Community energy solutions: Plymouth

In 2012 Plymouth’s co-operative city council established a Low Carbon City Team, which helped to identify the city’s potential for community energy solutions and forge partnerships. The council funded pre-development, initial community engagement and business plan development.

plymouth bencom header

In 2013 it joined forces with local residents to form Plymouth Energy Community (PEC) which then set up a second Industrial & Provident community benefit society (Bencom), PEC Renewables, to fund and manage renewable energy installations. PEC has 850 members, 95% of whom are local residents, and the number is rising, with more joining as the current share offer progresses.

Marie-Claire Kidd reports that Plymouth’s energy future is changing. PEC Renewables launched its first share offer in February 2014. It closed after seven weeks, oversubscribed at £602,000, with 144 investor members, around half of them local. This enabled it to install free solar photovoltaics on 18 schools and three community buildings between May and November 2014.

pec investors

The installations, which collectively represent 0.78 megawatts, are now generating half-price electricity for their community building hosts. Surplus electricity is sold to the grid. The bencom also receives income in the form of a government subsidy, via the Feed-in Tariff.

PEC Renewables launched its second community share offer this February, this time with a £950,000 target. It will fund more free solar photovoltaics, and bring the bencom’s community fund to more than £1.2m. It is forecasting a return of up to 6% for members, which rises to 10.5% including tax relief. The offer, which closes on 5 May, has already raised £510,000.

midland house council offices plymouth

Plymouth’s largest solar roof will be installed on Plymouth Life Centre, a diving centre and one of the busiest leisure centres in the country, and there will be solar panels on four more schools, bringing the total to 1.3MW. (Above: panels on Midland House, a Plymouth council office)

Plymouth has 11,500 households in fuel poverty – 10% of its population – and an energy-inefficient housing stock. The city council has produced a plan to reduce emissions from the council estate by 20% by 2015 and reduce citywide emissions by 30% by 2020.

One of its main aims is to help local people to understand their energy options, so it is promoting grant schemes for free cavity and loft insulation and subsidised external wall insulation, offering savings of around £260 per household per year. It has also provided energy tariff advice for over 600 households, offering average savings of £180 per year.

PEC Renewables’ community fund is being used to tackle the challenges of rising energy costs, fuel poverty and climate change. Projects include PEC’s fuel debt advice service, which has helped local residents clear £55,000 of energy bill arrears in the last 10 months, and its energy team, which trains volunteers to provide free home energy advice to at-risk households.

 

To learn about Plymouth’s plans for the future, read Ms Kidd’s article.

America: six big shifts towards an economy that distributes economic benefits widely and minimizes damage to the environment

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sarah van gelderSarah van Gelder (right) is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine which feature powerful ideas and practical actions towards a more just and sustainable world. She has co-founded a cohousing community, organized tenants and built a produce cooperative, providing local, sustainably grown whole foods, at affordable prices, to residents who want local, sustainable food sourced within walking distance of their homes.

Sarah points out that, in America as in Britain, corporations and the wealthy are recovering well after the collapse of the global economy in 2008. This is confirmed by Nomi Prins, (left, a senior fellow at America’s Demos) who has worked as a managing director at Goldman-Sachs, a Senior Managing Director at Bear Stearns and senior strategist at Lehman Brothers.

nomi prinsShe records that corporate profits have jumped back to near-historical highs, and banks are hoarding an extra $1 trillion in reserve at the Fed. However, Ms Prins points out that over 90% of the population have “an overhang of debt, stagnant wages and inferior jobs, all exacerbating income inequality”.

Sarah asserts that many people are losing patience with the corporate economy—and turning to initiatives that build a new economy. Grassroots groups, local entrepreneurs and broad-based coalitions are building the foundations of an economy that distributes economic benefits widely and minimizes damage to the environment. She lists six big shifts (the links are very well worth following):

