Political change was a vital part of bringing Westmill, the UK’s first solar cooperative, to life.
Of course, inspirational leadership was the first step—Adam Twine knew his land could be used for the benefit of the community and the climate. And the enthusiasm and vision of local people was essential. But we couldn’t have succeeded as a cooperative without Government support—through planning rules and subsidies to support renewable energy.
Since our success, though, the political situation has changed. Things are much harder for communities and cooperatives now, but the urgency for action is greater than ever.
That’s why Westmill is joining The Climate Coalition, Community Energy England and thousands of people across the UK in a week of action, 1—9 July. We’ll be calling on MPs to support community energy as part of the UK’s clean, green future.
The week will be right at the start of the new Parliament. MPs from all parties will be thinking about policies and plans to deliver on their manifesto commitments. So, this is the perfect moment to inspire action by telling our story, urging MPs to put the policies in place to help other communities to work together to deliver clean, local energy.
You can find a map of community energy events here, where you can sign up to attend an event, or organise one yourself.
At the Westmill AGM this year, on 20 May at the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot, there will be a chance to record a short message about your experience of community energy and why you support Westmill—we’ll be sharing the stories with MPs as part of the Week of Action. There’s another great reason to join us at the AGM!
There are some really clear changes MPs could make to unlock community energy for everyone:
- fairer funding: at Westmill, we benefited from “pre-registration”, which guaranteed the payments we would receive from Government to give us time to raise community capital. We think others should too.
- simpler planning: Westmill plans were agreed by the local community, but now there are new hurdles in the way, especially for wind projects. Government should return all community-scale energy projects to the normal planning system.
- share the benefits: we’re looking forward to a future where local supply can connect communities directly to clean energy. Right now, communities don’t get a fair cut of the benefits of their renewables, because the system favours national operators. We think the time is right for change.
These changes would make a huge difference for communities like ours to get involved in renewable energy.
But the main thing we can do together is to share our story—the fantastic experience of Westmill. Together, we can help inspire the Government to help other people take action for their communities, for the climate, and for clean, green energy.
– Richard Benwell, non-executive director of Westmill Solar