Not-for-profit Regen South West (SW) is offering sustainable energy expertise ahead of September’s Community Energy Fortnight, and will be hosting a poetry slam at the unique renewable energy focused event.
Regen SW will be taking part in the fortnight with an evening of poetry with Matt Harvey. Harvey will introduce a full programme, featuring many special guests, and will entertain with his energy-inspired collection of poems. The event will take place on September 23 from 7pm – 11pm at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter.
Regen SW told Blue & Green Tomorrow about the challenges faced and the vision for community energy in the UK.
Tell us a bit about your organisation
Regen SW is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee with a membership of over 260 businesses, local authorities and community groups. Regen’s aim is to enable ground-breaking renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that create local jobs and benefits to local communities.
We are based in the south west of England and use our detailed knowledge and relationships with key partners to trial initiatives and projects here. It is a core principle of our approach that this work is scalable and we can use the knowledge and lessons to have an impact on policy and practice nationally and internationally.
What excites you about community energy?
The extraordinary potential for ordinary people to change the way our energy system works, and opening the debate up to make it truly inclusive and interesting.
Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt a small group of people can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” which is very pertinent to community energy right now. There is a cultural shift taking place because the existing reality is not satisfactory, our options are to accept it, or to get involved and change things for the better, localising our energy systems and creating jobs and resilience.
The way we currently talk about energy is not encouraging enough people to join the debate, and if we want to get everyone involved we need to make it far more exciting, that’s why we have an arts and energy programme at Regen which supports artists to join the debate and team up with community energy groups.
What is the biggest challenge in scaling up community energy across the UK?
Involving everyone. There are over 5000 community energy groups in the UK and nearly all of them struggle to get enough people involved to share the amount of work it takes to make a project successful. Opinion polls consistently show between 70-80% of people support renewable energy, energy is fundamental to our way of life and yet few people have the time or energy to get involved.
The people who do make a start need your support, everyone has something to offer and there are so many ways to get involved, from making a cake; writing a letter; developing a business plan; starting a Facebook page; making a banner; writing a funding bid; building a model; managing money; doing legal agreements; to chatting to people in the street.
What’s your vision for community energy in the UK?
Resilient communities with well sited and popular renewable energy projects that create jobs and generate income. There are loads of ways for communities to benefit from energy, whether it’s starting a 100% community owned project or partnering with the renewable energy industry to share the ownership of projects, or even managing a community benefit fund from a local commercial renewables scheme to spend on local community projects.
Would you encourage others to get involved in community energy?
Absolutely, working with community energy groups is incredibly rewarding. Where our energy comes from and the money we spend on energy affects us all, and doing something about it needn’t be boring, the more fun we make it, the more people will want to join in. Community energy is a huge opportunity for us to make our society and localities more resilient and brilliant places to live, through security of supply, greater control over where the money goes, how the jobs are created and how we get along with our neighbours.
At Regen we run a communities programme that offers free support to community energy groups at the early stages, there are over 200 groups in this network who share learning at our events and training and support each other with their projects.
Our regular updates keep this network informed about the latest funding, policy changes, and issues affecting community energy. We do a lot of work to prepare the ground by influencing the policy that affects community energy, and sharing positive renewables stories with the media. We are a not-for-profit membership organisation and many community energy groups at the later stages choose to join Regen so that they can forge links with our members including local authorities and the renewables industry, and keep up to speed with sector developments.
The Community Energy Coalition (CEC) formed in 2011 and runs the Community Energy Fortnight, with the first one taking place last year.
The CEC is made up of 36 members, made up of a wide range of organisations and charities, including Forum for the Future, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Co-operative Energy.
The fortnight hopes to inspire and engage people about the benefits of clean, green energy and encourage community groups to set up their own projects.
The public can see renewable energy projects close up with a variety of events and open days held across the UK from September 13 – 28.
Photo: Regen SW