  1. Local food, once a tiny niche market, has gone mainstream. The growing, processing, and marketing of local foods is booming in many areas, including the eastern U.S., abandoned neighborhoods in Detroit, Michigan and towns and cities throughout the country. Via farmers markets and direct purchases from growers, the food travels quickly from farm to table, keeping it fresh and nutritious. Local food isn’t always greener, but a local diet does reduce emissions from food transportation, support local jobs, and connect people to their neighbors and local environment.
  1. More workers own their jobs. Worker-owned co-ops have been spreading, particularly since the recession. While they, like all businesses, can struggle, they also can help keep good jobs stable and keep money in the community. In the Bronx in New York City, the 2,300 employees who work at Cooperative Home Health Care Associates get better pay, more job security, and more training for career advancement than their counterparts at competing firms. In Chicago, workers at a manufacturing plant who were laid off when the plant was shut down bought out the factory and now operate it as New Era Window and Doors. The most famous example of worker ownership, however, is in the Basque region of Spain, which has more than 70,000 worker-owners in more than 200 enterprises. Labor unions and community activists in the United States are beginning to emulate the success of Spain’s Mondragon Cooperatives, especially in hard-hit rust belt regions.

karma kitchen

  1. The economy goes DIY. Making, DIY, and sharing culture: ethic of reuse and no waste, a bias for local and small-scale, and a preference for generosity is blossoming. Young people especially are building tiny houses and writing open source software. Online platforms like Couchsurfing let people share their homes with travelers. Others have started “pay-it-forward” restaurants where you pay not for your own meal, but for the person behind you in the line.
  1. Money grows more responsible. Campaigners in 22 states aim to open government-owned banks at the state, county or municipal level to finance local economies and keep profits nearby. The latest trend, in light of the threat of climate disruption, is to divest from holdings in coal, oil, and gas companies. To date, more than 800 global investors have pledged to divest over $50 billion. Redirecting assets from big corporations and Wall Street to sustainable local enterprises is providing investment capital needed to fuel the new economy.
  1. clt berkshiresSome homes stay affordable. A small percentage of people are living in community land trust homes – affordable by design – and foreclosure rates were one-tenth of the national level. This success is causing cities and advocates for the poor elsewhere to look at this as a model of permanently affordable housing. Keeping basic necessities, like our homes, out of the speculative market helps stabilize the economy and averts the disruption and impoverishment that results from predatory real estate and lending practices.
  1. Innovation emerges to protect our resources. The new economy draws on the wealth of common assets, including fresh water, the Internet, green spaces in our cities, and the storehouse of knowledge we inherit from previous generations.

It does so in a way that neither depletes them nor excludes others. That means protecting water quality, keeping the Internet open, protecting the stability of the climate, and ensuring access to a good education—for ourselves and for those not yet born.

The new economy is being built on grassroots-led, pragmatic actions that people around the U.S. and around the world are taking to create widely shared, sustainable prosperity.

Read Sarah’s article here: http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/six-ways-the-us-is-building-a-people-powered-economy

 

Community energy: co-operative, citizen-centred, decentralised

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Although a couple of weeks ago the government agreed to ban all fracking in protected areas, they are now reported as saying this may ‘unduly constrain the industry’ and fracking will be allowed to take place under National Parks and other protected areas if the wells start outside their boundaries. The passing of the government’s bill was welcomed by Ken Cronin, the chief executive of trade body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas. MP Caroline Lucas, on the other hand, said:What a mockery this is making of legitimate public concerns on fracking, and indeed of the democratic process.”

On 27th January, the government’s Community Energy Strategy report praised the way “communities are coming together to take more control of the energy they use”.

balcombe residents

There are a growing number of community energy organisations in the UK, giving communities more control over production and provision and opportunities to alleviate fuel poverty and increase local employment.

Co-operatives UK, Community Energy England, The Co-operative Energy, Social Enterprise UK, 10:10 and Regen SW have united to call for fair treatment for energy co-ops: a sensible approach to share capital and an optional asset lock for co-ops. They have produced a briefing setting out the main actions required to get community energy back on track. Click here to read the briefing in full.

repower balcombe header

REPOWERBalcombe is the latest initiative: a pro-community and pro-renewables co-operative social enterprise run for the good of the local community. Recognising that Cuadrilla’s drilling back in 2013 divided opinion in the community, they aspire to move on and unite around something positive – clean energy.

In 2015 they aim to raise funds for around 300kw of solar PV, the equivalent of 10% of Balcombe’s current electricity usage – or enough to power 60 of the village’s 760 homes. REPOWERBalcombe will sell investment in the form of shares to the community.

grange farm balcombe solar69 panels were installed on Grange Farm at the end of January

Their first site to sign up was the third-generation family-run Grange Farm on Crawley Down, who will host 18kW of solar panels on their cowshed in exchange for 33% discounted energy for the next 25 years. Local co-op members provided £27,300 for these panels. They are now raising funds to install solar panels on the rooftops of three schools.

