The UK government is keen to encourage more involvement by communities and individuals in commercial renewable energy projects. In particular, it believed it had made a voluntary agreement with the main developers to offer local people the chance to invest in new schemes. It had hoped that it would not have to legislate to oblige commercial companies to let communities buy shares. Unfortunately the agreement doesn’t appear to be working. Even big companies are ignoring it. One recent example is the Rhyd-y-Groes wind farm on Anglesey. E.ON, the huge German-owned utility, is starting the local consultation process prior to applying for planning permission to take down the existing turbines and put a much larger wind farm in its place, probably in late 2015. It is not offering a stake to local people. When I asked why the company was ignoring the agreement to facilitate community ownership I was told in an email
‘Every project is assessed on it’s own merits and it also depends on the size of the project’.
In addition, E.ON is not meeting the agreed industry standard for the payment of money into community funds. The benchmark is £5,000 a year per megawatt of capacity. E.ON is offering less than £4,000 at this site.
It looks like Ed Davey has failed and he’ll have to bring forward legislation to oblige wind farm developers to meet the very limited voluntary commitments he thought he had agreed with them.
In Germany, about 50% of all wind and solar is owned by individuals and cooperatives. In belatedly encouraging community ownership, the UK government is seeking to copy what it is now utterly commonplace in Germany and other parts of northern Europe. Part of the logic, by the way, is that when a town owns a respectable stake in a wind farm it ceases to object to the appearance of the turbines.
This is what the DECC Community Energy Strategy said in February of this year
The renewables industry has committed to facilitate a substantial increase in the shared ownership of new, commercial onshore renewables developments and is already developing ever more ambitious and innovative approaches to community engagement and benefits, including some good examples of shared community ownership.
But rather than trying to work with communities and government, E.ON has decided to go its own way. For a company that stresses its wish to restore its reputation in the UK in the wake of scandals such as the misspelling of electricity and gas for which it paid a penalty of £12m a few weeks ago, this is very strange behaviour indeed.