New impetus for community energy

The Financial Times reports that the falling cost of renewables, advances in battery storage and the prospect of selling electricity locally are giving new impetus to community energy projects.

Community energy projects, set up to generate renewable energy, are reinvesting the proceeds from the sale of electricity into the locality. Sylvia Pfeifer describes them as part of a wider trend towards “distributed energy” as the industry moves away from the traditional model of large power stations that send electricity through central transmission networks, to one that is dominated by smaller-scale, often renewable, plants.

Residents form a co-operative society, which owns the local scheme and raises money through share and bond offers to develop a project; any profits are fed back into local causes

It is, increasingly, an investment proposition for socially conscious investors

“Everyone realises our energy is changing,” said Emma Bridge, chief executive at Community Energy England, the organisation that represents the sector. “The public want more local involvement and to take practical action on climate change.”

Several policy changes and cuts to government subsidies and tax incentives which helped to promote investment in small-scale renewable projects from 2010 led to a steep drop in new schemes. However, the falling cost of renewables, advances in battery storage and the prospect of selling electricity locally are giving new impetus to community energy projects.

Last year research by Community Energy England identified 222 organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with active local schemes operating wind, solar or hydro. They had raised £190m of investment. Together with the Scottish sector, community energy projects have 188MW of generation capacity installed — enough to power about 130,000 homes.

Accessing funding requires a degree of knowledge. Mongoose Energy helps to develop and finance schemes. Its projects are funded through a combination of bank loans, funding from social capital providers and community fundraisers. Mark Kenber, Mongoose chief executive, said he believed investor appetite was growing. “More and more people are now investing as they see renewables such as wind and solar as tried and tested technologies and the returns on offer are predictable,” he added. “People are looking at it as a reasonably low-risk return.” Consumers take charge

The sector may be small but supporters said it was part of a future in which consumers increasingly take charge of their energy usage. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it had made £100m of funding available for small scale renewables between 2016 and 2019. It is currently “considering options” for its approach beyond next year.

Believed to be the first major funding by a local authority in community-owned energy infra

Westmill Solar Cooperative raised more than £20 million for 5 wind turbines and a ground-mounted solar array. Members receive an average of 8% return on their investment. The balance of funding required was raised by a debt bond arranged with the Lancashire County Council Pension Fund, in what was believed to be the first major funding by a local authority in community-owned energy infrastructure.

As yet, any electricity produced locally by a community energy project is not bought directly by local residents for their own usage. Richard Benwell, a director of Westmill, the UK’s first community-owned solar farm, says,

“The really exciting thing will be when schemes can sell locally produced energy to members of the co-operative society that owns a community energy project. With lower distribution costs real savings can be made”.

 

 

 

 

 

Join Local Futures at Earth, Culture, Economy

25th-29th June | Schumacher College, Totnes, UK

 

What would the world look like if humans lived harmoniously with nature rather than creating environmental mayhem?

What strategies can be employed to overcome the entrenched power of big business, big banks, and big government?

We’ll dig into these questions in Earth, Culture, Economy, an open course at Schumacher College led by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Stephan Harding, and Satish Kumar. Our approach will be broad and holistic and we will consider a range of themes from the perspective of both the global North and South, including:

• How to measure real progress • Putting food and farming at the center of the local economy • Tackling climate change through localising trade • The balance between urban and rural • The spiritual and psychological benefits of connecting to nature and community • Healthcare in a life-based economy • Resolving the roots of racial, ethnic and religious conflict • Restoring democracy through localisation

~RESERVE A PLACE~

We also have two other events coming up in the UK this summer:

Localisation, Degrowth, and Wellbeing

An evening of discussion and Q&A with Helena Norberg-Hodge and Jason Hickel

19th June | London, UK

Co-creating Wellbeing Economies

A how-to course on big picture activism

13th-17th July | 42 Acres, Frome, UK

 

These events will present a global perspective on localisation and equip you with practical strategies for supporting genuine social, ecological, and economic renewal wherever you may be. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

 

 

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Irish groups seeking to build community resilience

Feasta, which has sent news of a May event, was co-founded 20 years ago by radical economist Richard Douthwaite, known for his creative, inclusive thinking and his belief in the power of discussion to achieve substantive progress. Ed Mayo described one of his books, Short Circuit, as ‘a classic of localisation’:

“Recent extreme weather events in Ireland, international instability and the refugee crisis have focussed many minds on the fragility of the global economy and the vulnerability of ecosystems worldwide. There is an urgent need to build community and resilience on a local level whilst also reinforcing global solidarity and justice.

