Annie and I attended the public launch of Community Energy England (CEE), along with over 250 other people at City Temple on 4th June.
CEE aims to be the “umbrella” organisation for community energy in England. Similar organisations already exist for Scotland and Wales, which aim to represent, mentor, support and help source funding for sustainable community energy projects (both generation and efficiency) – see http://communityenergyengland.org
Membership of CEE is open to community, corporate and public organisations who share these aims. Community groups like GUCE are currently offered membership at no charge, while companies like Joju (who co-sponsored the launch event) pay annual fees on a sliding scale.
The Interim Board is chaired by Chris Church, Chair of Low Carbon Communities Network, with support of 11 other Interim Directors who include Kathy Smyth (Wey Valley Solar Schools) and Agamemnon Otero (Brixton Energy).
The full Board will be elected at the first AGM, probably on 4th September in Oxford.
It was highly stimulating to be in the same room as so many other people all involved with community energy. It truly feels like “an idea whose time has come”. All the speakers offered something of interest, and several described schemes which raise the bar considerably on what is possible for GUCE.
One highlight of the day was the speech and q&a session with Ed Davey, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). It was notable that he spoke a lot about energy, but not at all about climate change.
A rousing final speech was delivered by Alan Simpson, Chair of the Meadows Community Owned Energy Company (MOZES) in Nottingham. Some quotes (not exact):
“I became an MP with the aim of making the world a better place. Eighteen years later I left politics for the same reason”.
“The next 11 months before the election present a unique opportunity. Instead of letting politicians tell us what they’re going to do, we must make them so scared that they ask us what we want… … and we must ask for everything. Make sure they know our vote will only go to those who tick every single box”.
That’s a good question – what do we want? Judging from conversations during the day, the most important thing we want government to provide is a stable policy framework which encourages investment in local communities.
Raising the bar for GUCE
Big fund raising
It was pointed out that until the National Grid came about, gas and electricity were originally generated within local communities. For example, electricity first came to Kings Langley from the Watford Electricity Utility in 1922 with cables along the road all the way to Hemel Hempstead. Until 1898 there was a small gas company at the bottom of Church Lane.
Community Energy Co-ops are now raising hundreds of thousands of pounds, even millions, and then finding the places to install solar panels. Examples: RepowerBalcombe, Swindon Sustainable Energy, RegenSW. These projects all place strong emphasis on generating employment.
While the Queen’s Speech mentions “shared ownership” with larger enterprises, it was stressed that community ownership is essential. (Which raises a question: what happens to GUCE’s energy generation in 20 years, when our panels are handed to the school? Is our role then to purchase and resell surplus energy?)
Whole house refits
Jonathan Atkinson of the Carbon Co-op in Manchester (http://carbon.coop) described how they take advantage of bulk buying (including solar panels) to reduce the cost of “whole house refits” which reduce energy bills by up to 80% – Transition Streets on steroids! Anyone can join the co-op for an annual membership of £35, and members also donate time to running the co-op. By borrowing from a local credit union, house owners pay for the installation, and repay the costs through savings.
GUCE were unsuccessful in our bid for the Community Energy Peer Mentoring Fund, but Chris Blake of Community Energy Wales described another scheme, which cost a similar total amount while engaging a much larger pool of mentors (their goal is 20). CEW employ a project manager with admin support, and they pay £250 per day to each mentoring group. The mentoring group can then choose to give part of this to the person who actually supports another community scheme get off the ground.
The value of personal advice far outweighs reading a “How-To” manual or Toolkit (although support can be structured around written materials) which agrees with the feedback we have received from Herts CDA meetings.
Could GUCE apply for further funds to provide a similar service to the Transition Bucks, Beds & Herts groups?
DECC is currently running several working parties with participation from community energy groups, which will report in the summer. One of these is looking at the problems of developing the electricity grid to cope with local generation, while the present grid structure is a based around centralised generation in large power stations remote from towns and cities.
A representative of the District Network Operator in Yorkshire observed that if we are planning to change the grid structure in such a radical way over the next 10 years, it would be good to start talking to them now.
“Renewable energy is at the heart of resilient communities” – Cheryl Hiles, Director of RegenSW
“We want to see new ownership models. New partnerships. New forms of ‘public’ service to enable communities to manage environmental progress themselves. But we need to make it broader than the environment and get them to see the links to the economy, to jobs, to poverty, to young people’s skills, to people’s engagement with their locality, to food, to community, to mobility, and to educating the future generations . . . in short, to everything!”
– Annie Heaton