Looking at the low regret options we can come up with now to tackle climate change, we see an important role for community and local energy projects to play in achieving these goals in an equitable and evenly distributed manner across the region.
Community energy projects are typically local communities focused on energy issues, often in the form of installing renewable energy production technologies, with the benefits of this work shared among the community – either through a fund. community benefits or similar, or through dividends to shareholders. Projects tend to focus on community ownership, leadership or control.
Already, community energy projects in Wales and the UK are combining onshore renewable energy production with work to improve the energy efficiency of local people’s homes through low-carbon retrofit and installing electric vehicle charging stations in areas that are not as attractive to private developers. Community and local energy projects are among the most ambitious and forward-thinking, eager to consider innovative approaches such as demand response and energy storage.
The value of enabling community and local energy companies to pioneer this kind of innovative work is that it helps spread the benefits of the transition around Wales, potentially reaching every community and reflecting their unique needs. No one understands the needs of these communities better than the people who live there, and this is one of the great strengths of a community approach. If properly organized and supported, these projects can help improve other services offered by the UK and Welsh governments.
For example, if a community project, funded with money from producing renewable electricity from a wind turbine, works to provide energy efficiency advice in their area, they will be more likely to give advice. tailored to members of their community, reaching out to people who might not otherwise engage with these issues or available services, and can report them to government support programs, such as the government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) UK and the Welsh Government’s Nest program. This is just one example among many and the one starting to be piloted in the region by Cwm Arian Renewable Energy.
The importance of local energy projects in achieving a just transition to a low carbon Wales through the provision of tangible community benefits was recognized by all political parties at a plenary session in Senedd during a member debate on this subject. The Zero 2050 report itself states that in all cases “local production is preferred” to reduce the need for network upgrades and imports.
Unfortunately, it has become more difficult for these groups to achieve these ambitions, and many have had to reduce the extent to which they can do this important work because the grants that many groups relied on to fund these additional projects have been cut. Other work programs, such as interest in energy storage and demand response, reflect the high costs and logistical challenges involved in exporting locally produced small-scale renewable energy to the grid in many parts of Wales. If we want local and community energy companies to begin implementing the deliverable low regret recommendations immediately identified in the National Grid Zero 2050 report, these groups need long-term support.