“There are many ways to skin a cat, and I hope that the Minister will recognise that there is a cat to be skinned, and will come up with some suggestions for his preferred method of doing so,” Labour & Co-operative MP John Woodcock challenged in the Westminster Hall Renewable Energy Projects debate last week. If the aforementioned cat is equated to the advantages of renewable energy projects, members from both the Government and the Opposition acknowledged its existence.

There seemed to be a broad consensus in the room that renewable energy generators, such as wind farms and micro-hydro schemes, are an essential component of the future of green energy in Britain. Crucial to the success of the schemes, however, is the support of both local communities and the national government.

John Woodcock, joined by numerous other Co-operative MPs, advocated garnering local support by utilizing a co-operative structure for ownership of the sites; if communities reap benefits from the success of the farm, feelings of intrusion and disruption are mitigated. In a co-operative strategy, individuals from the surrounding area buy shares that in turn awards them part or whole ownership of the site.

Baywind Energy Project, in John’s Barrow and Furness constituency, is a successful operation in this model. Woodcock’s admiration for the project prompted him to call for the debate. He credits the wind farm with having “changed people’s understanding of renewable energy and of the capacity of a local area to have a genuine stake in that form of energy.” Baywind has been returning dividends to its mutual owners since 1996 and also serves in an educational capacity, allowing both children and adults to explore and learn about community-owned renewable energy.

The Co-operative MPs called on the Government to give strong support to community schemes and streamline the approval process for applicants who are already demonstrating community support from the local citizens with widespread buy-ins. They also suggested the creation of a community energy and climate change unit to promote mutual ownership by offering advice on clearing the various hurdles of opening a renewable energy generating site.

For a Government committed to being “the greenest ever”, “maximizing value for money” and “reducing bureaucracy”, it seems that the Co-operative model John Woodcock MP so passionately advocated is win-win. Maybe it is time to engage in another “wholesale theft of The Co-operative Party’s manifesto‚Ķ”