Pioneering the use of local energy

Dan Nicholls, senior low carbon policy officer at Cornwall Council, outlines the vision for Cornwall’s Energy Future, and details the work already underway to achieve a greener future in the region.

Cornwall has long been at the forefront of the country’s transition towards low carbon energy. 25 years ago the first commercial windfarm was installed at Delabole in north Cornwall. Today, Cornwall’s abundance of natural energy resources supports around 750MW of renewable energy and the council is looking to the future.

Last month, Cornwall Council established an exciting new ambition for the region’s energy future which will see lower energy bills, greener and more affordable homes and transport, and the potential development of a new locally-owned energy company. The vision for Cornwall’s Energy Future identifies ambitious targets for 2030 which are designed to ensure residents, communities and the local economy all benefit from the low carbon energy transition.

The council’s ambition and confidence is based on a series of recent innovations that serve to maintain its position at the forefront of the energy transition. At the centre of these is the Cornwall Devolution Deal. Described by Greg Clarke, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as ‘ground-breaking’, this is the first devolution deal to include a set of specific commitments around energy which are designed to tackle some of the barriers to creating a local energy market in Cornwall.

Continuing progress
However, this does not mean starting from scratch as significant investment is already being put into creating a smart local energy system across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Building on the council’s Smart Cornwall initiative, around £35 million has been invested across a series of pilot projects which include trialling new ways of managing energy generation and local supply to tackle grid constraints, creating new revenue opportunities for energy projects and supporting enhanced community involvement in the local energy market.

The council is making its own investments to promote local ownership of energy and share the benefits of the low carbon transition across Cornwall. Around 25 per cent of Cornwall’s energy is currently locally owned, with the council committed to driving this up to 50 per cent by 2030.

So far the council has invested in 8MW of solar PV and established a £2.5 million revolving loan fund to support community energy projects, which can spread the benefits of energy ownership across Cornwall’s population.

These include: energy efficiency measures to be installed and essential maintenance to a range of community buildings; support for local churches, including a new heating system and LED lighting; support to retain public toilets; provision of a publicly accessible defibrillator; a range of environmental programmes, include maintaining footpaths and providing public access to woodland for a community firewood scheme; support for educational opportunities and outdoor activities for disadvantaged children; and savings for local schools.

This demonstrates that it is not just about energy, it is also about the resilience of Cornwall’s communities. A great example where energy technology, the council, private sector innovators and the community can come together to create something of wider value to the community is the Jubilee Pool geothermal heating project. Built in the 1930s, the lido is an important feature of the Penzance seafront.

Thanks to a mixture of European Structural Fund and private sector investment, Jubilee Pool is set to benefit from a pioneering heating solution that will use natural energy from a geothermal well to be drilled adjacent to the site, enhancing what is already a unique experience to attract even more visitors and extend the pool’s opening times.

It is not just the generation and distribution of energy that is important to Cornwall. The efficiency of people’s homes matters just as much as living in cold, damp homes can make people ill, limiting life chances and putting greater pressure on the NHS.

Residential savings
In 2012 Cornwall led the development of the UK’s first whole area collective energy switch initiative and established the first endorsement contract with an ECO-obligated energy supplier to delivery energy efficiency measures in Cornish homes. These projects have led to savings for resident’s energy bills or more than £500,000 and invested more than £3 million in energy efficiency measures across 1,700 homes.

Despite this progress, Cornwall still has some of the most costly and least energy efficient homes in the UK, with around 20 per cent only achieving the lowest energy performance rating of F or G. As part of our Devolution Deal, we are working with the government to develop a locally-led approach, based on a ‘discretionary eligibility’ process which will provide the Council with devolved decision making powers in terms of who is eligible to receive energy efficiency grants under to the Energy Company Obligation. This new approach is due to launch in Spring 2017.

But of course, if the price that people have to pay for energy continues to increase, heating and powering our homes will remain a challenge. That is why we are actively considering options for setting up an energy company for Cornwall. And it is not just cheaper electricity and gas tariffs that are being explored. We also want to make stronger connections between the energy that is generated in Cornwall and Cornwall’s energy consumers. A local energy company has the ability to begin to create this connection by buying and selling energy locally as well as supporting innovative tariff arrangements.

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