Experts agree: community energy is the future

27 May 2014

Today in Brussels, Friends of the Earth Europe brought together energy experts and community leaders to discuss the future of community-run renewable power in Europe.

Panelists at the conference included a representative from the EU Energy department, energy policy analysts, and individuals who had set up community-led renewables projects in their own countries.

There was broad support from all sides for these projects. The panelists agreed on these projects' ability to empower local communities, produce clean energy, and give communities the potential to grow around and beyond them.

Challenges

Why then, are they not more common around Europe? There are significant obstacles: the planning processes for these projects are often difficult to access and understand, they are often difficult to finance, and current policies tend to favour big energy companies.

Some of these issues were raised by John Fogarty in his presentation on his time spent setting up a community wind farm in Templederry, Ireland. He explained how their project had been delayed for over five years by the national grid not being designed to cope with community-run wind power, that there were problems raising money for it, and that it was difficult to find good advice on how to apply for planning permission. Nonetheless, it is now a success, with 32 shareholders and 3500 homes supplied with green energy.

What needs to be done?

Other countries have had much more success. In Germany, almost 50% of the country's renewables are produced by community-run projects. This is helped by relatively simple administrative procedures – but this is not enough on its own.

The EU's climate action plan for 2030 needs to ensure that barriers to community-run energy projects are stripped away, and that they are allowed to compete on a level playing field with big energy companies. Community groups who want to start producing renewable energy must have access to information and expertise to help them through the planning process.

Molly Walsh, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "One of the clear takeaways from today was that community energy projects need more support to flourish. At the moment it takes grit and determination to plough through the administrative burden and start producing the clean, renewable energy we need to fight climate change. We saw today that the potential is there, and with the right legislative environment in place we can tap it."