Community energy still in the dark over its future

In a dark and stormy year, one sunny news story has been the continued growth of solar power around the world. It’s now coming in cheaper than coal and gas in the sunniest parts of the world, and prices are still dropping in the UK too.

In just six years the industry added more than three times the capacity of the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, surging past 10GW earlier this year.

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Most of this has been in the big solar farms you see out of the train window, in fields and on warehouse roof tops.

Still, almost 9% has come from individuals, councils and community groups who installed solar panels through the Feed in Tariff scheme. It all adds up to an important contribution.

But the Government is determined to create space in its energy policy for fracking and nuclear. So last year government slashed the tariffs, removed tax incentives, and announced it would tax communities and schools with business rates for installing them.

I was absolutely furious when I heard that one school in Croydon that I had only visited a year before had dropped its project as a result.

I’m working with the sector to try to find out what comes next. Does community energy still have a role to play?

The Minister’s answers to my first round of questions provide some hints…

The Government hasn’t really analysed the impact of the Feed in Tariff on the community sector. Their data is incomplete and they can’t tell me how many installations schools and community groups have made.

Their Community Energy Contact Group hasn’t met since July, and the notes from the last two meetings still aren’t online.

The Government doesn’t plan to update its Community Energy Strategy, despite all the policy changes since it was published in 2014.

But the Minister tells me her department continues to ‘engage with stakeholders’ as they draw up their Emissions Reduction Plan.

Whether that will bring a ray of sunlight back to an energy sector already providing one third as much energy as a nuclear power station remains to be seen.

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