PoweringUP! Conference – Oxford – 4th September

In company with Nigel from Tring Community Energy (TriCE) I attended the PoweringUP! Conference organised by OxFutures, which is a collaboration between the Oxford city and county councils and local community groups, who have conceived the goal of putting Oxfordshire at the forefront of low carbon innovation in the UK. The event was hosted by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and took place amid the splendour of Oxford City Hall, attended by representatives from local authorities and community energy groups, along with “fringe” companies who provided exhibits – some 200 people in all.

There are some photos and follow up information about the event here.

The introduction and keynote speeches described how Oxfordshire authorities are collaborating with community groups to “power up” by investing of £20 million in renewable energy in the rivers and on the rooftops of Oxfordshire, and also to “power down” through energy efficiency schemes.

Four more speakers then reported on the findings of the working groups which DECC set up following the publication in January 2014 of the department’s Community Energy Strategy. These presentations covered: Hydro generation, Local planning, Finance, and Grid Connections for distributed energy. Although the working groups have only just submitted their reports to DECC, they presented many insights and obviously achieved a great deal in terms of educating the department about community energy.

Coffee was followed by eight tightly-disciplined presentations in “PechaKucha” format. Each was allowed eight minutes to talk through 20 slides, with 20 seconds per slide. Most of the presentations were delivered by two people representing collaborative projects already under way, such as Bath & West, Bristol, Dumfries & Galloway, Carmarthenshire, South Wales Valleys, Swansea and Plymouth, while the first speaker described the OVO Community scheme to support communities seeking to become the local energy provider.

By the close of these presentations I was determined to meet the representatives of our own local authorities shown on the list of delegates, and during lunch embarrassed myself a couple of times by peering closely at name-tags hung over delegates’ chests! It would appear that the people from Dacorum Council either left early or didn’t attend, however we briefly met the delegates from St Albans and Hertsmere.

Ed Davey, Minister of State for DECC spoke after lunch and basically reiterated his statement in January, “I want to see a community energy revolution in the UK”, and then talking up the steps his department is taking to achieve this. The working group reports have only recently been completed, so there were no startling revelations, and his replies to (quite tough) questions were “politically correct”, nevertheless the Minister was enthusiastic and supportive of the work being done to bring about the revolution.

The final sessions were organised as “Open Space” discussions on a range of 15 topics put forward by delegates on the spot. I attended three:

  • OVO Community scheme (requires a large population, and there are other models)
  • How to Engage “Unengaged” Local Authorities (show them it works, talk about the money and social benefits. Successful schemes need a “champion” among both elected councillors and appointed officials)
  • Social Return on Investment of Community Energy (hard to measure, much more work needed)

Conclusions: The conference was well organised and run, and I was left feeling very clear about the importance of GUCE building closer relationships with our local authorities. After all, they are elected to represent, and appointed to serve our local community, so their goals may not be a million miles from our own. Secondly, however, my perception was confirmed that austerity cuts have driven climate change off the agenda of many local authorities, regrettably including our own.

JI  5-Sep-2014

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