BEN Asks – Candidate responses

We believe community energy will play a big role in decarbonising Bristol. We have written 10 questions for the Bristol City Council and West of England Combined Authority mayoral candidates to make sure these issues are being discussed. It’s worked! After contacting the offices of all candidates, we’ve had full replies from Jerome Thomas (WECA, Green Party), Marvin Rees (Bristol, Labour, and Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives; as well as replies from Sandy Hore-Ruthven (Bristol, Green Party), Caroline Gooch: Bristol, Liberal Democrat and Stephen Williams (WECA, Liberal Democrats).

There are still many hustings coming up for you to put these pivotal questions to the mayor candidates. Make sure you join and keep community energy and decarbonisation part of the discussion. For our future: a greener, more equal energy system.



Q1. Community Energy:  How can we grow and support our community energy sector to deliver a smart, local (community) energy system?

Jerome Thomas: WECA Mayor, Green Party

1) Propose and provide some funds for a regional community energy strategy and 2) establish regional community energy funds working with partners to support the different areas of: community resilience and fuel poverty, better understanding of energy and behaviour, energy efficiency and low carbon technology, renewable energy generation, and local energy related economic development. 


Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

Since becoming the first local authority in the country to declare a climate emergency, we have worked to build relationships within the local community energy sector and support projects that contribute towards community energy generation and supply.


In the latest Mayor’s Climate Action Plan update we have particularly highlighted the relationship Bristol City Council has been building with the Bristol Energy Network under my administration as key to our support for the local community energy sector.


We have also identified community energy investment and local energy trading from PV installations as an opportunity within the One City Climate Strategy, highlighting in particular the contribution these systems can make to supporting vulnerable households.


Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

First we need to help communities come together to create local systems so that they have a sense of ownership around the scheme. I’d like to see a proactive approach to town and parish councils, local community residents groups and other similar interested groups in the region to encourage them to consider applying for some of the funding we are making available.

Tim Bowles has done that through WECA’s leadership of the South West Energy Hub which has already supported and created the Lawrence Weston project and I’d like to see programmes like that rolled out elsewhere as part of our plan to meet our ambitious 2030 net zero target.

By sharing the success, and building on the experience of Ambition Lawrence Weston, we can help other groups realise the same benefits they have seen. Sometimes it’s about helping organisations like these understand the art of the possible.




Q2. Renewable Energy: How can we ensure that more renewable energy is generated and community-owned in Bristol?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

Identify the opportunities for renewable energy generation & community ownership and work to provide support for those opportunities with visible leadership and appropriate shared funding and working, with a range of stakeholders.


Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

I’m mindful that, without proper government support and investment, community energy projects face difficulties in developing renewable energy solutions which are sustainable and are financially viable in a competitive energy market. 

During my time in office I am pleased we have used the powers and resources at our disposal to support initiatives like the Ambition Lawrence Weston Wind Turbine – using council land to support renewable community energy that will help us tackle fuel poverty in an area of high deprivation. We also need national government to do their part to ensure that initiatives such as domestic solar PV generation and bring forward a sustainable scheme that replaces the Feed In Tariff.


Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

Firstly, I would be bidding to continue our region’s leadership of the South West Energy Hub and to see the money allocated to it increased so we can build on the successes we have already seen. The capital outlay and the unique requirements are often prohibitive for community groups to take forward generation, so having funding available, along with expert support is vital to see it progressed.

I’ll be speaking to ministers to encourage other incentives to be built into the system, whether that’s through tax, planning or regulation so that we can accelerate the take-up of community projects like this.

But we also need to make sure that these local projects have access to the grid so that we can benefit from this production. This is something that Conservatives understand and Tim Bowles has already lobbied ministers to support generating companies to make this happen. I will build on this work, working in collaboration and developing a real partnership with the Western Power to make sure that we capitalise on the enthusiasm surrounding community energy.


Q3. Sustainably Heated Homes and building efficiency:  a) How can we encourage the take-up of energy efficiency measures in our homes (existing and future) to reduce heat demand?   b) How can our homes be supplied with heat from renewable energy sources?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

  1. a) Provide funding for exemplar community retrofits and funds to reimburse the VAT element of some energy efficiency expenditure by householders (removing government imposed impediments to uptake of energy efficiency measures). Work with local authorities, insist on the highest standards of energy efficiency and sustainability measures in the construction of new homes.
  2. b) provide marketing support for genuinely green energy tariffs and funds for vat rebates for householders for appropriate renewable energy generation measures. See also Q2 above. 


Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

I’ve been clear that how (and where) we build and power our homes will be one of the biggest determinants of our ability to meet our carbon emissions targets. That is why where we are bringing forth major new developments, whether that’s at Castle Park in the City Centre, or in Jessop Park on the old Hartcliffe Campus, we’re building in sustainable heat networks to reduce the city’s overall demand on non-renewable heat sources. We’ve also secured £10 million of government funding to extend our infrastructure beyond the 1000 properties that are currently heated by our heat network.

The challenge remains to ensure that residents in our city’s existing housing stock are able to connect to renewable energy sources and take steps to retrofit their own homes to make them more energy efficient easily and affordably. Initiatives like the C.H.E.E.S.E. project have demonstrated on a local scale where residents can take steps to improve their home’s energy efficiency, but we need investment and support to scale these efforts up. This is why I have called on government repeatedly over the past year to frontload projects such as domestic retrofitting into our national economic recovery planning.


Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

Retrofit is key here, and this should be a big part of our green recovery. Tim Bowles’ recovery plan already includes this and I will be taking it forward so that we build back greener. We can have grant support for schemes, but also create decent, well paid jobs and training to have these measures installed.

I want to encourage further smart meter roll-out in the region, as the visibility of your energy usage helps encourage behaviour change too.

I want to see how we can use the planning system to ensure that new homes that are built in the region are efficient as standard.

Sustainable heat is more of a challenge. I know that the district heating pilot that is going ahead in Bristol has just received £7m funding support from the Conservatives in Government so I would like to see what lessons can be learned from that, but there is a huge outlay to roll that out wider.

Hydrogen has the potential to use the existing gas network for home heating (as well as other things), and Ben Houchen, Mayor of Tees Valley has done a lot of work in this space. It’s vital that we bring the public with us as we make these changes to encourage take up, so causing less disruption can help accelerate change.


Q4. Green Workforce & Green Recovery:  a) How can we employ and train a green workforce to deliver a smart local (community) energy system?  b) How can we ensure that the inequalities in our current energy system are addressed?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

  1. a) Market demand will drive increased employment and training – so working with national Government to ensure that market demand for smart local (community) energy services is stable and profitable is key on the demand side. On the supply side ensure the adult education budget of WECA is spent appropriately on green workforce skill development. b) invest in energy efficiency measures in the homes of people in fuel poverty and invest in low tech green skills in the workforce as well as hi tech, so that everyone benefits from the transition to a low carbon economy. 

Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

I’ve shared before that we need huge national investment and effort to achieve the scale of change and delivery we need to meet the threat of climate change. We can meet the economic challenge that covid has presented to us at the same time as delivering on our carbon reduction ambitions by front-loading green infrastructure projects in our economic recovery, and working to upskill and retrain both our existing workforce and those who are entering the job market for the first time. This will also ensure that we are delivering inclusive economic growth through the development of local community energy systems and projects.


Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

Green workforce is simple, provide the training using our Adult education budget for the low carbon jobs that we have in the region – we’re already doing that.

To encourage more green jobs, we need to help businesses make the transition to low carbon themselves- that’s where the South West Energy Hub comes in again to utilise technologies that already exist, as well as backing innovation to lower emissions further or faster using our excellent R&D ecosystem in the West of England.

Tackling fuel poverty isn’t simple- we need retrofit to keep homes warm and efficient. Low carbon, low cost provision through community energy groups, and lobbying the Government to take action on a national scale are all things I would do as you mayor.


Q5. NetZero Transport system for all: How do we transition to a NetZero integrated transport system that is affordable and accessible for all?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

Invest in public transport and cycling and walking so that these become better alternatives to car use, and provide some restrictions of car use. This combination of measures means that the low carbon transport options will always be more appealing than the high carbon transport options. 


Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

I’ve pledged to deliver the transformation that our city’s transport network has needed for too long. That includes continuing our progress towards a sustainable mass transit system (Bristol is currently the only Core City without one) that will help us break the cycle of congestion and car dependency. We will continue to develop our Bus Deal to give priority to buses where possible and improve the frequency and reliability of bus services on key routes. We will also continue to make it easier to walk and cycle across the city, and bring forward developments that support active travel and build out car dependency. 

We are also investing in new and innovative electric vehicle technology. 

We are supporting the uptake of electric vehicles through the expansion of our charging network, with 30 of the 50 planned rapid charging points installed across the city. We have continued to transition the council’s vehicle fleet to electric, and secured £3 million of government funding to support Bristol businesses with loans to encourage them to make the transition to electric vehicles.


Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

Transport is our biggest polluter, so you’re right to highlight this. As one of his last measures, Tim Bowles commissioned a transport decarbonisation issues and options paper that will report soon after the election, but clearly we need investment in our network now to make it more accessible.

