Saturday and I was reading the Guardian’s article on social finance and it was superb to see the Anafon Hydro there in print. Few hours later and I was in Abergwyngregyn for AberDabberDoo or the launch of the community share offer for this £1.2m hydro. (£41k of shares sold up to today…way to go!) This just happens to be one of the largest community hydros south of the Scottish border. Good coffee, good friends and some owls thrown in for good measure. The superb event and the Guardian article got me thinking. The one thing the article did not get over was the sheer bloody mindedness needed by a community to make this sort of thing happen. The finance, contractual, partnerships, government policies and then technical are really stacked up… i would not say against a community but it does not join together in a coherent way. I have a nice advantage in both being immersed in community energy and also working as a developer in my day-to-day job. A community has quite a few more hurdles to leap over than a developer. A developer does not need to bring a community up to speed in terms of technical, financial and management. Then explain how an IPS works when trying to open a bank account (this is a stunning example of the education needed out there in the big bad banking world. I think a drugs cartel has less hassle when opening a laundering racket than a community opening a simple deposit account. We then we get to the ever-moving feast which is the Feed in tariff. A quick-moving developer will struggle on a three-year hydro project to get everything in place before tariffs drop. If you’re a community armed with good-will and intention who also just happen to be volunteers who also have a day job then its a very steep hill indeed. It’s good to see the government giving community FIT for up to 10MW systems. In my work in Wales a 100kw level would be nice. I have recently seen 5 hydros become unviable in S Wales for a social undertaking. The social sector needs more support. Not saying more money but levelling the playing field, keeping the goal posts in the same place for long enough and then getting the enablers (planning, finance, consents) to work together would transform community energy from a handful to a real movement (ps the 5 sites i mentioned earlier are still viable for a developer because of how they work…cheaper finance, buying power and such like). Observation over! there are some awe-inspiring people and communities out there but we should be moving from needing stubbornness as a skill into one where business acumen should be enough.
There are good sharing networks out there. DEG workshop tomorrow in Llangefni is a good example of sharing and enabling . Renew Wales, Ynni’r Fro, Community Energy Wales are also superb examples…but the community energy building blocks need to be re-looked at. They don’t slot together very well at the moment!