11 October 2018
A plan by Oswestry Town Council (OTC) to set up a community-owned solar energy scheme in Oswestry has been put in jeopardy by the latest government cut for help to tackle climate breakdown. The Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) last week announced it could no longer accept applications for grants to its Rural Communities Energy Fund (RCEF) following a review by the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), just days before an application was due to be submitted by OTC. This fifteen million pound fund was available to help renewable energy schemes get off the ground which would be owned and run by their host communities. A year’s hard work had gone into getting the Oswestry project to the application stage and now it is unclear whether the request will be considered or not. It is frustrating and disappointing news for all those who have been involved as there was no warning given that the fund was under review.
Councillor Mike Isherwood, who initiated the Council’s investigation into setting up the scheme said it would be a great shame if Oswestry misses out on an opportunity which appears to have a great deal of merit and that he hopes Defra quickly begin to realise the enormous value of the RCEF and reverses the decision to deny this important funding to towns like Oswestry which want to help efforts to avert dangerous global warming and invest in energy production which will benefit the community as a whole. "We’d made brilliant progress with the solar project", said Councillor Isherwood. "The application was just about to be formally submitted after twelve months of information gathering and preparation, and there had been a lot of positive interest from members of the public, especially when we held a public meeting in April. Wrap had given an initial approval of our going ahead with a full application and I was confident that we’d get the grant. If the feasibility study gave us the green light then we could have been looking at this becoming a reality next year. I hope we can find an alternative way of going forward because I think this is a tremendous opportunity with wide-ranging benefits for the people of Oswestry."
The RCEF has been vital in assisting small community projects to come into being to generate clean energy at the local level, helping to produce income for local economies, increase energy security, lower CO2 emissions and provide cheaper electricity to save money for local organisations, community groups and businesses. Without it paying for the necessary feasibility studies it will be more risky for people to invest in the projects and so it becomes less likely that a scheme will raise the money needed to proceed and could be catastrophic for the small but growing community energy sector.
The funding blow follows other recent cuts by the government including the phasing out of Feed in Tariffs for energy produced by solar panels on the roofs of homes and big reductions in the help offered to make electric vehicles more affordable.
On top of this the government is continuing to encourage shale-gas fracking to go ahead, to the dismay of environmentalists, and has even overruled Lancashire County Council’s decision to refuse permission for fracking at two sites in the county, effectively meaning that it is now almost impossible for local opinions to influence such decisions.
The timing of this latest cut to the help available for renewable energy is particularly ironic, coming as it does just as the International Panel on Climate Change has issued its clearest warning yet on the devastating level of temperature increase we are in imminent danger of causing if we do not do a lot more to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses over the next few years.