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/

West Midlands MEP advocates the ‘Green Deal’ for social housing

phillip bennion2In a newsletter this week (not yet available on his website) Local Euro MP Phil Bennion expresses the hope that the government’s ‘Green Deal’ will be more widely extended to help people in rented social housing:

“Millions of homes in the UK do not have full double-glazing. More than half do not have enough insulation or an efficient condensing boiler. Most do not even have proper thermostats. The Green Deal will make a difference . . . The next step is to help tenants in social housing cut their bills too, using a similar approach”.

green deal defra logoPhil Bennion pointed out that not only could tenants facing growing fuel poverty be made more comfortable and enabled to cut their bills, but that there would be increased employment opportunities for those carrying out energy efficiency upgrades. He continued:

“In the European Parliament’s Employment committee, I’m working on a report on the financial pressure facing tenants in social housing. The big worry is fuel poverty, with soaring energy bills squeezing budgets for food and other basic essentials.

“Rolling out the Green Deal approach to social housing would be tricky, but it would help tackle fuel poverty where the need is greatest. In the West Midlands, many housing associations are already making the most of similar schemes (Ed. see Tipton and Walsall).

“I want to see the EU keep up the pressure so governments and local authorities are given the tools to help tenants in social housing to cut their bills too. The process needs to be as practical and accessible as possible.”

*

encraft logoOn the website of Encraft, the environmental engineering firm which prepared a full feasibility study for the city, working in partnership with Localise West Midlands, we read that the eventual aim of Birmingham’s Green Deal project is to retrofit over 14,000 private homes, small businesses and social housing units across Birmingham with the full range of energy efficiency and microgeneration technologies.

birmingham energy savers3An LWM consultant hopes that Birmingham Energy Savers* will indeed be given ‘the tools’ it needs to engage social housing providers with the Green Deal and to make it financially viable for them to improve their housing stock and reduce fuel poverty.

 

* website currently ‘under development’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solving fuel poverty – an update

 

Chart 4.3 in a 2011 DECC report showed that the West Midlands had highest rate of fuel poverty with around 26% of households requiring to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel to maintain an adequate level of warmth. A Chamberlain Forum article confirms that this position has been maintained, with a slight percentage decrease.

 Department for Energy and Climate Change’s 2011 report

LWM’s ‘all time’ top individual post was in the website’s Activities section. Solving fuel poverty: opportunities from Green Deal and localisation was published in December two years ago and, because of the interest shown, Phil Beardmore sent the following update about action on fuel poverty:

Although there has been some limited progress in tackling fuel poverty in the last twelve months, this has been largely wiped out by the rising cost of fuel and the reduction in incomes for the poorest people.  A welcome development has been the availability of ECO (Energy Company Obligation) funding at up to 100% for vulnerable households – those low-income households with children, and/or frail, elderly, disabled members.

Although a brokerage system is being developed by DECC which will give new players such as the Energy Saving Coop access to ECO for local schemes, by and large ECO is controlled by the Big Six and it is likely that they will continue to cherry-pick where and when it is spent.

One of the factors affecting cherry-picking is the ease, or otherwise, with which it is possible to get planning permission for external solid wall insulation.  We note that whereas there has been widespread delivery of this measure in Wolverhampton and Stoke, including on more attractive pre-1919 properties in areas such as All Saints in Wolverhampton, it has been patchy in Birmingham.  While there has been widespread use of external wall insulation on less attractive inter-war properties in areas such as Bordesley Green and Northfield, it has proved more difficult to get planning permission in areas such as Handsworth and Sparkbrook, where there are more attractive facades like the one on my house.  We know of one insulation scheme which has under-delivered due to uncertainties over the length of time to get planning permission, if it is granted at all.  It seems that Planning Officers and utility companies have both dug in over their respective positions.

There are two sides to every story and this is no exception.  Some utility companies have made no secret of the fact that they prefer to invest in energy saving measures in cities and countries that colloborate with them; local authority officers understandably point to the statutory constraints under which they operate.  Birmingham City Council has expressed a very general support for sustainable development in the Birmingham Development Plan.  This now needs to turn into action, moving away from the current presumption that ambitious carbon reduction targets will reduce property values and undermine economic growth in the city, a view that is a legacy of some sections of the previous administration.  This means working with the energy efficiency industry, rather than against it, to deliver solutions to issues such as solid wall insulation and solar panels that enable us to have buildings fit for the 21st century while conserving our built heritage.

The Green Commission, of which I am a member, faces an urgent task in holding senior officers to account in implementing Sir Albert Bore’s expressed wish for Birmingham to be one of the greenest cities in the world.  No longer can Birmingham issue declarations and strategies which are ignored at Director level, making it impossible to implement them.

It seems that Birmingham Energy Savers will be largely focussed on ECO funding, along with short-lived early adopter cash from DECC, for the near future, and that this will lead to significant energy efficiency improvements for many thousands of the poorest homes in Birmingham.

Carillion Energy Services, who have won the Birmingham Energy Savers contract, are also being true to their word so far in enabling local small businesses and the third sector to be part of its delivery.  In this respect, we can cautiously say that Birmingham Energy Savers is showing great promise so far.

