Home > Uncategorized > End of the community energy dream?

End of the community energy dream?

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One of the few positive aspects of the Coalition government between 2010 and 2015 was its apparent commitment to community energy, and its first ever official community energy strategy promised a future in which there would be genuine government support for a community energy revolution that would radically change the energy market in this country. This helped to galvanise people across the country, myself included, to volunteer many hours of their spare time to develop community energy projects in their local community in the idealistic hope that those communities would start to get a fair share of the financial and economic benefits of the burgeoning renewable energy sector. I and my colleagues poured our energies and enthusiasm into setting up a new co-operative, Eastbourne Community Energy, and we trained ourselves up assiduously through the peer-mentoring course run by Community Energy South, a course financed by a grant from the Cabinet Office. We even got as far as developing plans for a solar PV project with a local sports club.

Then the shutters started to come down. The local council, Eastbourne Borough Council, who we had to negotiate with, became not just unhelpful but downright obstructionist. Then the government started moving the goalposts several times, redefining the legal frameworks and tax regimes within which community energy co-ops could operate, making life a lot harder as far as developing renewable generation projects was concerned. Now, with the latest savage roll-back of support by government for renewable energies of all types, community energy co-ops now face the virtual extinguishing of any hope for many of their renewable energy generation projects, as George Monbiot points out. I despair, for now, of any progress in getting community renewable energy projects off the ground in the Eastbourne area, which saddens me enormously as I firmly believe that Eastbourne could benefit enormously from the stimulus to the local economy and the boost to energy security that  community energy could bring.

This is the not the end for Eastbourne Community Energy, though, as I and my colleagues will regroup and pursue a different community energy strategy, one that will deliver new services to our local communities despite, not because of, the lack of support from both local and central government. Community energy is too important to be sacrificed to the ideological whims of politicians who are ignorant about renewable energies and their potential for supporting a sustainable energy future and a more prosperous local economy. But, in my opinion, community energy will have to develop, in the Eastbourne area at least, by casting a very sceptical eye on what politicians say, both locally and nationally, as their fine words are often not to be trusted, and projects will have to be developed very much on the basis primarily of grass-roots support  and using forms of finance that bypass the normal channels of grant funding or loans from traditional banking sources, channels which have been compromised too often by political interference and institutional indifference to community concerns.

Being a social entrepreneur has always been a tough path to tread, but I feel I’ve had a harsh lesson in how tough it can be. But now that I know a bit more about who can be trusted and who can’t, that path is at least a little bit clearer, and it’ll involve developing a really close relationship with local  communities and relying on the traditional co-operative virtues of self-reliance and self-help. The clean energy revolution can’t be stopped anyway, and the struggle to make the benefits of it shared more equitably with everybody, not just the privileged few who can afford to invest in it, goes on.

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