The Big Society solution for clean energy

106647303 300x214 The Big Society solution for clean energyThe existing centralised energy system that was developed in the last century is not fit for the challenges of this one.

Yes we need new nuclear, big offshore wind farms and new coal with CCS.

But the energy conundrum we now face requires a new and broader approach in which our communities are encouraged to produce their own energy.

When David Cameron became Prime Minister he set out his vision for a Big Society. A society that gives citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, to solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want.

We need to keep the lights on and produce cleaner and greener energy to help tackle climate change and we need action at every level of society to achieve this.

In short, we need a Big Society solution to clean energy. This means our communities have a vital role to play, but so far, it’s been a massive missed opportunity.

I want to change that and we’re already making strides.

Firstly, the coalition Government was quick to overturn the ban on local councils selling electricity back to the national grid, opening up new sources of income including the full benefit of the feed in tariff. At present only a pitiful 0.01% of electricity in England is generated by local authority-owned renewables.

Secondly, we’ve given certainty to communities, with backing for a range of financial incentives. It’s why I personally backed feed in tariffs and championed an incentive for renewable heat that will drive a step change in the way we generate heat at all scales, including as an alternative to using gas for heating our homes.

It’s because of the importance of local communities that I’m concerned about large scale green field based solar farms being allowed to distort the available funding for domestic solar technologies. We want to see far more solar panels on Britain’s roof space but not all over the countryside.

Thirdly, we are championing those communities that are already taking action to inspire other communities to become local energy economies. Communities will not only benefit financially and environmentally, but will create a market in green goods to help our economy grow.

New Mills – a community-owned hydropower scheme in Derbyshire is a great example. With an annual turnover of up to £30,000 gained from exporting electricity and other agreements, they’ve even opened up the turbine as a tourist attraction. The cash made is then ploughed back into the community so everyone can benefit.

It’s a living, breathing, energy generating example of the Big Society.

I want to see the success of New Mills emulated around the country with village halls, town halls and schools creating their own local energy economies.

But we know that money won’t make that happen alone. It’’s why our new Community Energy Online website goes live tomorrow to provide practical help to get local projects up and running.

I’ve seen the enthusiasm for buying local in my own constituency. Every month there’s a farmers’ market selling hearty produce grown nearby. It’s popular and people like it. There’s something gratifying about buying fruit and veg from a neighbour – it helps the local economy, it cuts down on food miles and it tastes a lot fresher.

I want to create the same excitement for local energy generation Now is the time to return power to the people to get power from the people.

Greg Barker is Minister for Climate Change

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  • uanime5

    In other words they have no idea how to produce clean energy but can run a farmers market. Guess we’ll continue to buy electricity from France.

  • rogerbater

    Surely, local generation of energy will never be more than tiny proportion of the total. If we are serious about meeting electrical energy needs we have to build big power stations that not only meet future requirements but are capable of replacing existing stations that will need to be decommissioned.

  • gliffothewisp

    Similar schemes have been in operation in Germany for many years. Last month I did a tour of the alternative energy generation sites in the small area of Bavaria where I live. These sites included: Biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, wind and solar power generators. They are not only generating electricity profitably, they are also providing sustainable long-term employment.
    A lot of people have photovoltaic cells on their roofs – often covering their one side of their entire roof. Personally I am a bit dubious, as photovoltaic technology is advancing so fast, with ever more efficient cells being developed, that I don’t think that now is the time to invest.
    Due to the short sightedness of previous governments, Britain is 10 – 15 years behind many European countries in the development and application of these technologies. The Chinese are investing massively – I was just reading in the Indie of a huge biogas plant they were building. Britain desperately needs to catch up. I hope that the govt will make the funding available for the infrastructure to do just that.

  • mollysdad

    “In short, we need a Big Society solution to clean energy. This means our communities have a vital role to play, but so far, it’s been a massive missed opportunity.

    “I want to change that and we’re already making strides.”

    This role that communities have to play – does it involve the long-term unemployed working on treadmills in return for their benefits?

    As for making strides, aren’t trouser factories in China already doing this at a fraction of the UK cost?

  • ChrisRowland

    Community interest (often not for profit) companies such as OVESCo, LCWO, H2ope, TRESCO & BEC are trying to set up projects to generate local sustainable power, where profits are ploughed back into the community for future projects and energy efficiency for their local communities.

    There is a need to support grass roots local community energy suppliers to start up. Imagine hundreds of local energy supplies owned by their communities all supplying decentralised renewable power for the UK. This has already happened in many parts of Europe and the UK lags behind.

    Isn’t it time for seed funding to support the growth of this industry from the Big Society Bank? Should there be incentives for this type of business?

    Give Power back to people to make the energy transition!

  • toby

    “yes we need nuclear, coal, CCS…” and so the status quo continues. What nonsense.

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