Urban Futures Salford Manchester. Research in the City

Community Energy at Risk from FITs Policy Changes

Community energy is about far more than the generation of renewable energy. It reduces energy bills, provides energy efficiency advice, develops skills, generates revenue in the local economy: the list of social, economic and environmental benefits goes on. 

This will of course come as no surprise to those who have come into contact with community energy projects and have seen the inspiring work that is undertaken.

Within Greater Manchester, groups such as St John’s Sunshine have been using the income from solar panels on the roof of St John’s Church in Old Trafford to save costs for the community centre and provide “Sunshine Grants” for projects such as a shared community centre bicycle, beehive, yardens event and support for the choir, brownies and asylum seekers.

Other schemes are providing energy advice and home improvements for people in fuel poverty, supporting the work of hospices, health centres and community centres, offering apprenticeships for renewables installers and providing much-needed income for farmers.

They also represent a huge educational resource and work for local businesses:

“Approximately 5000 school pupils will benefit over the next 12 months from solar energy teaching resources currently in development linked to real-time solar energy displays viewable from any computer in the schools with community financed PV installations.”

“We installed a solar PV system for a seamstress’ workshop. She called me up a few months later and said "I don't know how I am going to pay this electricity bill", when I asked the problem and how much it was she said "its 49p this quarter!"”

The 80 organisations surveyed have almost 11,000 members and have collectively:
• Delivered 30MW of renewable energy capacity in 175 separate schemes
• Planned to deliver 143MW of capacity in 448 new schemes.
• Reduced energy bills for host organisations: 20 schemes provide annual energy savings totalling £172,500 to schools, parish halls, churches, sports centres and other community buildings, farms and homes.

These organisations work in a different way: they are truly co-operative, sharing information, mentoring each other, offering help and solutions to issues others are facing. In this way they can deliver far more than the private sector could.

The community groups responding to the survey have put in over 155,000 voluntary hours to develop and deliver their projects: it would have cost over £5 million to buy in this time and skills.

“Support from directors and volunteers has enabled us to develop our organisation and our projects on a shoe string.”

The survey showed that community energy delivers significant value for money, in supporting local economies and community services. However the value these groups deliver will be severely cut back if the proposed cuts to the Feed In Tariffs (FITs) go ahead, on top of other recent policy hits taken by the sector. Over 90% of respondents said the (FITs) announcement had forced them to abandon or curtail projects.

“We would like to see small scale PV, micro-hydro and renewable heat technologies installed to support our community buildings (Village Hall, Community Centre, Church, Primary School etc) but withdrawal of the FIT will make these projects difficult to justify. The language coming from Government is discouraging investment or fund raising. Everything is on hold.”

Possibly a greater loss will be the willingness of community energy organisers to continue to devote their time. The policy changes have seriously de-motivated the sector to the point at which many are considering whether further active participation in the ‘Big Society’ is a waste of their time.

“It's been a hard few years and is getting harder - we feel like we're fighting every step of the way. Right now we don't know what we can do to develop, and volunteer fatigue has definitely set in.”

“Very demoralising! The lack of government support and its growing hostility towards low carbon initiatives, along with the constant changes in policy, make it difficult to see any positive results from time and effort spent in this area. People have plenty of choice for their time and money, and will spend it more fruitfully in other areas.”

The overall impression is that there is a failure to recognise the good that is being delivered by people who give up their time voluntarily to make things happen in their local areas and the sector feels it has been “kicked in the teeth” by the government when it has still so much potential to deliver.

The research was developed and produced by Quantum Strategy & Technology on behalf of Community Energy England, with support from Power to Change and Greenpeace.

For more information contact: gill.fenna@quantumst.co.uk or visit www.quantumst.co.uk.

The full report is available here.
The summary report is available here. 

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