Metrowest is giving us the rail network we need and the Government is supporting measures to decarbonise the rail network, including by using electric trains and hydrogen. I will lobby for the West of England and MetroWest to be a trial area for this additional investment.

Regional Mass rapid transit will need to be low carbon. There are some interesting technologies which could provide this (without the need for massive underground infrastructure -and all that carbon intensive concrete), and will make sure the MRT programme is progressed and delivers.

Cycling and walking infrastructure vital too, alongside e-scooters.


Q6. Improved focus on Air Quality: How can we ensure that in the future energy system air quality emissions are prioritised alongside reducing carbon emissions?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

Setting local and regional air quality targets for different gases and particulates and building cleaner air into the overall planning approach for our future energy system, so that when we make energy policy choices we are always considering the air quality impact of those choices. 


Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

I have shared on a number of occasions that it is important not to meet challenges such as air quality and carbon reduction (and, indeed, economic inclusion) in isolation, but to ensure we are bringing forward solutions that recognise the interconnectedness of the challenges and opportunities we face. Supporting a thriving and sustainable renewable energy sector allows us to reduce reliance on carbon-intensive energy generation, which in turn helps us reduce the amount of air pollution created by domestic and commercial heat and energy. 

I have mentioned above our work to develop and expand Heat Networks across the city, but we are also keen to support people to find sustainable alternatives to polluting forms of heat generation such as domestic wood burning. 


Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

By choosing the right technologies locally, and lobbying government to take action nationally.

Follow the science on this, to ensure that we don’t get into the same situation we are in at the moment with Diesel engines, after motorists were actively encouraged to make this switch in the past and now communities like ours are seeing the impact of that. And see how we can use new technologies and research to understand how the way we create our cities and building can have an impact on air quality too – there has been some interesting research on this from Bristol University, which I would like to see more widely publicised.

I’m a strong supporter of the STEP programme which could see safe fusion technology used to generate power in our region. This is a competitive process, but there are a number of bids in the region that could benefit us.



Q7. Using the planning system to address NetZero: How can we ensure that climate change is addressed in new developments?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

Maximising the energy efficiency and environmental standards of new builds, campaigning for national government to reverse the worsening in environmental standards for new builds that took place under the Conservative Lib Dem coalition government in 2014. Ensure under the regional development strategy that new homes are built in the right places so that they are inherently low carbon by not being excessively car dependent. 

Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

Since declaring the climate and ecological emergency, we have been taking the lead in understanding and using the powers we have available as a local authority to build climate resilience and support biodiversity in the city’s development. I have also called for the forthcoming Spatial Development Strategy from WECA, to explicitly commit to delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals through our regional development plans. This ensures we are building in environmental sustainability, climate resilience, and genuine economic inclusion into the very fabric of our city as it develops over the coming years.


Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

By using our new design standards to ensure that buildings are efficient as standard, to ensure that there is the capacity for future technologies to further help improve efficiency. Encourage planning authorities to use their own powers in encouraging low carbon development.

To make sure that the transport network is sustainable so that new developments have great public transport links- we’re already doing this but want to see more.

To ensure that we’re building new communities, not just dormitories. So there is retail, leisure, employment all integrated into new larger developments.


Q8. Alleviating fuel poverty: How can we eliminate fuel poverty in the WECA region?  a) What strategy and action plan should we follow?  b) What is our timeline? c) What should be our initial actions over the next two years?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

In the region, working with established organisations, WECA to provide in the next two years some financial support for energy efficiency improvement measures for those in the greatest fuel poverty and highlight the extent of the problem to national Government for action nationally. 


Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

We have taken important steps to reduce fuel poverty in Bristol, but it is clear we need to continue these efforts as it is estimated that 9% of households in the city experience fuel poverty. I’m pleased that as part of the No Cold Homes steeting group, Bristol Energy Network has taken a leading role in developing the Fuel Poverty Action Plan, which provides a One City framework for reducing fuel poverty across the city across the next 10 years. 

We are taking steps to meeting the plan’s key actions through our investment in affordable low carbon heat sources through our Heat Network infrastructure, and we continue to call on the government to support us to prioritise retrofitting homes to make our existing housing stock more energy-efficient and thereby lowering households’ heating costs. 

Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

Encouraging consumer choice and behaviour change, including by speaking to consumer groups.

Grants to improve energy efficiency.

