A community group will be celebrated for setting up renewable energy sources across the county over the next two weeks for 'Community Energy Fortnight'.

June 13 to June 28 is Community Energy Fortnight, aimed at celebrating community energy and helping community energy groups across the country learn from each other.

One such group is Energy Local Bridport, a project to allow local trading of renewable energy and increase the value of the generation, which was set up by Dorset Community Energy (DCE).

Community energy is where local individuals band together to form cooperatives to build and operate renewable energy systems, rather than leaving it to large private companies. Renewable energy generation goes up, greenhouse gas emissions go down, and the financial benefits are kept in the community.

Without grants or subsidies, community energy is currently not financially viable except on very large scales. DCE attempted to get around this problem by helping to set up Energy Local Bridport with what is effectively a local community-funded subsidy.

It is the first of its kind in England, and will allow people in and around Bridport to buy locally generated renewable electricity more cheaply than buying from the grid whilst also improving the income to those selling the renewable electricity. It is hoped that this potential increase in income will lead to a restart in renewable energy deployment.

DCE is run by six volunteers and has 197 members. In 2015, DCE installed 420 kWp of solar PV on 16 community buildings (schools, village halls and an arts centre). The host buildings get cheap or free electricity, with the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) subsidies used to pay back the members who funded the installations.

After the FIT was cut back and then stopped, DCE’s work, along with most community energy groups in the UK, ground to a halt. Recently, however, with grant support from Dorset Council’s EU-funded Low Carbon Dorset programme, installations have restarted. Funding is in place for 700 kWp of additional solar PV across schools and hospitals, with three large installations complete and work ongoing on seven more.

DCE has recently been awarded a grant from the Rural Community Energy Fund to undertake a feasibility study into installing one or more 200-kWp ground-mounted solar PV arrays near Bridport to help meet this demand for local renewable energy.

Tim Crabtree, DCE’s Chairman, said “Whilst we are only addressing a fraction of the problem, we are still managing to make progress through hard work and flexible operating. This shows that community groups and volunteers can overcome impediments put in way by government policy, and are currently being more successful than private developers. Whilst this does not seem very important in a world of pandemics and lockdowns, climate change is every bit as large a problem as COVID-19, and is not going away because we are distracted. Our recovery needs to be a green one, not back to business as usual”