In a single week I have been discussing community energy at the White House with members of President Obama’s administration (more on that in a week or so – watch this space…) and in Westminster with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey MP. Please note however, that this says more about the rise of community energy up the political agenda, than it does about the spread of my own political influence…
In a move designed to enable a dramatic increase in communities controlling, generating and benefiting from their own clean energy, the Community Energy Coalition presented their manifesto for a community energy revolution to Government on Thursday morning in Westminster.
By way of reminder, the “Coalition” has an almost uniquely powerful voice. Organised by Forum for the Future and The Co-operative Group, the Community Energy Coalition now numbers more than 25 civic society organisations that collectively represent well in excess of 12 million UK citizens. Gathered on Thursday last week to launch the “manifesto” jointly produced by the Co-op and Co-ops UK, were leading figures from the National Trust, The National Farmers Union, The National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the Church of England and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
This was the second time this group of community supporters had met with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change; the first meeting was with Chris Huhne, the morning before he departed office… it appears the outcome of Thursday morning’s meeting with Ed Davey MP will (perhaps) be less dramatic but of equal significance for very different reasons.
It was Ed Davey himself who recently said at the Liberal Democrat Party conference that he wants “to see nothing short of a community energy revolution in the UK” and this was his opportunity to stand behind this sentiment and give action to ambition.
As always, a hushed, respectful silence descended on the room that had moments before been full of chatter about community energy, latest battles won and projects launched, when the SoS entered the room. In this respect, there was no difference to other SoSs and key ministers we had met; however, this time something was different. It genuinely appeared that Ed Davey understands community energy and was equally respectful of the multitude of expertise and assembled influence in the room.
The manifesto calls on the Government to provide leadership and acknowledge the importance of community energy to the UK’s energy system, provide a clear route for new energy groups through the bureaucracy and ensure that it is supported and promoted through policy.
The manifesto ‘asks’ were articulated by the members of the Coalition and responded to by the SoS in a way that demonstrated that he understands that community energy has the potential to engage people in the purchase, saving and generation of energy. By this collective activity, community groups are transforming the relationship we all have with energy and can (will), lead to more sustainable living. Acknowledging that we will still need centralised “big energy”, Mr Davey however, noted that community energy has the capacity to help bridge the trust gap that has developed with our energy providers and help breakdown the psychological barriers to home energy efficiency.
Watch what Secretary of State Ed Davey had to say about the Manifesto
We left with a positive commitment from the Secretary of State to work with the Coalition during the development of the forthcoming DECC community energy strategy and desire on his part to hear more about the innovative policy ideas presented by the Coalition’s members.
It feels like there is a change in the air. It may just be autumn, but I am tempted to think this may be the beginning of the effect of having an energy minister who is prepared to open his mind to the possibility that we all have a role to play in a low carbon energy system. Let’s hope so because we have some significant challenges ahead of us – EMR anyone?
Giles Bristow is Head of Energy at Forum for the Future