Brixton Energy and the Future of Community Energy Schemes

January 2013: Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister, Luciana Berger MP, recently visited the team at Brixton Energy to see the excellent work undertaken there in developing a community-led PV project. The scheme has been getting a lot of attention and was raised during a recent House of Commons debate on the Energy Bill, where it was refrenced as the kind of community energy initiative the Bill should be supporting – something which it is sorely lacking to do so at the moment.

The issue of the Energy Bill and community energy schemes – and the forthcoming Government Community Energy Strategy – was picked up again during the committee stage oral evidence sessions last week, with the Secretary of State being quizzed by another Labour Shadow Energy Minister, Tom Greatrex:

“Q 37 Tom Greatrex:  I would like to ask the Secretary of State about community energy projects, because he has talked in the past about wanting to foster a community energy revolution. Will he explain why, contrary to the Select Committee’s report and other representations, he decided against increasing the threshold for the small-scale feed-in tariff above 5 MW?

Mr Davey: I know that there has been a lot of focusing on that. I would say first that community energy strategy is far wider, richer and deeper than simply that particular issue, although I know the Select Committee paid a lot of attention to it. Mr Barker and I will be publishing a consultation paper on a community energy strategy in March—I think that is the current working timetable. Mr Barker will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that we are working to March.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker)  indicated assent.

Mr Davey: Yes. We would then hope to finalise that community energy strategy before the summer recess, or it might end up going into the autumn. The community energy strategy will cover many more issues than the one that you have identified.

Q 38 Tom Greatrex:  This strategy will be after the Bill, though, so the opportunity to increase that threshold, if that were an appropriate thing to do, is therefore lost.

Mr Davey: The Bill is before the Committee. Of course, we keep those things under review, but let us be clear that the Bill’s major focus is not on community energy. It is about many other things, as we have been discussing. As you will be aware, community energy does not have to go into this Bill. As I have said, it goes much broader than the particular point that you are focusing on, important though that is.

Q 39 Tom Greatrex:  But the thresholds for where the small-scale tariff and the contract for difference come in are in the Bill, are they not?

Mr Davey: Let us be clear. In our discussions on that, the vast majority of community energy schemes that we are seeing are below that threshold.

Q 40 Tom Greatrex:  Because that is what the threshold is. That is why they are below it. It does not follow that they would not be—

The Chair:  Just let him answer the question.

Mr Davey: To invest in bigger schemes than that, you need quite a significant amount of money. You are talking about several more millions than most of the communities will be putting in. When you get to that size of scheme, there is a question mark about how much of a community scheme it remains. There is no science here. I cannot say absolutely that that is the right threshold. There is a legitimate debate to be had about it. I am not pretending that there is not a legitimate debate, but one can slightly over-egg the pudding and not see the overall picture of what we are trying to achieve with community energy.”

Though the Minister is right with respect to London -that we have not as yet seen community-led schemes of the MW size/millions investment – there are however such projects now going ahead elsewhere in the country which are likely to be the pathfinder schemes for other similar initiatives – including ones hopefully in the capital. An excellent scheme worth mentioning is the West Mill Solar Co-op, recently launched in Oxfordshire, which is spread over 30 acres with more than 20,000 solar panels!

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