Weighing in at 107 pages, the strategy was a bit much to cover as a whole in our brief session, so we each chose sections to read in depth and discuss. Jack started us off, and got us thinking about the role and definition of community energy. We talked about energy groups being typically run by a small core of motivated, passionate people, and that led us to think about the way we identify as 'community' energy and not simply 'local' energy groups. The importance of social benefit was raised, and the co-operative model with its share issue and 'one member, one vote' principle. Noemi was able to provide an interesting contrast from Spain, where sustainable energy groups often operate on a national level, selling electricity from renewables without a fixed community.
I was interested in the role of partners in the strategy, and in particular how community groups might come to access skills they don't have. The strategy talks about setting up a one-stop-shop information resource for community energy groups, and emphasises the role of local authorities and third sector intermediaries like the Centre for Sustainable Energy.
Thinking about the role of local authorities sparked further discussion about their importance as a trusted source of information and help. Combining this with the ability of local authorities to offer scale and coordination, it seems they have potential for strong positive impacts, although perhaps the strategy doesn't push this enough. An example might be in leading the way on a district heat and power project, which would be beyond the capability of many current community energy groups.
From there we moved into a great discussion on electricity tariffs. We considered a hard truth: the cost structure of providing electricity favours larger consumers, which spread the high fixed costs of the grid. This leads to large corporate customers paying much less for their electricity. In contrast, encouraging sustainable energy use would favour a tariff that rises with increasing usage, so that those who use most pay a higher rate. The possibility of such a tariff was discussed and how it might be introduced, against inevitable opposition.
Some of our concluding thoughts were that although the strategy is not perfect, we felt that it has developed very positively from its early beginnings, and does a good job of understanding the challenges and opportunities faced by community energy groups. The broader scope of community energy to include energy efficiency and demand management rather than just renewable generation is also welcome.
There's lots more to talk about, so although we won't have a formal reading group in August, we may get together for further discussion of the Community Energy Strategy, or all of the themes we've covered so far.
We'll be starting with the reading group proper again in September, with the theme of 'psychology, and engaging people in the theme of energy'. Watch this space for more details coming soon!