English communities given chance to win funding for clean energy projects

Communities will be able to win funding to set up projects like small scale wind farms (Nick Ansell/PA)
Communities will be able to win funding to set up projects like small scale wind farms (Nick Ansell/PA) Communities will be able to win funding to set up projects like small scale wind farms (Nick Ansell/PA)

Communities across England will be given the chance to win funding for local clean energy projects, the Government has announced.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) said a new Community Energy Fund will be launched to help Britons develop projects in their area, like small-scale wind farms, battery storage, rural heat networks, electric vehicle charging points, fuel alleviation schemes and rooftop solar.

Rural and urban communities will be given the chance to win a portion of the £10 million fund with applications to open in the early autumn.

The new fund will be delivered through Local Net Zero Hubs – partnerships between local authorities and local private sector businesses – to develop projects proposed, designed and owned by the local community.

The fund will also support jobs, provide clean affordable energy, reduce fuel poverty and help kick-start private investment to scale up the projects, DESNZ said.

It added that surplus money generated from the schemes can go directly back to the community through funding local projects such as community gardens and youth employment groups.

Andrew Bowie, minister for nuclear and networks, said: “Local communities are at the heart of our plans to boost our energy security and grow the economy.

“The Community Energy Fund for England will empower communities to do just that.

“With it, they’ll be able to drive forward innovative energy projects that will have a lasting positive impact, bringing costs down, building stronger communities, and securing clean energy for generations to come.

“Importantly, these energy projects could expand beyond local areas by attracting further investment from the private sector, in turn inspiring other communities to power their area with energy from England.”

The new Community Energy Fund follows the Rural Community Energy Fund, which closed last March.

But the remit has been expanded to include renewable energy investment for urban areas as well, the Government said.

Congleton Hydro, which received £73,511 funding from the Rural Community Energy Fund, is now producing clean electricity from Havannah Weir in Cheshire – enough to power the equivalent of 60 homes.

The project has led to the creation of an annual £5,000 fund for community projects, including a re-wilding programme and an educational programme helping young people to deliver local sustainability.

Bob Owen, chartered engineer at Congleton Hydro, said: “The Rural Communities Energy Fund (RCEF) has been a real enabler for Dane Valley Community Energy’s Congleton Hydro, helping us to refine the system design and commission additional environmental studies required by the local planning authority.

“Further funds from RCEF have enabled us to successfully specify and design the next Hydro Scheme based on another historic weir in Congleton park and fund the research and the realisation of a Community Solar Scheme — the Community Share Prospectus.”

It comes as local opposition to national grid infrastructure upgrades and issues around local planning have been identified as among the potential obstacles to the UK’s progress towards net zero.

A recent Government report found that Britain needs enormous new investment to deliver the clean electricity that will power cars, homes and industries in the future.

But projects to build new power lines are being held up amid local opposition, meaning new wind turbines and solar panels could be left standing idle, leading to higher costs for customers across the country.

The report recommended that restrictions on onshore wind and solar power are reduced and for local authorities to be compelled to identify land suitable for renewable energy projects.

Meanwhile, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) earlier this year said the current planning system is “not fit for purpose” for a green transition.

The think tank said there is no explicit goal within the system to support the delivery of net zero targets or nature restoration with environmental requirements often sitting outside of the system or conflicting with it.