The potential for locally-owned and run renewable energy projects is vast. They can create many new local jobs and provide a major boost to local economic activity, while alleviating fuel poverty, improving energy security and driving down energy bills.
At present, however, community energy makes up a tiny share of our electricity make-up. A few hundred local projects have been set up across the country, such as Kent Community Energy. But the UK as a whole has seen barely any increase in such generation in over seven years. This is because the energy market’s regulations remain largely outdated and were only designed to support big, national-scale utilities.
Current energy market rules block community projects from selling their clean energy to local households and businesses. This forces them to sell it to national utilities and, on average, UK customers pay around ten times more for their energy than local projects are paid for generating it. This has significantly hampered their growth, despite the ever-rising need nationwide for more homegrown, renewable energy.
Community energy can ensure that local people benefit from the transition to Net Zero and to a more sustainable society. For the last few years, we at ‘Power for People’ have been rallying grassroots support for a new law, called the Local Electricity Bill, that would allow these community-led projects to sell their clean energy to local customers. This would make many new schemes financially viable while empowering existing ones to expand.
Nationwide, public advocacy campaigns have always been potent. In the past, they have achieved major societal shifts like ending slavery and giving women the right to vote. More recently, they have led to environmental changes, such as the Household Waste Recycling Act in 2003 which created the UK’s doorstep recycling system and the Climate Change Act in 2008, which set legally enforceable emissions targets for the Government to hit. It was with this same methodology that we at Power for People set out with our community energy campaign.
We have been asking people, organisations and councils to write to their local MPs, asking that they support the Local Electricity Bill. This has led to over half of all the UK’s MPs adding their names to public support. And, when the Government announced last year that they would be bringing forward a major new piece of energy legislation, the Energy Bill, we had the perfect opportunity to drive forward our proposals.
Since last year we have been working with cross-party groups of MPs and Members of the House of Lords, while mobilising our broad public support at key moments in the Energy Bill’s journey through Parliament to becoming law. In April, we ensured our proposals were successfully introduced into the Energy Bill as clauses and we won a vote to keep them there. At several debates in both Houses, the attendance and support we mobilised amongst Members made community energy the most featured element of the Bill – a remarkable achievement given the substantial scope of energy policy it covers.
When the Government indicated their intention to remove these clauses, we rallied many supportive Members to call on the Government to do more to help community energy. This led to the Government agreeing over the summer to introduce several new measures to enable community energy to grow.
These new measures are:
- A new £10 million fund for community energy projects across England,
- A consultation on removing the UK-wide barriers that community energy projects face when trying to sell their power locally, and
- A commitment to report annually to Parliament on progress towards removing those barriers.
This is a dramatic turnaround in government policy. The fund is the first of its kind for many years and the consultation opens the door for future, more transformational change. Before our campaigning started a few years ago, community energy was not a topic that MPs, Lords or Baronesses repeatedly pushed at Parliamentary debates. Now they do – and Ministers are responding ever more positively. These measures are a testament to the fact that mass public advocacy campaigns continue to have a remarkable effectiveness in creating desired change.
We will continue to campaign to see more local projects spring up all over the UK. We will work to ensure that the consultation is well-responded to and that the new fund helps kickstart many new projects, all while keeping up the high levels of advocacy in Parliament for community energy. We will also continue to push for a way to empower community groups to sell their clean energy locally.
To achieve these things and more, we will need many more people across society adding their names in support of our campaign and calling on their local representatives to back measures to empower community energy growth. Please join us and thousands of others in calling for a community energy revolution.
Sign up to support our Community Energy Revolution Campaign and get our newsletter here: https://powerforpeople.org.uk/sign-up
For any questions, please feel free to email us at [email protected].