Has Wales missed out on a golden opportunity?

Published on February 23, 2016 in Blog
For those of us involved in the Community Energy Sector, the last few months have been a very rough ride.  It seems that every month that goes by there is another body blow to those that are desperately trying to make community owned energy a reality in Wales.  Robert Proctor shares his thoughts on the future of community energy.

But why should we care, what difference does it make to those of us who are just getting about our busy lives.  Maybe it is our fault, maybe we in the sector haven’t made people aware of why Community Energy is so good and has revolutionised the energy industry in countries like Germany and Denmark.

It has been a long and painful journey for Community Energy in Wales overcoming planning issues, licensing, grid capacity and a wealth of other obstacles, but despite this a hardy bunch of social entrepreneurs have set about dedicating their lives to developing community energy schemes across Wales.  Despite this things were really starting to happen and a number of schemes are being built right now.

Collectively if they all went ahead they could generate enough energy for around 20,000 homes in Wales but more importantly they were aiming to generate over £30 million in profit that would be used to re-invest in their local communities over the next 20 years.  At a time when we are seeing cuts to our public services and rises in our living costs this could make a significant contribution.   These figures do not include the benefits of creating local jobs, the construction jobs and the fact that most of these schemes are funded at least in part by using Community Share offers enabling local people to have a direct stake in the scheme and become a member of an energy co-operative.

Ynni Anafon Energy have nearly completed the largest community owned hydro power scheme south of Scotland.  They will generate enough energy for 270 homes and all the profit that they generate will go to Abergwyngregyn Regeneration company to be used to support local initiatives Tragically not all schemes were able to get through in time and they are facing a much bleaker future.  A few valleys across Ogwen Hydro have not been so fortunate they were hoping to develop a hydro scheme to generate enough power for 100 homes and to use the profit from the scheme to help tackle fuel poverty in the area they live.  Unfortunately this scheme is now in the balance due to the changes put in place by the UK government.

The most tragic element of this is that the people that have been involved in these schemes have dedicated their lives to developing these projects.  They have done this because they have seen an opportunity to start taking back control over the future of their communities.  This has been encouraged by both the Welsh and UK  Government through various initiatives and strategies.  A recent survey by Community Energy Wales highlighted that volunteers have been working on these projects for an average of 5 years, some as many as 15 years.  On average each group is putting in around 350 volunteer days to take these projects forward.

Has Wales missed out on a golden opportunity to support the creation of 10’s of thriving social enterprises across Wales that will be generating income to support local communities right across Wales?  In short yes because Wales was unable to take advantage of the good times over the last 5 years.  We now have a conservative government that is systematically stripping away all the support for community energy schemes right across the UK with the removal of FIT pre-accreditation, reduction in FITs and most recently the removal of tax relief for social investment in Community Energy projects.

However, there is a silver lining.  The Community Energy sector in Wales is made up of the hardiest, enterprising folk you could find.  They are already working together to find ways to overcome these challenges and identify alternative business models to ensure that these schemes can go ahead.  In simple terms we hope that by cutting out some of the middle men consumers will be able to get cheaper local electricity and generators will be paid more for the energy they produce.  Alan Simpson a former MP and Community Energy advocate explains in this short film some of the opportunities that could revolutionise the energy sector in the UK and Wales.

This isn’t going to happen unless we as consumers demand this change.  We only need to look at Germany and Denmark to see what is possible and what our futures could hold.  If you care about this but don’t know what to do then you can keep up to date with changes through Community Energy Wales and the Keep Fits campaign.

There is as alternative vision for the future of our energy, one that involves local ownership, where the benefits are retained in local communities and that provide cheaper, greener and cleaner energy for everyone in Wales and the UK.  Please help us make that vision a reality.


A note from Robert Proctor, the author of this blog:

I am writing this from a personal viewpoint as someone who is involved in Community Energy projects both through work and in my own personal life. I work for Community Energy Wales as Business Development Manager and as Programme Director for Renew Wales (A programme to support community action on climate change www.renewwales.org.uk). I am also a member of a number of community energy co-operatives in Wales in a personal capacity.