geographical inequalities across the UK, acknowledging each region and community’s differences and its impact on the required level and type of support needed in each area. The review favours a bottom-up, community-level approach tailored to local differences, needs and opportunities, thus garnering greater support from the community it serves. This said, it is recognised not all local areas have found their role in the transition to net zero, and as such the government should work with these areas to “pilot different approaches and test their value for money, and/or research existing local and international examples of best practice…”.
While community energy is not always named as a pathway to fulfil some of the recommendations made, there are several points of relevance to the sector scattered throughout this review from which we can take action. For example, it describes a need for “Community-level participation, with trusted sources of information and advice” to enable individuals to reduce their own carbon footprint, a service which community energy groups have been offering for several years.
In section 4.2.2 Community Energy has a dedicated discussion: Turbocharging Community Energy. There is a clear recommendation for the government:
“Government should commit to the Local Electricity Bill and publish a Community Energy Strategy that addresses regulatory, legislative, funding and capacity barriers in the sector. The Strategy should also consider what support should be given to innovative projects such as community purchasing and community energy sharing and storage.” - Recommendation 100.
This recognises the government’s neglect of community energy and the consequential impact on the sector, where the growth in community-owned electricity capacity has slowed down since 2016. The review highlights the extent of our energy market regulations that prevent energy projects offering local community supply and financial barriers, making comparisons to more favourable arrangements in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
We’re pleased to see a case study of SELCE was included, outlining their impressive Energy advice work, Future Fit Homes programme and community-owned solar. You can read this in full on p.213.
This section finishes with a mention of heat networks, suggesting the government should “do more” to support heat networks while ensuring that households and businesses are able to benefit from lower energy prices due to their efficiencies.
We hope this summary has provided valuable insight into some of the discussions and recommendations in the review. Please do have a read of Mission Zero if you are able, there is much we can use to harness MPs and ministers to enact this change.