One of the UK’s most enterprising cities with regard to renewable energy, Bristol in South West England, recently held a community energy engagement event to promote a positive message about renewable energy development in the city.
The event was staged by Bristol Energy Cooperative (BEC) and consisted of three sessions on 18th June as part of Bristol’s Big Green Week. The topics covered included Bristol’s status and potential as a low-carbon city and the need to move away from fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy.
Big Green Week is an annual event in Bristol’s calendar which aims to not only celebrate Bristol as a green city but also to promote opportunities to look forward, embracing change and exploring how communities can mobilise for greener living spaces and a greener future. Bristol Energy Cooperative held the seminars at Hamilton House in Bristol’s Stokes Croft district. The seminars focused on the theme of community energy in order to share knowledge and practical advice. The event also included important updates on the wider implications of climate change and how attitudes to energy are changing in our society.
“We want to promote the possible to the people of Bristol” said Andy O’Brien, co-director at BEC, who led the sessions. “We know that addressing climate change on a small scale within the community can have amazing results. There are loads of brilliant projects going on here at the moment, and one thing we do is raise finance to help local communities realise their energy ambitions, like installing solar panels on community centres.”
The first seminar of the day concentrated on BEC’s community solar schemes and its forthcoming share offer to raise funds for new solar projects. This will be the third such share offer BEC has announced so far.
Mr O’Brien’s second presentation of the day, entitled “Zero Carbon Bristol – is it achievable?”, focused on the real viability of a zero carbon city and the steps that need to be taken to create bottom up change for the better. He explained that while technology is advanced enough to create zero carbon communities, the sticking point is political will. Mr O’Brien also discussed the many small steps that can be taken towards changing attitudes and lobbying for the implementation of zero carbon technologies including joining local energy groups and speaking with local councillors.
The final session, “Fossil fuels and the hole in your investments”, looked at the wider picture of energy finance, and questioned why governments continue to provide massive subsidies for fossil fuel exploration when climate change should be making the world focus on renewables.
“There’s now overwhelming agreement that if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to keep a rise in temperature below 2°C by the end of the century” Mr O’Brien added. “We already know that in order to achieve this, we can only use less than a third of the fossil fuel reserves that we already know about. So why on earth are we subsidising further drilling for unknown oil? It makes no sense from both a financial and environmental point of view.”
BEC believes the event was very successful at helping it to reach out and engage the community in Bristol and it is planning more events like this in the near future. The community-owned energy group not only aims to continue growing the local green energy supply in Bristol, while also making available the benefits to all, it also develops renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the city and helps others to do the same. Projects are funded by investor members, who receive interest on their investment from the money received for energy produced, with any surplus used for future projects.
BEC’s first community share offer in 2012 was for the installation of Solar PV panels on community buildings. The cooperative raised £127,000 from 160 investor-members, and installed 63KW (over 250 panels in total) at Hamilton House in Stokes Croft, Knowle West Media Centre, and Easton Community Centre. A subsequent second share offer for solar PV raised £120,000 for installations on more community buildings.