Ahead of a major green energy conference in Manchester, Friends of the Earth stated that the next Government must remove barriers to the development of the UK’s huge community renewable energy potential and make this sector a top priority.
The environmental charity said that despite introducing the UK’s first community energy strategy in January 2014, too many Government policies were actively discouraging local people and businesses from developing green power sources – such as solar power, hydro and wind. For example:
- New rules have made it harder for communities to establish green energy co-operatives. New co-ops are now being turned down because they sell the electricity they produce to the grid, and not to their members.
- The Chancellor used his most recent Autumn Statement to remove financial incentives for community energy schemes.
In Germany over 25 gigawatts ( 27%) of the electricity generated in the first nine months of 2014, came from renewable sources, and over half of this was supplied by communities and small businesses. In the UK less than half a gigawatt is from communities or small businesses.
Friends of the Earth says that community energy could and should be the driving force behind the UK’s transformation to a low-carbon economy. It has issued a seven point action plan ahead of the general election, which it is asking political parties to support to encourage communities and small businesses to invest in clean energy.
The call for greater support for community energy schemes comes as local organisations and public sector representatives gather in Manchester to take part in ‘Powering Up North’. The conference will feature successful community energy schemes and will look at the opportunities and challenges of developing community renewable energy.
Anna Watson, Friends of the Earth renewable energy campaigner, said:
“Community energy should be the driving force behind a UK green energy revolution, but not enough is being done to give power to the people. Despite all the barriers, local organisations and small businesses are doing fabulous work, but if the Government and local authorities really got behind them community-owned renewable energy schemes could really take off.”
Kate Gilmartin from Greater Manchester Community Renewables said:
“Giving communities the opportunity to invest in renewable energy is really key to helping us secure a sustainable future. It brings real benefits such as raising awareness of energy issues, reducing fuel poverty, providing local funds for local projects and tackling climate change. National and local government must listen to community energy groups, and help them realise their full potential in the fight against climate change.”
Friends of the Earth is calling on all political parties to show support for community energy by:
- Pledging to have fitted six million domestic solar rooftop systems by 2020;
- Introducing measures to enable every school in the UK to go solar – including allowing schools to borrow money to install panels;
- Allowing renewable energy investments to be included in ISAs;
- Making it easier and cheaper for communities to buy and sell electricity generated locally at a fair price;
- Giving communities the right to invest in nearby large-scale renewable developments – with a mandatory community share offer of at least 20%;
- Guaranteeing grid connection for communities at an affordable cost;
- Giving local government a duty to reduce carbon emissions; and plan for, and actively support, the development of community-owned renewable energy.