Over the past five months, the Sholver group have been pursuing their ambitions to support new community-owned solar projects to emerge in their neighbourhood and wider Oldham.
Here they share an update on what they’ve managed to achieve during their time working on the pilot project and plans for the future.
During discussions in Westwood and Sholver it became apparent that local people in both neighbourhoods have a great interest in exploring how they could support more local and locally owned renewables.
Actually reaching the goal of installing new renewables in the timeframe of our pilots would have been too steep of a call and so the team that formed in Sholver, even though their overall aim is ‘To do our bit to decarbonise the planet, starting with a revolution in Sholver’, made a very realistic call and decided to use the time and resources available to explore some of the options that came out of the analysis of potential roofs for solar in workshop 4 (read here) and to build partnerships with already existing community energy groups and stakeholders.
The group maps existing solar generators in Sholver
A bit of background
Even though the contributions made by renewables to UK power generation has more than doubled since 2014 with renewables accounting for 43% of the UK’s 312 TWh of domestic power generation in 2020, installing new renewable generation in the UK is not at the scale needed to achieve our carbon reduction targets.
The Climate Change Committee has indicated that we need at least a fourfold increase in renewable generation deployment by 2050, and this will be needed at all scales, from offshore wind projects to domestic rooftop solar low carbon transport projects.
Additionally to reducing carbon, locally owned renewables come with a lot of additional benefits, often also called co-benefits.
These additional benefits can include:
- More local jobs in construction and operation.
- Keeping project income and benefits within the local economy.
- Improved local environmental impact.
- Lower energy prices for local households and businesses
- Greater local energy security and resilience.
- Income that can be reinvested for the benefit of the community.
- Enhanced community engagement and empowerment. *
There are different forms of local ownership, so businesses, homeowners or landlords installing solar on their premises, the council owning the installations or community energy groups, in which case the ownership is collective.
The Sholver pilot group decided to concentrate on community ownership for the solar PV they would like to see installed, as they saw the most community benefit in that model.
What is Community Energy?
Community energy refers to a community of people joining together to find or enable solutions for carbon reduction. This can be by collectively investing in local renewables from domestic solar to entire wind farms, but also offering local energy efficiency or advice services as well as, for example, transport projects like electric car-sharing or green community transport.
Community energy can range from small volunteer-run organisations that own a couple of small assets to large and highly professional businesses. They are set up for the benefit of their communities and democratically controlled by their members.
The main financial tool used is citizen investment with a ‘one-member-one-vote’ control, meaning that however much you invest, you will only ever hold one democratic vote in the company.
Surplus profits are reinvested to support further local environmental and social initiatives and services.
The Community Energy sector has been playing a part in helping to reach local and national net-zero targets whilst generating social benefits within the energy transition.
There are over 424 active community energy organisations across the UK that have reduced energy bills by £2.9 million and generated £3.13 million pounds for community initiatives.
Oldham Community Power
Oldham already has a community energy group – Oldham Community Power (OCP) – which has installed solar on several schools and community buildings across the borough. The Sholver group decided to not reinvent the wheel by setting up a separate group, but to explore opportunities for new installations and simultaneously build a relationship with OCP in 1-1 conversations with board members and by attending their meetings where possible.
Additionally the group developed a working relationship with Kate Gilmartin …
Several opportunities have developed from this pilot and are now being further explored by Carbon Coop in collaboration with OCP and local community members. They include community-owned PV on Oldham’s Hospital, as well as some opportunities for wind generation. Onshore wind generation is often said to be contested in the UK, although public opinion polls actually say that … The Sholver renewables group would in general welcome wind energy in the area, as long as it is wholly or part owned by the community and benefits are shared with people locally.
‘The scale needed to make projects worthwhile in terms of return continually stymies any vision I have of what can be done in Sholver. It mainly contains small houses and few large users of power.’
Sholver group member
The group came across several challenges along the way. For a community renewables scheme to be viable and ideally create a profit that can be used for community benefit, it has to be above a certain size and ideally sell the energy produced directly to a high energy user. So it continues to prove difficult to find opportunities in Sholver itself. Another big challenge that the participants identified was the factor of volunteer time needed to pull large projects like these off the ground.
The group will continue to support OCP in exploring wider opportunities across the borough for community-owned renewables. However, their big dream is to produce green energy in Sholver itself.
‘…I would like to see Sholver’s pilot project group establish a locally-owned demonstrator renewable generation project based in and serving Sholver specifically. I think this could serve many functions – as an inspiring local asset, education tool, community amenity affording facility and economic and/or education/training prospects, and a sense of pride in the area. Sholver is inexcusably deprived of local life assets and I think a neighbourhood-scale community-owned renewably-powered asset which boasts 100% self-generated green power consumption could do a great deal to elevate the area.’
Sholver group member
They are hopeful that continued support will come from the Local Energy Hub, Oldham Council and Greater Manchester for people like them that are raring to go and just need a little bit of continuous support.
* See the full report by CAG consultants for Devon County Council here: https://cagconsultants.co.uk/devon-county-council-report-on-socio-economic-benefits-of-community-energy-prepared-by-cag-consultants