Community energy remains at the heart of Cornwall Council’s energy agenda

With Cornwall continuing to lead the world in the development of renewable energy, Cornwall Council is working hard to ensure that it is local communities, residents and businesses that benefit from the move to a local carbon economy rather than major utility companies and international investors.

Over the past four years Cornwall Council has introduced a range of proactive measures to help reduce fuel bills and ensure that the benefits from renewable energy remain in Cornwall.

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These include encouraging energy developers to voluntarily provide an annual cash grant to local communities which host their schemes.   While such contributions, which are based on the size of the project, are not part of the planning decision-making process, they offer a long term income stream for communities which can then use the money to tackle local issues, such as improving the efficiency of their community buildings, or supporting local facilities, such as parks and play spaces. So far this approach has raised more than £10m for communities across Cornwall.

The Council is also supporting the development of community-owned energy projects where surplus income from the energy owned collectively by local residents is kept within the locality and then reinvested where the community needs it most.

With around 19 formally constituted community energy organisations and a number of other community groups involved in a range of energy-related projects, Cornwall’s community energy sector is recognized as one of the strongest in the country.

Community energy relies on voluntary contributions from people living within the local community. This means that identifying the money needed to get projects built in the first instance can be a major challenge. To help address this issue Cornwall Council set up a £2.5m revolving loan fund which is dedicated to supporting community energy projects across Cornwall.

So far the fund has invested £1.117m which has supported:

  • 1.075MW of community owned generation:
  • Saved 1831 tonnes CO2e;
  • Provided opportunities for further community investment in the form of community shares (typically at least 15% of the value of the loan).

This has produced a range of benefits for local communities, including improving energy efficiency to community buildings; providing access to public woodland and educational facilities and outdoor activities for disadvantaged children; a public defibrillator and savings for local schools.

One of the beneficiaries has been the village of Gorran Haven where funding from a community energy project has been used to support a range of local community projects, including the installation of a new heating system in the Bell Hill community rooms; new LED lighting at St Just Church, and improved insulation, heating and lighting at the converted community schools room building.

“The effect on our electricity usage has proved to be quite dramatic over the first year“  said Peter Fuller, from St Goran Playing Field Trust which owns and runs the Bell Hill playing field and community rooms and which received £1,844 towards the £2,500 costs of the project. “During the summer last year we were using less than half the units compared with the previous summer and this winter so far we have been using less than one third of the units compared with last year. Feedback from the community room users has all been positive with many commenting that the room has been more comfortable and warmer than previously. Room users also have the facility to turn the heating on/off and adjust the temperature.”

“The grant we received for St Just Church ( Gorran Haven) so that the lighting could be ungraded to LED has made a real difference” said John Woodbridge. “The old uplights were dangerous so we could not use them. The new ones show off the interesting curved roof well and also improve the lighting in the church- so a double benefit. St Just has many visitors and the visitors book records how grateful they are that the church is always open and peaceful.”

St Goran Land Trust, which received grants of £2,000, used its funding to install insulation and provide energy efficient heating and lighting for its project to convert the former school building into five affordable one bedroom flats and a community space. “These works helped us to reduce the environmental impact in the provision of this much needed accommodation for local people “said Bob Thornton, Chair of the Trust. 

However, even with this local support, it has been a challenging couple of years for Cornwall’s community energy groups and the Council is keen to redouble its efforts to support the community energy sector.

A key element of this additional support comes from Cornwall’s Devolution Deal which is the first of its kind to include a specific set of commitments to support community energy.

Work is already underway to develop two pilot projects which are designed to create new replicable community energy models. The first of these is a community heat project, focusing on an off-gas location, while the second will focus on developing new ways for communities to supply themselves with electricity that is generated locally. If successful this pilot will allow communities to keep more of the value of their projects within their community, while helping to lower fuel bills.

Cornwall Council has appointed renewable energy consultants RegenSW to help develop this project, with the aim of sharing the learning from both of these pilots with the Government and the wider community energy sector.

The Council is also using the Devolution Deal to explore ways to support communities through the local planning process.  With the adoption of Cornwall’s Local Plan in December, Cornwall now benefits from specific planning policies which support community energy projects. In addition to this the Council has also produced planning advice for Neighbourhood Planning groups that are looking to support community energy projects and capture the benefits of their local energy system.

However it is not just Cornwall Council that is working to create new opportunities for Cornwall’s community energy sector. The recent announcement of £25m investment into two innovative projects* from a mixture of European and private sector sources signals the potential of local and community energy in Cornwall.

Taken together these projects aim to develop and pilot new technical solutions and services that will help to open up the local energy market and support new models for community energy.

“With increasing energy bills and large parts of Cornwall unable to connect to the gas network we need an energy system that works better for our communities” said Julian German, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Culture “that is why community energy is important and why the Council is getting behind the sector.  Rather than sending all the value in our local energy system up the line, community energy keeps it in the community for the benefit of local residents and businesses.

“I am proud of what Cornwall’s community energy groups have achieved so far, often against the odds, and, through our ground-breaking Devolution Deal, I want to continue to support all of Cornwall’s communities as they look for new ways to save energy, save money and improve the resilience of the places in which we all live.

“Cornwall Council has set a policy to reduce fuel poverty and energy bills, doing this will have tremendously positive outcomes for the residents of Cornwall.”

Story posted: 2 March 2017