Call for more power for community energy

Call for more power for community energy
Third Force News
17.10.2013

Greater public control of energy assets would not result in greater community ownership, a leading charity has warned.

Nicholas Gubbins, chief executive of Community Energy Scotland (CES) this week warned that state control of UK energy would not necessarily be good for communities that want to benefit from their own energy projects.
Instead, he said community energy projects, which currently face a range of obstacles and struggle to get off the ground, need more government support.

Left-wing think tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation recently called for a much greater level of state intervention in response to failing UK energy policy and rising fuel costs.

Its Common Weal paper suggests that public ownership of energy assets – in the form of part nationalisation with a high level of local authority control – would lead to lower energy bills for consumers in Scotland who currently pay some of the highest rates Europe.

The foundation argued that the move would also benefit community groups, which would be able to take control of assets in their area.

However, Gubbins said the model was no guarantee for a sector that has so far been constrained by huge project costs and stifling bureaucracy.

“We feel that greater public ownership of energy assets would not necessarily result in greater community ownership, control or benefit,” he said.

“It would all depend on exactly how that ownership was exerted and, crucially, how much the system was reformed to favour community project development and local re-investment of returns.”

As such Gubbins said the current system should be changed so that community energy projects were favoured in the planning system and favoured when it came to the sale of public land.

He added: “It is not about a land grab; it is ensuring equality and timely investment decisions that don’t rely on private investors waiting till risks are minimised by state intervention.”

This week another report from Co-operatives UK, revealed connection costs were further hampering the community energy sector and proving to be a major barrier to their success.

While gaining approval and land rights was difficult enough, the body which represents cooperatives across the country, said the cost of connecting to the National Grid is a postcode lottery for communities.

It argued that communities should be given priority grid access, allowing them to pay back their connection costs over time. It also said they should be exempt from wider network upgrade costs.

Mike Smyth, chair of community owned renewable energy organisation Energy4All, said, urgent action was desperately needed.

“When costs rocket to a point where schemes become untenable, this wastes months of hard work and thousands of pounds of scarce community resource.

“If the recommendations of this report are implemented fully it would go a long way to empowering communities to take control of their own energy future and lead to a significant jump in community project success rates.”