As the briefing says:

“The UK needs to move from an economy based on fossil fuels, towards one based on renewable energy; from a market dominated by a handful of suppliers, to one where thousands of communities meet their energy needs locally.

“We need an approach to ownership and innovation that is more co-operative, citizen-centred and decentralised. One that enables people to work together to generate, distribute and supply their own sustainable energy. One that taps the emergence of new crowdfunding mechanisms that have the ability to leverage large sums of money into clean energy investment, and at the same time bolster energy-democracy and the social economy.”

Models for doing this already exist across Europe, where co-operatives and social enterprises deliver clean, low-carbon energy, offer local employment opportunities, community development funds and fuel poverty alleviation.

Useful links:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/shale-gas

http://www.thenews.coop/93323/news/co-operatives/getting-the-uks-community-energy-sector-back-on-track/

http://www.repowerbalcombe.com/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-31027128

http://www.energyshare.com/pages/8304/

A lesson for Britain: Brazil promotes food security and local food procurement, strengthening family farming

graziano da silvaVested interests replacing the now defunct Flying Matters, a lobby group funded by the aviation industry, vigorously defend the profitable import of food from countries with malnourished people. A better way forward, socially, economically and environmentally is offered by the Director General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Jose Graziano da Silva (Extraordinary Minister for Food Security), one of the champions of the Zero Hunger project in Brazil, which raised 28 million people above the poverty line during the 8 years of the Lula administration.

Small-scale family farmers, who accounted for a significant percentage of the agriculture/livestock production in Brazil particularly of staple food items, were usually excluded from agricultural policy discussions. They mobilised and a national program, the Pronaf, was created in 1995, offering the first credit line specifically designed for family farming in Brazil.

Local food procurement, a success in Brazil today

school meal brazilA School Meal Law (Pnae) was passed, requiring 30% of the public food purchases for school meals to be made locally from family farmers. It strengthened local and regional markets, fostered the circulation of profits in the region, recovered regional food habits and promoted the establishment of associations or cooperatives, which play an instrumental role in organizing food production and protecting the economy of the poorest sectors of the population.

Da Silva commented: “This ensures stable markets for farmers and at the same time ensures culturally-acceptable, nutritious and fresh meals for school-going children.

zero hunger coverA Family Agriculture Food Acquisition Program was set up and generates income for poor family farmers (household income not exceeding R$ 110,000) by selling their surplus food produce to the federal government and encouraging the creation or development of marketing channels for family farming products. It also provided a price guarantee tool for part of their produce.

A range of initiatives, included crop insurance and special credit lines were created for young people, women, organic crops, working capital and shares in cooperatives, agroindustrial projects, rural tourism, environmental recovery and semiarid regions.

The farmers’ organizations financed and set up stocks of products of the current harvest, strengthening food security systems and keeping food products in their localities, allowing any surplus to be sold when prices are more rewarding for farmers. Read more here and in the book (right) co-authored by Dr da Silva.

Several countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are adopting similar approaches.

modi da silva agric

 Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva recently met India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi and discussed India’s National Food Security Mission. Both agreed that food security comes first and national governments must have the flexibility to put in place suitable mechanisms to achieve it. Modi sought the FAO’s cooperation in designing a campaign for women which would highlight ways to improve families’ nutritional value and food habits. They discussed ways of linking family farming production to school meal programmes by creating local food procurement programmes and increasing the nutritional value of the mid-day meal scheme for school children.

Meanwhile, British farmers are encouraged by their unions and government agencies to produce more food for export, though prices then inevitably fall as supply rises, and the global market consistently rewards only the speculator or the unproductive middleman.

Globalisation – the open trading system – is fragmenting

Philip Stephens, an associate editor, in the Financial Times: Globalisation – the open trading system – is fragmenting; it needs an enforcer – a hegemon, a concert of powers or global governance arrangements”.

Evidence: the collapse of the Doha, the demise of global free-trade agreements, and the emergence of regional coalitions and deals. The emerging economies are building south-south relationships and the Brics nations are setting up their own financial institutions.

