Bristol City Council (BCC) has been awarded the 2019 Community Energy Local Authority Award.

This award is sponsored by PowerPaired, a new, free online platform which provides a matchmaking service to bring together community energy groups and the owners of sites with potential for renewable energy generation. Created by sustainability NGO Forum for the Future, over 100 assets are already on offer from organisations such as the National Grid alongside churches, schools, offices and other sites across the UK that could potentially host a community-owned renewable energy project. If you're a potential asset owner or community energy group, register here - it takes 5 minutes!

BCC’s role, primarily led by the Bristol City Council Energy Service, in community energy has been varied and wide reaching over many years. The council host around 5MW of community-owned solar PV on public buildings and land and has also invested in Bristol Energy Cooperative’s community-owned solar farm in Lawrence Weston (also sited on council land).

As well as offering assets for community renewables, seed funding from BEIS allowed BCC to launch the Bristol Community Energy Fund (BCEF) programme of loans and grants. The programme has been extraordinarily successful, delivering £450,000 of funds directly to community energy projects.

The recycling loan fund (supported by BEIS), called the Bristol Community Energy (loan) Fund, has been used for the development costs of community renewable projects. These have included solar and wind projects (totalling 4.5MW). The wind project, the Ambition Community Energy project, is a great example of how initial seed funds can catalyse a project to other funding sources and ultimately development. The Ambition Community Energy project is also hoping to site its turbine on BCC land.

One of the solar projects has paid back a proportion of their loan as the sudden removal of the FiT subsidy by central government meant the project could only achieve partial success. However the fund was designed specifically so that if a project was not successful, repayment did not need to happen. BCC is hopeful that the other two applicants will commission their projects and ultimately repay their loans, which will allow further projects to benefit from the loan mechanism in the future.

Between 2016 and 2018 the Bristol Community Energy (grant) Fund was able to support 45 projects to the tune of £300,000, prioritising projects that were led by communities who were experiencing fuel poverty, or groups underrepresented in the energy conversation, e.g. older people, disabled people, BAME and migrant communities. Bristol Energy Network was instrumental in the success of this project and now counts many of these groups as their members.

Since 2018 BCC Energy Service has not had a designated community energy budget (as it had in the past from BEIS) but it does have a clear desire to work with community energy groups in its projects, and puts the involvement of community energy groups at the fore of project design. This is exemplified in the co-authoring (with the Bristol Energy Network and Community Energy England) of a new toolkit for partnership working with local authorities and community energy groups.

BCC has recently launched its City Leap programme. City Leap is a series of energy and infrastructure investment opportunities that the council will be publishing over the coming months and years and represents a big step towards a resilient future. The programme aims to create a healthier and fairer city for all residents. Community and third sector organisations have been encouraged to register their interest in participating in the City Leap Programme, either as partners in particular projects or bringing forward their own innovative programme of work.

BCC Energy Services will also be commencing a project to consider the viability of a crowdfunding (investment based model) to fund energy efficiency works in community tenanted buildings and examining the wider benefits that this can bring to an area.

BCC has positioned itself as a facilitator when it comes to community energy. It does its best to support projects through to fruition; whether through investment in a community energy opportunity (as demonstrated at the Lawrence Weston Solar Farm), by helping groups navigate the council’s decision pathways or getting community voices heard.

It has developed strong links with many different organisations across the city including with the Bristol Energy Network, an umbrella organisation for many different community groups linked to energy. This in turn has provided additional connections and relationships with many of these members. BCC has also been able to develop strong links with the Bristol Energy Cooperative, having worked with them to deliver solar projects on BCC assets over many years. 

Disseminating BCC’s learning’s (both positive and negative) has always been high on the agenda. BCC has hosted conferences to talk about its work in the community energy space and produced reports to show how other local authorities could perhaps follow suit. The council is committed to championing and supporting the community energy movement at every possible opportunity. It is hoped that what has been achieved in Bristol can be replicated elsewhere.