‘You’ve blooming done it’. I’m sure Jon Halle from Shareenergy won’t mind me paraphrasing the first thing he said to me after our Community Energy Conference on Saturday. This is, after all, a blog for Co-operative Energy’s website and his actual words would be....inappropriate. An exchange of wry smiles was enough to say we both remember our first meeting a little under two years ago: Jon had wanted to know exactly what Co-operative Energy’s plans were to help community energy projects. My response, ‘we can buy their power’, was not a bad effort, but it was obvious we could do more.
It was actually something Jon said during his talk at ‘CEC13’ when I first noticed what would be the theme of the day. ‘It’s the Landowner, Stupid’ was, according to Jon, one of the five crucial things a community energy group had to remember when starting a project. A landowner - one person - can have a significant impact on a project’s success.
The hour and half train back from London to the Midlands gave my colleagues and me the chance to reflect on the day’s proceedings. My day job - setting up contracts with renewable generators to purchase their power to supply our customers – means I sometimes get bogged down in a world of acronyms and contract terminology, of pricing and meter details. On that train ride home, however, we didn’t mention any of that once. We talked about the unemployed families in Brixton in fuel poverty being helped by the amazing Repowering London. We talked about the households in the Forest of Dean who could invest in their local wind turbine at Great Dunkilns Farm from as little as a fiver thanks to the Resilience Centre and Abundance Generation. How the guy who sells fireworks to the local town every year was a huge influence on a project because he knew everyone in the community. In short, we talked about people.
A pound for every time someone came up to me on Saturday, with a big smile on their face, telling me there was a real ‘buzz’ around the Royal Geographical Society (the stunning, prestigious venue for our conference) would have allowed me to invest in a decent amount of community energy shares myself. We almost had to physically prise people apart from their conversations to make sure we kept within our timings – we overran by half hour, not too bad! People interacting and sharing ideas, stories and experience. People talking about people.
Community energy is about people. Duh, right? But, if I’m honest it’s sometimes easy to forget that. The aforementioned acronyms and pricing can sometimes cloud that for a supplier, as I’m sure the joys of planning applications and share offers can do the same for the groups themselves. There were many messages from Saturday, but the stand-out one for me was clear: helping the environment, raising money for a community, ensuring resilience in the local economy...It’s all about the people, stupid.
Tom Hoines, Renewables Manager, Co-operative Energy