Networks for local energy efficiency

If you are responsible for energy, climate change or sustainability, how do you stay up to date with the latest green policy and strategies coming out of central government? How do you ensure that your local authority is helping your local community to reduce fuel costs and tackle climate change? Are you aware of all the potential grants and funding streams available to your organisation? What is everyone else doing about energy efficiency and renewables?
    
There are plenty of subscription services and websites offering the latest news but, if you’re anything like me, most of those updates probably remain unread in your inbox, waiting for a quiet moment that never comes.
    
The public sector-only Local Energy Efficiency Network aims to keep members informed of the most relevant developments in the sector; through monthly newsletters and our website, but also by offering a more engaging way to keep up to speed, with the opportunity to meet colleagues in similar roles, discuss the challenges we face and share successes achieved.

We’ve just completed our first three network events of the year in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, covering subjects of interest to a wide range of professionals within local authorities, NHS Trusts, central government departments and other public sector organisations. The focus, as always, was on energy efficiency and carbon reduction, both within the public sector estate and across the wider community, plus some very interesting discussions on Green Deal Communities and the new Community Energy strategy.

Carbon and compliance
The opening sessions at each event looked at the CRC Phase 2. For organisations who qualify, there are some significant changes for this Phase, not least the increase in the cost of carbon allowances from £12/tonne to £16.40/tonne, but also the opportunity to buy in a ‘forecast sale’ at a reduced price of £15.60/tonne. This demands some financial forecasting to establish whether to buy upfront or wait until the ‘buy‑to-comply’ sale, but a decision must be made before the end of April each year, when the forecast sale window closes. If you have not already considered your purchasing strategy, it’s too late for 2014-15 as the forecast sale has ended (you can buy your allowances in the buy-to-comply sale in 2015) but it’s certainly something to be aware of for next year.
    
Following the exclusion of schools from the scheme in England, many local authorities have not qualified for Phase 2.

We looked at how this might impact on the energy efficiency agenda, and what other ‘carrots and sticks’ might be employed to bring forward energy saving projects. DECC has some interesting grant funding available through the Heat Networks Funding Stream (funding round 3 is open for applications 12 May - 27 June) and the brand new Electricity Demand Reduction Pilot (full details expected in June).

Financing projects
The Green Investment Bank (GIB) has a specific target to invest in non-domestic energy efficiency, and has developed a couple of products for the public sector to address this. For local authorities, the GIB offers a ‘Green Loan’ for LED street lighting conversion, with sculpted repayments – designed to be more cost-effective than Public Works Loan Board funding in some cases. Speakers from the GIB addressed our London and Manchester events and, as well as the local authority offer, they presented an NHS case study where the GIB funding mobilises private sector investment to install CHP, boiler and heat recovery systems into a hospital whilst putting more than £20 million back into patient care over the 25 year operation of the project.

The challenge of the Green Deal
Keeping up with the changes to the Green Deal and ECO has been quite a challenge for everyone recently, so Local Energy’s Chief Executive Dr. Andy Johnston presented an overview of where we are now, and described how the focus has shifted towards ‘blended’ funding solutions. As a Green Deal Provider, Local Energy has been delivering ECO funding for nearly a year now, and we are also offering cashback and Green Deal plans to residents in Hampshire as part of a local authority scheme, so we have a very good insight into the issues surrounding delivery of Green Deal as a whole and how to make local authority schemes work best.
    
We then heard from two of the winning Green Deal Communities bidders: one County Council and one District Council. Their projects are quite different in scale and ambition, but both face significant challenges in delivering their schemes – and spending the funds awarded – before the DECC deadline in March 2015.

Community energy
At our London event, we were very pleased to have a presentation from the head of DECC’s new Community Energy Unit, talking about the Community Energy strategy. It was very encouraging to hear about the focus on community benefits and social outcomes, and the various grant funds and working groups being put in place to support community schemes.
    
According to the Strategy document, the Government “wants to see all authorities showing leadership to help deliver community energy projects” and “urges all local authorities to fully explore partnership and investment opportunities for community energy in their local area.” The Secretary of State has written to all local authority leaders in England explaining the strategy and encouraging local government to support it.

The strategy identifies three main areas of help that local authorities can offer: guidance, co-ordination and administrative support; partnership and investment; and planning and local energy strategy.
    
Community energy schemes also offer local authorities a means to meeting wider priorities, such as community integration or economic regeneration. They can also play a stronger role in supporting local authority attempts to reduce fuel poverty. DECC has said that a national communities and local government conference will take place later in 2014, facilitating local authority and community feedback to inform further policy development.
    
At all three events we also heard from other speakers, including the Community Energy Coalition, Pure Leapfrog and Local Energy Scotland, which sparked lively debate amongst the delegates. For some, this is a very new area, so it was good to have the chance to ask questions and explore the opportunities for public sector involvement in community energy.

Free support
Local Energy is offering free support to local authorities who are working in partnership with their communities to start an energy project. NALC (National Association of Local Councils) and the LGIU (Local Government Information Unit – Local Energy’s founder organisation) have joined forces to offer their members free support to develop Community Energy schemes. The support will be for a limited number of councils and allocated on a first come, first served basis for different types of councils.
    
We’re aiming to offer support for up to ten councils and we’re looking for a representative sample across Parish, Town, District, County, Unitary and Metropolitan Authorities. We will prioritise applicants who can demonstrate cooperation across the tiers of government and a community that has already expressed an interest in community energy.
    
We’re not prescriptive about the type of support available, as this will depend on the local requirements, but we anticipate that it will include help to apply for government funding; share good practice; identify technologies; and understand legal requirements.
    
The support will be delivered by Local Energy. If your council is interested in participating please contact Andy Johnston (andy.johnston@lgiu.org.uk) for further information.

Joining the network
The Local Energy Efficiency network has around 70 member organisations currently, including county, district and unitary councils, NHS Trusts, police authorities and universities. All public sector organisations are welcome to join free of charge.
    
The network began as Carbon Trading Councils back in 2008, to examine how a carbon trading scheme might operate (even before the CRC came into being). Since then, the network has progressed through Carbon Saving Public Sector – still focusing largely on the CRC and the use of renewables to reduce carbon emissions, the Feed in Tariff and nondomestic Renewable Heat Incentive – to this year’s network, which aims to reflect the change in policy focus away from carbon and towards energy efficiency.
    
Public sector bodies are increasingly recognised as key to the successful implementation of energy policy and significant opportunities are coming to improve local housing, generate income from renewable energy and position the public sector as a leader in tackling fuel poverty, energy security and climate change.

Further information
www.localenergy.org.uk