Why the capital needs a co-operative approach to community energy

Community projects are everywhere. Whether you’re aware of them or not, they’re making things better for you and your neighbours. They’re helping people cut carbon and stay warm in winter with solar panels, loft insulation, local knowledge and always a friendly face. We’ve benefited from lots of community work in the city, from the City Car Club (started in Edinburgh with help from none other than Changeworks!) to the Community Backgreens association. We’re delighted that the council is now hoping to give community energy action a boost.

This year, as part of the United Nations’ ‘Year of the co-operative’ the City of Edinburgh Council’s new coalition administration wants to encourage the development of community energy co-operatives. [To read more, view the council’s report]

I met up with Stuart Hay, one of our senior consultants here at Changeworks, to ask why it’s an opportunity not to be missed. I also found out why we’re helping to host an event on 7 December to help community groups and individuals find out more and access support from the council.

So, Stuart - what’s the big deal?

There is a lot of ‘green’ activity in the city already, and groups often face challenges when it comes to setting up and delivering their projects. This could be a major step in helping more of them achieve their goals. By taking ownership they can be in the driving seat and do away with the need to rely on grants to deliver their projects, or challenging partnerships with developers where they’re dependent on others to get the job done.

Why do we need an event like this?

The City of Edinburgh Council likes the co-operative approach to public services in the city and they’re looking to set up energy co-ops as part of their strategy. This event will work out how the city goes about doing that, and address some of the barriers that community groups encounter. It’ll draw on the successes of other projects in places like Bristol and Bath to show examples of good practice and inspire a fresh, positive approach in Edinburgh.

Why a co-op?

The co-op model can help groups get things done. In a co-op all members have an equal share, it’s managed collectively and the benefits are distributed evenly. Groups can also draw down additional funding from their own community, rather than relying on single-source funding.

The main issue affecting community energy projects in Edinburgh  is access to resources to deliver their projects– funding, land, buildings and space e.g. to site renewables equipment. Co-operative projects could be able to generate, buy and sell energy in a collective way.

That seems straightforward – what will be the chief outcome of the gathering?

The event will cover how energy co-ops are developed and what type of projects are possible within the city like solar, small scale wind and even hydro (e.g. for the Water of Leith). It will also explain how setting up as a co-operative will help to achieve those project goals.

Who can come along to the event?

Anybody interested in energy efficiency or renewable energy in the city will get something out of this event. Also, anyone interested in forming a co-operative and wanting to find out more about the social benefits.

Why is Changeworks involved?

Changeworks is facilitating this event on behalf of the City of Edinburgh Council; we’ve got a long-standing relationship with the local authority when it comes to sustainability research and action and have an impressive track record for delivering this sort of event successfully. We also have close links with many community projects working on a range of issues like energy, waste and transport.

What about longer term?

The event’s findings will be released as a report in the New Year. It’ll be available from the Changeworks website too. This report will help make it easy for groups to form co-operatives and take action to benefit their community and the environment.

We’ve already had loads of interest about the event, so book now to avoid missing out!

To secure your place send us a completed booking form before 26 November.

To find out about community energy projects in your area, visit the Scottish Communities Climate Action Network .