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.

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/

Transition town focus

A transition town is a grassroots community project that seeks to build resilience in the face of peak oil, climate destruction and economic instability. Local projects are usually based on the model’s 12 ‘ingredients’. The first initiative to use the name was Transition Town Totnes, founded in 2006.

totnes

Between late 2006 and early 2007 the Transition Network was founded as a UK charity by permaculture educator Rob Hopkins. It trains and supports people involved with Transition initiatives, disseminates the concepts of the transition model and assists the grassroots initiatives to network with one another.

local money coverSome Transition Towns engage with ‘fiscal localism’ – see Dr Peter North’s book, ’Local Money’, which ends by setting out how money that stays in the community can be created – building loyalty between consumers and local traders rather than losing wealth to the corporate chain stores. It charts the development of the first Transition currencies, the Totnes, Lewes, Stroud and Brixton Pounds. Note a sister post about the more recent Bristol pound. It also describes how alternative currencies could work with local banks and credit unions to strengthen the local economy, supporting the local production of necessities such as food and energy while helping to reduce the community’s carbon emissions.

The book draws on the long history of local currencies, from Local Exchange Trading Schemes and ‘time banks’ to paper currencies such as BerkShares, Ithaca ‘Hours’ and German regional currencies, which circulate between local businesses as an alternative to their losing trade to the ‘big box’ retailers.

In 2012 on this site we read about Herefordshire Transition Network’s intention is to develop ‘a thriving, resilient Herefordshire economy’ capable of meeting ‘the challenges of climate change, energy security and economic uncertainty’. The network includes a range of people and organisations across the country, many of whom were represented at a meeting attended by LWM’s Jon Stevens.

State of play now?

transition stourbridge header

Nearer, see news from Stourbridge: http://transitionstourbridge.co.uk/about/  

For news of transition projects around the country, go to http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ and for a list of transition initiatives worldwide, go to https://www.transitionnetwork.org/initiatives

Human-scale, decentralised technologies

small is beautiful latest edition coverIn Lean Logic, the late David Fleming recalls that in in 1995, the Times Literary Supplement placed a book by E.F. Schumacher, the chief economic advisor to the UK Coal Board for two post war decades, among the 100 most influential books published since World War II. Small Is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered has been translated into many languages.

This internationally influential economic thinker, statistician and economist, who advocated human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies, would have heartily agreed with Karen Leach’s observation that the global drive for the mega and mega-complex solution is part of the centralisation drive – where decision-makers can’t see the collective potential of small scale technology, now often called ‘appropriate technology’ (AT).

Fleming records that Schumacher deplored the “countless ‘experts’ who cannot conceive the possibility of any industrial production unless all the paraphernalia of the Western way of life are provided in advance. The ‘basis of everything’, they say, is of course electricity, steel, cement, near-perfect organisation, sophisticated accountancy. . . In blind pursuit of [a] highly questionable utopia, these ‘experts’ tend to neglect everything that is realistically possible“.

 Locally designed using local materials

AT is designed to fit the circumstances of the people who are to use it; people who need a solution which is cheap to build, small-scale, made from local materials, easy to operate, simple to maintain and energy-efficient is often. It does not start a sequence of pollution, with clean-up commitments, repairs and costs extending into the future. We suggest example:

  • micro-hydro turbines, long-lasting and low-maintenance provide enough power for a number of houses or a small community. The nearest example is probably the Beeston Weir project in the East Midlands. Practical Action can offer far cheaper turbines than commercial products in this country;
  • off-grid living can include solar which generates electricity for immediate use, with no grid connection; solar panels convert sunlight to energy which charges the battery built into lights, computers and refrigerators;
  • there are several reed beds in the region used for the water treatment of a single house or a small neighbourhood – water is cleaned by micro-organisms living on the root system; probably the nearest small-scale example is at Ryton Organic Garden near Coventry.
  • straw-bale construction, probably the nearest regional example is the next door neighbour of Dragon Orchard in Herefordshire;
  • see also the simple-to-build, cost-effective low environmental impact office in Moseley.

LWM’s Mission statement

Localise West Midlands is a not-for-profit organisation which exists to promote the environmental, social and economic benefits of:

  • Local trading, using local businesses, materials and supply chains
  • Linking local needs to local resources
  • Development of community and local capacity
  • Decentralisation of appropriate democratic and economic power
  • Provision of services tailored to meet local needs.

This localisation approach makes economic development and government systems more sensitive to local autonomy, culture, wellbeing and the responsible use of finite resources, and is growing in popularity with people and organisations all over the world.

For more information about some of these technologies, contact the Renewable Energy Centre in Kenilworth. See also Localise West Midlands Scoping Study: Decentralised Energy for Birmingham (pdf)

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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.

Swadeshi movement, which ‘prefers the neighbourhood over the remote’, affects Indian government policy

 

swadeshi jagran manch header
New Delhi Television online reports that the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and a farmers’ organisation met India’s Environment Minister today to protest against the go-ahead given by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee on July 18 to field trials of 15 GM crops, including rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal. The Environment Minister, in a statement issued later by the SJM said “the decision about field trials of GM crops had been put on hold.” More on this issue here.

The writer met several SJM members in India and was prompted by this report to summarise their approach.

Swadeshi believes that the unbalanced individualism of the West is destructive of community living. The individual requires the mutually complementary and interactive relationship of the community.

The market has to be an instrument and not the master of the people. The smaller the size of the market, the better. The Swadeshi approach is to limit the size of the market not to eliminate it as communism does. The Swadeshi global view is ” let a thousand markets bloom – not merge into one global market “.

Swadeshi prefers the neighbourhood over the remote and accepts only need-based transnationalism.

