We have identified a strong feeling across the community that a currently disused and dilapidated commercial site and the surrounding plot of land can be regenerated. The Birch Vale Community Energy project is proposing to to harness the potential from local resources to meet local energy demand profiles; providing clean and affordable heat and power. Energy will be primarily used in residential and commercial buildings however as demand grows and the network develops, we will also provide power to EV charge points.
At times when demand is high, power will be fed back into the distribution network. Surplus revenue will be re-invested into a variety of projects that ultimately will provide positive feedback to the local energy system and enhance the community.
We are extremely encouraged by the way our project has been received across the community and with local policymakers. Although stakeholders have much to contend with presently, working towards net zero is still very much at the forefront of people's minds. Following our community engagement work as part of our feasibility study it has become clear that developing the opportunity to bring some of the decision making to a local level, providing transparency, developing knowledge and delivering opportunities for local involvement will considerably strengthen the potential for our project.
With regards to developing a local, community led, clean energy project, we had the advantage of gaining insights from similar sized, community organisations both locally, in the Midlands and North West as well as other areas of the UK. At the early stage of the project it was extremely useful to be able to reach out to other community energy groups and learn about their experiences. We found organisations were more than happy to provide information and support, and found it reassuring, supportive and extremely useful.
Dane Valley Community Energy, BHESCO, Torrs Hydro, Sheffield Renewables and Bradford Community Energy provided a wealth of knowledge and experience regarding aspects of our project such as community engagement, stakeholder analysis, business modelling, governance as well as technical aspects of the project. Introductions were also provided to external organisations to help with additional information on really important issues.
We also found it useful to look at, and talk with organisations involved in some of the larger, BEIS and Energy Catapult funded projects. It was important to learn how demonstrator projects were preparing for commercialisation, the new business and market models that were being explored and the multi-criteria assessment methodologies these larger projects were using.
A key challenge for the project has been planning, designing and assessing feasibility of the local energy project during the pandemic. To generate similar levels of interaction, gaining insights from community members and wider stakeholders we moved things online. We had to be mindful of the people who were unable to participate through these methods and took every opportunity to conduct socially distanced, face to face surveys when safe to do so. Having volunteers and supporters within the community allowed us to adapt in this way, developing a strong network.
Another challenge that we have faced is due to the withdrawal of subsidies that have, in recent years, provided similar projects an economic foundation to build a strong business case upon. Our response has been to work more closely with a broad range stakeholders and start to quantify the wider social, environmental and economic benefits that our project would deliver. We are still very optimistic that new innovative projects can succeed in the a post subsidy environment and the support that has been shown has provided a fresh incentive to move forward with the project.
The main advice would be to engage with community members at an early stage, build a strong team and gain a robust understanding of what the community wants and how outcomes could be achieved. Take every opportunity to discuss the project with other organisations, there is a huge amount of knowledge and potential support that is accessible out there.