Community Energy London Event – reasons to be optimistic?

Last week a few of us attended the inaugural Community Energy London ‘Question Time’ event at City Hall.

In light of recent events in the sector, everyone was under strict instructions to keep comments as positive and optimistic as possible. The reality was that most of the speakers and commentators struck a more pragmatic and realistic tone about the situation all of our groups are in.

Either way, it was great to be able to celebrate some of the brilliant work some of our fellow groups have achieved and also the sheer diversity and creativity of projects. Whether that’s SELCE with their oversubscribed share offer that’s just closed, or LEAP Micro AD with their fascinating  solar/thermal/wind/anaerobic digestion projects. And it’s always re-assuring to hear about the work that our enablers & advocates at Pure Leapfrog and Community Energy England have been up to.

So what were PUNL’s key take-aways?

  1. The future of the community energy sector is bright to regardless of future policy developments. There were around 20 groups represented from across the city and another 10+ that couldn’t make it. Never mind the rest of the country and the rest of the world! Sometimes when the clock ticks past midnight on a Tuesday night and you’re still working on that financial model/funding application/promotional leaflet [delete as appropriate] it can all feel a bit overwhelming; Is this really all worth it? Can we really achieve anything meaningful? But once the group comes together at the monthly meeting and you hear about all the other hours everyone has been putting in to keep all of the other cogs turning, it gives you a huge sense of optimism and resilience of what can be achieved as a team. An event like the one last week multiplies that feeling by thirty-something. The combined amount of dedication and enthusiasm in the room was a real source of inspiration!
  2. Off the back of this event, we think the creation of a more formal London Community Energy Network could be a brilliant thing. We’re all going through so many of the same things and again it was re-assuring to hear about the similar [insert acronym here] challenges other groups had overcome. But imagine if we each could speak to one another about these hurdles before we reach them. It would enable projects at all stages and the sector as whole to grow much more quickly and efficiently. In addition to that, we discussed the ‘peak and trough’ nature of community energy groups, being predominantly volunteer-run. In future, it could be hugely beneficial to be able to mobilise the network to be able to support those groups most in need. Perhaps one group is on pause as a lease is developed whilst another is all hands on deck trying to raise funds for a share offer. We’re all fighting for the same ultimate goal and I’m sure are willing to help one another out in practical ways. Finally, a unified network could give us a much stronger voice when we have things to say. Rather than all blogging and tweeting about the same thing in slightly nuanced ways, a singular message backed by 30+ organisations should see us heard louder and wider.
  3. There are ample opportunities to innovate. Encouraging a reduction in energy use by reducing electricity costs to roof owners as their consumption falls was one such opportunity that came up. More conversations will enable more of these ideas to be generated and shared.

So maybe there are reasons to be optimistic!

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Ben

What’s so spooky about solar?

Did you see any solar panels out and about this weekend? If you attended a Halloween party with any members of the current government then you probably did. The latest policy developments in the community energy sector give the impression that the government are more afraid of solar power than zombies, clowns or vampires. So it’s hardly surprising so many of them dressed up as a solar panel this weekend.

It’s been an ‘interesting‘ few weeks in the community energy sector. It all kicked off with the devastating plans to more or less scrap the feed-in-tariff (one of the main income sources for community energy) at the start of next year, that have already led to thousands of job losses across the country. This came alongside the removal of the ability to pre-accredit community energy projects, which essentially meant that any projects that were hoping to operate under the tried and tested financial model (which has been delivering so much social, financial and environmental value of the last few years), needed to rush to get them registered by the end of last month. That was followed this week by the unexpected decision by the Treasury to remove the successful social investment tax relief scheme that was previously available to investors in community energy (which saw investors able to recoup 30% of any investment). There’s plenty of information all over the web now (and it’s great that national newspapers, etc. are now picking up on this) covering exactly what’s going on so I won’t go into any more detail on that here.

The real surprise here comes as the sector is doing so well. As mentioned above, community energy is a real rare blend as a sector, being able to so effectively create financial, social and environmental value in lockstep (that is – if one benefit goes up, the other two do so too). To demonstrate this, Community Energy England and Power To Change undertook some brilliant research into community energy where a bunch of community energy organisations (us included) fed back some facts on what we’ve done and what we plan to do, for them to be able to map out the current impact of community energy and the (huge) future potential. Two infographics (below) were produced and a further report.

ptc2 ptc 1

A nod as well to the lovely folk at 10:10 who also ran a wonderfully fun and creative campaign to #keepfits a week ago. We joined them for one of the days at Hampstead Heath to talk to people there about community energy and encourage them to let the government know why they should have a rethink.

