Cumbrians given opportunity to invest in energy trust

Michael Hunt

A new trust is being proposed in Cumbria which aims to make renewable energy development more beneficial to people living in the county.

The Cumbria community energy trust would benefit local residents either individually through small scale investment or as a whole community by ensuring they receive a proportionate share of the returns that renewable energy schemes generate.

The first stage of the proposal is being led by economic development agency Cumbria Vision with support from Cumbria County Council and the Lake District National Park Authority.

Residents are being asked if they are keen to see such a trust established with proposals to assist projects spanning wind, hydro, biomass, solar and geothermal technologies.

The initial questionnaire also asks if local people would be willing to invest their own money in community-owned renewable projects, which in turn would offer them financial returns from the production of 'clean' energy and from initiatives where surplus energy is sold back to the National Grid. The model includes a proposal to divert a share of the profits into local community projects and into helping other communities develop their own renewable energy schemes.

The details of the trust and how it would function will be developed in detail if there is strong enough support from the public. It is anticipated that the initial level of investment would be restricted to a minimum of £500 and a maximum of £2,500 per resident, a successful model already proved by Energy4All's 1996 Baywind project in Ulverston.

Therefore if just 1,000 of Cumbria's 497,000 residents invested, the trust could easily raise £1.5m to £2.5m in shares. Keeping investments small but many will also mean profits are more evenly distributed throughout communities. Investors will be made aware of the differing returns from renewable sources, which range from 1% to 15% per annum. The trust would also offer help to communities and other organisations wanting to develop their own projects independently.

The proposed trust is a direct response to the findings found within a study written by former Government energy adviser and environmental scientist Sir Martin Holdgate on behalf of Cumbria Vision's renewable energy panel. The study identifies the economic opportunities arising from renewable energy development in the county and identifies smaller-scale renewable technologies as a key contributor towards Cumbria's renewable energy output.

Simon Sjenitzer, strategy director at Cumbria Vision, said: "In this economic climate, traditional sources of public funding for community-based projects are uncertain. This proposed trust is perhaps the only credible solution for communities to come together and benefit from locally-owned appropriate scale energy based revenue generation schemes. Many large-scale renewable energy developments are accused of bringing limited benefit to local communities and therefore receive a hostile reception. The trust would promote small-scale projects which are more socially, environmentally and financially considerate to residents of Cumbria and present clear benefits to them."

To keep administrative and legal costs to a minimum and to harness skills and experience in the renewable energy field, discussions are underway to see if an existing Cumbrian social enterprise, charity or local authority is willing to host the trust.

Phil Davies, climate change officer at Cumbria County Council, added: "Not only does it represent a huge opportunity for Cumbria to reach its target of reducing carbon dioxide by 188,000 tonnes per annum by 2011, but equally importantly it offers a chance for Cumbrians to benefit as individual investors and as whole communities from the Government's policies on renewables."

  • The deadline for responses is 31 March 2010. A decision will be made on whether to pursue the creation of a trust depending on feedback. The questionnaire is available to download under the 'Renewable Energy' section on the Cumbria Vision Website

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