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/

If the solution is not a Green New Deal then what is it?

 

Colin Hines, co-founder of Localise West Midlands, sends news of a report advancing a much-needed debate about how to move the UK out of the counterproductive politics of austerity and into the age of the Green New Deal.

GND anniversary cover 13He sees this as a matter of the utmost urgency and thinks that if it isn’t introduced rapidly, we are likely to enter another economic slump, adding:

“A Green New Deal could be implemented now if the political will existed. It calls initially for a £50 billion a year investment programme to boost economic activity, in a way which provides jobs on a living wage in every community in the UK, while reducing our ecological impact”.

The latest Green New Deal Group report published on September 10th proposes funding through the following measures:

  • tackling tax evasion and avoidance;
  • a programme of Green Quantitative Easing (QE), where the Bank of England ‘creates’ tens of billions of pounds to be used in a targeted fashion to fund a Green New Deal, generating jobs and economic activity that also transform the economy for the future. This is very different from any previous round of QE;
  • controls to ensure that banks that were bailed out by the taxpayer also invest in such a programme at low, sustainable rates of interest;
  • encouragement for pension funds and other institutional investors to invest in the Green New Deal;
  • buying out the private finance initiative (PFI) debt using Green QE and redirecting some of the otherwise huge repayments into funding green infrastructure.

This real Green New Deal would create employment, generating wages, salaries, profits and tax revenues – from both the public and private sectors. Tax revenues could then be used eventually to finance the economic deficit and pay down the national debt.

More than that, insulating every home and building in the UK, transforming our transport system for a low carbon future and ensuring maximum efficiency in the use and reuse of raw materials would create jobs across the country.

Investment in renewable energy could be targeted so that it would help to rebalance the economy away from London, while also providing reliable sources of clean energy and enabling the UK to show global leadership on climate change.

Larry Elliott of the Guardian ends his article by addressing the first reaction of many:

“In one sense, the timing could hardly have been worse for the new GND report. The economy is growing again. Memories are short. But ask the following questions. Do you think a recovery that currently requires households to get deeper into debt is for real? If it isn’t, how long before the age-old problems of the UK economy reassert themselves? Are we any closer to grappling with the triple crunch than we were five years ago? If the solution is not a GND then what is it?”

GND summary

An article on the subject by the economics editor of the Guardian may be read here.