In Summer 2017, the people of Lewes celebrated the tenth anniversary of their local energy co-op Ovesco by honouring them on the latest Lewes Pound note.
Ovesco was born out of the Transition Town movement and has gone on to develop many high profile community energy projects in the area, including huge solar installations at Harveys Brewery, Brickyard Farm, and several schools and colleges.
Being commemorated on the Lewes Pound is a brilliant visual demonstration of the way that Ovesco keeps money within the local economy, and adds value to the community far beyond the energy systems they install.
Research on spending shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business 63p stayed in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.
In contrast to the Big Six energy companies (only two of which are UK owned), community energy groups are rooted in their localities and understand the concerns of residents and stakeholders. You would never find BHESCo or Ovesco, for example, embarking on a project that was opposed by local people, such is the case with fracking plans in Lancashire or oil pipelines in North Dakota.
By embracing the community, and employing local traders and installers to carry out projects, community energy groups are able to support local business and stimulate the local economy. Not only does this benefit domestic job creation, but it has a positive impact on business rates too.
Because community energy groups are owned by local residents, any profits made can be reinvested in developing more locally owned energy projects, instead of being paid out as interest to shareholders. It is also common for community energy groups to channel some of their revenue towards tackling fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of cold homes in the area. As well as benefiting individual households, this can also alleviate pressures on local health services as physical and mental wellbeing improve.
In fact, even generating and using energy locally has intrinsic advantages, because it cuts down on transmission losses and is a much more efficient use of the energy produced. In addition, creating a local supply network (such as residents of the Brooklyn Microgrid have recently achieved), insulates a community against external price increases and even possible power cuts.
In all of these ways, whether its creating jobs, reducing bills, or improving health, it is very clear that keeping it local has tremendous benefits for creating an independent and resilient community. When services and insitutions are owned by and run by the people they serve, they will inevitably be responsible, democratic, and sustainable.
Our advice? Act local, join your community energy co-op ASAP.
07 Sep 2017
Earlier this year, Community Energy England produced the UK’s very first ‘State of the Sector‘ report, highlighting the emerging influence and importance of community owned energy in 2017.
The community energy movement has witnessed tremendous growth over recent years, now boasting 222 organisations throughout the country, which can collectively generate 121MW of clean renewable energy. That’s enough to power 85,500 homes, and has reduced carbon emissions by 110,000 tonnes since 2002.
The emergence of this new type of energy ownership and generation is in keeping with a wider transformation of our energy supply.
We are in the midst of a seismic shift in the way we use and consume energy. Developments like electric cars, smart grids, battery storage and demand response will make a huge difference to our relationship with energy by making it more local. Community groups are perfectly positioned to be at the vanguard of this revolution.
Their drive, commitment and local insight provide an ability to put into practice emerging market developments, while the trust associated with being community owned can be vital for encouraging the uptake of new technologies such as smart meters.
In an era of increasing devolution, it is fundamental for communities to invest in initiatives that will improve resilience. As well as generating energy independently (and reducing transmission loss), community energy creates local jobs and keeps money in the local economy. A 2014 government strategy paper on the subject observed that:
“Putting communities in control of the energy they use can have wider benefits such as building stronger communities, creating local jobs, improving health and supporting local economic growth.”
The age when coal and nuclear power dominated the supply market is over. The gigantic power stations and reactors required to generate huge power outputs that travel for thousands of miles through the wires of the National Grid will soon be history . With access to affordable generation technologies like offshore wind and solar power, coupled with battery storage, heat pumps and a more effficient use of energy, we, as communities, are truly able for the first time to seize control of our energy future.
In countries like Germany, 35% of all renewable energy installations are community owned. Our future, here in the UK is also community owned.
Let’s work together to make this happen.