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Rural communities in line to win funding for renewable energy projects

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Rural communities across England will have the chance to win a portion of Government’s new £10 million Community Energy Fund to support the development of local renewable energy projects, it has been announced.

The new funding, available from “early Autumn”, is to support projects including small-scale wind farms and rooftop solar PV, as well as battery storage, rural heat networks, electric vehicle charging points and fuel poverty alleviation schemes. It replaces the Rural Community Energy Fund, but has been tweaked to also support urban as well as rural schemes.

While launching the new fund, the Minister for Nuclear and Networks Andrew Bowie said:

“Local communities are at the heart of our plans to boost our energy security and grow the economy. The Community Energy Fund for England will empower communities to do just that.

“With it, they’ll be able to drive forward innovative energy projects that will have a lasting positive impact, bringing costs down, building stronger communities, and securing clean energy for generations to come.

“Importantly, these energy projects could expand beyond local areas by attracting further investment from the private sector, in turn inspiring other communities to power their area with energy from England.”

The new fund is reportedly to help establish new local energy projects that will provide affordable, secure and clean home-grown energy, while helping homes to manage their own energy consumption, and in turn boosting the nation’s energy security. Like its’ predecessor it will be delivered through Local Net Zero Hubs, which support local authorities with the development of related projects and attract commercial investment.

Congleton Hydro was one of the projects supported via the earlier Rural Community Energy Fund, a micro-hydro scheme located on the River Dane in Cheshire, which produces enough electricity from a local weir to power the equivalent of 60 homes and also led to the establishment of the ‘Congleton Hydro & Solar Community Trust’ – an annual fund for local community projects.

Bob Owen, Chartered Engineer at Congleton Hydro, said:

“The Rural Communities Energy Fund (RCEF) has been a real enabler for Dane Vally Community Energy’s Congleton Hydro, helping us to refine the system design and commission additional environmental studies required by the local planning authority.

“The support received from RCEF is just not monetary, their facilitation of advice and assistance from a great range of contacts has been invaluable. The RCEF support also provided us with the opportunity to develop an education activity that focusses on the Sustainability of the Environment and a re-wilding programme—giving Nature a helping hand.

“Further funds from RCEF have enabled us to successfully specify and design the next Hydro Scheme based on another historic Weir in Congleton park and fund the research and the realisation of a Community Solar Scheme—the Community Share Prospectus. Without this incubator funding from RCEF, it is most unlikely that either scheme would have seen the light of day.”

Emma Bridge, Chief Executive of Community Energy England, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the growth of community energy projects, said:

”We welcome the launch of this much needed fund and the extension of support to include urban areas, which has been a key policy ask for CEE. 

“While this announcement is a positive step, we believe that the current funding allocation falls short of adequately supporting local communities. Community energy brings so many more benefits. It is tackling the cost of living crisis, the climate crisis, while reinvigorating communities. It harnesses the passion, expertise and capital of the local community and returns all its profits to benefit that community. Community energy is essential to achieving net zero. To unlock its full potential, and drive the growth of the sector right across the country, we urge the government to continue to work with the sector to overcome other barriers, to progress local supply and shared ownership of the fast-growing renewable energy sector.

“We thank the Minister for this first step and we look forward to working with him and the wider government to ensure that community energy’s full potential is achieved.”

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