Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Big Community Energy Weekend in Exeter: "community energy projects will have an increasingly important role to play"

This weekend sees a series of events going on in Exeter around the manifold subject of energy:
Futures Forum: The Big Community Energy Weekend: invitation to Exeter:
 Sat 17th & Sun 18th May

The events are being put together by Exeter Community Energy:
Futures Forum: Exeter Community Energy launched

It coincides with a big meeting of International Panel on Climate Change people at the university:
Futures Forum: Transformational Climate Science: Conference at Exeter University:
 Thurs 15th & Fri 16th May
World climate scientists at Exeter University for summit | Western Morning News

And here's a very timely piece from the Western Morning News today:

Community energy projects crucial in climate change battle

By Western Morning News | Posted: May 16, 2014

Sonya Bedford, a specialist in renewable energy law at Stephens Scown LLP
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Sonya Bedford, a specialist in renewable energy law, argues that community energy projects will have an increasingly important role to play and welcomes local initiatives like the Big Energy Weekend.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gathers the latest data on climate change, and its recent report, published last month, highlights the link between greenhouse gas emissions and extreme weather events around the world.

So that could mean more droughts and heat waves in the summer and storms and flooding in the winter – all with the potential to have a devastating effect on businesses and individuals in areas like the South West.

The IPCC report emphasises the need to adapt to the changes, for example in the UK that means investing in better flood defences. However, it warns that this is not enough, not least because some of the predicted changes in weather patterns will be impossible to adapt to.

To effect a tangible change in the future, the IPCC reiterates the international community must continue to focus on reducing carbon emissions and hit carbon reduction targets. New research published in March by Globe International showed that at least 60 countries have passed more than 500 laws between them to limit climate change. This is a huge international effort – and it needs to be.

However, talk of carbon targets and global co-operation can make us forget the part we all play in this. That is why initiatives like the Big Community Energy Weekend tomorrow and Sunday are so important.

The weekend is being organised by Exeter Community Energy and events include an energy fair and a green open-homes event, offering a chance to see behind the scenes of some of the region’s greenest homes. Organisers hope to get people talking about the way we produce, use and think about energy.

This kind of grass-roots activity is crucial in my view. The time of thinking that this is someone else’s problem has gone. Now is the time to change and take action. And many communities are doing just that.

As a lawyer specialising in renewable energy, I have been lucky enough to work with some really inspiring community groups. The award-winning Illogan Green Ripple Project is a great example. Fifty-four properties in Illogan parish, near Redruth, had at least one energy-saving measure installed and seven homes, as well as the community shop, were fitted with solar PV panels.

The whole community were engaged through events, information points and local champions, which increased the community’s awareness of energy use and crucially resulted in a change in people’s behaviour. The project, which was set up in 2011, was a partnership between Cornwall Council, Community Energy Plus, Illogan Parish Council and local volunteer groups.

There is a lot of support for community energy projects available from organisations like Carbon Leapfrog and Regen SW. Embarking on a community energy project can seem daunting but Regen SW’s events, which it runs through its community support programme, can help groups find out everything they need to know – from how to secure a grid connection to the ways you can generate community engagement. The next event, focusing on grid connections, is due to take place on Tuesday, June 3 in St Austell.

There is an exciting future for community renewable energy projects. At the end of April Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, announced the Energy for London scheme. From 2015 the London authority will buy electricity from small-scale generators owned by London boroughs and public bodies and sell it to Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police. The aim is to generate 25 per cent of the capital’s power from local sources by 2025. This could be a model which is adopted in other areas, reducing reliance on the major energy suppliers.

Concerns over our future energy security and supply will make community renewable energy projects even more crucial.

As we experience first hand the devastating impact of extreme weather events, the need to take action and change the way we use and generate energy will remain one of the UK’s biggest challenges.

I would urge anyone who is interested in finding out more about these issues and the part they can play in solving them to go along to the Big Energy Weekend in Exeter this weekend.

Sonya Bedford is a partner and head of renewable energy at Stephens Scown LLP in Exeter. She is a non-executive director of Regen SW and a director of Exeter Community Energy. Sonya also acts for a number of community energy projects. 

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