“Against the backdrop of Afri’s Famine Walk on Saturday 19th, these two innovative events intend to explore some of today’s sustainability challenges in Ireland and globally. This will be done in conversation and through culture, using the Great Famine as a backdrop, reflecting on the policies and politics of famines, and in solidarity with the global justice movement, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, climate action and food sovereignty.

“Partner organisers include Feasta, the justice and human rights NGO Afri, the community resilience NGO Cultivate, a recently formed Irish language group, Teacht Aniar, and Food Sovereignty Ireland.

“A strand in Irish aims to explore ecological parallels in culture, language and resilience – again with a backdrop of the Famine, which is often called an Drochshaol (the bad life). This will be facilitated by Teacht Aniar (which literally means resilience). Beidh fáilte ar leith roimh chainteoiri na teanga, go háirithe muintir na Gaeltachta”.

An evening celebration of Cultural Resilience with further conversation, ceol & craic will take place in Westport from 8 to 11 pm .

Daytime event: Conversations on Cultural Resilience – Famine, Food, Energy & Culture

Date: Friday 18th May 10.30-17.00
Venue: GMIT Castlebar, Co Mayo

 

 

 

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Localise – in New Zealand

Localise  is about sharing ideas, networking creative visionaries, resourcing, providing tools and bringing people together in a collaborative way for the betterment of our community – specifically here in Northland, Aotearoa New Zealand. 

We are trying to achieve community well-being – a combination of economic, social and spiritual factors. A strong social fabric based around shared values and joint responsibility lies at the heart of this. The term ‘economy’ has been co-opted to the pursuit of individualism and materialism – sharing and caring has been forgotten.

Often specialisation and the desire for efficiency has enabled us to forget the reason for an economy – that all in the “household” will be provided for. All we do economically should be filtered in terms of well-being and the sustainability of our community and land for future generations.

Working with others including from Transition Whangarei a discussion document has been developed that proposes a major re-development of the food system for Northland – from producer, to distribution, to processing, to consumer, including collaboration with a wide cross-section of stakeholders. Visit the site to see the Local Food Northland video. Projects include:

Networking Software

Our plan is to develop an interactive database of businesses and organisations in Northland that are rated by their “Local” status – how they rank in terms of local inputs – materials, ownership, financing, energy usage, and other services. This will then be a place to look for people to deal with who wish to promote the idea of keeping resources and ownership local, to build up our community well-being and provide meaningful work for future generations.

Going Local – Ideas for Northland Project

This is about developing a whole paradigm shift away from reliance on the global economy to rebuilding local resilience that then provides a base from which exports and tourism may begin to flourish without jeopardising our natural environment, our communities and the vulnerable. There is a brief summary of the concept on a blog post,  parts in much greater detail are here, and parts are in process via online collaboration.

 We are starting to realise that:

  • The story of infinite GDP growth at any cost equalling a better life for all isn’t working.
  • Cheap abundant energy was a temporary state and our binging is soon to be replaced with a very serious hangover.
  • Adversarial economics harms and collaboration and open-source economics works.
  • As Martin Luther King Jr said, the ultimate measure of a society is how it treats it’s most powerless members.
  • What we pay in terms of currency doesn’t necessarily represent the true cost – “externalised” costs such as exploitive labour and environmental practices sour the sweetness of our imported trinkets.
  • There is a connection between “cheap” imports and the social disasters that occur when our own people have no work, low-wage unskilled work, or having to accrue student debt – still with no guarantee of actual work at the end.
  • We are starting to realise that ta good life cannot be bought – we have gained the world but lost our souls on so many levels.

So let’s learn to focus on what we can change.

What could a more localised future look like?

Go to our blog page to start browsing articles around local Food, Fabrics, Energy, Community, Events, Housing, Engineering and more.

This is an expanding collaborative project so please sign up to receive emails and join us on this journey. We also have a Facebook page.

Join in the conversation on our Slack chat!

We want to join with others interested in our goals to foster diverse and creative ways to facilitate this. Please pass this on to others who may be interested in exploring this. 

 

 

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A fair and sustainable local way of feeding urban communities

Julie Brown, director of Growing Communities’, a trading and wholesaling operation, says her mission is to feed urban communities locally in a way that is fair and sustainable in the face of corporate dominance and climate change.

