There has been extensive publicity and debate generated by the recent large rises
in the cost of electricity and gas. This is unwelcome news, particularly for those already struggling to afford to heat their homes this winter. However the argument that such rises are 'unavoidable' and are somehow the result of 'green taxes' needs to be challenged. A clear counterexample comes from Ecotricity, who have recently announced
Now, they may not be everyone's supplier of choice, and there's plenty to be said for other 'green' suppliers such as Good Energy and Coop Energy, but this does demonstrate that large price rises are due to reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels, not the cost of 'green' measures.Anyone who wants to switch to Ecotricity can earn some money for the Bristol Energy Coop by doing so here.
- Their single tariff is now '100% green'
- Their prices will be lower than the 'Big 6'
- Prices will be frozen to 2014
And get ready for an energy-switching project we're launching in the new year.
On Thursday 10th October 2013 there was an exhibition and discussion called the British Energy Challenge in the Old Passenger Shed at Temple Meads Station, the last leg of a national roadshow
organised by DECC. BEC participated in both parts of this event.Exhibition
The exhibition was a little bigger than the Solar Pavilion at Big Green Week, but had a lot of familiar faces including CSE
, Easton Energy Group
and the bicycle smoothy maker, as well as wave and tidal power companies, and, of course, DECC. It was surprisingly well-attended for a Thursday daytime, and we were busy talking to people most of the time.Discussion
The main event was the discussion in the evening, with a full house of 300 attendees and a distinguished panel. Here's how it was advertised:How we make and use energy is one of the most urgent issues facing Bristol and the UK.
Hosted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Bristol City Council, a high-profile panel will discuss how we decarbonise the energy system and keep the lights on.
- Climate Change author and campaigner Mark Lynas and David MacKay, DECC's Chief Scientific Advisor
- Kevin McCloud, designer, writer and TV presenter
- George Ferguson, Bristol Mayor
- Peter Capener, Bath Community Energy
- Beatrice Orchard, Federation of Master Builders
George introduced the event in his usual forthright fashion, and then the panellists all introduced themselves. David Mackay introduced DECC's 2050 Pathways Calculator
, which was used to structure the rest of the discussion. The calculator is a computer model (downloadable as a spreadsheet or usable via a web interface) for estimating the impact of various changes in the energy system of the UK, with a view to reducing carbon emissions in line with government targets. Each panellist in turn discussed changes they propose in particular parameters; Beatrice Orchard argued for much better home insulation, for example, while Peter Capener promoted wind power, and George Ferguson, solar. David MacKay explained aspects of the model and the choices it allowed; some audience comments were taken; and then each one was put to a vote.What was particularly interesting was the options that were not allowed, due in part to political compromises between government departments. For example, it was only possible to select between large or very large increases in the amount of international air travel - David apologised that the Department of Transport wouldn't allow scenarios in which it goes down! Also different parameters were often grouped together when the audience clearly wanted to consider them separately.
Nuclear power was a contentious issue, as ever, with the audience split between those who say "no thanks" and those who presumably see it as the way to achieve decarbonisation without very radical lifestyle changes. This led to a compromise of 'some' nuclear as the chosen option, which probably pleased nobody. The 2050 calculator is good insofar as it exposes some of the complexities of the situation and allows people to explore the consequences of different policies. However a lot of implicit assumptions are built into it in a way that inhibits consideration of more radical alternatives. Perhaps the Bristol renewable energy community should get together to deconstruct the model and make our own submission to DECC?
Potential investors in our share offers may find that there’s no share offer open when they have funds available, or that the minimum subscription required exceeds the funds they have to hand when an offer is announced. To get round this issue, we’ve teamed up with the Bristol Credit Union
, and set up a "Bristol Community Energy Saver" account. This is a special account that enables you to save money with the intention of investing in a future BEC share offer.
Once you've saved enough money, and we have a share offer open, Bristol Credit Union writes to you with the details of the share offer, and you can then choose to convert the money in your account into BEC shares. Application forms for the account are available from the Bristol Credit Union office (112 Cheltenham Road, BS6 5RW) or you can join BCU on-line - see www.bristolcreditunion.org
for details. If you're already a BCU member, then just ask them to open a new BCES account for you.
Bristol Credit Union Ltd is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Its Firm Reference Number is 213583. It is a member of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, and subscribes to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
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.
Chris Bird is an environmental activist with a passion for renewable energy. Over the past two years he's been visiting community renewable energy projects in the UK and Ireland, and telling their stories
on his blog. Chris came along to our 2012 AGM, and made a short film
of the day.
Read Chris' article and watch the film