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.
On Tuesday 03 June Doug Parr, Chief Scientist and Policy Director at Greenpeace UK, came to talk to a full room at the Brighthelm Centre, regarding the Future of UK Energy.
Doug began by addressing the Big Six energy companies, the dominant force that control 95% of our energy supply. This unfair monopolisation of the market prompted the foundation of BHESCo: to provide the community of Brighton and Hove with an alternative to these Big Six companies, of which two thirds are owned by foreign corporations. Doug highlighted that there is not enough Government regulation to take the control away from the Big Six and that community energy is presenting a viable alternative to their control.
Over 60% of the population support renationalisation of the sector, giving the power back to the public sector creating a more secure energy future. At BHESCo we strongly believe that social enterprise can fill this gap. In our case providing clean, renewable energy and encouraging energy efficiency as a public service. It was estimated that at the beginning of 2014, 6.59 million households were in fuel poverty, an increase of 13% from 2011 (ACE, 2014*). These households have become victims of price increases from the Big Six, accumulating a debt to their supplier that prevents them from switching to obtain a better deal. It is these circumstances that BHESCo aims to avoid, by helping communities reduce their energy consumption, lower their bills and develop community energy projects to generate our own power.
Doug Parr said community energy has the ability to be ‘powerful, intrusive and disruptive’ to the energy market, making a major contribution to our future energy system. This is something that BHESCo has believed in since founding in 2011, underpinning our services and practices. Barriers such as planning permissions, finances and grid connections will need to be overcome and best practice established. Community projects are a way of breaking through these barriers as local buy in and cooperation will reduce the number of planning objections. In addition to this, the buy in and support of local authorities is critical to the success of community energy projects, and so developing relationships with these will only strengthen project development.
Doug highlighted that UK polls show that the population favours renewable energy sources, with solar power being the most favoured, over coal, oil and gas. However this preference is not reflected in energy policy or the strategy for building a sustainable energy industry. This is hardly surprising, as there is a multitude of research on the environmental attitude-behaviour gap which shows that although many people have environmental opinions, they do not act upon them. It is important to not see this as doom and gloom, there are many groups of people across the country striving towards a more sustainable society, with community led renewable energy projects developing clean, renewable energy for thousands of households across the country
“We can learn from Europe”, Doug said as he talked us through an example in Copenhagen, where a variety of energy sources provide the city’s power. Of these sources a significant amount are renewable. In Germany community energy generation has taken off, with 42% of its renewable energy capacity owned by individuals. Doug highlighted these places as best practice and urged us not to get left behind; we should look toward these countries to build a picture of what the future of UK energy could look like.
Amidst this, Doug touched on the process of fracking. BHESCo has covered this topic in blogs before highlighting that it is uneconomical, unnecessary and unclean (http://tinyurl.com/m4dprpu), all of which Doug agreed are legitimate concerns. However, as Doug warned the announcement of the ‘fracking law’ in the Queens speech on 04 June, has made the Governments intention to frack across the UK more definite. The changes in land regulations will allow companies to frack under homes of those who currently object, without permission and understanding the dangers of the practice.
Our efforts should be focussed on finding alternatives to fossil fuels, developing community energy and producing local power. Overall Doug was very inspirational and it reminded us all in the audience why we are striving towards the goal of community generated renewable energy.
We discussed Doug’s talk and the power of community energy on our radio show, with our guest, Geoff Barnard, Coordinator of Steyning 1010 & Brighthelm Centre Trustee. Please visit the Radio Free Brighton webpage to listen to the show.