Trade body RenewableUK has welcomed a new report published by the think tank ResPublica which says local community groups should be given greater opportunities to get more involved in developing and owning local renewable energy projects such as wind and solar farms.
The new study “The Community Renewables Economy” reveals that there’s been a fourteen-fold increase in the total capacity of community-owned renewable energy projects installed over the last ten years – up from just over 4 megawatts in 2003 to nearly 60MW in 2013. The report says this could grow to 550MW by 2020.
One of the most striking findings of this report is that two-thirds of communities reinvest, or intend to reinvest, revenue gained from renewables in further energy generation projects or energy efficiency technology, thus creating a virtuous circle.
But the report warns that there are barriers to the deployment of community energy which need to be addressed. It says community groups need better access to funding, financial know-how and legal expertise. The study states that a more positive attitude from local authorities is needed to encourage communities to get involved. It also says local councils should give community support for projects due weight when making finely-balanced planning decisions. The report highlights the need to provide training to ensure that local authorities have enough knowledge about the vital importance of renewable energy, so that councillors can make fully informed decisions. It also urges local authorities to set a good example by investing council funds in clean energy projects.
The report suggests that a joint ownership approach may be the best way forward, in which communities work with renewable energy developers, and /or local businesses and local authorities towards a common goal.
RenewableUK’s chief executive, Maria McCaffery, said: “This report highlights the exciting prospect of communities working more closely with local wind farm developers, local businesses and local authorities in jointly-owned projects. Using this socially and economically-inclusive model, we have an opportunity to redefine the relationship between communities and developers to unlock a significant growth in community energy, particularly in onshore wind. This will enable all of us to reap the economic and environmental benefits of wind energy at a truly local level.”