‘Guest Blog’ Community Energy Conference 2013. Mark presenting his recent National Trust study. Critical role of land owners

Mark Walton presenting at CEC13 (Image Grant Piesely)

Mark Walton presenting at Community Energy Conference (Image Grant Peisley @Gwyneddwerdd)

Thanks to Mark for all of his hard work and for the following blog

“This Saturday saw about 200 people from across the country gather in London for the first national Community Energy Conference, organised by Co-operative Energy. It was a great day with a real buzz in the sessions and workshops, and plenty of chat in the breaks too. If you want to get a flavor of the event just take a look at #cec13 on Twitter.

The programme included case studies, sessions on getting a project started, finance and policy, delivered by practitioners, support organisations, social finance organisations, think tanks and policy makers.

The theme of the two workshop sessions was the role of large organisations and private businesses in helping community energy to scale. The recent ResPublica report on “The Community Renewables Economy” suggests that community renewables have the potential to deliver 20% of our total renewables capacity, but that they will need to enter joint ventures to make that potential a reality.

So what are the issues and implications for community projects and their potential partners?

To kick off the workshop sessions I presented a summary of the work I did earlier this year into the social and economic benefits of community renewables, and the role of the National Trust in supporting their development. This focused on the work the Trust is doing with the community of Abergywngregyn to develop a small hydro scheme on the Afon Anafon. It’s a great example of how larger organisations can support communities by providing skills, technical knowledge and credibility – not to mention the basic requirement of access to land.

The first workshop looked at the benefits and barriers to both parties of partnership working and identified that whilst both sides could benefit there are real issues which stem from the different values, cultures and ways of working between large and small organisations, especially between private and community enterprises.

The second workshop looked at the challenge that community energy organisations face if they are to become significant players in our renewable future. In particular what do they need to retain, and what might they need to lose, if they are to become more business focused?

Some of the projects underway and under discussion are of a significant scale requiring large amounts of investment, long-term commitment and professionalism to deliver. There was recognition that community energy needs to be businesslike, but concern that it should not be about ‘business as usual’, retaining the links to local community through democratic structures and using profits to deliver social benefits to many rather than dividends to a few.

The appetite and ambition of those at the conference was to grow the share of renewables generated by community energy from it’s current 0.3% to ResPublica’s target of 20% – or even beyond, to the 46% of renewable energy that community owned energy delivers in Germany.

To achieve this the support of large organisations, whether public, private or charitable will critical. Not only can organisations like the National Trust share their knowledge, skills and credibility, they can also act as advocates and cheerleaders for the community energy sector, helping to create a supportive environment and remove barriers such as those created by the planning system.

More fundamentally projects need access to land. In the words of Jon Halle from Sharenergy, “It’s the landowners – stupid”.

The National Trust, and many other large organisations, can help create the space, literally and metaphorically, for community energy to meet its potential.

Post by Mark Walton, Executive Director at Shared Assets.

Photo courtesy of Grant Peisley, Gwynedd Werdd

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