How do sustainable energy projects work at the local level?

Northamtonshire Summer Countryside

What happens when individual communities themselves take the initiative on sustainability projects? At the moment, strategies around energy efficiency come from national government, but this could slowly change.

Earlier this year, we took part in Sustainability Live, the UK’s leading exhibition for energy and resource management. We hosted four round-table conferences for local authorities to discuss the concept of community energy: the idea that communities can actively gain investment and rewards by developing their own sustainable energy projects.

£150 million investment

Essentially, it’s about encouraging communities to get involved in their own sustainable energy plans.

It could be as simple as a local authority setting up a collective purchasing scheme to help groups save money on their energy.  Or it could be a case of local communities getting a low-cost loan for members to install energy-generating systems, such as solar panels, on their property.  They’d be able to draw free electricity, use the excess energy to pay off the debt with a feed-in tariff, and put any money left over into a community fund.

It’s an idea that’s already had a positive effect in Northamptonshire.

We worked with their county council to create the Northamptonshire Energy Saver partnership, and we’ve already helped to secure more than £150 million in investment.

‘I believe this is one of the first initiatives of its kind in the country,’ says Jim Harker, leader of the Northamptonshire County Council (NCC).  ‘We recognise that we have many similar aspirations to British Gas, so it makes perfect sense to explore how we can work together.’

What part do local communities play?

One of the biggest attractions of a community-led energy programme is that individuals get their say.

Local communities can decide together exactly what to do with their funding and which projects they’d like to see developed, from electric car clubs to solar panels.

But what’s really interesting is that individuals are given the chance to get in on the ground level.

With a minimum investment and an expected return, local people can have their own stake in their communities’ steps towards lower carbon emissions and reduced fuel poverty.

Many residents are already starting to see the benefits.

In Northamptonshire, for example, we helped residents put measures in place to save more than 33,000 tonnes of CO2 last year, with total lifetime savings of more than £5 million.

And it’s not just homeowners who can benefit.

In December, we secured funding to help up to 50 Northamptonshire businesses gain access to up to £6,000 of energy efficiency measures – which could have a huge impact on price of their business electricity.

Local authorities and sustainability

Generally speaking, community energy projects are intended to be self-funded, and there may be some limitations on how financially involved the local authorities can get.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t usefully engage with the programmes.

As well as acting as impartial negotiators who can represent and organise the community and its goals, they can also add weight and credibility to any projects they’re involved with.

And, of course, their communities’ successful projects have a part to play in helping the local authorities meet their own green targets, which are set at a national level.

Would you like to take a more active role in securing sustainable energy?  Or has your local community already started its own sustainable energy projects?  If so, let us know on LinkedIn or Google+.

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