So we’re realistic – these past few weeks have made things tougher for PUNL and we really wish the government would reconsider their approach. We’ve put in so much time and effort over the past 18 months to develop projects that we think will create real, sustainable environmental, social and financial value for our community. We’ve learnt so much and we think we’ve already done some good stuff, but there’s potential to do so much more. Either way, we’re resilient and optimistic. We’re all hugely passionate about helping to combat climate change and creating a more happy and green society through PUNL. Whatever challenges are thrown at us, we will continue to strive for that. (We hope to have some more updates on our own plans in the coming weeks so keep your eyes peeled for that.)

There are wider reasons to be optimistic – whether it’s Tanzania’s plans to light up a million homes with solar, Morocco’s exciting desert-based plans to become a solar superpower, or a floating solar farm in Manchester, innovative green projects are sprouting up all over the world with increasing regularity.

But finally – what can you do? Sign up to receive updates from 10:10 on their keepfits initiative – there’s plenty more you can do to let the government know the value of community energy. Email your MP, for example. But the best thing you could do is to come join us at PUNL – we’d love to hear your ideas for projects, events, or anything! Just drop us an email – I promise we won’t scare you.

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Ben Pearce

The future for Community Energy?

CEO of Ethex, Lisa Ashford has published a timely article highlighting the need for clear, stable policies from the current government in order to ensure the security and prosperity of our energy system.

In light of recent cuts, to things like the Feed in Tariff (FiT), she states: “Community energy schemes have the potential to transform our energy system, by putting the power back in the hands of local people and creating local green power that could eventually be supplied directly to local residents – challenging the hegemony of Big Six energy companies.”

She goes on to add that the recent cuts imposed could jeopardise the future of the community energy market. This is followed up with a few calls to action:

“The government is consulting on its proposals so if you care about community energy, now is the time to make your voice heard.”

Friends of the Earth have created a simple feedback tool which you can access here:

Or, read the full consultation on pre accreditation and submit your response here:

For the changes to financial support to small scale solar, you can respond here:

You can also write to your MP by letter or email. Find your MP by clicking here:

Full article here: https://www.ethex.org.uk/the-future-for-community-energy_1006.html

Community Shares – Inside the Market Report 2015: the PUNL view

The Community Shares Unit (CSU) have produced a hugely insightful report on some of facts and figures surrounding community share offers. This is of interest to Power Up North London as we plan to issue shares to our community for the community energy solar projects that we are developing. Keep your eyes peeled to this website for further information on this over the coming months!

CSUAnyway, I thought it would be useful to summarise some of the key takeaways in the Report from PUNL’s perspective:

  • Community energy is the fastest growing sector in terms of community share offers. The number of offers almost doubled from 2013 (17) to 2014 (30)
  • A measly 5% of share offers across all sectors happened in London over 2009-2014, suggesting that it is a largely untapped market
  • Community energy companies look to be financially healthy, with an average annual surplus of £31,315
  • Most share offers are offering an interest rate to investors of 0-5%
  • Most share offers have a minimum shareholding of £250 or below
  • The majority of investors are investing money ‘they would otherwise save’
  • Around a third of investors helped to promote the campaign and more than a third provided no additional support besides financial investment
  • The ‘ease of the invesment process’ is important or very important to more than half of shareholders
  • The chief aim of investment is to ‘do social or environmental good’ (see below)

CSU 2For those that want to read the full report, it can be found here. A massive thanks to CSU for producing this – it will certainly help organisations like ours to tailor their share offers appropriately as we look to continue to grow this valuable sector and deliver real positive change for our environment and our community.

We’d love to hear from our community on this – what useful information do you think the Report provides? Did anything surpise you? And of course – if you want to get involved with PUNL then please drop us an email at: powerupnorthlondon@gmail.com – we’re getting new members joining us all the time, adding a wonderful range of skills and vibrancy.

