When I first started reading Elinor Ostrom
‘s 1990 book ‘Governing the Commons
‘, I expected to find a description that would provide a theoretical framework what we are doing in the Bristol Energy Cooperative
, and other similar community energy enterprises. But as I got deeper into her description of the characteristics that make for successful sustainable management of common pool resources, I realised that the common resource we had set out to protect was actually the global climate, and that we were trying to use local management of the resource of energy to mitigate global climate change.
It felt like quite an exciting and original realisation, although being a real and common phenomenon of course someone had though of it before.
In October 2009, Ostrom had written a background paper to the 2010 World Development Report of the World Bank, entitled “A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change”
, which addresses just that situation – one where a group is trying to interact with a commons that is bigger than the scale of their decision making. After reading the first few pages, I started sending the link excitedly to people with whom I’d shared discussions of climate change. It felt like the only thing I’d read or heard for years that was both sensible and hopeful about climate change. I wished I’d read it when it was first published, before I went to the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen
. Maybe I would have felt there was something productive to do there, and would have felt less completely disempowered and hopeless in the months afterwards.
A “Polycentric” order is defined by Vincent Ostrom as “one where many elements are capable of making mutual adjustments for ordering their relationships with one another within a general system of rules where each element acts with independence of other elements”
. In the context of climate change it gives a coherent narrative and theory of change to what is clearly already going on – groups at many scales independently, but mutually responsively taking action.
Maybe Ostrom was writing in pre-december 2009 optimism, and that gives a tone of hope to the piece. But it fits with my experience post-Copenhagen too, of people simply getting on with building more energy efficient houses and refurbishing existing ones, trying to reclaim ownership of energy generation, and resisting the extraction
of yet more fossil fuels.
It’s an interesting interplay of local “community” action, for both personal benefit and altruistic purposes, and a policy context that supports it. Neither the solar PV cooperatives
nor the energy efficient new buildings would be happening on the scale that they are without the Feed in Tariff
or stringent building regulations
So does community management of local commons have the potential to protect global commons in a meaningful way? I’m not sure, but it feels like this must be part of any hopeful way forward, and this question will probably form the basis of the four years of research I have just embarked on (an EngD with the University of Surrey
On Friday I went down to Exeter to the Community Energy Network Group meeting
organised by Regen South West, who are also organising theRenewable Energy Marketplace
in Bournemouth on the 18th June. It was really great to meet people and hear about their experiences of implementing sustainable energy projects around the South West, and inspiring to see that Bristol’s thriving community energy sector is within a wider thriving South West community energy sector.
One of the aims of the day was to catalyse input from community groups to the DECC Community Energy Strategy consultation
(response deadline 1st August). There was a session which brainstormed people’s thoughts on the benefits
of community energy, the barriers
to its implementation, and the types of solutions
that are being tried. I went away feeling inspired to write a detailed consultation response from the Bristol Energy Cooperative, and to encourage other BEN members to do the same.
I will be posting a copy of our consultation response on our website when this is done, and sending a copy to Regen SW by the 12th July, as they are planning to and submit a collated response. I believe CSE are planning to do something similar. The more individual, group and collated responses there are to the consultation, the stronger the voice of community energy groups will be, and the better a strategy we are likely to get.
If you'd like to be involved in this process and give feedback, please get in touch, and please feel free to post comments with ideas in response to this blog post.
Here are some of the ideas that came up at the RegenSW session on Friday:Benefits
- Bristol as ‘Green City’ by 2015 - £bn investment in infrastructure which will result in £100m staying in local area. Bristol solar city
- Local projects help engage all elements of local population
- Potential to change people’s behaviour
- TRESOC potential local benefit £10’s millions and potential jobs in area with lack of skilled jobs. Local lawyers and other professionals are developing skills in renewables
- Economic benefits – local income, funds to reinvest in community – along with broad range of social outcomes – fuel poverty etc.
- Energy security, especially at the end of the national grid in Devon and Cornwall
- Need to engage retired rural population
- Nothing in planning that requires preferential treatment of community projects
- Sites are running out – grid restrictions and CEGs lagging behind commercial sector
- Need wind turbines between 50-500kW – height is often issue in planning
- Objections from air waves – costly to counteract objections. Also from airport – cost of aviation consultants
- Resource and capacity in community groups – dealing with complexity and bureaucracy
- Relationship between with urban and rural – urban has the resource/people, rural has the land, but difficult to negotiate
- Commercial developers should not be able to sit on sites - Localism Act should enable communities to take these over
- Handholding through planning; legal agreements; technical understanding
- Facilitation between urban and rural community groups
- Funding for first 2-3 years of a community project to employ staff
- Dedicated planning team on renewables in all local authorities
- Detailed data on energy demand
- Mandatory community ownership (see evidence from Germany)
- Community FiT/RO/CfD rate or slower degression rate
- Support for innovation/research e.g. feasibility study on setting up ESCo
- Acceptance policy on housing (level of affordable housing required) Something similar for RE (requiring level of community ownership)?
