A coalition future for community energy?

Well, we now know who the energy and climate change secretary is in the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. LibDem Chris Huhne will inherit from the former government a portfolio of policy measures that included growing support for community energy projects. His Department’s Low Carbon Communities Challenge attracted over 500 expressions of interest for its first round of grants to sustainable energy and other initiatives from local communities. What lies in store? Obviously, considerable (devillish) detail needs to be put onto the bones of the coalition statement on energy and the environment. A general commitment to feed-in-tariffs might help communities resource their energy project aspirations. More generally, the Big Society rhetoric of the new Prime Minister might help empower community initiative. But as community activists know only too well, and as four decades or more of professional community development work can attest, communities need lots of help. Energy projects can sometimes be especially tricky for community groups, since they can often involve expensive investments and many technical, legal and business issues. If the Big Society means less State help, or less State pressure on businesses to help communities, then community energy might have a challenging period ahead. That said, both Parties to the new coalition government are committed to progressing a greening of our economy with sustainable energy as an important part of the mix. Community energy might attract continued or even increasing support? Much depends upon how much political attention is taken up by other, bigger energy issues, such as nuclear power (which is a source of controversy in the coalition). Whether communities have to rely more on self-help or state-help, there remains a need to better understand the processes by which innovative local energy projects are established and diffuse.