Energy Trust to bring power to the people

By agency reporter
January 13, 2010

A new Trust that will bring power to the people by supporting community-owned renewable energy projects across Cumbria is being proposed.

The rationale for creating a ‘Cumbria Community Energy Trust’ is to ensure Cumbrians benefit more directly from renewable energy development across the County, either individually through small-scale investment or as a whole community by receiving a proportionate share of the returns that renewable energy schemes generate.

The first stage of this proposal is being led by economic development agency Cumbria Vision with support from Cumbria County Council and the Lake District National Park Authority.

Residents of Cumbria are now being asked if they are keen to see such a Trust established with proposals to assist projects spanning wind, hydro, biomass, solar and geothermal technologies.

The initial questionnaire also asks if Cumbrians would be willing to invest their own money in community-owned renewable projects, which in turn would offer them financial returns from the production of “clean” energy and from initiatives where surplus energy is sold back to the National Grid. The model includes a proposal to divert a share of the profits into local community projects and into helping other communities develop their own renewable energy schemes.

The proposed Trust is a direct response to the findings of The Scope for Renewable Energy in Cumbria, written by former Government energy adviser and environmental scientist Sir Martin Holdgate on behalf of Cumbria Vision's Renewable Energy Panel. The study identifies the economic opportunities arising from renewable energy development in the County and identifies smaller-scale renewable technologies as a key contributor towards Cumbria’s renewable energy output.

Simon Sjenitzer, Strategy Director at economic development agency Cumbria Vision, said: “In this economic climate, traditional sources of public funding for community-based projects are uncertain. This proposed Trust is perhaps the only credible solution for communities to come together and benefit from locally-owned appropriate scale energy based revenue generation schemes. Many large-scale renewable energy developments are accused of bringing limited benefit to local communities and therefore receive a hostile reception. The Trust would promote small-scale projects which are more socially, environmentally and financially considerate to residents of Cumbria and present clear benefits to them.”

Phil Davies, Climate Change Officer at Cumbria County Council, added: “This is a great idea and follows similar models already working successfully elsewhere in the UK. Not only does it represent a huge opportunity for Cumbria to reach its target of reducing carbon dioxide by 188,000 tonnes per annum by 2011, but equally importantly it offers a chance for Cumbrians to benefit as individual investors and as whole communities from the Government’s policies on renewables.”

Bob Cartwright, Director of the Lake District National Park Authority, said: “The proposal for a Cumbria Community Energy Trust gets right to the heart of how National Parks are managed and nurtured for future generations. Just as people have shaped the Lake District over thousands of years, here is a way for the local community to influence our energy supply as well as our future landscape.”

The details of the Trust and how it would function will be developed in detail if there is strong enough support from the public. It is anticipated that the initial level of investment would be restricted to a minimum of £500 and a maximum of £2,500 per resident – a successful model already proved by Energy4All’s 1996 Baywind project in Ulverston.

Therefore if just 1,000 of Cumbria’s 497,000 residents invested, the Trust could easily raise £1.5-2.5million in shares.

Keeping investments small but many will also mean profits are more evenly distributed throughout communities. Investors will be made aware of the differing returns from renewable sources, which range from 1 per cent to 15 per cent per annum. The Trust would also offer help to communities and other organisations wanting to develop their own projects independently.

To keep administrative and legal costs to a minimum and to harness skills and experience in the renewable energy field, discussions are underway to see if an existing Cumbrian social enterprise, charity or local authority is willing to “host” the Trust.

The questionnaire is available to download under the Renewable Energy section at The deadline for responses is March 31, 2010. A decision will be made on whether to pursue the creation of a Trust depending on feedback.

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