Power Up North London- One Year On

One year on wpressHi everyone,

It was April 2014 that Transition Kentish Town, Transition Dartmouth Park and Transition Tufnell Park grouped together to organise a public meeting to discuss whether we could generate our own energy locally. The Transition groups have been successful in creating a local organic food supply through the TKT Vegbox scheme, starting community gardening groups, running food workshops, upcycling and mending projects and much much more- it seemed logical to us that we should use this momentum to focus on one of the biggest issues relating to climate change- our energy supply.

Out of that first meeting Power Up North London (PUNL) was born. The group has met every month since then and is going strong one year on!

It was decided within the first few meetings that we would focus on community owned solar, firstly because it suited our urban setting and secondly because there are some fantastic established models to learn from, such as Brixton Energy and Hackney Energy, and closer to home En10ergy in Muswell Hill. In the last year we have spoken to roof owners, local businesses, funders, consultants, installers, Camden Council, and others, to come to an understanding of how we could get our own community energy project off the ground.

So why aren’t the rooftops of North London buzzing with locally owned electricity just yet?

We could have hired a consultant to take on every aspect of the project for us- scoping out roofs, liaising with roof owners, applying for funding and planning permission- but as a group we would feel that this goes against the DIY ethic of Transition, so we’ve done it the long way round. We’ve been “teaching ourselves how to fish” so to speak!  In my experience with community organising, to have a committed team of people turn up to every meeting a year on into a project is an achievement in itself, and I am pleased to say that one year on we have a strong core group of enthusiastic and clued up community energy champions who are capable of taking our project to the next level.

So what’s happening now?

  1. We have sent off our application to register as a Community Benefit Society. This means we will soon be a legally incorporated entity which is able to issue community shares, take out loans and apply for funding.
  2. We are in conversation with numerous roof owners who are interested in partnering with us, from churches to commercial buildings. Our business working group have put together a detailed business plan and have sought feedback from installers and professionals within the community energy field.
  3. We have created a community engagement team who will be consulting widely on any proposed project to make sure that we remain a truly community enterprise!

How can I join in?

  • If you’d like to join the core group and help us get our first solar project off the ground, our next monthly meeting is at 7.30pm at the Grafton, Kentish Town on 1 July.
  • Power Up North London will be at Alma Street fair on 5 July on the Transition Kentish Town stand, so please come along to find out more about what we’re up to.
  • Follow us on Twitter @PowerUpNLdn and visit our website for updates
  • Get in touch via the website or email us at powerupnorthlondon@gmail.com

All the best,

Nikki Brain

Chair, Power Up North London

Welcome!

What is Power Up North London?

Back in April, Transition Kentish Town, Transition Tufnell Park and Transition Dartmouth Park joined forces to hold a meeting proposing a community renewable energy project. The aim was to consider how we can generate clean, renewable energy in our area and use any income created to benefit the local community. The meeting had a fantastic turn out and since then a core group of volunteers have come forward to work on making this proposal a reality.

 The project

The core group has looked at the various energy sources and organisational structures this community project could incorporate. Overall, the group has decided that installing solar panels on a large community or commercial building would be the most suitable option for a first project, as there are established successful models of community owned  solar in London, and these projects can generate income to fund future energy efficiency or generation projects in our community.

We are currently looking for a suitable location and have begun to speak to local businesses and owners of other large buildings who have potential roof space. We want the project to be in the local area so that the local community see the benefits. If you have any ideas for potential locations for a rooftop solar array, please get in touch as we’d like to be speaking to as many people as possible in this early stage.

 Next steps

Power Up North London is seeking an accountant or someone with a financial background to act as our treasurer. If you are interested in the project and willing to give an hour or two a week to help us get off the ground, please contact us at powerupnorthlondon@gmail.com.

Our main goal which we hope to achieve as soon as possible is finding a partner who shares our vision and has suitable roof space for a solar installation. We will also be continuing our research into grant applications and other funding options. When we have a potential project in place we will look to establish ourselves as a community benefit company (BenCom) or similar, for which we will need to appoint a few official board members including a treasurer.

We’d love to hear from you!

While there is a small group of us currently working on the logistics of this project we want it to be a community- wide initiative open to everyone. Please share this newsletter widely with those you feel will be interested and don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions and recommendations.

All the best,

Power Up North London