Blog Post

Community Energy for the Future

For too long, we’ve relied on energy produced and owned abroad – empowering oligarchs while multinational oil and gas companies make record profits all whilst our communities face higher bills which force them to make impossible decisions.

With prices reaching record highs, there has never been a more important moment to invest in cheap, clean renewable energy produced and owned right here in the UK.

At the Co-operative Party, we know that ownership matters. And that’s why we back community-owned energy, where local people own and control renewables like solar panels and wind farms that power their communities because we know that community energy organisations can play an instrumental role in tackling the crises the UK faces today – including the ongoing cost-of-living and energy crisis – the collective action taken by organisations has the unique ability to bring people together, to involve them in the project, allow them the opportunity to take control of assets and also, educate.

We know that many of the solutions to the energy crisis require a less centralised approach – ones which are owned locally and where communities can see the benefits. We are calling for a massive investment in community energy to deliver transformative change to the energy system, by building renewable energy capacity and putting communities in control.

Community energy schemes across the UK are empowering local people so they not only have more say on how energy is produced and where any profits are invested but they increase resilience and, in most cases, have more awareness of the key issues being felt locally meaning they are in a better position to adapt and support the most vulnerable members. 

Many of those community energy organisations also look at energy saving – educating their members and local people on what they can do to become more energy efficient. Co-operative networks of households, community organisations and businesses can be highly effective in engaging households and communities on energy saving and retrofit with them encouraging take-up as well as behavioural change. For many this is because of trust, these initiatives are owned and run by the community, which they know has the interests of that area at its heart. Unlike multinational corporate companies who rip off communities only to move on to the next one, local community energy organisations have the trust to support local people and bring about real change. 

And we know for many households across the country, the quality of housing can impact the cost of energy. With notoriously draughty, damp, and cold homes which are increasingly expensive to heat. It is estimated that 19 million homes in the UK fail to meet the basic energy efficiency standards. That is 19 million households who are paying higher bills, are potentially putting their health at risk from living with damp and cold and are unintentionally contributing to the climate emergency. 

Upgrading our homes through retrofitting is one of the best ways we can tackle the ongoing issues regarding energy consumption and efficiency. By ensuring buildings are properly insulated we can help reduce the cost of energy whilst future-proofing homes all while doing our bit for the climate.

Linking in what the idea that a key benefit of community energy companies is the trust they provide – Ireland’s home retrofit program tells us that establishing ‘one-stop-shops’ within communities is critical and can be the key factor in supporting local people to make these changes.

They can provide that advice, advocacy, and retrofit to make it happen. And it is important to remember when we talk about retrofitting, it is not always on the large scale such as full-house refit, in half an hour through low-cost measures you can save a household 10% of their energy use. 

Across the country, co-operatives like Retrofit Works, Carbon Co-op, and Loco Home are already in communities showing us how it can be done – educating local people and acting on retrofitting but we need one in every community. 

Recognising the difference local community energy companies and project are already making to areas is crucial but we want to see more of them up and down the country.

Making that a reality will take political will and resources – our sister party, the Labour Party’s proposed ‘Local Power Plan’ will prioritise expanding access to cheaper, cleaner power across the country through the creation of GB Energy which would allocate resources to support local power in partnership with communities and create a million new owners of energy in the UK.

At the Co-operative Party we are supporting that work and empowering our members to act locally to support the growth of community energy. Whether it is by contacting their local elected politicians to resource community energy or make it easier for projects to get off the ground, getting involved locally if they have schemes in their area or spreading the word of how community energy is already benefiting people and why it is important, we increase the accessibility of it.

Community energy has the power to tackle the crises we face as a society today – including the cost of living and climate change by providing cheaper and cleaner alternatives all whilst empowering local people and creating a more democratic way of working where people can see the benefits to the local economy.

Emma Hoddinott

Emma is the Assistant General Secretary of The Co-operative Party

Blog Post

Post COVID-19 we must build back better

Commentators from the International Energy Agency, to Green NGO’s as well as a number of leading economists, such as Nick Stern, are calling upon Governments to align their climate change policies with investment in a Post COVID-19 economic recovery by ‘building back better’. As with the Green New Deal this can cover a very broad range of policies and politics. The challenge is to make it relevant, practical and politically achievable.

