Why this matters
Britain needs more clean power, and it’s only right that the people who live alongside new wind and solar farms should benefit the most from these developments.
Community ownership is the best way to make sure this happens, and the fast-growing UK community energy movement has been taking great strides forward. But owning renewable energy installations is not the only way local people could benefit from them. Using locally generated power locally is more efficient, so it should be cheaper to buy clean energy from local wind or solar farms than it is to buy dirty energy from distant fossil power plants.
What’s more, community energy groups up and down the country really want to be able to sell the power they generate to local people. But they can’t. Today, members of a community can club together to put up a wind turbine on the edge of their village or town, and use all of the power it generates in local homes and business. What they can’t do is capture any of the value created by this arrangement – instead the financial benefits all go to the grid operators and the power companies.
The community have to sell their energy to a big power company for 5p, then buy it back for 15p or even 20p! In reality, the electrons never leave the village.
This is because the community co-operative that owns the wind turbine has to sell the power they generate to one of the power companies at 4.5p per unit - and then individual consumers of this same energy have to buy it back at 15 or even 20p per unit! The power company treats the electricity as if it travels all the way up the wire to one of their big power plants, and all the way back down again into people’s homes. In reality, the electrons never leave the village.
But the system has no way to recognise this. The problem is that under UK energy market rules, there is no such thing as a local supplier. These rules were written by and for giant utilities like the Big Six, and they make it impossible for community groups to sell the wind, solar and hydro power they generate directly to nearby homes. For community energy to really take off in the UK, we need the next government to change the energy market rules so people can buy power generated by local renewable energy groups more cheaply than they can buy it from big utilities.
We know this is technically possible – now we just need the government to help make it happen.