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GREEN VIEW: Helping communities with renewable energy

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Green View by Peter Gudde
Green View by Peter Gudde

Back in May last year, I raised the potential for communities to become energy generators. The big Big 6 energy companies currently dominate the consumer energy market but changes are happening with some far-reaching opportunities for community energy ownership. Let me tell you more…

It’s been the case for several years that community groups have been able to develop their own renewable energy schemes to benefit from the Feed in Tariff as well as making their own energy. The tariff rules are regularly changing, so are the installation costs. Solar technology costs are now one third of what they were in 2012 when the Feed in Tariff was introduced. So, one of the questions I get asked is whether a community should develop its own scheme to generate energy and if so what help is out there?

More local community groups in Suffolk are taking on renewables projects using their own buildings or land to become mini power stations but I know from speaking to some of them it’s a challenge. The early stages of their project seems especially difficult because there may be a lack of knowledge and money to identify what would be for the best.

Now, it should be a little easier. To help hard-pressed community groups, not only is there a free local advice service across Suffolk from the Green Suffolk team but also a new local renewable energy fund available through the councils in West Suffolk. This pot is available to help communities with some of the costs of developing a renewable energy project, whether it’s legal advice, structural building surveys or running a share rights offer to raise money.

If your community does not want to develop its own energy project and is either happy to host a commercially developed project or knows that proposals in the local area are likely, communities can now make the renewable energy developer open up their project to local investment to the directly benefit local residents. Under new national arrangements relating to larger scale schemes, a community could become a part owner whether that is through a share or bond issue, amongst other forms of investment arrangement. Developers are required to make the financial return reflect the level of risk taken by the community investors. So, if a community invests early in a project then the rate of financial return should be higher than if it invests when the scheme is up and running. There are many models for doing this and the Green Suffolk team’s impartial and free advice and our renewable energy development fund can assist with setting up the appropriate community structure.

So, if you are a community group wanting to get a project off the starting blocks or want more advice on how to get a better deal on renewable energy, come and talk.

For The Community Renewable Energy Fund: call 01284 757400 or email environment@westsuffolk.gov.uk

For advice and support for community renewable energy projects visit www.greensuffolk.org/

-- Peter Gudde is environment manager for St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Forest Heath District Council