The virtuous circle of community owned renewable energy projects

September 9th, 2013 by RenewableUK

RenewableUK has welcomed a report published by the influential think tank ResPublica which says local community groups should be given greater opportunities to get more involved in developing and owning local renewable energy projects such as wind and solar farms.

(Please click on report cover to go to The ResPublica Trust website)

(Please click on report cover to go to The ResPublica Trust website – image courtesy of The ResPublica Trust)

The study “The Community Renewables Economy” reveals that there’s been a fourteen-fold increase in the total capacity of community-owned renewable energy projects installed over the last ten years – up from just over 4 megawatts in 2003 to nearly 60 MW in 2013. The report says this could grow to 550 MW by 2020.

One of the most striking findings of this report is that two-thirds of communities reinvest, or intend to reinvest, revenue gained from renewables in further energy generation projects or energy efficiency technology, thus creating a virtuous circle.

But the report warns that there are barriers to the deployment of community energy which need to be addressed.

It says community groups need better access to funding, financial know-how and legal expertise.

The study states that a more positive attitude from local authorities is needed to encourage communities to get involved.

It also says local councils should give community support for projects due weight when making finely-balanced planning decisions.

The report highlights the need to provide training to ensure that local authorities have enough knowledge about the vital importance of renewable energy, so that councillors can make fully informed decisions.

It also urges local authorities to set a good example by investing council funds in clean energy projects.

The report suggests that a joint ownership approach may be the best way forward, in which communities work with renewable energy developers, and /or local businesses and local authorities towards a common goal.

The study proposes a match-making service to put interested community groups in touch with interested developers as a practical example of how this could be achieved.

RenewableUK’s Chief Executive Maria McCaffery said “this report highlights the exciting prospect of communities working more closely with local wind farm developers, local businesses and local authorities in jointly-owned projects.”

Left to right Rob Hastings, Director of Energy and Infrastructure at The Crown Estate; Maria McCaffery, Gregory Barker (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Maria McCaffery speaking at RenewableUK’s 2013 Wave & Tidal conference and exhibition, with Rob Hastings, Director of Energy and Infrastructure at The Crown Estate on the left; and on the right, Gregory Barker, Minister of State at the Department of Energy & Climate Change (click image to expand – ©RLLord)

“Using this socially and economically-inclusive model, we have an opportunity to redefine the relationship between communities and developers to unlock a significant growth in community energy, particularly in onshore wind,” she said.

“This will enable all of us to reap the economic and environmental benefits of wind energy at a truly local level.”

Two examples of UK community renewable energy projects are the Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative Ltd in Oxfordshire and the Fintry Renewable Energy Enterprise in Stirlingshire.

The Westmill Wind Farm Co-op was established in 2004 for the aim of constructing and operating a community-owned wind farm at Westmill Farm in Oxfordshire.

It was the first wind farm co-operative in the South of England which gave local people, as a matter of priority, an opportunity to invest in the production of renewable energy.

The co-op financed the purchase and construction of five wind turbines through a fundraising campaign in which the public were able to buy shares in the project, supplemented by a bank loan. Westmill Co-op has 2,374 members.

The share launch and project development was managed by Energy4All established to provide support to co-operative wind farm projects around the UK.

The 5 turbines (each with an installed capacity of 1.3 megawatts) started commercial generation in February 2008. The 6.5MW scheme produces clean electricity for the equivalent of 2,500 homes, saving carbon emissions of at least 5,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Fintry Renewable Energy Enterprise (FREE) was set-up in 2003 with the aim of making the village of Fintry in Stirlingshire a carbon-neutral sustainable community.

FREE engaged with the developers of a local wind farm that was being planned nearby, suggesting that a community-owned wind turbine could provide funding for energy-reduction measures within the village.

In 2006, an agreement was signed by FREE and the wind farm developers Falck Renewables, adding one community-funded turbine to the 14-turbine development already planned. As a result, Fintry Development Trust was set up in 2007.

In 2008, the trust received its first income from the operation of the 2.5MW turbine, and started its first project – providing free insulation to all households in the area that could benefit.

 

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