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Reflections on a Community Energy Conference. Part 2

Posted on 12 November 2013

I feel incredibly lucky to be a colleague within Co-operative Energy. The reasons for this are long and varied, but a significant one is the people I get to work with. We have all bought into the ethos of a Co-op and work hard to make sure that we use those values to shape the way we do business. We do, however, make sure we enjoy ourselves while doing it. I am sure this is the same for businesses across the country – it’s certainly true of my previous career in rugby – but this usually takes the form of a light hearted ribbing (I refuse to use the word banter). The two recurring themes aimed me are firstly, and somewhat predictably, that I am a ‘greeny’ and only interested in the warm and fuzzy parts of the industry. Secondly, that I spend my time having coffee meetings and attending conferences and this isn’t ‘proper work’. Now, as anyone who takes part in this sort of office chatter will know, to defend one’s position is to ‘bite’; something which is just not on. So, rather than validate my attendance at conferences coffee meetings, I shall come out and say it - I do love a conference. I enjoy spending my time with like minded individuals, discussing potential areas of business, hearing from experts in their fields and the obligatory exchange of business cards. The most frustrating part of Co-operative Energy’s community energy conference (CEC13) for me was that I didn’t have 2 minutes on the day to catch up with old contacts or meet new ones. I did, however, get to sit on stage with all of our fantastic speakers and hear their stories, advice and expertise on Community Energy. I have listened to each talk from the day a couple of times since and remembered them vividly when I attended the Renewable UK conference last week in Birmingham. It was fantastic to see that community engagement played such a part in the seminars throughout the event. One particular talk really struck a chord with what I heard from CEC13. We heard about the potential scale of community energy, even the suggestion that offshore wind might be the next potential area to look at. An ambitious and exciting prospect. It was also postulated that there’s a sliding scale of community involvement. This ranged from ‘the soft touch’ - a community benefit fund from a private developer; a ‘middle ground’ - where there was a joint ownership of a site between a developer and a community, to the last - a fully community owned and developed site. We often hear that, when surveyed, the main benefits communities want from a renewable energy development close to them is cheaper energy bills - a point raised a few times at RUK. This takes me back to Becky Willis’s talk at CEC13. Becky suggested three delusions about the potential issues with the energy industry. One was that we can change to a low carbon economy without anyone noticing. It is going to take a significant change in lifestyle for most of us if we are to reach our energy targets. It seems to me that community energy could be the vehicle or, indeed, Trojan Horse which could engage people in the importance of a lower carbon way of life. There are several studies which suggest direct involvement in a community energy scheme can result in people taking a more active role in reducing their energy consumption and investing in energy efficiency measures. I am not suggesting for a second that anyone should be peering into a gift horse’s mouth; the community funds from developers can be significant and potentially result in real benefits for a community, but as suggested at Renewable UK this may be a little ‘soft touch’. Getting the community involved directly in a project can have far more benefits than simply reducing energy bills. It could act as the catalyst to encourage the ‘powering down’ effect of energy efficiency as well as the ‘powering up’ of renewable generation. You can see videos of all our speakers from CEC13 Here Tom Hoines Renewables Manager @Thoines

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