- Revolving fund for at risk funding, which is not paid back if planning is not obtained
- Support to bring in vulnerable sections of society that don’t always engage
- Shared documents/forms/responses to help save time
Any thoughts? What do you think the benefits of community owned energy are? Has membership of the Bristol Energy Cooperative changed your relationship to energy or climate change in any way?
How far can community energy go? This is a question that communities in Berlin have considered and come up with an ambitious answer to: they want to buy the electricity distribution grid and bring it into community ownership.
The electricity supply chain is pretty complicated, and has many different sections. There's the generation (that's what we've done so far, installing and owning solar PV panels that put electricity into the grid), then there's the distribution (at a local or a national level), and then there's the selling to consumers (supplying). In the UK, the 'big six' energy companies do most of stage 1 and 3 (generating and supplying. National Grid does the national distribution or 'transmission', and in Bristol, Western Power Distribution does the local distribution, taking the electricity from the National Grid to people's homes. It's the Western Power Distribution grid that our 63kW of solar PV are plugged into.
In Berlin, the equivalent of Western Power Distribution is Vattenfall, a Swedish owned energy company. Their contract is soon coming up for renewal, and two community groups have got organised to try to bring the grid into community ownership
. Berliner Energietisch
are gathering pettition signatures to organise a referendum for the remunicipalisation
Bürgeof the grid, and Bürgerenergie Berlin
are trying to raise the money for a community buy-out of the grid.
Is this something we might think of in the UK? If so, how would it work? In Berlin, the plan is for the current employees of Vattenfall to continue running the grid, just under new ownership. This process had already happened when the grid was privatised in the first place, and the former public sector workers became employees of Vattenfall. What would we be able to achieve? Would it help us to promote renewables and phase out fossil fuels? Would it allow us to develop community smart grids?
Activists who occupied an EDF gas fired power station in October, in protest against the government's 'dash for gas', are being sued for £5m. Using more gas to produce electricity is part of the plan to use hydraulic fracking
, and these activists are part of the same struggle as the planning objection
we sent to Keynsham council in November.
One of the activists who is being sued lives in Bristol, and is talking at Hamilton House tomorrow (Tuesday 12th March), at 7.30pm. Find out more on the Frack Free Somerset
See this video from some of the activists involved, explaining what they did and why they think EDF is actually trying to scare people away from doing protest, with police support:
...and this one from Naomi Klein: “I am no dash for gas!”:
Yesterday was the first strategy development workshop
for the development of a citywide Community Energy Strategy for Bristol.
The Community Energy sector in Bristol is diverse and growing, and developing a strategy together will really help make the most of that strength, and act in a coordinated way. It will also help us to communicate and work better with the council, as they will be able to understand who is doing what, and how to interact with and support the community energy sector without being seen as being partial.
It comes at a good time for the Bristol Energy Cooperative, as we are in the process of developing our own strategy, so the thinking we do can feed in to the Bristol-wide process, and we can make sure that our strategy develops to fit our role in the wider Bristol community.
The workshop brought together representatives from the Council and community groups for a fast-paced strategy brainstorming. It was tightly run by Mark Leach, with help from CSE and Bristol University.
To put us in the mood we had a talk from Simon Kenton of the Low Carbon Hub in Oxford, who had achieved an impressive amount, including creating a website to allow various initiatives to add up their contribution in order to motive further funding etc; this could be made available to other groups in Bristol and elsewhere.
We then went through a ‘SWOT’ analysis of community energy in Bristol, with an opportunity for questions and feedback from the group between each section, which was very lively. Following that we divided ourselves between several tables for short discussions on a series of topics about the vision and what targets we should aim for, which produced a lot of varied input. The Bristol Energy Network (BEN
) team now has the task of assembling all of this and initiating a collaborative writing effort to create a coherent strategy document.
Watch this space on the BEN
website for a report of what happened at the first workshop, and more information about what's coming next. If you'd like to be involved in the process, get in touch with us
, or with BEN
Today I attended a Community Energy strategy event in Edinburgh, organised by Changeworks
, and hosted by Edinburgh City Council. They wanted to learn from our experience here in Bristol, and from BWCE in Bath, but it was also a great opportunity to learn from how things are being done in Edinburgh.
