This article is provided by the Green Valleys CIC.
The Energy Story
Our relationship with energy is changing. Accessible and affordable fossil energy keeps our houses warm, our food chilled and our cars running. Yet we are now seeing what huge costs come with this energy system. Climate change, oil spills, water pollution from fracking and the health problems from air pollution. As our fossil fuels dwindle, become more difficult to extract and ultimately more expensive, the system must change. We are on the cusp of significant changes to the way we generate, transmit and use energy. This transition creates an opportunity for us to create a cleaner, fairer system with more localised control and more equitably shared benefits.
Shifting to renewables
We have already achieved much to reduce the carbon emissions from our energy system. April 2017 saw the first days since the 1880s where no coal was used to generate power. April 2018 has seen periods in excess of 50 and 70 hours without coal burning, this generation largely replaced by wind and solar. Yet we have a long way to go with gas still being a huge part of direct heating and electricity generation. More renewables are required to provide our future energy demands. Renewable generation is often at smaller scale and Wales has huge potential for wind, solar hydro, biomass and anaerobic digestion. These smaller sources of power can be located around the country, creating more localised, distributed generation. Many rural communities in Wales could become completely self sufficient with local generation providing all of local energy needs.
Energy Community Cooperatives – ECCOs
Generating our own renewable energy locally creates huge shared benefits. Not only do we play our part in tackling climate change, we can choose which type of generation suits our area and importantly, we can create a local energy economy. At present almost all of the money we spend on energy leaves our communities. Every time we pay the bill or fill up the car, that money is lost to parts of the world where fossil fuel primary production takes place. Privately owned domestic and farm scale renewables will form part of this new economy but opportunities exist for collaborative, community owned renewables, open to all for local investment and ownership. These are the community energy cooperatives and have the potential to change our relationship with energy, create shared benefits and empower localised decisions on generation including the potential to set local prices.
Energy Cooperatives in Wales
Community Energy Cooperatives are forming across Europe. REscoop, the European federation of renewable energy cooperatives, has more than 1250 registered projects involving over 1 million European citizens. Solar, wind, biomass and hydro plants are all being cooperatively funded with the benefits retained within the communities that have invested in renewables.
Wales too has its share of successful energy cooperatives; the Egni Coop that has installed 119kW of solar PV on five community buildings in south Wales; five hydro schemes in Wales funded by shares developed by Llangattock Green Valleys CIC; Awel Coop's pair of 2.35MW wind turbines 20 miles north of Swansea; and the Ynni Teg wind turbine, which along with Awel Coop is still open for investors to buy shares.
For all these successes there is still huge potential for more energy cooperatives across Wales. While these trailblazing projects demonstrate what can be done, there are still challenges and complexities not least the UK Government's decision to abandon the Feed-In Tariff subsidy.
Green Valleys CIC and the Interreg North-West Europe ECCO Project
The Green Valleys Community Interest Company was set up by community members in and around the Brecon Beacons National Park in 2009. The project aims to inspire and support communities to work together to reduce carbon emissions, generate income and deliver social and environmental benefits within those communities.
The ECCO project seeks to provide innovative solutions to energy challenges through a collaborative project involving established community energy groups in Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. The Green Valleys CIC is the Welsh partner, a multi-award winning Community Interest Company with almost a decade of experience in community energy projects. By working together to share experiences, financing models, engagement methods, technical skills and policy developments, the ECCO project partners aim to;
- Make ECCOs more effective and to improve local energy management.
- Grow the ECCO network by supporting development of existing ECCOs.
- Inspiring, training, and supporting the formation of new ECCOs.
- Make ECCOs part of the energy policy development.
- In the longer-term the aim is create a sustainable framework for transnational cooperation.
What this means in practice is that the project partners will:
- Create five new community energy cooperatives in Wales.
- Create development plans for existing Cooperatives
- Contribute to the work of other partners, including capturing the benefits of energy coops, our financing models, write articles and case studies, prepare short videos showcasing the work in Wales.
- Provide our expertise in hydro schemes to other projects in Europe and bring relevant European technical experts to help our projects.
You can keep up to date with how the project progresses via: