New policy and developments in the cooperative energy space offer great potential for generating wealth, says environmentalist
Let's not get carried away, but it really could be time to get seriously excited about the prospects for community energy in England.
First off, it's great to see the launch of Community Energy England (CEE). For some time now, there has been a real need for a new representative body to promote the interests of those running projects on the ground. The launch shows the sector is shifting from a niche activity run by hard-core pioneers to a potentially disruptive force that can be tapped into by any community.
And then, somewhat less excitingly, we have to celebrate the launch of the government's community energy strategy in January. This was an important step that it was able to take because there was enough activity on the ground to make it look credible enough inside government (and particularly inside the Treasury!) and the rest of the energy sector.
Community energy is, up to a point, an answer to our centralised fossil-focused energy system that is clearly becoming less and less "fit for purpose". But it is much more than that. Across the country, groups are coming together – many of them co-operatives – to own, generate and save their own energy, and in so doing are seeing reduced fuel bills, support for the local economy, and lower carbon emissions.
This is an important political development. Co-operatives and social enterprises can now start to wrest control of the energy system away from those vested interests that wish to maintain the status quo of a wasteful, polluting, centralised system that benefits the few, and place it in the hands of ordinary people and communities.
This ensures that the growth of community energy could play a critical part in maintaining the rise of the co-operative economy, and enabling communities to generate their own wealth.