Community Energy Greater Manchester (CEGM) was a 10 month project delivered in partnership with 10:10 (a carbon cutting campaign organisation) to develop a collective, inclusive community solar energy scheme with up to 25 community organisations (hubs) in GM. The aim was to make small scale solar generation feasible, to help hubs address their own energy needs and support them to become a focus for wider energy-related and fuel-poverty work in their community.
The CEGM community benefit society was established to finance, install, own and maintain the solar installations. Participating hubs were supported to run their own crowdfunding campaign to engage people and raise initial funds. A community share offer was developed to raise the remaining capital to install solar photovoltaic panels (support from Sharenergy) and legal documents drafted to install solar panels (using Pure Leapfrog’s templates and support from Elderflower legal). We also piloted ‘What’s powering your hub’ a certificate in Carbon Literacy training
Unfortunately, the CEGM community benefit society were unable to launch the community share offer as planned. Complicated roof lease negotiations couldn’t be completed in time to draw down the government’s feed-in-tariff which would have made the scheme viable. However, both funders Tudor Trust and the Urban Community Energy Fund supported a change in direction and the project achieved its objectives in terms of engagement and helping hubs to address energy issues.
Why did we do it?
The project aimed to share the learning from GMCVO’s rural Generating Success Defra funded project (October 2011 - March 2013) which enabled 4 community organisations to install renewable energy.
GMCVO believe that community buildings are often managed in isolation, mainly due to limited capacity so there is little opportunity to learn from their peers.
Community Energy Greater Manchester was designed to connect community hubs and create a network to improve community energy resilience.
The project provided easy access to specialist support, and an opportunity for participating hubs to explore issues and ideas together, helping them to be more ambitious.
What did we learn?
With 10:10’s involvement, GMCVO and participants gained experience of crowdfunding and how it can be used to engage groups and their communities. The participants valued the opportunity to work as a collective.
However, the experience demonstrated that staff and volunteers in the VCSE sector have conflicting demands on their time. Even though they thought the project idea was good many of them struggled to devote the time and personnel to the crowdfunding element and did not have the time and the ability to facilitate getting the lease sorted. Legal issues with buildings can often be complicated which can escalate solicitor’s fees and make the process far more time consuming than anticipated.
Participating sites agreed that CEGM pushed energy issues up their agenda. They have a greater understanding of the energy performance of their building, if a solar installation is feasible and a better understanding of the condition of their roof. Work to negotiate the roof leases also helped 3 organisations to progress their own building lease negotiations with their landlords. And the project introduced solar to the Diocese of Manchester so it’s potentially easier to install on churches in future.
GMCVO has a better understanding of the challenges community buildings face with energy efficiency and fuel poverty which can help us to design, influence and target future initiatives.
What happened as a result?
Of the 16 organisations that stayed for the duration of the project, three hubs were able to finance the systems themselves and between them they installed 44kW of solar photovoltaic panels. Another three organisations continued their fundraising and plan to install solar once they have reached their target. The remaining 10 organisations chose to use the funds raised through the crowdfunding campaign to install other green measures.
We gained an insight into the practical issues that groups face with renewables, energy efficiency and fuel poverty and developed relevant experience, skills and relationships in the energy sector which we aim to build on.
We continue to look for opportunities to support VCSE organisations to become more energy efficient and are invited to (and participate in) key energy related discussions and events that take place in Greater Manchester and the North West.