How community energy can play a crucial role in the mission to achieve net zero emissions by 2050

Climate change is the defining challenge of our era, and systematic changes to our economy and our lives must be made to avert disaster. The way we produce our energy is fundamental to this, and community-led action is essential, writes Vikki Howells MS.

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On the 6th of October, five Members of the Senedd met virtually for the Cross Party Group for Co-operatives and Mutuals to hear about benefits of community energy projects, and to discuss how policymakers can support this growing sector to help Wales reach its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The meeting that I chaired was also attended by Luke Fletcher MS (the group’s Vice Chair), Huw Irranca-Davies MS, Peredur Owen Griffiths MS and Mark Isherwood MS, which meant that the three biggest party groups in the Senedd were all present at the meeting to hear about and discuss this crucial topic with experts and practitioners.

According to Community Energy Wales, the sector is a vital and trusted mediator in the transition to net-zero. Its State of the Sector report for 2021 found that the sector is already growing in Wales; it employed over 79 people in 2020, raised over £4.4 million in community shares, and six organisations installed new renewable electricity projects across the country.

Rob Proctor, Business Development Manager at Community Energy Wales, discussed the key benefits of community energy projects. These groups make a significant contribution to green energy production in Wales, with 22.6 MW installed renewable capacity. At scale, community energy has the potential to achieve at least 1 GW of locally-owned generation by 2030.

Rob also emphasized that as community benefit societies, these groups ensure that 100% of the profits go towards the benefit of the local community, and that there is additional economic benefit through the jobs produced and contracts going to local suppliers.

Dan McCallum from Awel Aman Tawe agreed with Rob that one of the key benefits of these groups is the relationship they have with people in the local communities. It engages them in the climate change discussion, ensuring that the changes that must be made are done with their consent, and that the impact it has on real places is always considered. Crucially, it encourages behaviour changes by making people active agents in our collective response to climate change.

It was also noted that policymakers have a crucial role in supporting the sector to grow. Dan discussed a positive example, which was his recent partnership with Newport Council, and that he wanted to be able to work in a similar way with others – more information on this can be found here: https://www.local.gov.uk/case-studies/newport-city-council-community-renewable-energy.

Holly Care from CARE in Cwm Arian discussed the challenges they had faced in starting and developing their project, and urged policymakers to make it easier for new groups to start by addressing the barriers that exist. Holly discussed the resilience and skills that the group needed to overcome these challenges, but said that the tangible impact they had made through the opening of their wind turbine had given them the confidence and resources to develop their organisation even further.

It was great that we were able to invite all Members of the Senedd up onto the virtual stage to discuss this key sector, and what can be done to support these groups in the future. We discussed a number of issues, including the importance of a “just transition” as we change our economy and way of life in response to climate change, and the importance of working with communities at a grassroots level instead of imposing on them – two issues that community energy will naturally be a major part of.

A key issue that was highlighted was the difficulty in accessing land for these groups. This has been highlighted across a wide range of issues, and giving communities first refusal on land when it is sold is an issue that will be explored further by the group.

As Chair of the Cross Party Group, I would like to thank all of the speakers, my fellow Members of the Senedd and those who attended for an interesting and thought-provoking event. At COP26 and beyond, these issues will be becoming more and more important, and we look forward to continuing to work with and highlight social enterprises, co-operatives and community groups as key actors in achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible in a just and equal way.  The next meeting of the Cross Party Group will be in the new year, where we will discuss another crucial issue for the co-operative sector.

Vikki Howells - Wikipedia
Image source: Wikipedia

Vikki Howells MS, Chair of the Cross Party Group for Coops and Mutuals

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