Many of us have long argued the case for a national programme to retrofit the nation’s homes with practical measures to improve their energy efficiency, cut fuel bills and lift households out of fuel poverty. Now fresh work is showing that to get spending back into voters’ pockets from Blyth to Bridport we should invest in just such a programme.

A new paper from the climate change focused ‘insider’ policy group, E3G, is the latest to highlight:

“Retrofitting buildings to high energy efficiency standards can quickly and reliably ‘level up’ employment opportunities creating 150,000 jobs to 2030 and deliver household savings of £7.5 billion per year that translate into consumer spending”.

‘Investing in a resilient net zero UK recovery’. E3G. May 2020

This spending would, as Labour highlighted at the last election, represent a very real commitment to improving the UK’s housing stock. The question is how to do it.

The Scottish, Welsh and to some extent the Northern Ireland Government all have structured, tax payer funded, energy efficiency programmes. Only England does not.

Here the Tory led coalition introduced the failed ‘Green Deal’ (which was largely a pale imitation of the ‘Pay as You Save’ scheme driven forward by Ed Miliband’s team prior to the 2010 election). Labour’s ‘Warm Front’ went and, following pressure  from the ‘Big 6’ incumbent energy suppliers, the Conservative Government also dramatically cut the consumer funded ‘Energy Company Obligation’ which obliges energy companies to do at least something to lift households out of fuel poverty.

Scotland has a multilevel, multi-year, £280m programme that includes:

  • Warmworks – A tax payer funded national programme rolling out insulation and heating to vulnerable households in the owner occupied and private rented sector. This includes rigorous standards enforcement across the 29 local contracting firms who carry out the work.
  • Area based, ring fenced, funding to Scottish local authorities to retrofit public sector housing using predominantly local contractors.
  • Low interest loans for owner occupiers and others to commission their own work.
  • An overarching and enforceable target to achieve zero carbon homes including.
  • A (new) legal obligation on Private Landlords to significantly improve the energy rating of their property before it can be (re)let.
  • Retained Building Standards as a local authority function.
  • A distributed network of advice centres with a national call centre to access all the programmes.

In England we need a similarly structured programme that not only harnesses the local knowledge of Councils, but also focus on high quality work, backed by effective, training and easy access to all aspects of the programme. The existing national programmes of the devolved nations could be boosted directly with dedicated Treasury funding.

The Labour Party is building of its commitment to a major programme of home insulation and inviting party members and others to respond to its newly launched ‘Green Recovery’ consultation. It emphasizes that in response to the pandemic

“We also need action to combat the economic crisis that is facing so many communities across our country while ensuring that we take bold and ambitious steps to tackle the climate crisis” it concludes that “The impact of coronavirus will be felt sharply over the coming months and we need to be ready to present our plans to government”.

Labour Party Green Recovery Consultation, National Policy Forum 2020

The Chancellor is reputably looking for ‘shovel ready projects’. Boosting job creating action on thermally improving the nation’s housing stock is just such a project. In England from commit to action on the ground would take about 6 months – in Scotland, Wales and North Ireland it would be almost immediate given their existing programmes.

This is essentially about a practical programme of housing improvement that puts jobs and investment into constituencies across the UK and takes us all a long way towards the UK’s legal commitment to a zero carbon future. It is the proverbial win-win for the thousands who would work on the programme, the climate, and significantly the voters who would see the benefit through a warmer home and lower energy bills for the longer term.

Let’s do it!

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">David Green </span></strong>
David Green

David currently acts as Chairman for Warmworks Scotland, PRASEG – the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Renewable and Sustainability Energy, and is an advisor to Energy Consumers Australia.

He co-founded leading fuel poverty charity National Energy Action in 1981, is the former Chief Executive of the federal Clean Energy Council in Australia, and former Chair of the Mayor of London’s Energy Partnership. He has previously worked for Friends of the Earth and the Housing Department of Newcastle City Council.

He writes for Red Brick in a personal capacity.