Two of her suppliers, Martin and Sarah Mackey, grow potatoes and kale, in Kent as tenants on their holding, Ripple Farm. They sell some of their potatoes at local markets for a pound a kilo, about the same as you would pay for the equivalent grade in a high street supermarket. They also Growing Communities which mixes their potatoes with other produce in vegetable box schemes, starting at £7.75 for a week’s supply for one.

In conventional production, the average price for potatoes at the farm gate has been just 11p per kilo recently (less than a fifth of what Brown pays). A large-scale supplier to supermarkets or manufacturing will typically get only this small fraction of the retail price of around £1 per kilo in the shops, with markups along the way for complex transport and logistics systems, processors’ costs, retail margins and executive pay.

Fair price

Julie starts from the position that the price she gives the Mackeys for potatoes must cover their cost of production and enable both of them and their staff to earn a reasonable living. So she pays them 60p per kilo for delivered goods. Her packers are paid the London living wage, the amount the Resolution Foundation calculates is required to cover the real cost of living and in good years, a share of the profits in bonuses.

Pay ratio

One of her organisation’s governing principles is that the pay ratio between top and bottom should be no more than 2:1, so Brown takes a salary of £30,000 a year. Unlike many agency workers supplied to industrial farms to harvest and pack, the workers on Ripple Farm receive holiday pay, sick pay and good protective clothing to keep them warm and dry.

Short supply chain

Her supply chain is short and direct, keeping other costs to a minimum. She also believes her customers should know where the money goes and explains that most of her markup goes into wages. Suppliers like Martin Mackey can plan for and control routes to market, remaining outside the system of supermarket and big manufacturing just-in-time delivery that now accounts for the vast majority of UK production.

Local workers

Large-scale producers say they have to bring in migrants because local people do not want these jobs, especially where they are seasonal, and small wonder. The Mackeys’ business, on the other hand, is arranged so that there is year-round employment five days a week, and a hard stint outdoors in the morning might be balanced by a less arduous indoor job in packing and admin in the afternoon. The work is tough and physically demanding, as agricultural work has always been, but it is not allowed to be crippling. Finding good staff is not always easy but with good pay and conditions, the jobs have been filled by local recruits.

To summarise:

  •  Food is sourced sustainably.
  • Distribution is low carbon
  • Trade is fair, meaning that: farmers are paid a fair price, food is affordable (but not ‘cheap’) and workers are paid living wages

And farms are directly connected to the urban communities they feed: trading and distribution are organised around community-led retail systems which prioritise local and direct sourcing, enabling supply chains to be shortened and communities to source increasing amounts from closer to where they live.

 

 

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International Alliance for Localization: update

In December 2015 this blog reported Local Futures’ 2014 launch of a cross-cultural, North-South network of thinkers, activists and NGOs – the International Alliance for Localization (IAL) – with members from over 30 countries who meet online and/or in person – a few pictured below.

Localise West Midlands later became one of the member organisations. Last July’s LWM blog – gave news of some very interesting localising ventures.

Local Futures have collaborated with organizations worldwide which are helping to forge a grassroots path to a new economy:

  • In Japan, Local Futures has helped to forge a broad-based Economics of Happiness/localization movement.
  • In South Korea, it collaborates with a group of 37 mayors who have formed a Social Economy Forum.
  • In Italy, it is in dialogue with the Five Star movement (M5S), an environmentally-minded people’s party that is channelling half of their MPs’ (member of parliament) salaries into a microcredit bank that provides funding for small businesses. They have raised more than €10 million so far.

Community Solutions’ 2017 Arthur Morgan Award was given by the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions to Local Futures’ co-founder and director Helena Norberg-Hodge, “in recognition of her tireless advocacy for communities across the planet”.

The award is bestowed annually to honour those who are passionate about – and committed to – community and democracy.

Community Solutions is perhaps best known for their inspiring 2006 film The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

It described how organic farming, urban agriculture – and of course community – enabled Cuba to survive the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of almost all its oil and food imports.

Read more about founder Arthur Morgan’s work here.

In the UK, the small Somerset town of Frome, where Local Futures film The Economics of Happiness was screened in 2011, has revolutionized rural politics.

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-a-democratic-revolution-in-the-somerset-town-of-frome-could-teach-our-political-class-8312163.html

Over the last few years, representatives of Independents for Frome have gradually won all the seats on the local council. Their platform is about sustainability, inclusivity and rebuilding the local economy from the ground up. Read more about their achievements here.