Colin Hines, co-founder of LWM goes further – and deeper. He advocates the rebuilding and rediversifying of economies by limiting the entry of finance, goods and people from other countries, ensuring local provision of goods, finance and services and weaning themselves off export dependence. Depending on the context, ‘local’ goods would come from the nearest source, the region, the nation state or even a regional grouping of nation states – eg oranges from EU/Spain.

Domestic businesses and funding sources would then meet the needs of the majority in society in all countries. The prospect of such increasing economic security for the majority could gain widespread political support ranging from those on the left, the centre and the greens through to small ‘c’ conservatives.

In 2008, just before the economic collapse, as GND convenor, he presented a mechanism which would have enabled the Green New Deal to prosper. ‘Green Quantitative Easing’ would have made every building in the country energy efficient, and built hundreds of thousands of new, affordable and energy-efficient homes. A massive boost would have been given to economic activity, providing jobs on a living wage in every community in the UK, whilst reducing its environmental impact.

Later this month he will be speaking in Italy at a conference of left economists to float the progressive protectionism agenda and criticise the left, centre and greens for their support of open borders, leaving the extreme right in an ever more powerful position.

Seeking economic activists in the West Mids!

 “It’s really the right time for your organisation now”

 “The Localise Prosperity site and resources are fantastic – I can’t tell you how brilliant it was for someone in a role like mine to find the actions for communities.”

 “What an amazing document (the evidence review LWM did). Such an important job and I’m going to return to it…”

Your work is very relevant to what I do because I’m fundamentally motivated by generating economic growth from localities outwards: I think it’s a better, healthier and more democratic way to organise society.”

LWM works towards more a localised economy – supply chains, ownership and decision-making – for social justice and sustainability. We see localisation and decentralising capitalism as key to progressing gently radical economic change. We do this by bringing people together to explore ideas and take action, and by research and consultancy. 

We have the strengths of:

  • a clear sustainable economics concept that is inspirational, positive and timely
  •  Thanks to Barrow Cadbury, an extensive body of work on localising prosperity, on which to base further work
  • 11 years’ contribution as consultancy and thinktank to the local economy agenda, particularly in energy retrofit
  • Commitment to strengthening the collective voice for a better economy in the UK
  • Keen and skilled people: coordinator, associates and board.

But to make the biggest difference we need the input and commitment of new people: colleagues and collaborators with fresh perspectives, different skills, and more time capacity than current members can offer.

Would you like to help shape what we do next, and work on it? – join our board, or just get involved and see where it leads?

For more info about our work, browse our website and blog. Then get in touch for a chat if you see an opportunity for yourself.

Has Secretary of State (Elizabeth Truss) visited the LWM site?

A Lancashire farmer sends news of a ministerial statement made by the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Elizabeth Truss.  On 21st July she launched “A Plan for Public Procurement of Food and Catering Services”, which includes an emphasis on Government procurement opening up the public sector market to small and local businesses:

truss plan local procurement“It will allow more locally-sourced food to be served in our public sector organisations, which means more money into the local economy. It is also good for the environment, as the approach supports UK farm production standards and measures to reduce food waste. It will encourage healthier eating, foster a great connection with food, and celebrate local food”.

LWM’s MCED report (links via Mainstreaming Community Economic Development) includes a section on public procurement – ‘Realising the potential of local economic power’, which refers to the consortium approach used in Italy which permits local SMEs and social enterprises to overcome minimum turnover requirements etc in order to bid for major contracts while retaining local identities and maximising local benefits.

It also mentions a Buy for Good non-profit scheme being set up in the city, which awards contracts that “have a positive impact on the local economy’. Does this relate to Birmingham’s Business Charter for Social Responsibility, awarded by the city council?

Follow the link to read about the Charter’s emphasis on creating employment and training opportunities, buying locally when commissioning and contracting, protecting the environment, minimising waste and energy and employing the highest ethical standards in their own operations and those within their supply chain.

The ministerial statement may be read in full here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wms/?id=2014-07-21a.107.0

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Relocalisation: an under reported issue in the French elections

 

In the French election, left wing socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon has stressed the need to relocalise Europe’s economy and to do so by limiting imports.

