UK community energy leaders say Government has ‘abandoned’ them, despite net-zero commitment

There are more than 300 community renewable energy projects across the UK

Membership organisation Community Energy England is issuing the call to action to mark the return of Parliament for the new year 2022, ahead of the second reading of the Local Electricity Bill in the House of Commons. Drafted by Power For People and sponsored by Conservative MP David Johnston, the Bill is designed to ensure that Ofgem creates a Right to Local Supply framework. Such a framework would help new and existing projects with setup and running costs.

To date, more than 280 MPs have committed their support for the Local Electricity Bill, with numbers having climbed steeply after a Parliamentary debate on community energy, tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse at the end of November. Supporters include former Environment Secretary Hilary Benn MP.

Community Energy England said in a statement there is a growing frustration – in communities and among politicians – that Ministers are failing to appropriately respond to growing support for community renewable energy, or to properly plan for growth in line with long-term net-zero commitments. Members have noted the absence of community renewables from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Ten-Point Plan in November 2020, in the two subsequent Budgets in March and October 2021, and in the overarching Net-Zero Strategy.

When the October Budget was announced, Community Energy England released a blog stating: “Overall, there seems to be little for community energy or other community or social business in the budget and certainly not enough to lead the world on tackling climate change. We will have to hunt among the funds and initiatives to see how the sector can extract benefit.”

Indeed, the Budget proved largely unpopular across the green economy, with many senior figures and influential groups saying that the Treasury seemed to be prioritising short-term economic gain over long-term sustainability.

Now, Community Energy England is calling for a refreshed approach from Ministers for 2022. As well as progressing the Local Electricity Bill, the organisation is recommending that the Government updates its community energy guidance,  which was first published in 2013 and has not been updated since 2015. The UK notably legislated for net-zero by 2050 in 2019. It has since committed to a 2030 target to hosting 30GW of offshore wind, and a 2035 target of shifting to 100% clean electricity generation.

The organisation is also calling for more transparency on how funds collected through schemes such as the Climate Change Levy are spent by the Government. The Levy is a tax on electricity and gas paid by businesses and public service providers, intended to fund the provision of green subsidy schemes.

Brighton and Hove Energy Services Cooperative’s founder and chief executive Kayla Ente said: “In 2014, the Government released its community energy strategy in recognition of the power of the people living in communities across the country to work together to tackle important social and environmental issues, like the climate crisis and fuel poverty.

“This strategy is being ignored, if not undermined by the current government’s propensity to allocate all decarbonisation/energy funding, with the exception of the Green Heat Fund, specifically to local authorities and other Government institutions while creating overly prescriptive terms that has been part of the reason they’ve failed.”

edie contacted the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for a comment on Ente and Community Energy England’s claims.

A spokesperson for BEIS said: “Community groups have a key role to play in our efforts to eliminate our contribution to climate change and they are doing excellent work to help us achieve this goal.

“We are enabling local areas to tackle net-zero goals in ways that best suit their needs through our UK-wide funding schemes, such as the Community Renewal Fund and the Towns Fund. Ofgem also supports these projects through its Industry Voluntary Redress Scheme which, from February, will allow groups to apply for funds to deliver energy-related projects. We encourage community energy groups to work closely with their local authority as part of these schemes.”

The spokesperson pointed to the fact that Ofgem will begin accepting applications for community energy arrays for the Industry Voluntary Redress Scheme from February. The scheme first launched in 2017 and uses, at present, redress payments to support energy customers in need.

According to Patagonia, there are currently more than one million people involved in the community energy sector across the EU and UK. But, with the right support from bodies like councils and NGOs, as well as enabling policies, this number could increase to 260 million.

Sarah George

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