February 25, 2020
Reboot the energy system
When the concept of community owned renewable energy was first mooted, it’s fair to say that the major incentive for communities to become involved was financial. Selling green energy into the national grid in return for a long term and sustainable income stream was a no brainer. But a recently published report calls for a complete reboot of the way we think about energy – a new national strategy that would transform our energy system into one designed to reduce demand and localise energy supply. This would place communities at the heart of Scotland’s response to the climate emergency.
New funding needs to be established by the UK and Scottish governments to kick start a “community energy revolution” if climate change targets are to be met, a major new report has claimed.
The report by WPI Economics and SP Energy Networks calls for the UK and Scottish governments to collaborate to support community groups who want to generate their own energy
But the report comes as the two administrations are at loggerheads over the COP26 climate conference due to be held in Glasgow later this year.
The Future of Community Energy document maps out the benefits the sector could deliver if given support, suggesting that over the next decade the number of community energy organisations could rise to around 4,000 across the UK – bringing a possible £1.8bn boost to local economies and creating over 8,000 jobs.
The schemes could also play a key role in meeting climate change targets by saving 2.5m tonnes of carbon emissions, while community solar panels or wind turbines could power up to 2.2m homes across the UK, and cut energy bills of households involved by up to £150m a year. A Citizens Advice Scotland report has found that one in eight Scots say their energy bills are unaffordable.
According to the report, the government should establish a national community energy strategy with a community energy fund; create new, regional funding streams; and give greater support and resource to groups who want to set up schemes.
Frank Mitchell, chief executive of SP Energy Networks said the report showed “just how much potential there is within our communities in our drive to a zero- carbon future, lowering emissions with the additional benefit of driving up skills and jobs across the UK.”
Last week MSPs on Holyrood’s economy and energy committee were told that more investment was needed if a broader range of people were to benefit from the decarbonisation of energy. A recent Climate Emergency Response Group report also said the Scottish Government needed to generate public and private investment of between £1.8bn and £3.6bn a year, to achieve its carbon emissions goals by 2045.
Community and local energy schemes are being encouraged as a way to increase renewable energy production, taking strain off the national grid, and creating new revenues for local areas. Today the Scottish Parliament also agreed to give rates relief to district heating schemes to encourage more be established.
Mr Mitchell said: “The report also shows what might be possible by highlighting the innovative efforts of communities – notably in Scotland and Wales– where sustained government support and a strong backing from third sector organisations has enabled local energy to lead the way, not only in a UK context but internationally as well.”
He added: “But we’ve only just scratched the surface. Communities across the UK increasingly want to generate their own, low carbon power. As the provider of the energy networks that make this possible, SP Energy Networks is committed to doing more. But we need government and regulators to allow us to do so.
“It is time for communities to be given a stronger voice in how their areas reach Net Zero. And as this report makes clear, we need new funding streams and reduced regulation in licensing planning to meet this vision”.
Scotland’s Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “Our support for community energy is beyond question – indeed it is internationally recognised. We had a target for 500MW by 2020 which we have exceeded by far, and indeed we voluntarily increased it to 1GW for 2020 and 2GW for 2030.
“Progress has been good against higher target. To date, there are more than 700MW of community and locally owned projects installed, with a similar quantity in the pipeline, but we have been undermined by removal of Feed In Tariffs by UK ministers and have urged them to reconsider reinstating them.
“We have put in place Non Domestic Rates reliefs for community hydro and wind projects and continue with CARES support, but UK ministers ultimately control the ‘route to market’ and have withdrawn any subsidy for onshore wind. We continue to explore and have been encouraging shared revenue models as a means of increasing community involvement in larger projects.”
He added: “We welcome this report and SPEN’s growing interests in community energy. Many of the recommendations included in this report are similar to what we have recently consulted on in our draft Local Energy Policy Statement, for which SPEN submitted a response.
“We are currently reviewing the responses to the consultation with the intention of publishing a final statement, including a delivery framework, in the spring.”
SP Energy Networks said it would launch an “educational toolkit” to provide communities with the information needed to get schemes off the ground and connect to the grid.