Community Energy Strategy – Is this the game changer we have been waiting for?

This strategy could not come soon enough. At a time of rapidly rising energy bills and growing concerns over the impact of energy infrastructure on our precious landscapes, community energy offers people a chance not only to take more control of their energy – where it comes from and what it costs – but also feel confident that the places they love have not been sacrificed to generate it.

Having recently spoken to Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, it is clear he shares much of the National Trust’s passion for community energy and recognises the potential game changer that communities taking ownership of their own energy is.  He calls the strategy ‘ruthlessly pragmatic’ and in many ways it is. The strategy aims to facilitate community energy with some new policies and little more public money to actively drive community energy. For example the £10 million Urban Community Energy Fund to complement the existing Rural Community Energy Fund.

We welcome that DECC is creating a new Community Energy Unit with a devoted staff team to work on accelerating the roll out of community energy across the UK. Although DECC has failed to set a target for community energy, the strategy does contain an action plan and a ‘model range’ of between 0.5 and 3GW of Community Energy by 2020. This will be further supported by a ‘one stop’ information service to provide communities with peer to peer support.

However, DECC and their new unit need to roll up their sleeves, dig into the action plan of their shiny new strategy and to make haste with a few long overdue actions.  Top of our list is ensuring that local grid access is improved for community scale schemes; charges reduced and a new duty upon grid operators to proactively predict and provide for community energy needs. We also would like to see DECC and DCLG working closely to find real ways to integrate community energy into Neighbourhood Planning. Finally the area we hold most hopes for is direct supply to communities which is not progressing fast enough and we want DECC to put more pressure on OFGEM to deliver innovation in this area and roll out into communities as a matter of urgency. 

It has been a while since the National Trust has been as welcoming of a government energy announcement as the recent Community Energy Strategy. It signalled to in the Coalition Agreement three long years ago, at last the government is prepared to show leadership and the detail to support communities up and down the UK. But we are still not clear how this strategy fits in with wider departmental priorities; will its delivery be reported upon in the annual energy statement to Parliament?

Community energy can’t be used as a fig leaf to cover failure to meet other renewables and climate targets.  We, like many other advocates of community energy, are ready to work with the Government to support a big increase in community owned energy and in particular create a step change in energy efficiency schemes. If fully realised, the broad package of policies and the signal of ambition contained in the strategy could be the catalyst for a community energy revolution we have been waiting for.

James Lloyd, National Trust, Senior External Affairs Advisor for Energy and the Environment

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