One of the interesting things about Edinburgh is that the city council has made a strong commitment to cooperatives, and want to be a 'cooperative capital
'. They have set up a cooperative development unit to support the development of new cooperatives in aim energy, social care, child care and housing services. Edinburgh Community Energy Cooperative
were also involved in organising the event, and it will be great to stay in touch with them and learn from how they progress.
I was also interested to find out about the UK's first MCS accredited fuel cell
- perhaps a technology worth considering? Anyone want to do some research?
The full report from the day can be downloaded from here
, along with presentations from the speakers.
Thanks a lot to everyone who commented on the planning objection for coal bed methane in Keynsham. you now have a couple of days left to submit an objection of your own, if you would like to. See previous post for details.
You may have heard of hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking' - a method for extracting hard to reach methane gas (the gas that you probably use to cook with and heat your house), from rocks, by cracking them open using high pressure water and chemicals. It can be used to extract 'coal bed methane' or 'shale gas'. This technology for extracting hard to reach fossil fuels is being promoted by the government as supplies of easier to reach fossil fuels become scarce. However, the more we take out of the earth, the more climate change will happen.
Fracking also has significant local ecological risks, including potential contamination of local groundwater, earthquakes, and noise and disruption.
There is currently a planning application in place for coal bed methane exploration drilling in Keynsham, by a company which wants to go into full production south of Keynsham and in the Mendips. If the exploration takes place, and leads to full scale production, there could be 2,100 wells across Somerset, as not much gas can be extracted from each well.
The directors of the Bristol Energy Cooperative are thinking of submitting a planning objection to this application. We believe that fracking goes directly against the aims of the cooperative, and that alongside our work to create a positive alternative to the exploitation of more and more fossil fuels, we must work with others to resist attempts to do so. Before we do so, we'd like to hear your views as members, and so hope to see some discussion in the comments on this blog post. The draft planning objection text is below.
If you feel moved to write an objection (and this is the point in time when your voice can have an impact), there is very good information on the frackfreesomerset website. http://www.frackfreesomerset.org/what-you-can-do/keynsham-action-alert/planningobjections/
The deadline for planning objections is the 26th November, so you would need to submit your comments before then.
Draft planning objection from the Bristol Energy Cooperative
The Bristol Energy Cooperative, as an organisation committed to clean, ecologically safe, and socially fair energy provision to all, strongly objects to the application for planning permission from UK Methane Limited for test drilling for Coal Bed Methane at Durley Hill near Keynsham. We are a local community cooperative social enterprise with 157 members, serving the wider Bristol area, including the Keynsham area.
We object to the planning application on a number of grounds:
Immediate local disruption
- The drilling rigs would be unsightly. An ICM poll found that more than two-thirds of people would rather have a wind turbine than a shale gas well near their home.
- The drilling rig proposed is near residential properties (the nearest only 285m away), and will be operating 24hrs/day, 7 days/week. This will cause both significant noise pollution and disruption, and light pollution as the site will be lit at night. Para C3.96 of the Local Plan states that: “Within rural areas and open countryside external lighting can be extremely prominent and visible for some distance…proposals for external lighting in the countryside are therefore not generally acceptable.”
Local environmental risk from this planning application
- Even one test drilling rig has a risk of leakage and groundwater contamination. Coal Bed Methane has been linked to water contamination in Australia and the US where the technology is widely developed.
- The site is currently greenfield, and is also in green belt land in the Forest of Avon. Para C1.3 of the Local Plan states that a purpose of the Green Belt is: “to retain land in agricultural, forestry and related uses”.
- There is a risk of groundwater contamination of the hot springs in Bath, which have been used by people since long before Roman times, and are of world heritage value. They also bring significant tourism income to Bath, which would not be balanced by the small economic potential of shale gas methane in terms of jobs in the area.
- Coal Bed Methane will not provide jobs in the local area. Jobs created will be short term, and are likely not to go to local people as many will require specialised technical expertise more readily available elsewhere. UK Methane estimate that each well would provide 10-15 short term jobs.
Investment in Coal Bed Methnane detracts investment from cleaner technologies with a greater local economic benefit
- Investing in shale gas development detracts money from being invested in renewable, long lasting, green sources of energy such as wind and solar and tidal power.
- The mendips have good potential for wind power, which is safe for the local environment and the global climate, can be owned by the local community, and bring jobs to local people for the longer term. This would have no risk for the local water table and ecology.
The application poses a risk for climate change
- The application could lead to full scale coal bed methane production. This would be completely unacceptable because very large numbers of wells need to be drilled to extract Coal Bed Methane, as each well does not yield much gas. In Queensland, Australia, over 3,000 wells have been drilled with projections of 40,000 to come. If CBM goes into full production here, there could be 2,100 wells across Somerset. This would pose a risk to the local groundwater, including the hot springs in Bath, which are a great attraction of tourists to the area, in the middle of a World Heritage Site. The impact on the economy, people and the environment from this could be extremely severe.
