Solar sector welcomes Government’s community energy push

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has published a new Voluntary Agreement to encourage more local ownership of and investment into large-scale solar farms.

The Agreement, published today (3 October), will offer better local ownership and investment options to communities, including direct bond offers and partnerships with local authorities.

In effect, it will mean that large solar developers will be able to explore models of community ownership; where there are legally-constituted community energy groups involved and when it is commercially viable to do so.

The Government’s community energy push has been wholly welcomed by the solar industry as an important step away from the UK’s current centralised model of energy generation.
The Solar Trade Association (STA) has already pledged its support for today’s announcement by confirming it will be revising its influential ’10 Commitments’ on solar farms to encompass the policy objectives of the Voluntary Framework.

Accelerate innovation

The draft amended Commitment, due to be discussed by STA members later this month, reads: “We will engage with the community in advance of submitting a planning application and, where commercially viable and where there is a local appetite, we will innovate in investment opportunities for local communities in their local solar farms including partnerships with local authorities.” 

The STA’s head of external affairs Leonie Greene said: “Our members are already pioneering successful ways for the public and local authorities to invest in local solar farms – the Voluntary Agreement published today aims to accelerate innovation with local ownership and investment across the renewables sector.

“Our aim is to find real win-wins for the industry and communities that will ultimately enable the UK to accelerate the deployment of clean power.”

STA member Solarcentury – which delivered a 2.4MW solar energy co-op scheme in Hampshire earlier this year – also welcomed the new Voluntary Agreement The group’s chief marketing officer Susannah Wood said: “Empowering communities to take control of their energy needs is critical if we are to move away from our current centralised model of energy generation, work towards a more sustainable energy future and improve the UK’s energy independence. We look forward to working with more energy cooperatives to bring solar to local communities.”

Sector risks

However, while the UK solar industry is in full agreement of the spirit behind this voluntary framework, there are still some caveats that need addressing. The STA’s Greene added: “Forming direct financial relationships with communities is exciting, but there are still important unknowns on the costs of some of these approaches. Returns in solar are lower than other technologies and the solar industry alone is being forced into smaller schemes, meaning potentially disproportionately higher costs for pursuing this agenda.

“The solar industry and DECC will therefore need to watch the emerging evidence-base particularly closely to identify successful approaches.”

The STA is waiting to see the Government’s response to the Voluntary Agreement to ensure sector risks are recognised and supported. View the STA’s ‘Solar Farms: 10 Commitments’ here. 

Solar continues to be the most popular local energy development ahead of wind, shale gas and nuclear. Polling for the STA by YouGov revealed that more than 70% of the UK public support solar farms.

Luke Nicholls

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