Co-operatives UK has demanded ation after government policy U-turns spark a drop in community energy start-ups by more than 80 per cent - a story that has been picked up now by the Guardian.
Just 10 new community energy organisations were registered between 1 January and September 6 this year according to new figures from Co-operatives UK. This compares with 76 green energy start-ups in 2015. The picture is even bleaker in terms of energy generation with new projects simply described as “not financially viable”.
The dramatic fall follows a series of policy changes by government. In January 2014 an ambitious and ground-breaking community energy strategy was released, but by 2016 it had axed tax reliefs and slashed energy generation (feed-in tariff) payments.
Ed Mayo is secretary general of national trade body Co-operatives UK, which boasts 120 community energy organisations within its membership. He said: “Local communities have put in extraordinary efforts to encourage clean renewable energy in the face of extraordinary barriers put in their way by national politicians.
"We are in the midst of Community Energy Fortnight, a time to celebrate this hopeful and grassroots movement. But the government’s policy changes have dealt it a hammer blow, causing confusion and bringing growth to a virtual standstill.
"The public backs community owned green energy, people want more control of their local economy and what we need from government is a clear and consistent framework, including appropriate support, so that the thousands of local people wanting to invest in and generate community energy are able to do so without fear of policy upheavals.”
Chester Community Energy was formally established in January (2016) and is now racing against time to complete a 50kw solar installation on a council-owned leisure centre. The project only went ahead due to securing ‘old’ feed-in-tariff payments under the pre-accreditation scheme. One of the founding directors, Francesca Moore, admits that without pre-accreditation the scheme would have been dead in the water.
She said: "We would not have done it. We would have ended it a long time ago. We would not have been able to give a return to investors. We might have been able to squeeze one per cent but that’s not enough for people – and we wouldn’t have been able to generate a community energy fund."
Government policy change has left the CCE director frustrated and disillusioned. She added: "I don’t know if it was ever thought through at a proper level. We should be doing everything we can to curb the effects of climate change. It (community energy) is something very positive that’s volunteer-led and community funded and focused. It delivers a lot of value and efficiency savings."
Brighton Energy Co-operative was established in 2010 and has raised more than £1 million from the local community to build some of the largest solar energy installations in the area. However, chairman Will Cottrell now says new projects – even for established organisations - are not feasible.
He said: "January's feed-in-tariffs cuts mean that new projects are not financially viable. So what's the point in starting a community energy scheme when you can't offer members interest or community funds?”
Changes in government policy over community energy represent a "missed opportunity" according to Community Energy England. Their CEO, Emma Bridge, said: “We are saddened but not surprised by this decrease given the obstacles thrown down in the path of community energy groups over the past 18 months.
"The variety of events taking place during Community Energy Fortnight demonstrate the breadth of activity and benefits related to community energy and the missed opportunity to spread this further."