STA poised to amend industry 10 Commitments to back DECC community energy push

Community ownership will further enhance the positive contribution solar will make to the British countryside by enabling people to benefit financially from investment in their local solar farms.

The Solar Trade Association is set to revise its influential ‘10 Commitments' [1] on solar farms to support the Department for Energy and Climate Change's push for greater levels of local ownership of solar farms. The draft amended Commitment, due to be discussed by members this month, reads:

"We will engage with the community in advance of submitting a planning application and, where commercially viable and where there is a local appetite, we will innovate in investment opportunities for local communities in their local solar farms including partnerships with local authorities."

Solar, the most popular [2] and empowering energy technology, is owned by over half a million homes, and 2,000 community schemes, including schools. The Voluntary Agreement published today will further expand public ownership and investment into the large-scale solar sector which works to ensure solar farms contribute to sustainable farming and boosting wildlife. Community ownership will further enhance the positive contribution solar will make to the British countryside by enabling people to benefit financially from investment in their local solar farms.

Leonie Greene, Head of External Affairs at the Solar Trade Association said:

"Our members are already pioneering successful ways for the public and local authorities to invest in local solar farms - the Voluntary Agreement published today aims to accelerate innovation with local ownership and investment across the renewables sector. Our aim is to find real win-wins for the industry and communities that will ultimately enable the UK to accelerate the deployment of clean power."

The Voluntary Agreement released by DECC today will mean that solar developers will explore models of community ownership where there are legally constituted community energy groups and where it is commercially viable to do so, and to generally offer local ownership and investment options to communities including direct bond offers and partnerships with local authorities.

It is recognised that other forms of ownership may emerge during what will be a period of innovation. It is also recognised that ownership and investment will be possible and desirable for some communities whereas other tried and tested approaches, such as locally reduced electricity bills, will be more suited to others. The renewables industry has a particularly strong track record of innovative engagement with local communities and this agenda expands its outreach toolbox.

STA member Toddington Harper, CEO of Big60Million who have delivered the first Climate Bond community investment scheme in the UK which greatly exceeded its £4m bond target for Willersey solar farm said;

"To truly deliver a solar energy revolution in the UK it's critical that the technology has widespread support from local communities closest to projects. We are delighted that the Government is helping to drive forward community ownership schemes because sharing the financial, environmental social benefits of solar projects with local communities will lead to solar energy becoming even more popular"

STA member Solarcentury has delivered a 2.4MW solar energy co-op scheme in Hampshire for West Solent Solar Cooperative. Susannah Wood, Chief Marketing Officer, said:

"Empowering communities to take control of their energy needs is critical if we are to move away from our current centralised model of energy generation, work towards a more sustainable energy future and improve the UK's energy independence. The farm is owned by around 500 investors, many of them from the local community. We look forward to working with more energy cooperatives to bring solar to local communities."

However, while the STA supports the spirit and policy objectives of the Voluntary Framework, the STA has caveats that need addressing. Leonie Greene, Head of External Affairs at the Solar Trade Association continued:

"Forming direct financial relationships with communities is exciting, but there are still important unknowns on the costs of some of these approaches. Returns in solar are lower than other technologies and the solar industry alone is being forced into smaller schemes, meaning potentially disproportionately higher costs for pursuing this agenda. The solar industry and DECC will therefore need to watch the emerging evidence-base particularly closely to identify successful approaches."

The STA sits on the Shared Ownership Taskforce [2] and has worked to ensure that the Voluntary Agreement published today recognises the importance of flexibility and sensitivity to the unique needs and resources of each community, as well as the role of local authorities. The STA is waiting to see the Government's response to the Voluntary Agreement to ensure sector risks are recognised and supported. The STA does not support shared ownership as a planning consideration given the currently small size of the community energy sector in the UK. The STA opposes Government legislation in the current Infrastructure Bill which prescribes significant powers to the Secretary of State to stipulate ownership in the renewable energy sector alone. Other sources of energy such as shale gas and nuclear will not be affected.

Leonie Greene continued:

"It doesn't take much imagination to foresee how the draft powers in the Infrastructure Bill could be used in future, even when solar is subsidy-free. We urge MPs who support renewables to question the appropriateness and potential consequences of the state stipulating who owns renewable energy schemes – and only renewable energy schemes. A positive, flexible and voluntary approach is absolutely the right approach for finding genuine win-wins for the industry and their host communities. Government also needs to better resource community-scale solar under FITs so that communities can develop their own solar projects."

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