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Cornwall’s keeping it local with green energy revolution

sea pinks on the Cornish coastCornwall is one of Britain’s leading counties when it comes to the burgeoning green economy. There’s little wonder: it’s one of the sunniest parts of the UK, with up to 1600 hours of sunshine a year, while boasting abundant coastline and advantageous wind conditions. It seems a place made for solar and wind power.

Not only that; another geographical factor favouring further low-carbon growth is its proximity to minor fault lines, giving it premium potential for geothermal energy.

Such natural advantages are part of the reason it is home to a number of renewable energy organisations and companies. Decarbonising electricity has been a focus of efforts in the county to date, with 37% of electricity now generated through renewables and aims to be net zero carbon twenty years ahead of the rest of the UK.

Putting communities at the forefront

Back in 2015, Cornish local authority planning processes prioritised community ownership of renewable energy. And it’s not just blind encouragement of wind, solar, biomass etc. The council has published a range of new guidance, which as well as spelling out the need-to-know details about technologies and what community ownership is all about, stresses the need for proper engagement in the areas where proposed energy schemes are to be established.

Neighbourhood Plans ask communities to bring some local leadership to tackling climate change, improving economic opportunities and quality of life. They invite questions about what advantages local areas might offer for different technologies, how people might use energy locally, and whether they can incorporate smart technologies. The idea is that a virtuous cycle of trusted energy delivery will keep revenues local, and prices down. This sounds like responsible stewardship of the green economy to us.

Geothermal helps build independent identity

Cornwall is renowned as a part of the UK with a proud and distinct identity – and the way it supplies its energy is becoming part of this regional effort to define itself.

Geothermal power projects are the current buzz. The ancient granite mass that lays underneath Cornwall, the Cornubian batholith, means that local companies like Geothermal Engineering Ltd are increasingly excited about projects in the region.

The company’s plan to generate heat (providing year-round swimming at the Art Deco Jubilee Pool in Penzance) and electricity has even been recently featured in The New York Times. Meanwhile, one of Cornwall’s iconic green pioneers, the Eden Project, has just secured funding to begin its own drilling to the renewable resource below. The scheme will not only supply the site’s energy needs, but thousands of local homes, too.

Supporting local schemes

Local finance has proved pivotal in getting a number of Cornish projects off the mark. The Geothermal Engineering project has sold shares to local residents to raise funds, in this case for £20 each. Other projects have been supported by loan funds, such as from The Low Carbon Society, which has supported 10,807MWh of installed zero-carbon capacity across projects from large wind turbines to roof-mounted solar PV.

There is some national-level support for community energy, whether interested parties are in Cornwall or elsewhere. The government is offering a pot of £10million  for energy schemes outside urban areas through the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF), which aims to help community-scale programmes design and implement practical plans bringing local benefits.

If you’re a community group interested in getting started with a low-carbon energy project, let us know about it by commenting below. If you’d like more information about partnership-building locally, get in touch with us.

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Gary Hartley's picture
Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.