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Columnist Peter Gudde offers some advice on community energy schemes

Last month I talked about how individuals can take on a zero-carbon challenge. This time round it’s time to focus on our local communities who want to build their own energy future.

I know it’s a really hard road for community energy. Having worked on projects either as a volunteer or through my work, I have seen how much effort and dedication it takes.

I have spent many hours in village halls, school staff rooms and volunteers’ kitchens talking over a community group’s big energy idea. I have seen the drive and passion of local people in the room which, if multiplied a thousand-fold, could solve some of the most intractable challenges of the day. But, having a great idea is one thing. Knowing how to move forward successfully is something else entirely.

Community energy schemes can attract grants (14319606)
Community energy schemes can attract grants (14319606)

One of the major way markers on your community energy journey is knowing that your grand idea is do-able. Will it work and is it affordable?

There is a lot of knowledge out there whether you are just starting off and want to test your idea with someone else or have a project on the go and are ready to take it to the next level.

As the national voice of the community energy sector, Community Energy England provides community energy groups with both support and advice. This could be about generating renewable energy beyond what a single community building can use, maybe by putting solar panels on land in your local area or putting together a community heating programme.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy has a wealth of online advice, whether you are lobbying for your village or town to adopt a zero-carbon vision in their local neighbourhood plan, looking for ways to make your village hall energy efficient, or helping vulnerable households.

If it’s about hard cash, then there are several places you can go depending on your idea and how it’s shaping up. The Power Partners fund offered by UK Power Networks run by the Centre for Sustainable Energy provides grants up to £20,000 for community-led projects to tackle fuel poverty or improve the energy performance of community buildings.

If you have a big idea like a community-owned solar farm, then the Rural Community Energy Fund may be able to assist, with up to £40,000 available initially to help you answer those key ‘do-ability’ questions. For projects that demonstrate a good chance of getting done, further development funding of up to £100,000 could be available to cover more detailed investigations into the key things such as technology choice, legal permissions and developing a full investment business plan.

More generally, the Bright Ideas Fund run by Power to Change offers support and grants of up to £15,000 to community groups, associations and organisations who have a good idea for a community business and need help developing it. If you have progressed to a point where you have a truly inspiring and innovative business approach which needs to be developed so it is ready to launch, then Power to Change is also offering Next Generation Innovation grants up to £100,000.

Each funding pot comes with rules about when and how to apply so nothing is for free or forever. But, knowing what’s on offer and more generally who can help you get your community energy project on the way should make the journey to a zero-carbon community less daunting.

For more information:

Centre for Sustainable Energy – communityenergyengland.org/

Power to Change funding pots –www.powertochange.org.uk/

Power Partners – www.cse.org.uk/projects/view/1356

In Suffolk, visit www.greensuffolk.org/green-communities/

-- Peter Gudde is an energy adviser and environmental reasearcher