February 2013: In a response given yesterday to a Parliamentary Question asking what the Government’s “policy is on support for localised renewable energy projects”, Energy Minister Greg Barker replied: “DECC is currently scoping a Community Energy Strategy and will publish a call for evidence in the spring.”
DECC Ministers have previously stated that a consultation paper for the Community Energy Strategy would be issued in March 2013 – see transcript of Hansard here with the Secretary of State saying:
“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 October 2012 minutes of the Government’s advisory board for the strategy, the Community Energy Contact Group (CECG), reflect a similar provisional timeline for the release of the Community Energy Strategy:
- Informal consultation through the CECG (Mar-Apr)
- (tbc) Formal consultation – Apr–Jul
- (tbc) Publish Strategy – Aug-Sep
Similar time tabling references to the Strategy are also made in the Government’s recent Energy Efficiency Strategy (we’ll however leave to one side Greg Barker rather optimistic tweet in June 2012 that the strategy would be released “within months” which must have left DECC officials somewhat baffled at the time!).
So does it make any difference that DECC are now pointing to a ‘call for evidence’ being released in Spring 2013 rather than an actual draft consultation? Worryingly, it does bring to mind the process Government have been navigating the past five years in issuing policies to drive forward a heat strategy for the UK. A heat ‘call for evidence’ was first issued in 2008 by DECC’s predecessor department, BERR. This was followed by a consultation in 2009 for a Heat and Energy Saving Strategy which was then followed by a further Heat Consultation Strategy consultation in March 2012. We are now awaiting actual ‘policy proposals’ which are due to be released by DECC in March 2013.
Maybe the Community Energy Strategy will be pushed by Ministers more than heat policy has been to date. However – a move to the publication of a ‘call for evidence’ rather than a draft consultation strategy must surely indicate that the original timelines set out to publish policies to support community-led energy projects are now behind schedule.
There are also indications in the CECG minutes that the Group are not entirely happy with progress to date. At the October 2012 meeting members “raised lack of progress on research requirements discussed at previous meeting as an outstanding issue” and that with regard to a proposed research paper – “members do not feel the current version reflects the previous meetings discussions and outcomes.” The Group’s previous meeting’s minutes also indicate that DECC resourcing for the initiative is limited (para 9) and that the work for the Community Energy Strategy appears to sit within DECC’s ‘Communication Directorate’, with the minutes stating that:
“The focus of the strategy should be community engagement, ideally setting out best practice and a model which all DECC community activity would follow… The Strategy could not seek to modify policies, except in respect to approaches to community partnership and community support. It may however recommend policy areas for further review.” [paras 10/11]
So – if the eventual strategy comes out a little late and doesn’t actually modify any policies at all, but simply sets out some advice and case studies on a website for communities to hopefully follow – does this in fact matter? Putting to one side that DECC do already have a mind-boggling (and not in a good way…) ‘Community Energy Online‘ website, with the Energy Bill current proposals making it more complex for the development of smaller scale generation schemes, it’s yet to be proved that DECC have the same level of ambition for the UK to achieve what has been seen in Germany which has now “more than 80,000 German citizens come together in some 600 energy cooperatives”. Only time will tell…