Across the UK, community energy projects generated 168MW of electricity in 2018, enough to supply 64,000 homes. At least 21 of these organisations currently operate within Northern Powergrid’s region, not just generating renewable energy to address the climate emergency but also delivering local social, environmental and economic benefits, such as helping to alleviate fuel poverty.
Northern Powergrid’s Community Energy Engagement Strategy draws on months of engagement with community energy stakeholders that are working to tackle the climate emergency to evaluate their past collaborations. The document sets out 26 actions Northern Powergrid will implement to proactively engage with these stakeholders, helping to amplify their voice, increase opportunities to engage with the DNO, and ultimately enable more community energy organisations to thrive in the region.
Anda Baumerte, Sustainability Manager and Community Energy Contact at Northern Powergrid, said: “Our role is about more than keeping the lights on – we are a key enabler for regional decarbonisation. It is integral that we work collectively with the communities we support in order to address the climate emergency. This strategy demonstrates our commitment to go above and beyond to deliver on our common goals.”
The DNO is already active in the community energy sector, providing financial and practical support for initiatives to assess the value of projects for the network and its customers. For example, Northern Powergrid was the first UK DNO to set up a fund for community energy projects back in 2015. The financed projects have reached more than 5,000 people with grants ranging from £1,000 to £10,000 per community project. Since 2018, the Community Partnering Fund has been managed in partnership with Northern Gas Networks allowing community groups to bid for a range of energy related community projects.
With input from Community Energy England and other contributors, the strategy will further embed this proactive support for community energy across company activity – helping to deliver the most efficient, clean and fair network possible.
Emma Bridge, CEO of Community Energy England, said: “The path to net zero requires us to collaborate to ensure the transition is fair and leaves no community behind. By publishing this strategy, it’s clear that Northern Powergrid is taking its role as an enabler of community energy seriously. The company is demonstrating its commitment to delivering meaningful environmental, social, and local economic benefits across Yorkshire and the North East and we look to working with them to make that happen.”
The Community Energy Engagement Strategy has five distinct sections, aimed at maximising engagement with community energy organisations:
- Listen – Continue to listen to communities through ongoing engagement, including interviews for independent research and further work to engage new community energy organisations.
- Inform – Keep communities up to date and informed about its activities, with the aim that these will become more collaborative over time.
- Engage – Engage early, recognising that good engagement takes time, and ensuring that it facilitates a strong network of community and local energy organisations in the region.
- Empower – Empower and build the capacity of community energy organisations to participate in and contribute to the changing energy system.
- Advocate – Recognise that communities don’t have the capacity and time to lobby, so amplify their voice.
Northern Powergrid intends to test, refine and perfect these ideas over the next three years as it prepares its business plan for 2023-2028, known as the RIIO-ED2 price control period. During this time, it invites further engagement on these issues from community energy stakeholders across its region and the UK more widely. For further updates and engagement opportunities, community energy organisations are encouraged to sign up to a new quarterly newsletter, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are determined to build a system that uses every unit of low-carbon energy in the best way possible by enabling communities to provide power back to the grid, or take it from locally generated, sustainable sources” commented Patrick Erwin, Northern Powergrid’s Policy and Markets Director. “This strategy is about how we work in partnership to do this, recognising our role of connecting people to locally generated renewables which have socio-economic impact well beyond just a reduction in emissions.”