This week community energy has been in the news. My attention was drawn to the opening of a small hydro scheme in the north of England. In of itself its of interest since it uses an existing dam which has been converted to allow electricity production (43kWp). But as it happens this week the UK government has been emphasising its support for community energy.
By community energy we mean energy production in the hands of predominantly (but not exclusively) the local community. This is very common in Denmark and Germany where most solar and wind schemes are owned by local or regional groups. In the UK and the US wind and solar schemes (along with fracking) are carried out by large companies coming in. There is little community involvement or benefit so its hardly surprising that that there is a lot of resistance. There are a growing number of exceptions. In Fintry, Scotland the community accepted a wind farm but only if they owned one turbine. The income from this is spent on energy efficiency and micro-generation in a community off the natural gas grid. In Gigha after a community buy out the community put up three large turbines (the money is used in the same way as Fintry). Bay wind bought out a small wind farm in Cumbria and through a company they set up “energy4all” help others to do the same. The transition movement has also been involved in solar schemes in urban areas in such places as Lewes and Cheltenham. Nevertheless community energy currently makes up a tiny minority of energy production.
Its still far too complex to set these community energy schemes up. You can see the evidence for this in the above hydro scheme. The community had been thinking about since 2008. Funnily enough I have heard money is not the issue. After the financial crash with bank interest rates being so low renewable energy has offered a far better rate of return. The complexities are legal and grid related as well as to do with changes in renewable policy. DECC want to see 3GWp of community energy projects over the next 6 years partly so that there is more competition for the big six energy suppliers and help to bring down energy costs. Whether this will be possible without a lot of help and simplification of the rules remains to be seen.