What needs to be done to advance community energy in Northern Ireland?
Community energy has the potential to create significant social, economic and environmental opportunities for communities in Northern Ireland.
There is significant potential for the Executive and the relevant government Departments, the private sector and local communities to learn from best practice towards community energy.
The Fermanagh Trust believes the following actions needs to be taken in order to advance community energy in Northern Ireland:
1. Coherent vision for community energy
The Executive to set out a clear vision and commitment to developing community energy in Northern Ireland. Strong leadership and resources from Government would help to accelerate community energy development.
2. Embed community energy within policy
It is important that energy and planning policy support community energy. In Scotland, for example the Scottish Government has set a target of achieving 500MW of community and locally owned renewable energy by 2020. Northern Ireland needs to have clear targets in place to encourage the uptake of community energy.
3. Joined-Up Government
A number of Departments have made commitments in relation to advancing the various strands of community energy and tacking fuel poverty. There appears to be a significant opportunity under the Delivering Social Change framework to link these together, actively resource and provide real impetus to harness the range of opportunities to improve people’s lives.
4. Coordinated advice and support services
A support framework needs to be place to help advance community energy projects and to support communities develop renewable energy schemes at a local level. Bryson Energy is an excellent example of a social enterprise helping to change attitudes and behaviour, and promote action by householders and not-for-profit organisations in areas including energy efficiency; renewable energy; low carbon transport; water and waste.
5. Incentivising community energy
Currently the mechanisms through which renewable energy is incentivised are undergoing reform. It is important that strong government support for renewable energy continues.
6. Community ownership
Building on the DECC Community Energy Strategy, commercial wind developers should be encouraged to offer host communities the opportunity to invest / have a stake in renewable energy developments. This is particularly the case on public land. In Denmark for example, the Promotion of Renewable Energy Act requires a duty on the developer of a wind turbine to offer at least 20% of the shares in the wind turbine to those with an option to purchase.
7. Grid connection
A major challenge for community energy projects can be connecting to the electricity grid. It is important that the Distribution Network Operator actively facilities connection for community energy projects.
8. Financial framework and access to finance and support
The Government should introduce a supportive financial framework for community energy. The European Union offers substantial opportunities to advance community energy through knowledge transfer and financial support.
9. Planning at local level
Councils will have increased powers under the Reform of Public Administration (RPA), including community planning. The creation of ‘Local Energy Plans’ could help to map a more sustainable future for communities. Under RPA there is also the possibility via community planning of establishing pathfinder local authorities to advance work in this area.
10. Community benefit funds
Financial contributions from community funds need to be used effectively and in the most meaningful way possible. How community benefit funds are delivered is shaped by the local context and there is not a one size fits all approach.
11. Public sector led examples
The public sector working with communities to develop community energy projects can act as exemplars and become templates of partnership working to inspire other communities to develop their own projects. The project involving Ballymena District Council and several community clusters is one local example of how this may be done. The development of forestry land for wind farms by DARD and the Forest Service has significant potential to ensure communities can benefit from the development of renewable energy on public land.
12. Community capability and capacity
There needs to be a coherent sustained strategy to help communities engage in and benefit from community energy initiatives.