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October 22, 2008

Community Energy goes national

The Highland and Islands Community Energy Company (HICEC) has extended its remit to cover all Scotland – as Community Energy Scotland (CES). A team of specialist development officers is available to support communities which aspire to achieve sustainable income through the generation of renewable energy,

Alan Hobbett, Chair of Community Energy Scotland

Address by Alan Hobbett at CES’s formal launch at the Scottish Parliment
Alan Hobbett, Chair of Community Energy Scotland

The success of our predecessor organisation HICEC, which has worked with some 500 community groups and projects throughout the Highlands and Islands and further afield, resulting in over 200 completed projects on the ground, has enabled our growth to a membership based, Scotland-wide organisation, which seeks to build confidence, wealth and resilience at the level of the community through the application of sustainable energy. Thanks to staff and directors without whom CES could not have been established. Without your success we wouldn’t be here tonight because there simply would be no CES. So thank you to Nicholas and his team. Thank you also to the Scottish Government for their SCHRI which underpins much of our work and thanks to HIE who have been supportive of us throughout these crucial years of development. And we are grateful for the continued support of our funders as we grow in terms of scale and geography.

Background to post war UK energy policy:- “An island of coal in a sea of oil” Tony Benn, UK Energy Minister 1976-79.” “A perennial fountain for world prosperity” Winston Churchill on the commissioning of the UKs first nuclear power stations. It was this perception of cheap and abundant fossil fuels and nuclear energy that shaped the UK energy policy in the second half of the twentieth century. However it was not until we approached the 21st century that the true cost of this approach became widely apparent. The costs of global warming and a 1000-year-plus legacy of nuclear waste.

Clearly we have come a long way in a short time with the Scottish Govt now having set ambitious targets for renewable generation. Alex Salmond has said that “Scotland has the potential to be the Saudi Arabia of the renewables world”. Clearly, based solely on our staggering renewables resources, the First Minister is right. We thought we had a lot of coal, oil and gas but these pale beside our renewable energy resources.

The potential economic and environmental benefits of a major shift to renewable energy are readily apparent at the national level, but what will be the impact at the level of the community?

If we simply apply the template of centralised energy generation developed in the twentieth century, where very large units of production generate huge amounts of power which is moved around the country on the high voltage transmission network, ultimately to flow into the local distribution networks that serve our communities, if we simply adopt this twentieth century template, then the direct benefit at the level of the community will be limited. For in the same way that there will never be a community owned Longannet or a community owned Torness it is doubtful that there will ever be community ownership of mega-renewables.

However, if we take this once in a lifetime opportunity, as large parts of our generating infrastructure are decommissioned and renewable energy embraced, to reconsider this template, to remould this template. And if we learn from our neighbours in Denmark where 55% of electricity is generated at the local level, or the Netherlands were almost forty percent of energy is generated locally (compared to just 8 per cent in the UK) and if we accept the compelling arguments our neighbours put, recognising the benefits of greater efficiency, reduced pollution, greater grid manageability and, the jewel in the crown, accessibility to community ownership. If we move to a greater mix of large and small, centralised and decentralised generation, local generation for local supply as well as central generation from larger units, then the potential for the community ownership of renewables is limited solely by our aspirations.

If we do our job well, if Community Energy Scotland does its job well, if we engage our Government effectively and ensure the mix of generation we seek, if we engage effectively with the communities we seek to serve, then in ten years time the financial benefit to communities will be measured not in the hundreds of thousands of pounds that it is measured today, but in the hundreds of millions of pounds. What’s more, if we adopt the target for community owned renewable generation that we propose tonight, that 10% of Scotland’s electricity be generated by community owned renewables by 2025 then the direct benefit to the community will be £400 million pounds a year. £400 million pounds to the very heart of our communities, communities urban and rural, £400 million pounds to be applied for the benefit of our communities according to the priorities set by our communities. £400 million pounds, each and every year.

Ladies and gentlemen, 250 years ago, renewable energy brought the modern industrial age to Scotland, for it was the power of our rivers that drove the first mills of industry, it was renewable energy that brought the industrial revolution to Scotland. If we do our job well, if we engage effectively with our Government and with the communities we seek to serve, then renewable energy will bring a second revolution to Scotland, a revolution of community ownership, a revolution of community confidence, a revolution of community wealth. Ladies and gentlemen a revolution of community power.

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