It prioritises the satisfaction of practical human needs – food, clothing, housing, education, healthcare, drinking water, energy and transport – values frugality, savings, thrift etc. and seeks to remove the distortion of defining economics as multiplication of wants and efforts to satisfy them, powered by greed.

Swadeshi advocates that income-inequalities remain within reasonable limits. Like the early co-operatives, it believes that the ratio of income of the top 20% and bottom 20% should not exceed 10:1.

The Swadeshi philosophy is not against creation of wealth – merely an injunction against unlimited consumption; a mandate for conservation and preservation of national assets and resources; an emphasis on personal and family savings and an injunction against wasteful and needless expenditure.

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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Research findings: allotments have good food yields without sacrificing soil quality

Fruit growing on Hall Green allotment
Fruit growing on Hall Green allotment

There are around 330,000 allotment plots in the UK, covering more than 8000 hectares and demand is growing, with more than 90,000 people currently on allotment waiting lists in the UK. 

Findings of a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology

  • Soils under Britain’s allotments are significantly healthier than intensively farmed soils.
  • By growing on a small-scale in urban areas, it is possible to produce food sustainably without damaging the soil.

Science Daily reports that ecologist Dr Jill Edmondson from the University of Sheffield took soil samples from 27 plots on 15 allotment sites, local parks, gardens across the city of Leicester and surrounding agricultural land. She measured a range of soil properties, including soil organic carbon levels, total nitrogen, and the ratio between carbon and nitrogen (all directly related to the amount and quality of organic matter in the soil) as well as soil bulk density, an indicator of soil compaction.

Intensive farming often results in significant declines in soil organic carbon stocks, as well as reducing the ability of soils to store water and nutrients, and damaging soil structure, on which food production — and other services such as carbon storage, flood mitigation and locking up pollutants — depends.

Compared with local arable fields, the allotment soil was significantly healthier: allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen, and was significantly less compacted. Dr Edmondson says:

University of Reading study
University of Reading study

“We found remarkable differences in soil quality between allotments and arable fields. Our study shows how effectively own-growers manage soils, and it demonstrates how much modern agricultural practices damage soils.

“Allotment holders are able to produce good food yields without sacrificing soil quality because they use sustainable management techniques. 95% of allotment holders compost their allotment waste, so they recycle nutrients and carbon back to their soil more effectively.

“An estimated 800 million city dwellers across the world participate in urban food production, which makes a vital contribution to food security. Our results suggest that in order to protect our soils, planning and policy making should promote urban own-growing rather than further intensification of conventional agriculture as a more sustainable way of meeting increasing food demand.

Vegetables growing on Hall Green allotment
Vegetables growing on Hall Green allotment

“Using urban land, including domestic gardens, allotments and community gardens for own-growing is an important and often overlooked way of increasing productivity whilst also reconnecting urban dwellers with food production.

“As well as improving food security, studies show that own-growing has direct physical and mental health benefits, and can provide access to sustainably produced fruit and vegetable crops without the associated food miles.”

As a result of the findings, the authors say that planners and policy makers should increase the number of allotments available.


Jill L. Edmondson, Zoe G. Davies, Kevin J. Gaston, Jonathan R. Leake. Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12254 – gives link to pdf.

 

The University of Reading studies of soil erosion on farmland: see picture above left and http://www.ecifm.rdg.ac.uk/erosion.htm

The Green Deal: why it has not taken off and what we can expect in the future

A “must read” from Phil Beardmore for all interested in Green Deal & Green New Deal:
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In this article – first posted on Birmingham Eastside – Phil Beardmore describes why the Green Deal scheme has not taken off and what we can expect in the future.

Three vital advantages of municipal utilities

bob massie president new economics instituteBob Massie of America’s New Economics Institute sent news today that voters in Boulder, Colorado, have ended their relationship with Xcel Energy, a utility with $10.7 billion in revenues, clearing the way for the city to form its own municipal utility that would lower rates and make greater use of renewable energy.

The city’s ‘multiple pleas’ for more clean wind and solar power had been turned down by Xcel which then financed a new coal power plant.

boulder cycle demo

During a vigorous campaign that attracted national attention, corporate executives and their allies mounted a well-funded operation, arguing that the city had neither the money nor the expertise to manage such a complex enterprise.

boulder graphicAdvocates for the municipal utility, including the New Era Colorado Foundation, fought back with a successful crowd-funding campaign, attracting public attention with imaginative activities.

There are 1000 municipal utilities in the United States, serving 50 million customers. Most  are owned by cities, and controlled by panels of local citizens. Some are cooperatives owned by their members.

boulder john farrellJohn Farrell, who directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, points out that if the city moves ahead, it would capture nearly $100 million currently spent on electricity imports and create up to $350 million in local economic development by dramatically increasing local clean energy production.

Proponents of change have argued that public control creates three vital benefits:

  • First, decisions are made not by distant corporate managers whose first priority is to generate returns for absentee shareholders or to pay enormous salaries for executives, but by managers who are accountable to the community.
  • Second, because of this, municipal utilities can focus on important local goals, such as investing in renewable energy, efficiency, and other factors that increase community resilience.
  • And finally, the rates of municipal utilities are traditionally lower than their counterparts, and they channel any financial surplus — also known as profit — back into the community.

 boulder poster

Massie comments: “The entire model of a corporate utility operating a centralized grid is facing steady erosion. Universities and cities across the country are expressing their desire to move away from both hiring — or even owning stocks — in companies that remain committed to fossil fuels. In addition, every family who installs solar on their roof not only slashes their need for energy from a utility, but also cuts the revenue for those same firms.”

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