A large number of community projects are currently in operation across the UK. These include close to 50 renewable co-operatives and around 2,000 installations registered for benefits through the governmental feed-in tariff.
However, the Green Alliance, an environmental think tank, said that the energy saving potential of such projects is much larger and blamed flawed policy frameworks and limited access to funding for holding back communities across the country.
The think tank reported that community-owned energy installations have the potential to produce 3.5GW, but are being impeded by a lack of targeted schemes. The figures are a far cry from the 180MW capacity reported by the Community Environment Associates in July 2013.
Green Deal ‘should be more community-minded’
The Green Deal was rolled out to allow residents to retrofit solutions in their homes via loans that would be paid back through savings over a number of years. The Green Alliance argues that the framework behind this should also allow for communities to install technology such as solar panels to enable them to make savings over the course of several years.
While the government has previously taken steps to help increase the use of community green projects, their actions have been criticised by the think tank for not being enough to entice groups.
In response to feedback from community groups, the government announced last month that it was planning to change regulations to provide feed-in tariff support for wind turbines, rooftop-mounted solar panels and other community technologies providing between 5MW and 10GW of energy.
The Green Alliance remains unimpressed and described the move as “piecemeal”.
Green Alliance calls for ‘clear and ambitious’ plans for community energy projects
The think tank has called for a clear and ambitious vision for community energy projects. It wants an energy strategy that takes community projects into consideration as well as a review of how the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) could better support this type of initiative.
In addition, the Green Alliance is hoping schemes will be put in place to support funding for community projects through the Green Investment Bank and various commercial providers.
Speaking on the findings of the think tank, Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said that there is a real hunger for community energy installations. He cited a project in his constituency that had to be shelved after it became too expensive following changes in Environment Agency strategy.
“There is a real interest in community energy in my constituency, but complex and risky development processes are making it harder than it should be.
“This shouldn’t be happening – we should be actively encouraging these projects and making it easy for a community group to realise their ideas.”