The community energy sector will play a vital role in helping the UK achieve its net zero emission goals by empowering local communities to develop and operate their own energy saving and energy generating assets by sharing their technical and financial expetise.

Despite a period of rapid expansion between 2010 and 2015, growth in the sector has stalled as key subsidies have been removed and restrictive policies introduced.

With a General Election scheduled for 4th July 2024, this is a pivotal opportunity for supporters of community energy to raise awareness of the sector and highlight the incredible benefits that community energy can deliver if the right conditions are in place.

Most of the major political parties have outlined their approaches to community energy. It is up to us, as engaged citizens, to make the right choice by electing candidates who recognise the great potential of community energy to deliver on social and environmental aspirations and are dedicated to supporting its success.

The Labour Party

The Labour Party’s vision for community energy is included as part of their plan to establish Great British Energy (GB Energy), a publicly-owned company designed to partner with local authorities, the private sector, and community organisations to scale up clean energy projects.

A key element of Labour’s strategy includes the Local Power Plan, which aims to make Britain a ‘clean energy superpower’ by 2030. A cornerstone of this plan is to increase national energy security by developing local, clean power projects such as onshore wind and solar electricity generation.

Labour has committed up to £600 million in funding for local authorities and up to £400 million annually in low-interest loans for community energy projects. This financial support is intended to drive the development of up to 8GW of affordable, clean power by 2030.

By scaling up local energy generation, Labour projects the creation of thousands of jobs and the reinvestment of energy profits into local economies, thereby aligning with practices that deliver community benefit in countries like Denmark and Germany where community ownership of energy is widespread.

Could Labour’s ‘Local Power Plan’ stimulate a proliferation of renewable energy in the UK, such as onshore wind and solar power? Photo credit: Karsten Würth on Unsplash

The Conservatives

The Conservative Party’s support for community energy is more modest, centred primarily around their recent introduction of the Community Energy Fund (CEF).

Launched in 2023, the CEF is a £10 million fund designed to support feasibility and development for community energy projects until March 2025. While a boost for the sector, this funding provides significantly less financial support than previous schemes like the Feed-In-Tariff, and has limitations in fostering substantial sector growth.

The government is presently consulting on the barriers facing the community energy sector, many of which have arisen during the years of Conservative administration since 2015 (e.g. a ‘de facto’ ban on onshore wind, the removal of Enterprise Investment Scheme tax-relief for community energy and subsidies for wind, solar power and renewable heat). They have pledged to report annually on progress towards overcoming these barriers.

When considering the Conservatives’ stance on community energy, it is important to frame this as part of their over-arching energy strategy. In addition to granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences in 2023, the Conservatives have placed a heavy emphasis on nuclear power, with plans to meet 25% of the UK’s energy demand with nuclear by 2050. This includes building new power stations, investing in nuclear fuel manufacturing, and attracting skilled graduates to the sector.

Conservative energy policy favours support for big centralised power generation such as nuclear energy. Photo credit: Lukáš Lehotskýon on Unsplash

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats advocate for a structured and locally empowered approach to achieving net zero emissions, with a particular focus on community energy. Their key pledges include:

1. Net Zero Delivery Authority: The party proposes restructuring national and local government by creating a Net Zero Delivery Authority to oversee the transition to net zero, alongside enhancing the powers and resources of local authorities.

2. Local Authority Empowerment: They plan to give councils the authority to develop community energy-saving projects and improve housing energy efficiency, reducing costs and emissions at the local level.

3. Appoint ‘Warm Homes and Community Energy Tsars’: The Liberal Democrats propose appointing dedicated officials to champion community energy and energy efficiency within central government.

4. Past Achievements and Future Goals: Ed Davey, the party leader, has a history of supporting community energy. The Government’s Community Energy Strategy was published in 2014 whilst he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The party’s 2023 conference highlighted their commitment to promoting community energy, though specific implementation details remain limited.

The Green Party

Although the Green Party’s policies do not explicitly focus on community energy, they stated (in response to Labour’s Local Power Plan, that “The Green Party is committed to democratically controlled community ownership for a greater share of the energy market”.

Their broader principles and goals strongly align with supporting local and community-based energy initiatives, with key elements including:

1. Democratic Energy Control: The Green Party advocates for enhancing democratic control over the energy system to ensure fair and affordable access to energy.

2. Decentralisation and Local Empowerment: Their policies emphasise devolving economic power to local levels, enabling communities to meet their needs through local resources and initiatives. This includes promoting cooperative and mutual economic enterprises.

3. Economic Resilience and Participation: The Green Party aims to shift economic power towards individuals and households, supporting the informal economy, and promoting resilience through local investment and community banks.

4. Sustainable Development: They propose various measures to support local economic management, including creating partnership bodies for local policy development and establishing cooperative development funds.

Why community energy is a key issue in the 2024 General Election

The General Election will be contested by around fifty different political parties, so we couldn’t possibly look at what each one says about community energy.

However, we hope that this article provides a valuable overview of where some of the main parties stand as regards their support of the community energy sector.

We believe that community energy is essential for achieving the nation’s net zero goals, because is provides an avenue for people to benefit personally from the development of new low-carbon initiatives in their area.

Community energy projects, like this BHESCo project at the Hollingdean Community Centre in Brighton, provide meaningful benefits to local people who stand to directly gain from the development of low-carbon energy. In this example, insulation measures improved warmth and comfort at the community centre, and rooftop solar PV delivered big savings on annual energy bills.

If the energy transition is determined by corporations and big energy companies, then people will feel disconnected and will not engage with the smaller household actions (like improving energy efficiency or installing a smart meter) that will be vital to its success.

For the transition away from fossil fuels to be successful, communities must have some agency in shaping their energy future, one in which they can feel the benefits directly.

Community Energy England’s ‘2030 Vision’ stated that, given adequate policy and financial support, the sector could become 12-20 times larger by 2030. Community energy could contribute 5,270MW, power 2.2 million homes, support 8,700 jobs, save 2.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions and add over £1.8 billion to the economy each year, according to WPI Economics.

We encourage you to insist that your political candidates learn all about the potential of community energy to socialise the energy industry, and pledge their unwavering support for the sector if they are fortunate to be elected to parliament.

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