Green light for the City Leap

Bristol’s Cabinet supports the City Leap – but what does this mean for Community Energy?

Following the Cabinet decision on the 2nd April (the papers and the webcast are here) to progress with the City Leap, we interviewed David Tudgey, the Project Development Officer for Bristol Energy Network to understand more about this important decision and how BEN is engaging with it to champion the cause for Community Energy.
Q) What is Bristol Energy Network, what do you do?
Bristol Energy Network has been working across the city region for almost decade and is an umbrella for a wide range of community energy initiatives. We represent over 20 local groups delivering projects that address the energy issues and needs of their local communities. These might incorporate Smart technologies, or address hard to reach groups, disadvantage and fuel poverty, Our members include thriving energy coops including one of the largest in UK – Bristol Energy Cooperative, which has a capacity of 9.3MW, as well as 3.5MW through Low Carbon Gordano, Other groups are looking at community investment, retrofit, energy storage, education, community engagement, behaviour change, training and skills and providing the national model for energy efficiency retrofit through the green doors open day.
BEN provides in-depth support for establishing and growing community energy initiatives and brings the different groups together to share and learn from each other as well as brokering collaborations,
Specific examples include . neighbourhood projects with Ambition Lawrence Weston or citywide projects like Cold Homes Energy Survey Experts (CHEESE). BEN members such as Bristol Energy Cooperative have experience raising their own investment funds
Q) What is the “City Leap?” Why is it important?
We are experiencing erratic weather conditions at the moment here and across the world with more and more extremes weather events as predicted by climate scientists. Now the  IPCC has published its report on keeping our planet 1.5°C degree rise in temperature, indicating that the need for rapid decarbonisation is much more urgent than previously understood; with only 11 years to achieve a 45% global carbon reduction (compared to 20% under a 2°C target)
The City Leap is a Bristol City Council led initiative to deliver up to £1bn of low carbon, smart energy infrastructure investment in Bristol over the next 10 years.Its aim is to take a significant step towards carbon neutrality by increasing the deployment of renewable energy and low-carbon technology.
By convening investment from partners into the city we accelerate the changes needed and this meets our own long-term vision which for Bristol Energy Network (BEN) is: “A city where clean, green, affordable energy is delivered to the community, by the community.”
As individual citizens, our most significant impact on climate change is how we use energy. BEN believes that a community energy approach can enhance environmental sustainability as well as deliver long-term social justice and improve resilience. As an umbrella organisation for community energy projects, we encourage and assist groups to benefit from, manage or own their energy activity – be it generation, reduction of cost, or energy waste. Our aim is to create a culture of energy self-sufficiency, through awareness and an appetite for low carbon living. Thus bringing significant social, financial and health benefits.
Every year, Bristol spends more than £320 million on gas and electricity in its households, businesses and public sector organisations*. Over 85% of this energy consumption is from fossil fuel sources*.
Yet, despite this huge financial outlay, Bristol remains a city where over half of the housing stock is ‘energy inefficient’, and fuel poverty affects 1 in 8 households*. The most vulnerable residents pay more for their energy and are more likely to suffer from health conditions exacerbated by living in a cold home. Like every other city in the UK, Bristol’s energy system needs to change rapidly to ensure it meets its full contribution to the legally-binding national carbon emission reduction targets (currently 80% by 2050, but under review*). This needs to happen alongside lowering demand, sustaining reliable energy supplies and ensuring energy costs remain (or, for some, become) affordable for households, businesses and other organisations. Plenty has been done already: 1 in 48 homes now have solar photovoltaics (PV), and there is real potential to expand upon the 36MW of existing onshore wind capacity installed in the city*.
A zero carbon energy system will also bring economic benefits to Bristol through job opportunities, increasing productivity and savings on energy bills which can be spent locally. Improving building efficiency will ensure everybody in the city can be affordably and healthily warm in winter, and fair energy prices for all will help to tackle inequalities.
Q) Isn’t this something the government should be doing?
Perhaps but for now, local government is doing it. There’s a tremendous opportunity for cities to take the lead and Bristol has a good track record of doing this.
Government is investing in innovation funding projects which we are already benefiting from, but has just removed the last incentive for solar and there is no funding for onshore wind. The clock seems to have stopped with government preoccupied by Brexit for now which is why it is important that this city leads the way and has the ideas for government to invest in and to develop as policy when it is able to redouble its efforts to keep us on track. By showing how it can be done, we can put pressure on government to listen and act on climate change and our future energy system.
Q) How does a community organisation like your fit in to a huge, sprawling infrastructure project like this?
Project by project is how you start tackling this climate emergency. We’re already working with Bristol City Council & Bristol Energy ltd. on concepts /models of designing a local energy market and doing the thinking/engagement with our members & communities right from the start…
Community engagement is critical to make this work – to engage the community and galvanise action.
Bristol has a strength of community and working through this with resources from City Leap we can do more.
A key role will be ensuring that communities are a the heart of these projects and residents are up skilled so that the money delivering these projects stays within the community.
Key areas we are interested in
•       Domestic energy efficiency particularly renovation and remediation, as well as new build
•       Monitoring and Evaluation so that we can learn and share
•       Smart Energy Systems
•       New Renewable Energy Generation
City Leap needs to create demand for domestic energy efficiency and renewable energy measures, particularly among able-to-pay domestic users but also among more difficult to engage social tenants and financially stressed consumers. Top-down and sales-based schemes (Green Deal etc) have struggled to develop domestic sector demand. BEN and its members are trusted in local communities and can play a crucial role in developing demand and increasing confidence through bottom-up, scalable, and investable community initiatives which have the potential to deliver jobs and local economic benefits.
–       including local SME installers and community groups
–       successfully creating demand via community group engagement for delivering quality installations.
Thank you to Pete Simson from the  BBC for allowing us to use his questions.