- Coal Bed Methane extraction could lead to runaway climate change. It is very carbon intensive, and has the additional problem that the methane extracted is a stronger greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide emitted by burning it. Para E.5 of the Local Plan, in relation to environmental assets, states that an aim of the council is to: “conserve and reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources, including…fossil fuels.”
It would be irresponsible of the council to accept this planning application, given the potential global and long term consequences, as well as the local and immediate consequences. Rejecting this planning application would protect local people, the local economy, and support the movement towards a low carbon economy in B&NES and the West of England.
Bristol Energy Cooperative
It's taken a bit of time to get round to writing a blog post about the AGM, but as today is the day of the first board meeting of new directors, it seems timely!
In the first half of the day, we got through the democratic business of the AGM. Six new directors were elected, the accounts to our year end on 30th of April were presented and approved by members, and it was agreed not to employ an external auditor for the accounts of the year 2011-2012. We also had some thoughtful and provocative questions and comments from members, in response to the presentation of what we have done so far and what we could do next. This provided some great framing for our workshops in the afternoon.
The afternoon workshops looked at our future strategy through three different themes:
- What technologies, and how we select them
- Who are key stakeholders are and how we relate to them
- When we can get to what stage, and some ambitious visions for 2030.
As always, it was really exciting and energising to spend the day with members, and get some feedback on what we should be doing next. As the newly elected directors settle into our new roles, we'll give some serious thought to how best to take the strategy forward, and ensure there are regular opportuni
On Saturday the Bristol Energy Cooperative hosted a workshop at the Bristol Energy Network's Community Energy Forum. The workshop was entitled: A reality check on cross Bristol community energy projects and the best options for powering up and powering down our city
It was really great to discuss the challenges of collaboration with people from across the city, and think about potential opportunities... Here are some notes from the workshop, which are also posted on the BEN website
"We all have limited time and energy for community energy projects. However some projects might be easier to deliver collaboratively by groups across Bristol, and some projects have potential to generate revenue which could pay for our time. This session will be facilitated by Bristol Energy Co-op and will be a chance to discuss opportunities for cross-Bristol projects. A synthesis of the opportunities identified in the LEAF energy assessments together with a summary of post-LEAF opportunities discussed at the BEN meeting in June (including neighbourhood planning, street energy advisers, bulk buying) will be used as headlines for discussion. The aim is to carry out a reality check on how possible these opportunities are to deliver in real life, and the likely routes to making them happen in terms of time commitment; people-power; financial constraints; and how existing knowledge, experience and expertise can be built on."Notes from the workshop:
Thanks everyone who came! Hope some of the ideas take off!
In the first section of the workshop we came up with the following ideas for projects - which haven't been volunteered to be taken forward by anyone yet... anyone game? Feel free to take them on, or maybe even comment on this news item!
- Land use for livestock - vegan or vegetarian - and city farms
- how much space is needed per 'unit' of nutrition? demonstration
- measure energy demand area by area, and street by street, maybe have a bit of friendly competition!
- something on transport - community led transport provision, and electrification of transport, especially public transport
- reducing emissions from busses, and improving air quality
- District heating
- reduce waste of energy - behaviour change
- engaging businesses, asking them to make public statements about energy conservation to encourage others
- Outreach to other community groups - building on workshop with single parent action network in Easton, done by Easton Energy Group and CSE. Offer workshops to e.g. rotary, lions, W.I, neighbourhood watch..) Perhaps the City Council has a list of groups? Website?
- improving awareness, home energy
- setting up a centre that people can visit, more central than the Create Centre. Solar tree in the city centre?
- bulk buy
- neighbourhood plans
- solar PV
- map of Bristol waste streams
- Exhibit at Bristol's city farms - through federation@Bedminster
- Regenerate Bristol's water lift
- groups contact energy suppliers re smart meters. Write letters 'where are our meters?'
- District heating - planning stage - Southampton example (coops are a way of giving consumer protection)
In the second section, we agreed to the following actions:
- Advertise Mayoral Hustings on BEN website
- Have comments board for ideas for Mayoral policies on energy, also on BEN website
- Communicate with Mayoral candidates
- Attend Mayoral Hustings
- Research the properties of Ivy for air quality
- Research the potential for vertical gardens including case study from London
- Ask Wessex Water if they have the capacity to produce more biogas to be used for transport. Also contactwww.tfgb.org.uk
Also, council waste, and link with community groups.
- Bristol Power Down campaign, with Business in the Community
- merseyside travel
If any of these ideas inspire you, and you'd like to get involved, you should be able to post a comment on the BEN website to this news item expressing your interest!