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Community energy – what’s all the fuss about?

Posted on 30 September 2013

Ramsay Dunning, Co-operative Energy’s General Manager, will happily tell you that the Co-op movement has been in the energy industry for about 150 years...back then the energy was in the form of coal....but the principles were the same as they are now: A community working together to do things differently, making sure everyone benefits while acting ethically and responsibly.

We are now seeing a (relatively) new energy revolution emerging, this time in community renewable energy. However you define it, which is a serious discussion in itself, there’s no denying it’s a movement gathering momentum and genuinely seems to encourage engagement in the important energy issues we are facing today.

The vast majority of community energy groups are co-ops. Indeed Energy4All, an umbrella group of community energy Co-ops, were pioneers in the movement. Baywind Co-operative (part of Energy4All) bought Harlock Hill Wind Farm back in 1999 making it the first community owned wind farm in the UK.

However, the interesting and fast growing area of crowdfunding seems to fit in nicely with community energy. The obvious example’s the Great Dunkilns wind farm in the Forest of Dean, a project managed by The Resilience Centre  and financed by Abundance. The project is not set up as a co-op, but is definitely for the benefit of the community. Furthermore, just this week records were broken as a crowd funded wind farm in Holland reached EUR 1.3m closure in just 13hours! This is not the vehicle to discuss IPSs Vs PLCs and which is the best model to use, but however genuine community projects get off the ground it has to be a good thing.

It is not just the community groups themselves who see the potential, Government also seem to be taking note. Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change says that he wants “nothing less than a community energy revolution” and the Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker, suggests that “community engagement in the energy sector will be vital to our vision of the development of energy in the UK in the coming decades.” The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the industry regulator OFGEM have both set up their own community energy strategy groups, definitely steps in the right direction. Important research has also been conducted in the field; Co-ops UK in conjunction with Cornwall Energy produced a community energy manifesto on the subject which you can find here and Res Publica have recently produced their paper highlighting the potential of the sector here.

We already purchase some of the power for our members from community energy projects, but we want to do more! For that reason we are organising our first ever community energy conference on the 19th October at the Royal Geographical Society in London. There are some great speakers lined up who will provide some fascinating insight into the exciting arena of community energy and unlocking its massive potential. Details here.

As a member owned supplier we want to buy from member owned generation. Closes the loop quite nicely!

Tom Hoines @thoines
Renewables Manager, Co-operative Energy

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