Last month I was pleased to be one of the co-sponsors of the Local Electricity Bill that my colleague Peter Aldous introduced to Parliament with support from the organisation Power for People. There are many things that we need to do simultaneously to protect our environment and one of the key things is to support renewable energy. We’re making good progress: in July-September of 2019, for the very first time, renewable energy provided more electricity to homes and businesses than fossil fuels, thanks to the combination of offshore wind farms, solar panels and renewable biomass plants. So far, so good, and across the constituency we have individuals, community organisations and businesses working hard to generate renewable electricity.
Currently, however, if you are a community organisation or local business and want to supply local homes with what you generate, you are faced with prohibitive costs. You need a supply license from OFGEM. You then need technical specialists and bespoke computer systems to interact with the complex grid of balancing codes and network agreements which are controlled by the large utility companies that control 85% of the UK market.
The costs of this run to hundreds of thousands of pounds, which few of our local, modest operations will ever have, and so it only really makes sense if you will supply the whole UK. To paraphrase what Peter Aldous always says, it is like starting a delivery business for Wantage and Didcot, only to be told you have to find hundreds of thousands of pounds to contribute to the road network and, although you only want to deliver to local residents, you must deliver to the whole of the UK to be viable.
The aim of the Local Electricity Bill is to make the costs for community operators proportionate to the amount of the electricity they will supply. In Germany, this has seen a flowering of local, community-based operators – there are 1000 compared to 60 in the UK – and a reduction in the proportion of the market controlled by the biggest companies to 40%.
I was pleased to support the Bill for a number of reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, I want to do what I can to support our efforts to tackle climate change and increasing our use of renewable energy has myriad benefits, not least for air quality. Secondly, I am always keen to support local businesses and initiatives and feel confident that local communities would like to receive electricity from local suppliers if they can. Thirdly, I believe in competition and we have not seen enough in the utilities. Along with Peter and my other co-sponsors, I will be doing what I can to see the Bill become law.