So the Energy Bill finally returned to the House of Commons this week. This complicated piece of legislation is at least clear on one thing – there is little in its 190 pages which have made the co-operative and community energy sector stand up and applaud!
It is felt that the Bill creates a regulatory environment which will undermine the investment in and ability of co-operative and community energy schemes to compete in a market dominated by the Big Six. There is an urgent need for the Bill to be amended to legislate for an extended fixed FiT which would remove larger community schemes from the proposed Contracts for Difference. Also required are national targets for co-operative and community schemes as a result of the eradication of the renewable obligations.
The 2nd reading debate is an opportunity for MPs to raise issues which are important to them and areas where they want to see the bill amended. Recently the Shadow Secretary of State, Caroline Flint, issued a publication with the Co-operative Party, the Power Book; therefore it was no surprise that she raised the concerns of the sector first, stating:
‘If energy companies had to sell all their generation and buy all their supply through an open pool, anyone could compete on price to generate power or sell it to the public. This would encourage new entrants to enter the market, provide fairer access for independent generators and community and cooperative energy schemes, increase competition and put a downward pressure on prices.’
Several Labour Co-operative members were in the Chamber to add their voice to this issue. Stephen Doughty MP, our new MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, commented that:
‘One of the ways in which I believe we can increase the capacity, security and diversity of our energy supply lies in co-operative and community energy solutions… A lot could be done to support such solutions, and I am concerned that the Bill does not mention such support. Will the Minister comment on that and consider the measures that the Government could take to support co-operative and community energy solutions?’
Steve Reed MP, another new member of the Co-operative Party Parliamentary group, put on the record is disappointment at the missed opportunity within this Bill. Steve has had first-hand experience of the potential and success of such schemes as the former Leader of Lambeth Council. Steve spoke at length on the strengths of the model and the benefits of the Brixton Energy Co-operative. He stated:
‘Brixton Solar Energy 1 was the country’s first urban energy generation co-operative and was set up by the local community in Brixton, working in co-operation with the local authority, Lambeth Council. Solar power generation is not generally feasible on the majority of houses, because they might face the wrong way or suffer from shading from chimneys or other structures, or because the roofs are too small. Collective schemes, such as Brixton Energy, are far better.’
Furthermore, Steve joined others in arguing that:
‘The Bill should be amended to increase the fixed feed-in tariff threshold for community projects, guarantee a market for community energy schemes and set a minimum annual target for new generation capacity from community schemes. I should like to see local authorities incentivised to lower overall household carbon emissions in their area, which they could do in part by supporting projects such as Brixton solar energy.’
Labour & Co-operative members and others were disappointed with Government Ministers’ responses to these contributions – none.
Tom Greatrex MP (Lab/Co-op), the Shadow Energy Minister, wound up the debate for the Opposition and stated the front-bench’s support for co-op and community schemes, urging the Government to think again.
‘…Also missing from the Bill are measures to support the type of co-operative and community energy about which my hon. Friends the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith and for Cardiff South and Penarth spoke so eloquently, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), with his experience of what happened in Brixton. Members will be aware that his predecessor was one of the most thoughtful and serious contributors to energy debates in the House; in this, as in many other respects, he has a worthy successor.’
Summing up, Tom stated:
‘The Secretary of State recently said that he wanted nothing less than a community energy revolution. I say to him that the Bill is an opportunity that we will help him to use to encourage that.’
This Bill will now move in to Committee where Labour & Co-operative members of both the front and backbenches will take these issues on and hope that the Government is able to match their fine words with action and meaningful support for what is a growing co-operative sector. Watch this space.