Localised energy, like a Curate’s egg

10th Apr 2017

 

Devolving energy policy to local levels is a Curate’s egg – has good and bad bits. There is a strong argument for local energy supply companies being set up, or local communities banding together to try and get the best price deal for their gas, electric or oil. But the evidence so far suggests that this practice is patchy, in some areas there is real enthusiasm in others nothing is happening.

Locally driven energy efficiency advice could be a real success. There has always been a behavioural issue for consumers being told how to save money on their energy bills, by the very people who supply the energy and make their money from doing so. Local authority led delivery teams could be the answer to consumer scepticism, even if the ultimate work is undertaken by energy suppliers or their contractors.

Decentralised energy supply can also play an important role in securing our energy future. Local AD plants injecting Green Gas into the grid; waste plants, generating Syngas again injected into the grid or surplus wind/solar generating hydrogen to be stored or used – all great ways of local energy supply playing a key future role.

But the Curate’s egg says there are some downsides too. Firstly, local councils have undergone five years of austerity and shed countless staff. They don’t have the capacity to manage or oversee energy policy for their locality. With the greatest of respect, they will also struggle to attain the expertise needed too.

Another problem is political pressure being placed upon local authorities to promise a policy measure. For example, I know of several senior local political figures who have committed to achieve 100 per cent energy decarbonisation. They have done so with good intent, but they simply haven’t the faintest idea what they have signed up to; how much it would cost or how they would do it. And the worst bit, they have no power to actually deliver the promise, nor will they be accountable for their actions. That’s bad for the energy industry too, as we could get the criticism we do not deserve.