Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Communities doing it for themselves

If you’ve travelled past the Cube this week you may have been intrigued by the frenetic activity on the roof. What you might not have realised, as work on installing a solar array was completed, is that this is a really good news story for community working – locals coming together to make their community better, a unique community renewable energy scheme to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in Malvern.

One of the most expensive fixed costs of the Cube are its utilities and in order to meet the Cube’s mission, these costs need to be minimised. One means of achieving this is to obtain electricity at well below market price. Malvern Community Energy Co-operative, of which I am a director and which has installed the array, will sell electricity at a discounted rate to MYCT, who run the Cube. Any excess will be sold to the grid at a higher rate.

The Co-op electricity will also not be subject to the uncertainties associated with fossil fuel price increases (over twice inflation for the last 10 years), instead linking increases in price to RPI. The difference between the Co-op electricity prices and the market prices equates to the social benefit this scheme is delivering and is a part of creating a viable youth and community centre for the community run by the community. It is worth remembering that the Cube and all its services and facilities only exist today because a group of community-minded volunteers campaigned to be allowed to run it rather than the County Council following their plan to demolish the building.

Co-operative ownership of renewable energy is familiar to many in continental Europe and has been growing rapidly in the UK in recent years. There are now renewable energy co-operatives across the UK and across a range of technologies. These projects are not only helping to improve the local environment, but by bringing people together they are making renewable energy more accessible and affordable. Co-operatives of this kind are truly democratic structures: anyone can apply to join and with a ‘one member one vote’ system and a board elected from the membership, they offer a fair and transparent way to operate a community-owned renewable energy business. They also have the power to prioritise membership from the local area, ensuring that financial benefits from renewable energy flow to people in the locality.

The fossil fuel multinationals and their friends in government are hostile towards renewables. Unlike their diminishing supplies of oil and gas, renewables are inexhaustible and available to every community – not dependent on unstable sometimes undesirable overseas governments. And as renewables belong to nobody (even if the Nestlé chairman is reported as having said that water is not a right, but should be given a 'market value' and privatised) each and every one of us can benefit.

The sole planned activity of Malvern Community Energy Co-op is the ownership and management of one or more solar arrays in the Malvern Hills area. The establishment of the solar array at the Cube is the first stage in this process. With this demonstration model and the knowledge and lessons learnt from the set-up process the intention is to develop other projects. The Co-op is already pursuing other possibilities with organisations who own large roofs that face south and have a high electrical power demand. Watch this space!

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