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In Practice: Thinking big for Cornwall's small communities

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Cornwall Council, through its Green Cornwall programme, is implementing a range of ‘whole area’ initiatives that are beginning to show what local leadership can achieve in a wide range of energy issues. These include renewable generation, energy efficiency and the move towards the concept of a local energy market.

More from: LGC View: Energy

Cornwall faces many challenges that other communities will recognise, but others that are more specific to the area. It has poor housing stock and a high proportion of solid wall properties, around half of its households are off the mains gas network, average wages are among the lowest in the country, fuel poverty levels are high, and average domestic fuels bills are significantly higher than the national average.

But Cornwall also has many natural assets, such as the highest solar irradiation levels in the country, excellent wind and marine resources, and a network of close-knit communities that make grass roots mobilisation easier than in other parts of the UK.

Rather than approaching the challenges in a reactive or piecemeal way, Cornwall is developing a range of solutions that will enhance the quality of life for residents through better co-ordination and mainstreaming of the opportunities offered by the transformation towards a low carbon economy.

The programme is beginning to have a significant impact on Cornwall’s communities through reducing energy bills and fuel poverty, generating more renewable energy, and creating jobs.

Some of the innovative projects operating as part of the programme include:

● A £1.3m community renewable energy revolving fund, which has recently had its first four loans to community energy groups agreed. These projects will generate electricity for 145 homes.

● Glow Cornwall (www.glowcornwall.co.uk), a £100m Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation scheme that has completed installations in more than 150 households (targeting 20,000), retrofitted a school in Saltash, and is about to connect 50 properties to the mains gas network in Wadebridge. It also employs and supports around 120 people.

● Cornwall Together (www.cornwalltogether.com), a collective switching programme part-funded by DECCs Cheaper Energy Together scheme, which has switched 3,500 households and saved nearly £300,000 for them.

● A successful electric vehicle rapid charging infrastructure bid to the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, covering Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, that will provide one of the most comprehensive networks in Europe.

Other projects include: a mains gas extension scheme; 7MW of installed renewable electricity capacity on council land including the first local authority owned solar farm; an 80-property park homes retrofit scheme; 80 properties retrofitted as part of a Green Deal pilot; a successful DECC Pioneer Places bid that installed energy efficiency measures in more than 1,000 homes; and a community hub energy efficiency scheme installing energy efficiency measures in 15 community facilities.

More broadly, since 2009, renewable energy generation has increased from 90MW of installed capacity to just under 300MW (20% of Cornwall’s electricity needs). We are also developing pre-commercial technologies such as wave, geothermal and smart, all of which have the potential to create localised wealth in high value, knowledge based sectors.

But perhaps of equal importance is the opportunity to take these new technologies and develop the concept of a local energy market, where local supply can meet local demand, with local ownership of generation at the heart of the model.

Steve Ford is Green Cornwall programme manager

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