Widening participation in community energy

How can we ensure everyone has access?

28 April 2016

CSE's Rachel Coxcoon was a speaker at workshop on community energy organised by the thinktank IPPR and Citizens Advice. The well-attended event was held on 27 April in London, and Rachel presented a session exploring how participation can be widened.

"Increasing the level of public engagement with community energy in its broadest sense is something close to CSE's heart," said Rachel. "Community energy is for the most part focussed on renewables – not the equally important area of fuel poverty and energy affordability. It also tends to be concentrated in more affluent areas and among those with the money, social capital and know-how to make it work.

"And while there's nothing wrong with community solar or wind projects – we do a huge amount to support them, in fact – too often, poorer neighbourhoods are left out, and this is in part down to the structure of government backing. We'd like to see far more effort put into spreading the benefits of local energy schemes into the communities who may never be happy shareholders of a solar farm but whose relationship with energy is more likely to be fuel debt or a cold home."

Rachel finished with four government priorities for widening participation:

  1. Recognise that the most deprived areas need a specific support programme.
  2. Address the hollowing-out of energy expertise within local authorities.
  3. Develop a cross-departmental strategy for supporting deprived communities to take control of energy use, linking to health, community resilience and energy affordability agendas.
  4. Develop a work programme to support energy advice and tenant/landlord energy generation partnerships in social housing developments.

We've reproduced Rachel's presentation with voice-over. Click here to download. This Powerpoint presentation is ideally viewed as a 'slideshow'. To run this, download and open the file, then click on 'Slide Show' and select 'From Beginning'. 

You'll then get the full presentation with Rachel's voice that lasts about 8 minutes. Your escape key may not work, in which case scroll to the end of the presentation.

The photo below shows a slow-cooker event that CSE ran in Weston super Mare in 2014. "This isn't what you normally think of when someone says 'community energy'," said Rachel. "But this is a neighbourhood where the cost of feeding a family is high on the agenda and where activities like this – touching on saving money, nutrition and energy – help build confidence and trust and get people talking about energy use in general. If you want to open up a dialogue about energy, the pros and cons of a community-owned renewables may not the place to start in many cases. That said, you never know where such a conversation may lead, and you may well end up with a thriving solar project or something similar.

"Renewables-focussed grants such the Urban Community Energy Fund make a huge contribution and we are delighted to be administering it on behalf of DECC. It would be great if alongside support for renewables there was a programme focussed on low income areas as well."

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