Support diversification in the energy market to provide lower costs to consumers

Continue to lobby Government for national focus on this, especially as we approach COP26. Government recently announced £300m funding to low-income households through the extension of the Local Authority Delivery (LAD) scheme, I’d like to see the Combined Authority involved in delivery of that in our area to make sure that this funding is having the greatest impact possible in the West of England

Q9.Engagement in Energy Issues: How can we increase opportunities to educate the WECA region on energy issues, particularly in less affluent communities?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

As highlighted by the Bristol Citizens Assembly, work with local authorities and energy companies in the WECA region to provide funding for an easily accessible energy advice service. 

Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

I am clear that if we are going to achieve our carbon-reduction targets, we have to bring the whole city with us. That includes deprived communities that are most likely to experience fuel poverty and most exposed to the effects of climate change.

That’s why I’ve highlighted the importance of an approach that delivers social and environmental justice together. That’s why we’ve highlighted Public, Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise services as a specific delivery theme in the One City Climate Strategy. We’ve also invested £4 million in a three year Climate and Ecological Emergency Programme, which includes grants for community-led climate action, and the development of the Bristol Climate Hub to give individuals suggestions of practical ways they can reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint.

Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

This needs direct outreach work, going direct to communities and helping individuals see how much they could save by making the switch


Q10. Reducing Consumption and Waste: How can we reduce consumption and waste across the WECA region?

Jerome Thomas: WECA, Green Party

Champion measures that promote the development of a more circular economy. Set more ambitious targets for waste reduction and improved recycling rates. 


Marvin Rees: Bristol Mayor, Labour

We have a strong record in Bristol, with recycling rates that have been consistently highest out of all of England’s Core Cities. However, we want to continue to drive behaviour change and support people and businesses to reduce consumption (and thereby generate less waste), but also to ensure that waste is disposed of correctly.

As Cllr Steve Pearce, Labour cabinet member for Waste is fond of saying, we have to reconfigure our thinking to think of waste as a potential resource. This means (for instance) encouraging people to separate our food waste, so that it can be properly processed and used as an energy source through biogas.


Making sure our waste systems work for people so that they dispose of any waste they do generate is crucial. That’s why we’re delivering an additional Household Waste and Recycling Centre on Hartcliffe Way. There, as in our existing centre at Avonmouth, our Bristol Waste teams will put an emphasis on reuse, working to resell items through the Reuse shops that might otherwise go to landfill. 


Samuel Williams: WECA Mayor, Conservatives

Community engagement to reduce waste, education through outreach but also encourage industry to use more recyclable materials in products and cut down on packaging.


Sandy Ruthven, Bristol Green Party

Thank you for your questions. As you can imagine I am inundated with questions of this nature. The level of detail, breadth and depth I think you are after means I really struggled to find the time to answer them all. However, do have a look at my manifesto Sandy-for-Bristol-Mayor-2021-manifesto.pdf ( where you will find many of the more detailed answers.


However, in summary, as the Green party I am committed to local, renewable energy generation and will do all I can to encourage and support it. Two key projects spring to mind – The Bristol Energy Coop hydro plant and the Lawrence Weston wind turbine are exactly the sort of projects I have in mind. Community based, serving poorer communities and proving that we do not have to rely on the grid and ‘dirty fuels’. In my day job as CEO of Creative Youth Network we have installed over £150,000 worth of solar panels on our roof spaces that generate over three quarters of the electricity we use.


Stephen Williams: WECA, Liberal Democrats

I’ve gone through all ten points and am pleased to say that they are all addressed in the comprehensive manifesto that I’ve written to support my candidacy. The manifesto sets out my vision for how I want to transition the West of England to a net zero region, aiming to affect that change in the areas within my remit and influence by 2030.  I am determined that our recovery from Covid and Brexit will be a green one, all my policies in my manifesto back up that aim.  I also want the West of England to be more socially just, so I agree with your point 8 on the need to eliminate fuel poverty.  You will see in the manifesto there are references to retrofitting older homes, which is the most effective way to reduce energy bills.  I’m also committed to a regional trial of universal (or unconditional) basic income, which would boost household budgets.   


You will see that my manifesto begins with a section on how we can tackle climate change locally, the subsequent sections on the economy, skills, land use and transport also have specific policies on decarbonisation and local clean energy.  Here is the full manifesto –  Please share it with your members and let me know if you have any questions.



Caroline Gooch: Bristol, Liberal Democrats

The answers to all your questions are covered between our Bristol Manifesto and Stephen’s WECA manifesto, which he has already sent you. We are committed to meeting the climate neutral by 2030 targets. As Stephen said, we agree with your point 8 on the need to eliminate fuel poverty.  You will see in the manifesto there are references to retrofitting older homes, which is the most effective way to reduce energy bills.  I’m also committed to a trial in Bristol of universal (or unconditional) basic income, which would boost household budgets.