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Energy Bill: Co-operative and Community Energy in the spotlight

The Tory-led coalition Government are busy pushing the Energy Bill through Parliament. As currently drafted, it seeks to make a number of changes to reform the electricity market, opening up significant opportunities and challenges for Co-operative and Community energy – models that SERA has supported for a long time. Joe Fortune, SERA executive member and Political & Parliamentary Officer at the Co-operative Party explains the work that the Co-operative and Community Energy Coalition has been doing on this issue over the past few months. 

There has been much concern from the co-operative and community energy sector relating to the energy market reforms and the withdrawal of the renewable obligation being proposed in the Government’s draft Energy Bill. This reform will mean that suppliers will have no incentive to purchase renewable energy from independent generators. Indeed the Bill’s standing committee in Parliament were told by Nigel Cornwall of Cornwall Energy that there seemed to be:

“A black hole in the Bill with regard to market access, particularly its impact on smaller players, generators and suppliers”–– [Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2013; c. 79.]

Members of the Labour frontbench team, Tom Greatrex MP and Luciana Berger MP, have been critical in ensuring that these concerns have not been lost through the passage of the Bill. Indeed Luciana Berger MP visited the Brixton Energy Co-operative to learn about their experiences in setting up the co-operative and the schemes they have set up. Luciana Berger MP said that the scheme “was an example of what can be achieved through working co-operatively – the type of scheme Government policy should be used to encourage.”

The shadow Energy Minister Tom Greatrex took the first Parliamentary opportunity to seek to amend the Energy Bill to improve the legislation for co-operative and community energy. Two amendments were tabled: the first to place a duty on the Government Department to set targets for this sector’s development and critically to amend the existing Feed-in Tariff to better allow energy co-operatives to develop and operate within the reformed electricity market.

Tom Greatrex told Government ministers that

“…as this Bill stands, there is little in relation to community energy. It is one of the areas that would benefit from some amendments and that is the point of these amendments today. As I reminded the Secretary of State when he gave evidence at the start of this Committee process, he has previously said he wants a community energy revolution.” Hansard 22nd January. 

Through the course of the debate Tom Greatrex was able to extract a commitment from Minister that there would be Government amendments to the Bill as they recognise more should be done legislatively for co-operative and community schemes. The Government will have its first opportunity to correct this wrong at the Report Stage of the Bill’s passage, likely to be early March. Should the Government not be forthcoming with changes it seems possible that Labour MPs will be in a position to create cross-party support for the needed changes.

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