This has brought Melenchon increased votes in a country where 70% of the population favour some form of protection for domestic production from cheaper, lower waged competitors.

Colin guardian picThis French election trend prompts a call for a debate about the need for ‘progressive protectionism’ in the UK and Europe-wide

LWM’s co-founder Colin Hines explains that progressive protectionism rejects the call for open markets and the need to be internationally competitive.

Acceptance of these edicts as inevitable by the three main political parties has consequences:

  • it drives down tax rates,
  • worsens social and environmental conditions
  • kills local jobs
  • and reduces small business opportunities.

Whistling in the dark to keep up the nation’s economic spirits: promising hi tech export-led growth in an era of rising Asian dominance is the last colonial delusion

The alternative is to propose a set of practical measures for protecting and re-diversifying local economies by limiting what goods they let in and what funds they choose to enter or leave the country.

In the process they will wean themselves off of their export dependence. This will allow space for domestic funding and business to meet most of the needs of the majority in society.

Proposing policies that would result in the grounding of manufacturing, money and services here in the UK would enable politicians and activists to call the bluff of relocation-threatening big business and finance, who at present have the whip hand over all politicians who support open markets.

This is the only way to tackle the economic and environmental crises, return local control of the economy to citizens and provide a sense of security and hope for their future. If implemented it could play a crucial role in seeing off the rise of the extreme right, as this invariably flourishes when the sense of insecurity within the majority worsens.

 

Forthcoming book
Forthcoming book

Progressive protectionism can tackle this insecurity far more effectively than any of the policies offered – at present – by parties of any political hue

The money markets would ferociously destabilise the challenge posed to their present dominance of the world economy by introducing progressive protectionism in one country alone. Europe is facing huge threats from the forces of international finance, yet the continent would be a powerful enough bloc to implement a programme of progressive protectionism, particularly if the politically active started to campaign for it.

The time to start the debate is now.

Abridged from the Progressive protectionism website, written by Colin Hines. See another article on the subject here.

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Award for LWM co-founder of the Aston Reinvestment Trust

pat conaty community finance award

The Citi Foundation and Community Development Finance Association awards recently recognised several organisations finding innovative ways to finance the communities that need it most.

Pat Conaty received an individual award for working to improve access to finance and support the community development finance sector. On the right is Shamima Begum, the other individual award winner.

Pat first brought the CDFI concept to the UK from his native United States. He set up several CDFIs, such as the Aston Reinvestment Trust in Birmingham, and innovated the products, forms and funding that CDFIs use. ART’s loan support  has now created or safeguarded 5000 jobs and over 650 loans have been delivered since 1997.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been enabled to access fair and affordable finance in the UK through CDFIs, which also helped to create over 8,000 businesses in 2013 and almost 12,000 new jobs, delivering Start Up Loans, New Enterprise Allowance and Regional Growth Fund programmes.

To read more about the work of CDFA and the awards go to http://www.cdfa.org.uk/2013/10/09/time-to-celebrate-finance-heroes-in-the-uk/

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A call for a locally-focused approach, integrated with conventional economic development

george morran mediumIn a letter to the Observer, George Morran, who has a wealth of experience in local government, wrote: the case for a new approach to manufacturing (Observer, Business Sunday 29th December) needs to be taken further.

The Observer article issued ‘a big challenge, but one that must be met’: “Britain must look beyond London, put faith in manufacturing and redress the balance of wealth to benefit the regions beyond the south-east”.

George focussed on the UK’s dependency on the manufacture of arms, while at the same time being forced to import trains, trams and other manufactured goods from abroad. He asked:

“Would it not be possible – with the level of Government support currently given to BAE and its supply chain – to fill some of these more local needs?

“The UK’s manufacturing heritage was founded on local manufacturers meeting local needs, firstly agricultural and later the needs of the coal, iron and related industries. We need to move back to this more localised approach to manufacturing”.

lwm logo clearerHe observed that leaving the future of manufacturing to the global market place is unlikely to lead to local manufacturing responding to local needs and ended by pointing out that:

Localise West Midlands has published a report about Community Economic Development which sets out in some detail a more localised approach to economic development. It demonstrates the significant benefits of more locally-owned economies in creating successful, socially just and diverse places and highlights how a locally-focused approach can be fully integrated into conventional economic development.