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 is the Assistant General Secretary of The Co-operative Party