Community-owned energy breaks that mold. The term refers to projects in which people own or participate in the production and/or use of renewable energy.
There are several common features of such projects, including membership models that include active participation, delivering tangible benefits to the local community, and decarbonization – to name a few. just a little bit.
So what does it mean for renewable energy to be community owned and how does it work? For us, the clue is in the name.
We are a cooperative, which means that in addition to commercial loans, much of our funding comes from community equity/bond offerings. Each of our 1,500 investor members has a say in our management, regardless of the amount they have invested.
We make community benefit payments from our project revenues. So far we have channeled over £350,000 into programs and causes that have social and environmental value. Let us give you a quick overview of some of this work.
In 2014, when we installed 20 kilowatts of solar power on the roof of the gymnasium, Empire combat chance was a newly formed charity that ran school engagement programs from their base in Bristol.
Now they run the UK’s largest non-contact boxing school commitment program and have 15 different gyms across the country.
The work they face is enormous, as the cost of living, pressures in the education and health systems – not to mention the social anxiety exacerbated by Covid – have left many young people floundering.
Bristol Energy Coop feels honored to be able to remove some of the hassle by saving the charity over £1300 in energy bills a year with our solar installation. This allows the team to focus on spreading the work they are doing to help more young people make positive life decisions.
Our largest solar rooftop project to date, The Bottle Yard 2 Studios (TBY2), is blazing a new trail for sustainable film and TV production in the UK, and allowing viewers to enjoy hit shows like The Outlaws without costing the Earth.
Last year, we installed over 2,300 rooftop solar panels – a total of 1 megawatt of generating capacity that can power the equivalent of 250 homes each year.
This can feed the local grid with renewable energy and help the city achieve its net zero goals. In recognition of the studio’s progressive work and climate goals, the team won the Sustainability Initiative Award at Cannes last month.
Our latest investment project involves an incredible community response of which BEC was a part. It all started in 2015, when a developer tried to obtain planning permission for a polluting diesel power station in Bristol.
Local campaign group Residents Against Dirty Energy, with the help of the BEC, successfully opposed the request. But that was not the end of the story.
A year later, the same promoter submits another project, this time for 48 diesel engines near a kindergarten. The noise and air pollution they produced would have been equivalent to 96 bus engines.
Again, the community rallied, rejecting the plan and an attempted appeal. Today, with the support of local people, the site is home to another kind of energy – a new battery storage system partly funded by BEC. We are currently raising more funds to invest in this important project.
These are encouraging stories, but of course when you look at the big picture, they are not enough. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has warned that the world is at a tipping point and that governments must set aside national interests to deal with the crisis.
Even for a city like Bristol, the first to declare a climate emergency in 2018, the pace of change is too slow to achieve its 2030 goals of carbon neutrality and climate resilience.
So what can we do? We can act.
Seek Community energy fortnight to see if there is an event near you, and spread the word, set up your own actions in your own communities, and if you have the means, Ininvest in a community energy project.
“Community power can help put citizens and communities at the center of the low-carbon transition”, according Customer Land. With leaders letting us down, it’s up to us to lead the way to a livable future.
Andy O’Brien is co-founder and executive director of Bristol Energy Cooperative (BEC). Marianne Brown is responsible for communications at the BEC.
Bristol Energy Cooperative is a sponsor of Small is the Future, organized by The Ecologist and the Schumacher Institute in Bristol on Saturday June 17, 2023.