Are Community Energy Projects Still Viable?

Prior to the changes in the Feed in Tariff at the beginning of 2016, community energy projects around the UK were beginning to thrive. With many local residents buying shares in various solar, wind and hydro installations, it seemed the perfect way to develop renewables across the country.

But did the slashing of subsidies by the Government at the beginning of the year mean that community energy is now less viable? Or is there still a place in our communities for these small scale but important projects?

According to a recent ICM poll, the support for community based renewable energy projects is still high:

“More than two-thirds – 67% – of the 2,000 UK adults polled by ICM last month said they would support local community-owned renewable energy projects such as solar panels and wind turbines, with just 8% in opposition.”

Not only that, but 78% of respondents thought the Government should actually be doing more to help community projects get off the ground. Many people are also willing to see a small surcharge on their bills for local initiatives that benefit their local area.

Organisations such as the Co-operative Energy and the Energy Savings Trust have been helping communities to develop their own renewable energy projects for the last six years for solar, wind and hydroelectric power. Most energy companies are owned by their shareholders but the Co-operative is actually dictated to by its members and the organisation believes that people want to see more locally based initiatives such as this.

According to managing director Ramsay Dunning:

“The newly formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and its welcomingly engaged ministers have a fantastic opportunity to tap the public’s goodwill and provide a significant boost to the UK’s social enterprise economy.”

Last year 76 projects were registered but this dropped dramatically once the Government introduced new changes and slashed the subsidies at the beginning of 2016. Just 10 community schemes have been registered so far this year, a worrying sign for anyone who wants to see more local involvement in renewable energy. Last week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would reverse many of the Government’s energy policies and pointed to community energy schemes in particular.

According to the Guardian recently:

“Community energy schemes, many of which are run or partly run by local volunteers and which invite residents to invest, can also benefit schools and other public buildings by reducing their energy bills. But they have suffered from the axing of key tax relief, increasingly complex regulations and the slashing of the feed-in tariffs meant to support the growth of solar panels.”

Community projects are still viable but many people are now less willing to invest on a local level as the feed in tariff subsidy has been cut by so much. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any more projects in the future but the loss of a decent subsidy has certainly made a big difference. The recent Chester Community Energy project managed to get its scheme underway just before the cuts but would not have been able to proceed without a competitive feed in tariff. Those that had begun to raise money, including one for the Brighton Energy Co-operative, now find themselves unable to continue.

The chances are that, unless things change and policy becomes more favourable, we will indeed see less and less community projects in the coming years. Something that could have had a significant impact on our energy infrastructure has now been stalled and there appear to be no plans to rectify the problem. That’s something we perhaps should all be a little angry about.


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