Renew Wales has helped and supported many community groups over the years, but here is the success story of two of those organisations who have been involved from the start and where they are now. We want to demonstrate how the groups flourished due to the flexible nature of the programme and receiving the right support in a timely manner- how they have developed from taking those first steps….
Carmarthenshire Energy / Ynni Sir Gar
Carmarthenshire Energy Limited (CEL) has been in existence since 2010/2011 (initially Carms. Energy Trust) and came about partly a result of the disbandment of former Carmarthen Energy Agency. Interested community members, alongside the local service board came together in an informal grouping with the aim of encouraging community action around renewable energy, energy efficiency and establishing real and tangible projects locally- all aimed at keeping profits and skills within the community whilst acting on climate change. A small group of fully committed members set about establishing the group’s governance in a more formal arrangement and it became a Community Benefit Society.
Neil Lewis, a founder Chair of the group became a Renew Wales Co-ordinator and Mentor at the very beginning of the programme in 2012 along with Ben Ferguson, and they were hosted by CEL. It was a model of working that suited them both as it involved community engagement and raising awareness of environmental issues, which they were both passionate about. The main advantage for CEL of being a part of Renew Wales at that time, was a financial one as it secured unrestricted funds for the group via the fee paid to them for Ben and Neil’s time. This was a great source of stable funding at regular intervals as until then, the only other source of income was from the Ynni’r Fro programme, which had very specific parameters for its spending.
Neil said, “As a young organisation, it really helped us get much needed funds that we could spend on whatever we needed at the time, as unrestricted funds are so valuable, but rare!”
CEL’s first successful project in August 2012, was working in partnership with Carmarthenshire County Council to deliver a 10kW system at Richmond Park School. They supported the tendering process, achieving building regulation certificates and the Energy Performance Certificate required for the building, so that the system was installed in time for a crucial funding deadline under the Feed in Tariff rules. A few years later they successfully installed ‘CELT 2’- a 500kW wind turbine in Salem, which was Carmarthenshire’s first community-owned turbine and since 2016 it has been generating electricity for the grid and income for the local community. An impressive £1.2m was raised through community shares to pay for the turbine, with 72% of the investors being resident within Carmarthenshire. They were nominated for a Wales Green Energy Award 2015 in the ‘Community Engagement’ Category. They have employed staff members through Welsh Government’s Leader project and one staff member worked closely with the county council to install electric vehicle charge points. This has led to the formation of TrydaNi Charge Place Wales Ltd. to create a pan-Wales community EV charging company. They have also been working closely with Energy Local to try and link renewable generation with benefits to host communities.
Being a part of the Renew Wales network also gave them a credible platform from which to help support community groups and allow them to find solutions to the issues they were facing. They were able to sit and listen to what groups wanted to do, knowing that the flexibility was there to support them whether they wanted to undertake a growing project, tackle a waste issue or an energy problem for example.
According to Neil, “it’s the best project I’ve ever worked on in terms of flexibility, and the imaginative and community -focussed way it operates. It also gave us the opportunity to raise awareness of action on climate change before it became mainstream”
In terms of the wider network of co-ordinators, both Ben and Neil felt there was huge value in getting together with like-minded people across Wales, hearing, and more importantly learning from what was going on in other parts of the country. Many ideas were cross-fertilised during communal sessions!
Current projects for CEL include rolling out PV and batteries at village halls, expanding the availability of Energy Local Clubs and working across Wales offering EV charging points. There is also an educational role- working with a local secondary school to integrate climate change solutions into the curriculum. Whilst Ben has moved on to another organisation, CEL now hosts 5 mentors within the Renew Wales network and so the relationship, both financial and in terms of sharing learning and experiences, continues.
Awel Aman Tawe
Awel Aman Tawe, (AAT) a community energy charity, was started by local people in 1999. It is situated in the Upper Amman and Swansea Valleys, a former coal mining area around 20 miles north of Swansea. Their main drivers are tackling climate change, job creation, retaining wealth in the local economy and engaging people around energy issues- they also have a strong reputation for delivery of education, arts and engagement within the community.
Dan McCallum, AAT’s Director was key in establishing Renew Wales as a programme and then became one of its co-ordinators. AAT used the opportunities that Renew Wales offered early on in pursuit of establishing an energy solar co-op, and this support took several forms. Firstly it allowed two coordinators time to work with the individual sites so they could think about energy efficiency and energy generation. This meant even if they chose not to progress with the co-op scheme they had received support to think about their own energy generation and efficiency. Each of the buildings expressing an interest in joining the co-op received an Energy Performance Certificate undertaken by a Renew Wales mentor. Once the buildings interested in progressing were identified, the next phase- support with the share offer was provided by Sharenergy, again via Renew Wales. This included financial modelling for the share offer, providing confidence and support that what they were doing was correct and having someone they could speak to and ask questions of.
Dan said, “We recognised that Renew Wales could give us the time and space that we needed to develop this model which would hopefully set the scene and direction of travel for years to come and help others do the same.”
The model involved setting up a co-operative that would lease the roofs of local community buildings for 20 years and install PV panels. To pay upfront for the panels a share offer was issued and this meant the scheme would be eligible for the Feed in Tariffs (FITs). There were many benefits of the scheme including the local generation of renewable electricity, a degree of income generation for local people investing in the scheme, income for the Co-op to reinvest in further projects and of course, free electricity for the participating community buildings. Egni Solar Coop launched its first share offer in February 2014 and by December that same year all the buildings had their PV panels installed and a total of £171,000 was raised.
It did not stand still however and, as a result of continued development work, it has recently announced (March 2021) that it is approaching its target of £4m from the newest co-op share offer- which is one of the largest ever undertaken in the UK. The buildings which form a part of the scheme include the high-profile Geraint Thomas Velodrome in Newport, alongside 84 other sites in Wales- schools, theatres, leisure centres and community centres. The total now installed is 4.3MWp.
Educational resources were also produced as part of the scheme including a teaching pack and monitoring equipment to enable schools to integrate data from the solar panels in different lessons, and an illustrated bilingual book called Green Routines/Arferion Gwyrdd which highlights ways to reduce a person’s carbon footprint. Egni Co-op has won an impressive array of awards between 2015 and 2019 and is now providing clean power to Good Energy customers.
Dan recalls, “Renew Wales was essential in the very early days – in the development of Egni Co-op in 2014-15. Renew was able to provide a range of flexible, specialist support for feasibility work for rooftop solar and our co-op Share Offer. We were able to install solar on 6 community buildings including well known social enterprises such as Glynneath Training Centre and Dove Workshop and also on Ysgol y Bedol.”
Awel Co-op is a Community Benefit Society also founded by AAT, which project owns and run two 2.35MW Enercon wind turbines on Mynydd y Gwrhyd, 20 miles north of Swansea. Construction started in March 2016 and the windfarm was completed ahead of schedule with the turbines commissioned in mid-January 2017. They have produced over 12,000 MWh each year since then, which is enough to supply over 2,500 homes with clean, low carbon energy. Funding from Awel underpinned the expansion of Egni Co-op and also the development of Hwb y Gors, a new education, arts and enterprise centre at the former Cwmgors Primary School.
It is testament to the hard work and determination of those involved in Awel Aman Tawe over the years (and especially Dan McCallum, who was acknowledged by the Queen in the shape of an MBE for services to community energy in Wales in 2018) that it was the Winner of the Environmental Social Enterprise UK Award in 2019.