New report shares trials and tribulations of community energy in Yorkshire and Humber

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A REPORT gauging the opportunities and challenges for the community energy sector in Yorkshire and the Humber, has been launched by Community Energy England and Centre for Regional Economic Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

According to the ‘Catalysing People-powered Energy’-report, there have been some significant achievements by nine community energy projects across the region and pockets of technical expertise have been developed over a number of years.

Community share offers have become a proven and reliable way of raising money for the projects and some local authorities have shown consistent support for community energy projects.

However, some significant barriers to progress are recognised in the report, including:

  • Changes to feed-in tariffs and regulatory regimes
  • Limited capacity of volunteers and specialist staff
  • Difficulty in achieving economies of scale
  • Lack of access to influential politicians or funders
  • Difficulties in accessing suitable sites
  • Limited support for innovation
  • Localised difficulties in grid connection

These barriers are exacerbated by institutional challenges, including:

  • Less voluntary sector activity per capita than
    other regions
  • Stretched public services and funding cuts
  • Economic disadvantage
  • Lack of policy support
  • Focus on more challenging technologies (e.g. hydro power)

Community Energy England recommends a series of policy actions to address these barriers and challenges.

The first recommendation is that community energy should be integrated into the planning system and supported by Local Plans.

Local authorities should map opportunities for renewable energy development and community based renewable energy should be encouraged in new housing developments and community buildings.

Procurement rules should be examined to remove barriers to community energy schemes.

The second recommendation by the non-profit organisaton is that there should be business rate relief for community energy investment.

National guidelines on business rate relief should be amended to encourage investment in community renewable energy schemes.

Businesses that invest in community energy generation on their premises should qualify for business rate relief to match their investment for up to five years.

The third recommendation is that a recyclable loan fund should be established to invest in community energy projects in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Repayments could be then used to fund new projects.

According to the organisation, the fund should be administered by an established social finance organisation and encourage partnerships with community ‘anchor’ organisations with appropriate assets that can be used for energy generation and distribute community benefits where they are most needed.

The fourth recommendation is creating a regional fund to support grid connection in areas where the cost has proved prohibitive.

Community Energy England says in a public statement: “Promising projects have stumbled because of the cost of network connection and this barrier could be overcome via a fund administered through the regional Energy Hub and capitalised with contributions from BEIS and Local Enterprise Partnerships.”

The research for the report was conducted in 2018.

You can read the whole report here.