In 2017, Helena hosted four live webinars in The Global to Local Webinar Series. In January she was joined by Christian Felber, founder of Economy for the Common Good and the final webinar of the year was with Shaun Chamberlin, author of The Transition Timeline and managing director of the Fleming Policy Centre. It focused on the late David Fleming’s work, his book Surviving the Future, and his contribution to the localization movement

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Read more in the latest Local Futures Newsletter.

 

 

 

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Community asset transfer: news of a Scottish bid and activity in Birmingham

From short-term licences to long leases, local community and voluntary groups are seeking opportunities to take on the management or ownership of buildings and land. ‘Community Asset Transfer’ or in Scotland ‘Asset Transfer’ has enabled thousands of buildings and spaces across England, such as swimming pools, town halls, libraries and parks to be taken on and successfully managed by community organisations for the benefit of their local community.

A community buyout bid is being made for Ulva, a beautiful 12km-long island with fine heather moors and mossy woods, off Scotland’s west coast. 

In 1837 more than 600 people lived on Ulva; there are now only six residents. In the four years to 1851, when potato blight and failure of the local kelp industry left the population destitute, the laird deported three-quarters of Ulva’s residents. Jamie Howard, the resident owner, puts the more recent population slump down to the “special and difficult challenges of living on a small, remote island with rough roads and limited housing stock”.

Barry George, who came to live on Ulva twenty years ago, said there were then 27 residents who would join together for Burns Night and Christmas parties: “The whole community has collapsed. There are five empty houses sitting there, empty . . . It’s quite shameful really.” Many of the buildings on the island show signs of neglect. A stepladder holds up the pulpit roof in the church. Slates are missing and wood frames rotting at the manse and other cottages. He added: “I don’t see what can possibly be wrong with right-to-buy, if the people who own the land are given a fair price.”

When Mr Howard put Ulva up for sale this year, asking for over £4m, local community organisers saw an opportunity for change.

The North West Mull Community Woodland Company, which operates forestry and related businesses on behalf of residents of the area of Mull that includes Ulva, has made a community buyout bid to bring Ulva under the control of local residents. Colin Morrison, chairperson of the Woodland Company, said : “Our drive would be to repopulate it, to bring business. There’s huge tourism potential.” (Left: director of the Woodland Company John Addy). A feasibility study commissioned by the Woodland Company for the community buyout argues that renovation of the housing stock would attract new residents and higher rents would then help the estate to cover its operating costs.

Today the Times reported that the Electoral Reform Society, which supervised the ballot, announced that out of 401 of those eligible to vote 255 had responded, with 163 in favour of the bid and 91 against. Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish government’s environment secretary, will have to approve the bid and she is expected to do this in the next few days.

Donald Munro sails the ferry across the narrow sound to Mull

In Birmingham:

  • Witton Lodge Community Association piloted Birmingham’s first community asset transfer in 2010 – Perry Common Community Hall – now a thriving community hub.
  • Castle Pool Community Partnership – successful transfer of local community swimming and leisure facility.
  • Spitfire Services (formerly known as Castle Vale TRA) – successful transfer (licence to operate) of Tyburn Library.
  • Moseley Road Baths Action Group – working with a range of partners to secure the future of Moseley Road Baths – ongoing.
  • Wildside Activity Centre – working to support the board and CEO to secure the transfer of the centre and develop the business into a sustainable community asset – ongoing.

Some members of Localise West Midlands are playing a part in the Moseley venture.

 

 

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The Centre for Retail Research – some common ground?

The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) has provided authoritative research and analysis of the retail and service sectors for twenty-one years in Britain, Europe and North America and is completely independent, not funded by the retail sector or suppliers.

In an article on its website, a ‘recalibration of policy’ is advocated.

Themes relevant today:

  • Create a comprehensive industrial strategy, based on local needs and using local knowledge.
  • Replace imports and create the vital supply chains needed by British business.
  • Build housing, potentially a provider of 1mn new jobs and a swift way of improving the living standards and opportunities.
  • Increase the focus on learning science, maths, technical subjects and foreign languages;
  • Abandon the current emphasis on university as the only useful goal for young people;
  • Increase vocational training, retraining and part-time study for adults.
  • Renew concern for manufacturing industry and jobs rather than focussing only on retail, service industries, banking and the City of London.
  • Legislate for government permission to be required before a significant UK business is bought by a foreign company.

Localisers would find some common ground here.

