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Megan Batchelor: Helping communities build renewables

Earning community support for onshore wind and solar will ensure these projects make it through the planning system and start generating the cheap, clean, homegrown electricity we desperately need as soon as possible.

With the backing of local communities so crucial to meeting our climate goals and strengthening energy security, why don't we make it easier for them to lead clean energy projects? In Swindon, there is a 100 per cent community-owned project built on unproductive farming, funded by residents nearby and further afield, paying profits back to the area that could provide a model. That's why last month, a group of MPs, councillors and staff from the Conservative Environment Network visited the Westmill Wind Farm and Solar Park.

Community-owned energy projects like this are scattered across the UK, spanning everything from wind and solar to energy efficiency and storage. They represent a relatively small amount of the UK's total energy generation, but it demonstrates the importance of community benefits to delivering projects. If we can ensure areas that host vital infrastructure benefit from them while mitigating negative effects, it will be easier to win support and get Britain building.

The wind farm and solar array at Westmill went live in 2008 and 2011, respectively, but in the time since, it has become harder and harder to make this type of project work. Community energy was eligible for various government support ranging from funds to tax relief. Nearly all of this has been removed. Getting renewables projects through a prohibitively pernickety planning system has become so expensive that many can't afford or achieve it.

When Parliament reconvenes after the summer to consider the Energy Bill, they must make sufficient provisions to facilitate the rollout of smaller-scale, localised energy projects. It will be vital for us to use community energy to show residents that infrastructure projects don't have to be a bad thing. Community engagement and benefits can and should be rolled out properly, and the existence of Westmill is a testament to the project longevity that doing so will bring.


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