Community Energy Challenge

Bringing a clean energy revolution to communities across the UK

The Community Energy Challenge is a bold initiative by The Co-operative that will support a powerful set of community energy projects and help unleash a clean energy revolution across the UK.

The aim is to support a small group ambitious communities keen to develop projects that involve local people, change the way we think about energy, and inspire others to shape a renewable energy future.

The Community Energy Challenge will provide 12-18 months of enterprise development, mentoring, technical advice and community facilitation, enabling them to initiate co-operative renewable energy projects at a significant scale (e.g. valued at £1m to £3m and/or rated in excess of 500kW).

This support is being delivered by CSE on behalf of The Co-operative Group and aims to bring the selected community projects to a state of readiness for further support and investment from The Co-operative Enterprise Hub and The Co-operative Bank.

The Community Energy Challenge is part of The Co-operative’s Clean Energy Revolution campaign.

The selection process

To find the best projects to support, CSE managed a ‘supported application process’.

Stage 1 was a straightforward ‘registration’ stage in which groups submitted an expression of interest along with a rough outline of the proposed project and how it might benefit the wider community. We were looking for potential and ambition, not well-developed initiatives, and stressed that lack of technical know-how was no barrier. Over 120 groups submitted an expression of interest (EOI).

In Stage 2, up to 30 of the groups who submitted an EOI were asked to submit a full bid. They were selected primarily on the basis of the quality of the bid, with respect to the following:

  • the co-operative nature of the project
  • renewable resource availability
  • evidence of broad community support and involvement

Beyond this, the following criteria were taken into account:

  • a co-operative structure, local funding and ownership
  • involvement of the local community in the project’s design
  • a sense of accountability to the local community
  • benefit to the local community directly (e.g. through cheaper heating and/or electricity, tackling fuel poverty, payment of dividends, employment etc)
  • the scale of the project and its carbon-emission reduction potential
  • the potentially ground-breaking nature of the project, its national and local significance, relevance and/or visibility and opportunities for media and political resonance
  • potential for replication by other communities

CSE worked with all 30 the stage-2 groups to ensure that their bids were robust.

In Stage 3, the 30 groups were whittled down to the strongest ten by an independent expert panel (not involved in the support process) who were invited to present their proposal to an interview panel made up of energy and community experts from CSE, DECC and The Co-operative Group. The interviews took place at The Co-operative Group’s headquarters in Manchester in May 2012.

In June 2012, the successful projects were announced (see below).

CSE began working with the groups immediately, with a view to helping them become ‘investment ready’ by the end of 2013. Each group has been assigned an expert mentor who will provide support with project planning, community facilitation, enterprise development, technical advice and targeted assistance for key costs at the project development phase (such as legal fees, planning fees, ecological monitoring and site analysis).

Mini-profiles of the winners

Brendon Energy will be working with local people to find the best site, or sites, for a small number of medium-sized wind turbines in the ten parishes around Wiveliscombe in Somerset. These will be owned by the community, and all profits will be invested in new energy projects and donated to a fund to benefit the local community. This will make an interesting case study of the potential for a community enterprise to gain support for wind power.

The Abergwyngregyn Regeneration Company is a North Wales community group who are working with the National Trust to investigate a hydro project on the Anafon River. The high-head hydro would have a fall of 230m from intake to turbine, and offers the potential to sustain a 500kW turbine from this local renewable energy source.

Towards Zero Carbon Bute aims to explore and develop community-owned energy projects on the island, and to give people a say in the generation of energy locally while delivering wider social and environmental benefits.

Sustainable Oakenshaw in Co Durham are looking for the widest community participation possible in their efforts to create a community-owned renewable energy project that would bring an income to the local community so they can further invest in improving the area.

Another hydro project, this time from Transition Belper who want to explore and develop community-owned and run hydro power projects in the Derwent Valley world heritage corridor between Cromford and Derby.

Wey Valley Woodfuel is a Surrey-based community group which is keen to explore an energy project that raises money through community share issues to install biomass boilers and generate free heat energy for community spaces such as schools, churches and leisure centres.

An innovative scheme to tackle noise on the M40 and generate energy is the idea of the M40 Chilterns Environmental Group. The group aims to tackle issues of excessive noise pollution on a 20 mile section of the M40, while creating solar energy capacity through use of photovoltaic-enabled noise barriers.

Here's how the BBC covered the story online.

Community energy videos

These four short (8 to 12 minute) films show successful community energy projects in action: solar PV in West Oxford; biomass district heating for a small community in Sussex; a community-owned wind turbine in Hockerton, Notts; and a community hydro-electric scheme for Settle, North Yorks.

Note that they are These are 'medium-sized' community initiatives – smaller than the ones we’re seeking to support.

These videos were made for our PlanLoCaL project. In all, some 47 videos were made for this initiative, and you can see a full list of them here or on our YouTube channel.

Photo of West Mill Farm wind turbines: Brian Robert Marshall | reproduced under creative commons 

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