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CRR’s retail recommendations:

  • A level playing field where online businesses face the same levels of corporation tax and property tax as does retailing through stores.
  • Higher wages for retail workers and better jobs, which will probably mean fewer jobs, more automation and perhaps fewer stores.
  • Reform of Insolvency laws to ensure that creditors, employees and pensioners are better served than they are at present by legislation designed to keep failing companies alive.

And the summary of a Localise West Midlands exploratory report (2008-9) expresses the value of independent retail:

Retail plays an essential role in a localised supply chain of food and other goods; ‘walkable’ retail builds social inclusion and reduces the need for the car; social capital and local multiplier are stronger in a town centre full of independent shops, and local distinctiveness is another benefit”.

 

 

 

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Rebuild the local economy: prioritise labour-intensive sectors, difficult to automate, impossible to relocate abroad

Colin Hines, co-founder of LWM and convenor of the UK Green New Deal Group, comments on the Guardian’s recent editorial on productivity and robots which ‘repeated the cliché that automation does cost jobs, but more are created’.

He says that the problem with this is that the new jobs are frequently in different places from where they are lost and require very different skills, hence exacerbating the problems for the “left behind”.

Also unmentioned was that just as automation is starting to really bite, the world faces a strong possibility of another serious credit-induced economic downturn, from China to the UK and a perfect storm of domestic unemployment soaring and export markets falling, as happened after the 2008 economic slump.

The answer to these problems has to be a shift of emphasis to rebuilding the local economy by prioritising labour-intensive sectors that are difficult to automate and impossible to relocate abroad.

Two sectors are key:

  • face-to-face caring from medicine, education and elderly care
  • carbon-reducing national infrastructural renewal.

This should range from making the UK’s 30m buildings energy efficient, constructing new low-carbon dwellings and rebuilding local public transport links.

Funding could come from fairer taxes, local authority bonds in which all could invest, green ISAs and a massive new green infrastructure QE programme.

This approach should become central to all political parties, set out in their next election manifestos because “jobs in absolutely every constituency” is the crucial vote-winning mantra.

 

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Anchoring community wealth

Preston’s skyline: Carl Ji, a Chinese student, at the University of Central Lancashire

Austerity has been devolved to local councils and, perversely, areas with higher levels of poverty have been hit hardest, councils have on average faced 40% cuts in their budgets.

In the face of adversity councils such as Preston have responded by bringing together anchor institutions and working with them to drive through a local programme of economic transformation. The government’s Commission for Employment and Skills defines an ‘anchor institution’ as “one that, alongside its main function, plays a significant and recognised role in a locality by making a strategic contribution to the local economy” and ‘tending’ to be non-profit.

By changing their procurement policies, these anchor institutions were able to drive up spending locally protecting businesses and jobs. They are looking at the council pension fund to see if its investment can support local businesses keeping the money circulating in their town.

A study by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies found that six of the anchor institutions in the area are now spending 18% of their budget in Preston, up from 5% in 2013. So an extra £75 million a year is being spent within the city, with the top 300 local suppliers creating an extra 800 jobs last year alone. And others are watching: Manchester city council has now increased its local spend from 44% of its budget to 70%; Lowestoft and Salford are also interested.

Last year this blog reported that Birmingham City Council was to work with Centre for Local Economic Strategies, with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and support from Localise West Midlands, to see how anchor institutions in the non-profit and private sectors, including Birmingham University, Pioneer Housing and the QE hospital, could use their spending power to increase economic opportunities for Birmingham’s communities, businesses and citizens. Read more on the council website here.

In a separate project, Localise West Midlands has been working with the Midland Metropolitan Hospital (under construction, artist’s impression) which will be the closest adult hospital to the centre of Birmingham. The Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust and LWM are partners in Urban Innovative Actions supporting the development of the local economy. The Trust hopes to spend 2% of the new hospital’s annual budget with local suppliers, adding £5-8m to the local economy. It will provide locally sourced meals and the builder has a target of 70% local employment, aiming to source 80% of construction materials locally.

Alice Thomson in The Times pointed out that making a legal requirement that councils buy and hire goods and services locally is banned by EU law at the moment, so it should be noted that the Preston project operates on a voluntary basis.

She commented: “The government should take the idea and encourage it, particularly in hollowed-out market towns where out of town shopping centres have crushed their sense of identity” adding “But (procurement policies) could also be used for more high-profile programmes such as the rebuilding of Big Ben, where the steel has had to come from Brazil, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, or the V&A which showcases Britain’s greatest designs but where the tiles for the new forecourt came from Holland”.

 

 

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