What isn’t clear is the degree to which Green Deal – i.e. where measures that cannot be grant-funded are paid for through a pay-as-you-save approach – will take off in Birmingham or elsewhere, and it may be that the current DECC consultation on Electricity Demand Reduction contains proposals which will work better than Green Deal, for the better-off at least, and ultimately succeed it.

Meanwhile the Energy Saving Coop and community development financial institutions such as the Robert Owen Community Bank seem to be most advanced in finding fair and ethical alternatives.

Tackling fuel poverty isn’t just about energy efficiency measures – it is now more than a decade since LWM associate Pat Conaty in a report for NEF/OFGEM pointed out that fuel poverty had multiple causes and needed multiple solutions – energy saving measures; energy advice; income maximisation; bill payment facilities – a Factor Four approach.  There is a will to implement this approach but the funding streams don’t work together.  ECO will fund measures but not currently advice (although we are assured by DECC that it could); people can fund income maximisation measures through the Warm Homes, Healthy Communities fund but this is discretionary and time-limited; collective energy switching schemes will be launched in a number of locations early in the New Year, and some, but not all of these, will be tailored to the fuel poor as I advocated some months ago.

There are many wilful, determined individuals out there, in the private sector and the public sector as well as the third sector, trying to make a difference to fuel poverty.  These initiatives help a great many people but when the Chancellor announces in the Autumn Statement that we are going to become more reliant on ever more expensive and dangerous fossil fuels, then the cost of energy is going to rise more drastically, and energy efficiency will become even more important than ever. 

Birmingham Council: reducing fuel poverty and making the city cleaner and greener

News of further progress on the Green Deal front.  

In October the Construction Enquirer reported that Carillion Energy Services had been confirmed as preferred bidder by Birmingham City Council on a £600m retrofitting deal to improve energy efficiency for 60,000 homes.

The Birmingham Energy Savers scheme will see Carillion install energy efficiency measures like insulation and new boilers by 2020 in homes, schools and other council properties under this eight-year deal.

Under the Green Deal scheme, payment for improvements will be recovered in instalments through lower energy bills.

Carillion’s Chief Executive Richard Howson said: “Birmingham Energy Savers is a genuinely ground-breaking contract and we are delighted to be named as Birmingham City Council’s preferred delivery partner.

Energy minister Greg Barker’s comment: “Birmingham City Council is really taking the lead in reducing fuel poverty and making Birmingham cleaner and greener. The Green Deal will be a vital tool in helping the City reach its ambitious targets, allowing people to get energy efficient upgrades to their home and save money in the process. The funding we have given Birmingham will help kick-start the Green Deal and I’m excited by the Council’s plans to transform buildings and save energy.”

Dave Allport, Programme Manager for Birmingham Energy Savers, has now announced that on November 27th a ‘truly ground breaking’ contract between Birmingham City Council and Carillion Energy Services (CES) Ltd was signed, adding:

“This is a significant milestone in growing the green economy in Birmingham, tackling fuel poverty and reducing CO2 emissions”.

He thanked all those involved in developing bid documents, evaluating responses, engaging in dialogue, arranging stakeholder events, scoring submissions . . . adding the words of a senior legal partner:

“I’ve been involved in the procurement and development of over 80 public private partnership, but have never witnessed such a successful focus on building social values into the contract and a commitment from both parties to creating real local benefits”.

 

 

Birmingham Energy Savers – consultation event 6-7 Feb

Invitation letter from Birmigham City Council posted here for ease of reference.

Karen

January 2012

Dear Colleague

Re: Birmingham Energy Savers, Aim High, and Green Deal Consultation Event

Community and Transition Groups .

Birmingham Energy Savers (BES) is an award winning programme within Birmingham City Council which has so far fitted photovoltaic (PV) panels to the roofs of over 1,000 properties in order to reduce fuel poverty and CO² emissions.  It’s main purpose, however, is to establish the Birmingham Energy Savers – Green Deal programme.  Green Deal is a government led initiative (currently under consultation) which will enable households and businesses to install packages of energy saving technologies, e.g. insulation, at no upfront cost; making properties more fuel efficient straight away with repayments made over time from reduced energy bills.

We would like to invite you to an event at The Council House [Committee Rooms 3+4] Victoria Square, Birmingham, B1 1BB, on Monday 6th February 2012 9.30-11.30 am or Tuesday evening 7th February 7.00-9.00 pm to exploreand discuss issues that may influence the shape of BES and the Green Deal as we approach its projected launch in the Autumn of 2012.

We would like to share with you where we are in our planning and procurement process and discuss how you can be involved.  Topic discussions will include:

  • How we should market Green Deal in Birmingham to ensure maximum take-up;
  • How your organisation can support and promote the Green Deal in Birmingham – and derive benefits from doing so;
  • How Green Deal can help to address Fuel poverty;
  • How we can, together, overcome potential barriers to participation in disadvantaged communities;
  • How Green Deal can support other community initiatives.

We very much hope you [or a colleague] are able to attend and look forward to fruitful, constructive discussions on the day.

To secure a place, please send an email confirming your preferred session date, time and attendee(s) name to energysavers@birmingham.gov.uk by Friday 27th January 2012.

Yours faithfully

Dave Allport

for the

Birmingham Energy Savers Team