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‘More cash needed’ to help Londoners develop community energy projects

London Assembly environment committee publishes cross-party report calling for more investment to help capital meet “crucial climate goals”, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

City Hall and (inset) London Assembly environment committee chair Leonie Cooper
City Hall and (inset) London Assembly environment committee chair Leonie Cooper

A funding boost is needed to help Londoners unlock the potential of green energy for the benefit of their communities, a City Hall report has said.

Following an investigation last year, the London Assembly’s environment committee has told mayor Sadiq Khan and the government that more investment in community energy projects is needed to help meet “crucial climate goals”.

Community energy projects are where groups of people work together to install and collectively benefit from green upgrades, such as by placing solar panels or heat pumps on community buildings.

The cross-party report warns that local planning rules are also proving a serious delay to such projects – which can take just a week to install, but a whole year to gain approval from councils.

The committee’s Labour chair, Léonie Cooper, said: “Community energy projects give groups of people the opportunity to deliver and support energy resourcing in their communities.

“Not only do they enable increased energy supply, they help educate residents on the importance of responsibly sourced energy in light of a climate emergency.

“Tackling fuel poverty must be a priority and community energy projects certainly play their part in this.”

Cooper, who represents Merton and Wandsworth on the assembly, added: “The work of community groups helps support the mayor’s target of reaching net zero by 2030, and it is vital further investment is made in community energy projects in London.

“Throughout our investigation, we heard about a number of exciting opportunities and the potential energy supply that could be achieved if community energy is given the funding and innovation it deserves.”

The report says Khan should “explore providing additional planning guidance for local authorities to remove planning barriers to installing solar panels”, for example by “presuming in favour of solar panels in conservation areas”.

In March 2022, the Conservative-run borough of Kensington and Chelsea issued a planning order that gave “consent for solar panels on most Grade 2 and most Grade 2* listed buildings without the need for individual listed building consent”, the committee noted. The report suggests similar steps could be taken by other boroughs.

The report adds: “The mayor’s London Community Energy Fund (LCEF) has been oversubscribed and highly successful.

“The mayor should increase the funding available for community energy in his 2024/25 budget plans, to enable more projects to be supported; and establish this as a regular fund in the GLA [Greater London Authority] budget each year.”

A spokesperson for Khan said: “The mayor has championed the use of community energy since 2016 and has supported more than 150 projects through his London Community Energy Fund launched in 2017.

“City Hall is currently reviewing options to help this important sector grow, including looking at how to further support community energy projects and how to help tackle the barriers faced by organisations looking to adopt community energy measures.

“The mayor is committed to doing all he can to build a fairer and greener London for all, and will consider the committee’s report and respond in due course.”

The government was similarly told by the committee that it “should increase the level of funding for its Community Energy Fund”, which benefits projects across the country.

A government spokesperson said: “Local communities are at the heart of our plans to boost our energy security, reach net zero and grow the economy – backed by £10m to kickstart community projects, including small-scale wind farms and rooftop solar partnerships.

“There is already a route to market for small community owned generators, and suppliers can already offer local electricity tariffs.”