Council urges government to support bill that would enable community-scale renewable electricity suppliers in Oxford

Published: Wednesday, 9th September 2020

Oxford City Council has urged the government to support a Private Member’s Bill that would enable community-scale renewable electricity suppliers to be set up in Oxford.

The Local Electricity Bill was introduced by Conservative MP Peter Aldous in June and is scheduled for its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday (11 September).

The Bill would enable community renewable generators to sell electricity locally, by becoming a local energy supplier. In Oxford, this would support the City Council’s net zero goals, by supporting community renewable energy projects and reducing carbon emissions. In doing so, it would create local skilled jobs, bring further investment to the local community and reduce the city’s reliance on polluting fossil fuels.

Councillor Tom Hayes, the City Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford, has written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Rt Hon Alok Sharma, to urge the government to support the bill.

Energy generation in Oxford

Oxford has a strong track record on renewable, co-operative and community energy, with numerous projects across the city, including hydro electricity generators at Sandford and Osney, and solar panels across Oxford’s schools, businesses and homes.

The City Council has played a leading role in supporting Oxford’s transition to renewables, with an equivalent of 10 per cent of the City Council’s electricity demand being met by rooftop solar.

The City Council was instrumental in setting up the Low Carbon Hub, providing £4.6 million, which has enabled numerous community and co-operative energy projects in the city. This has provided the opportunity for Oxford’s citizens to be energy citizens and own a share of locally generated energy.

Energy was one of the five themes explored by Oxford Citizen’s Assembly on Climate Change in 2019, with a special focus on renewable energy and the Low Carbon Hub among the 27 experts to address the whole Assembly.

The Council is currently a partner in projects that will deliver the world’s largest commercial hybrid energy storage system and develop a smart energy grid – supporting the deployment of renewables and reducing the city’s carbon emissions.

Local Energy Bill

The Private Member’s Bill would support the economic recovery in Oxford in ways that would lower carbon emissions, protect and create local green jobs and help tackle fuel poverty.

One hundred and fifty-one MPs from all parties have declared their support for the Bill. Power for People, which is co-ordinating the public campaign for the Bill, has also mobilised the grassroots movement and brought together a broad coalition of support, including from 50 national non-governmental organisations and 43 local councils.

More details on the Local Electricity Bill are available on the Parliament website.

"We are facing an historic turning point in tackling the global climate emergency. This Bill would support the City Council’s net zero goals, rapidly reduce emissions and creating local, green jobs. 

“Already the City Council has shown what is possible in Oxford, with 10 per cent of the Council’s electricity demand being met by our own rooftop solar. We helped set up the Low Carbon Hub, enabling numerous community and co-operative energy projects across the City.

“We want to go further and I urge the government to support this Bill, ruling out any inadvertent support for polluting fossil fuel projects and laying the foundations for a successful economic, renewable and net zero future for Oxford.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford

Text of letter from Cllr Tom Hayes to The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy - 30 July 2020

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing to confirm Oxford City Council’s support for the Local Electricity Bill and to ask that the government backs this Bill. The second reading is scheduled for 11 September 2020.

If made law, the Bill would support the economic recovery in Oxford in ways that would lower carbon emissions, protect and indeed create local green jobs, and help tackle fuel poverty.

This Bill would make deployment of renewable electricity in the city less challenging which enables the City Council to go further in line with our net zero goals. Our track record on renewable, co-operative, and community energy is recognised as strong, with the equivalent of more than 10% of our own electricity demand being met by rooftop solar. The City Council was instrumental in setting up the local “Low Carbon Hub” which has enabled numerous community and co-operative energy projects across the city, providing the opportunity for Oxford’s citizens to be energy citizens and own a share of locally generated energy.

The Local Electricity Bill is a key part of the package of measures needed to deliver on the Prime Minister’s commitment to a "fairer, greener and more resilient global economy" after Covid-19. As highlighted by the Committee on Climate Change, we are facing what must be an historic turning point in tackling the global climate crisis (Committee on Climate Change, Progress Report to Parliament, June 2020). Last year Oxford was the first UK city to host a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, and one of our five themes was energy, with a key focus on achieving emissions reductions through renewable energy. I attach a copy of our Citizens’ Assembly findings. 

It is important that the government seizes this opportunity by introducing measures—including this Bill—that would deliver a robust and inclusive economic recovery that creates new “green” jobs and cuts carbon emissions in line with the requirements of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and its target to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees. We have been working closely with the LGA on this agenda, including participation in a recent roundtable on renewable energy growth.

Through the Low Carbon Hub and Oxfordshire’s two demonstrator projects, Project LEO and Energy Superhub Oxford, we are showing real ambition. We ask for the government’s support to enable the City Council and Oxford to go further and faster in pursuit of our shared climate and economic goals.

Regards

Councillor Tom Hayes
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford
Oxford City Council

Text of response from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to Councillor Tom Hayes - 6 August 2020

Dear Cllr Hayes,

Thank you for your letter dated 30 July to the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, regarding the Local Electricity Bill. The Secretary of State is grateful to you for having taken the time to write.

I have been asked to respond on his behalf. Firstly, I must explain that the Local Energy Bill is a Private Members Bill, and therefore it would not be appropriate for the Government to comment specifically on this. Nevertheless, local energy is a key cornerstone of the Government’s ambition for our transition to a lowcarbon, smart energy system.

The Government continues to support communities to save energy and tackle climate change through a variety of schemes and funding programmes. We have invested in the
establishment of five new regional Local Energy Hubs, which will support Local Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to identify and develop a pipeline of commercially investable local energy projects. The Local Energy Hubs deliver England-wide support, and are currently based in the South East, South West, the Midlands, North East Yorkshire and Humber and North West.

We are also providing support to communities through the Rural Community Energy Fund, which is helping rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects that provide economic and social benefits to their community. 

This Department acknowledges the importance of a route to market for small-scale low-carbon generation for communities. In June 2019, we launched the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), which ensures that small-scale low-carbon generators are paid for the power they export to the grid. The SEG provides space for innovative market solutions to come forward and supports the uptake of flexible technologies such as batteries - reinforcing our smart energy agenda.

Eligible community projects will be able to benefit from the SEG; however we recognise that it may be more suitable for some projects than others. We are continuing to consider what measures we could take to support the efforts of communities that wish to invest in low-carbon community energy. 

The Government is reviewing the future energy retail market jointly with Ofgem, to ensure all consumers secure a fair deal for their energy and are appropriately safeguarded in the future. The review will identify how the regulatory framework might need to evolve to ensure the energy market is fit for the future, so that consumers can take advantage of the increased flexibility and lower costs of a low-carbon, smart energy system. Our ‘Flexible and Responsive Energy Retail Markets’ consultation closed on 16 September and the responses are being analysed. A summary of the responses will be published shortly.

On the subject of community energy generation schemes being able to supply local consumers, there are alternatives to a generator needing to become a licensed electricity supplier. For example, class exemptions to the requirement to hold a licence are available and can be found on the GOV.UK website - Electricity Licence Exemptions

In addition, a peer to peer arrangement enables a generator to form an agreement with one or more demand customers to supply them with electricity over the public network. To enable this agreement, a supplier is used as a facilitator by arranging and paying for the transport of that electricity and managing the risk of a supply and demand mismatch. It may also be helpful to note that Ofgem’s ‘Innovation Link’ is a dedicated service providing feedback to interested parties on what the regulatory framework might mean for them. 

Thank you again for taking the time to write. I hope you find this information helpful.

Yours sincerely,

V Jeffrey
BEIS Correspondence Unit