As Future Climate gets up and running, it seems that there is hardly a sector of UK energy policy that isn’t undergoing change. From Energy Market Reform for generators, to changes to feed-in tariffs and the interim Renewable Heat Premium Payments for small scale renewables to Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation on the efficiency side of the equation. In amongst all of that, the community owned energy sector continues to grow. Support programmes such as LEAF and EnergyShare have supported large numbers of highly committed groups across the country and there is the beginnings of a burgeoning sector. But how can the community movement find a voice in the policy landscape?
Last week, Greg Barker announced that DECC are beginning work on a new community energy strategy and there is a Ministerial contact group, helping to make the voice of community energy organisations heard. Some are well advanced and are making share offers (http://brixtonenergy.co.uk/) and the first micro-investment platform for community energy has emerged (https://www.abundancegeneration.com/), while others are making their first foray from other community ventures into the field of energy efficiency and generation. Networks such as Communities and Climate Action Alliance (CCAA) and the Low Carbon Communities Network are bringing forward issues and providing solutions to overcome key barriers, such as structure, funding and planning.
What is not clear yet is what the central view of the role of community energy in the overall mix is. There have been pilot programmes and initiatives such as the recent LEAF grant programme have been well received, but without a clear statement of ambition and a greater sense of support for community owenership and operation of assets, with all the additional community benefit that can flow from that, then while a thousand flowers will bloom, up against the might of some powerful interests, then community energy will remain the domain of pioneers, not a wholesale transformation of our energy systems.