An interview with Jon Halle of Sharenergy.
Once upon a time there was a story.
And it began with the words “We turn on a switch and there is light”
And behind the light were great pipes running 2,800 miles across Siberia and into western Europe
And multiple chimneys, pouring out smoke and carbon dioxide
And even the odd nuclear catastrophe wrecking the lives of everyone in the occasional 20 kilometre, uninhabitable evacuation zone.
But we mostly preferred to regard the lights as magic.
And the big corporate energy producers liked their role as modern magicians.
So when people voiced concerns about pollution and the environment, they responded quickly, with reassuring PR and marketing strategies, and we were much relieved. For we saw the directors in their lovely office complexes and believed in them. And those nuclear disasters and smog clouds from coal-fired power stations could not have been further from our minds when we saw their lovely logos and neatly pressed suits and cheap deals and suchlike.
And so it was that a very few energy corporations rose majestically to the top of the business chain. Where they grew bigger and bigger and bigger, because their magic is this … we turn on a switch and there is light.
And that is a cornerstone of civilization.
Community ownership of energy is different. It is concerned with who “owns” energy. It is concerned with all of our local environments. And it is concerned with us. In 1997, Baywind Co-op launched the first community owned wind farm in the UK. It wasn’t a big wind farm but it was about communities owning their own energy production. Today, 1,300 local and regional shareholders own the six turbines at Baywind and returns on investment average 5.6 and 6.6%.
In 2002 Baywind formed Energy4All to help other communities set up similar renewable energy projects. Sharenergy is a spin-off from Energy4All, working out of Ludlow with community initiatives in the West Midlands.
“It all starts with place …” Jon tells me as we sit in a non-corporate environment drinking tea. “… what does nature suggest to you in a particular area?”
South east of Hereford is the Woolhope Dome Woodfuel project. This is an area where there is existing woodland with plenty of low-grade/ low value wood thinings and also the opportunity to produce sustainable timber by coppicing.
Woolhope will provide zero carbon heating for local schools and businesses via state-of-the-art wood burners, which are installed free of charge and maintained by the Woolhope ESCo (an ESCo is an energy service company). So the schools and local businesses simply buy the heat, at a competitive price. Meanwhile in Leominster, Sharenergy have also helped to develop Leominster Community Solar. The leisure centre is installing 45 kw of solar panels, to be owned by a co-operative of local people.
“By setting up local enterprises as co-ops” explains Jon. “We can sell shares based on the principal of one member one vote.” So a cooperative is an excellent structure for community sharing of resources.
The development of local renewable energy businesses is an issue that is especially important for our young people. Not just for environmental reasons, but because we need to make sure that there are opportunities and meaningful jobs for them in market towns and rural communities. The countryside is precious to us all … not just a place to retire to, but as a dynamic and productive environment. Local and community ownership of vital rural resources means that we can make human sized changes, in tune with the places where we live.
If you would like to invest in local economies and sustainable futures by buying shares in Woolhope or Leominster Solar, or if you have a renewable energy project/idea that needs developing, please contact www.sharenergy.coop
Posted by Rachel