16 Oct 2019 | Category: LLEP News

Rural power is changing the British energy landscape

This article was written by Michael Gallagher, Regional Energy Projects Manager, Midlands Energy Hub.

wind turbine

Energy is taken for granted, particularly in the developed world.

It is reliable and available at the flick of a switch powering our day-to-day lives supporting our use of transport, heat, electricity, communications and media.

However, the risks associated with the continued use of fossil fuels to power our communities, our businesses and our countries are now so significant that the conscious decarbonisation of energy is rapidly climbing higher on the political agenda. An energy evolution is now underway.

As with any evolution involving large scale infrastructure, initial investment is often focused on highly densely populated areas, meaning rural communities are left behind. One recent example of this include the roll out of broadband, with rural communities generally having a far poorer service than those in cities and towns. The same principle applies to energy coverage; many rural communities are not connected to the gas grid, and the electricity grid is considered as “weak”.

Furthermore, homes in rural areas are typically less energy efficient and often rely on more expensive heating fuels than homes in built up areas. As a result, fuel poverty is proportionately more prevalent in rural than urban areas. In 2015, 11% of households in urban areas were fuel poor compared to 14% of households in rural villages, hamlets and isolated dwellings.

Locally sourced energy

In the 2018 National Grid Future Energy Scenarios, Community Renewable generation is deemed critical to decarbonising the UK’s economy by 2050.

The National Grid, a UK-based energy provider, estimate that up to 65% of electricity generation can be produced locally by 2050. Supporting the development of clean renewable energy generation at community level is beneficial to both the community and the wider environment.

It is vital that rural communities are enabled to act and are not left behind during the energy transition

By reducing our dependence on fossil fuel based energy generation, communities can secure future energy supply, gain protection from rising fuel costs and duties, and reduce the risk of fuel poverty. Income from renewable projects can provide benefits to the community, including the creation of jobs and the promotion of social cohesion.

Considering the above, Community Energy has a significant role to play. It is vital that rural communities are enabled to act and are not left behind during the energy transition.

Giving rural communities a boost

As a response to this energy transition, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS ) have set up five Energy Hubsacross England to develop low carbon and renewable energy projects.

These projects can be delivered at scale to assist in the decarbonisation targets of their respective regions as detailed in the LEP (Local Enterprise Partnerships) Energy Strategies. The Leicester and Lecestershire Enterprise Partnership has published its Energy Infrastructure Strategy, which is available here. Gavin Fletcher is the LLEP’s link to the Midlands Energy Hub. If you would like to contact Gavin to find out more about what the LLEP is doing to secure the region’s energy future, please send him an email.

Part of the responsibility of the Hubs is to deliver the £10 million (€12,3 million) Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) that has been provided to enable rural communities to take ownership of the energy challenges facing them. The fund provides grants to support communities in rural locations to develop their energy projects and is split into two stages.

  • Stage 1 feasibility grants < £40,000 ($49,100)
  • Stage 2 grants < £100,000 (€123,000) for business development and planning of feasible schemes

With shrinking public funds, there is also an opportunity for rural communities to use their savings and generated revenue from local energy projects to keep valuable community assets and services funded

The fund covers the high-risk costs of projects, facilitating the development of feasible projects giving local communities the confidence to finance and deliver beneficial renewable and low-carbon energy projects. Principally the Rural Community Energy Fund aims to:

  • Support rural communities — by helping them to maximise the income generating potential of renewable energy and putting this to work locally;
  • Increase the uptake of community and locally owned renewable energy, to support the Government’s targets for renewable energy and carbon reduction; and
  • Promote rural growth, job creation and volunteering opportunities — to enable communities to access the economic benefits associated with renewable energy schemes.

From vision to reality

There are several challenges associated with developing community scale projects: from the initial design of a scheme, understanding the technical feasibility and upfront costs associated with gaining planning permission to name a few.

The Rural Community Energy Fund will achieve its aims by removing these barriers to investment which are not readily available in the commercial market by providing funding to rural community organisations establishing the feasibility and development of the business plan for a renewable energy facility.

Community Energy has a critical role to play in the evolution towards a decarbonised environment and rural communities in particular must not be left behind. It is important that rural communities are empowered to make decisions about their future energy needs and enabled to make decisions on the provision of their local energy supply.

With shrinking public funds, there is also an opportunity for rural communities to use their savings and generated revenue from local energy projects to keep valuable community assets and services funded. — Michael Gallagher

If you are in England, UK and would like more information please contact your Local Energy Hub. You can see contact details here.

For more information, please contact: admin@llep.org.uk

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