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Councils must stop blocking and start helping community energy

Posted on 10 September 2013

  New think tank report reveals UK’s community owned renewable power could grow by 8800%, but councils block progress

London, Tuesday 10th September, 2013: A new report from Westminster think tank ResPublica has revealed that community owned energy could grow 89 times its current size if councils stopped blocking and started helping the industry. In Germany, community energy accounts for 46% of all energy produced from renewables. In the UK this figure stands at just 0.3%. The ResPublica report, 'The Community Renewables Economy: Starting up, scaling up and spinning out', argues that if community owned energy is to become more commonplace, councils must make development easier. Community energy could generate £30m a year in tax revenue for cash-strapped local councils, and drive down high energy bills by increasing competition in the energy market. But ResPublica warns that councils must step up to the challenge, understand their new role and help, rather than hinder progress. The new study reveals a growing appetite for community owned power. Over the last decade, community energy capacity has increased by over 1300% to nearly sixty megawatts. By 2020, on current trends, the sector will grow nine-fold to 550MW. But with leadership and investment from local authorities and with the right national policy framework, the sector is capable of delivering almost a fifth of total renewable energy capacity - this would be equivalent to 5.27GW by 2020. The growth of community energy is self re-enforcing as two-thirds of communities reinvest or intend to reinvest revenue from renewables in further projects of energy efficiency. The report argues that key to achieving scale is joint ownership, where communities are able to partner with private developers, local authorities or businesses, with greater capacity, resource and financial capability. But it stresses that there are a number of barriers to be addressed, including funding, financial know-how and legal advice. Local and national Government must work together to understand the financial benefits and help catalyse growth. In particular, this requires flexibility and positive approach from local authorities who could and should lead the way and invest funds in clean energy projects. Recommendations include training for local planners and councillors to make balanced decisions and fully understand the role of local government in energy production. In response to the report, Greg Barker MP, Minister for Energy and Climate Change, said: "The Coalition is committed to helping hard pressed consumers with the rising cost of living. When it comes to energy bills, this includes supporting communities to take more control over local generation projects, while also empowering them to reduce their energy demand, tackle local fuel poverty, and get the best deal on their energy supply. “I warmly welcome the ideas in this report on helping communities navigate the planning system, and on forming productive partnerships so that they are better able to take an active role in their own local projects. Our aim is to help communities and local businesses seize this exciting opportunity." Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive of RenewableUK added: “This report highlights the exciting prospect of communities working more closely with local wind farm developers, local businesses and local authorities on jointly-owned projects. Using this socially and economically-inclusive model, we have an opportunity to redefine the relationship between communities and developers to unlock a significant growth in community energy, particularly in onshore wind. This will enable all of us to reap the economic and environmental benefits of wind energy at a truly local level”. Ramsay Dunning, General Manager, Co-operative Energy said: "We whole heartedly support this report and the belief that community energy could be a major player in the UK energy mix. Co-operative Energy plans to increase six-fold the amount of community and independent renewable energy in its supply in the next twelve months, and to then double it again twelve months thereafter. The vast majority of the UK welcomes renewable energy projects when communities are meaningfully engaged.” ‘The Community Renewables Economy: Starting up, scaling up and spinning out’ full report can be downloaded here

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