Demand for more support for community energy schemes to meet climate targets

Experts have warned that more long-term funding for community energy schemes to generate cheap electricity is vital if Scotland is to meet its climate change targets.

Community energy schemes could boost renewable sources of electricity.
Community energy schemes could boost renewable sources of electricity.

MSPs on Holyrood's economy and energy committee were also told that more investment was needed if a broader range of people were to benefit from the decarbonisation of energy.

The warnings underlined a recent Climate Emergency Response Group report which said the Scottish Government needed to generate public and private investment of between £1.8bn and £3.6bn a year, to achieve its carbon emissions goals by 2045.

Community and local energy schemes are being encouraged as a way to increase renewable energy production, taking strain off the national grid, and creating new revenues for local areas. Today the Scottish Parliament also agreed to give rates relief to district heating schemes to encourage more be established.

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However Chris Morris of Local Energy Scotland said that a result of funding stream changes, and difficulties in connecting to the grid, "far more support" was needed for community energy schemes.

"With more resources put in, we can make more projects happen, which we need to to hit the wider climate change targets," he said. "In the past we supported them through loans, perhaps we need more capital investment to kick start them and give them a good opportunity to thrive."

Joanne Wade deputy director of the Association for Decentralised Energy added: "One of the key things is it's not just about more support, but more certainty of support. As we move from the simpler schemes set up by people with a lot capability, broadening it out to more diverse communities who need longer to come together, the traditional way where we've had a pot of money available for a year then it's taken away again, that won't enable those communities to take part or encourage the private sector to join in, so there needs to be longer, more strategic plan with some funding behind it and that would enable a broader range of private sector and community involvement."

Energy Networks Association representative Guy Jefferson, who is also a director of SP Energy Networks, said the company was aware that one of the most expensive issues for community energy schemes was connecting to the electricity network.

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He added: "In our most recent price review we've tried to build in a community energy fund to the process to make it a more sustainable support for projects and allow some of the pilot projects we have funded to build on their success.

"From our perspective, community energy will play an an important part in security of the network. They can provide energy for the future, but also support the network in rural locations in particular. A report we are launching today tries to bring together what the potential is for community energy - we believe there's huge potential if the dynamics and support are right."

Asked further about network constraint issues, and what was needed to help community energy schemes, Mr Jefferson added: "We have publicly available heat maps to indicate where we have opportunities on the network, but the network is very saturated in terms of ability to connect and where possible we try and work with communities around flexible connections, such as allowing community energy and local energy schemes to transmit on to our network at certain times of day."

Chris Morris added: "The challenge is taking those innovations and making them business as normal. The grid does have a significant impact on community projects and can make them unaffordable... there are restrictions in the wires which make them [projects] smaller or very expensive to connect."

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MSPs were also told that the planning system needed to be used more efficiently to help community energy schemes. Joanne Wade said there should be "zoning", for electricity, heat and energy efficiency to give councils "the opportunity to look at what's the best solution for their community and then using that mechanism to enable the funding to flow in".

She added that local authorities need "to have a clear plan that for this type pf building stock, for this type of community, this economy these are the best energy solutions, and therefore we want to access the mechanisms so it can be linked to planning."

Mr Jefferson said "more local planning is absolutely essential" and said it was a "mistake" to think that Ofgem could manage the different requirements of local communities from London. "Ofgem is starting to talk about the decentralisation of some powers from London, which is essential. Local communities are running at different paces. It's important to get local energy in planning but also some powers in terms of reinforcing and investing in what local communities want to do and that's a long term proposition.

"We have a number of areas of our network which are already constrained, and will be constrained in the future, if we can share those long term plans with the local communities we can plan better for solutions."