We have entered 2024 with yet another increase to the Ofgem energy price cap which will plunge more struggling families into debt this winter. It’s an all-too-familiar occurrence and the impact it will have on millions of people cannot be overstated – it’s why we reintroduced our Keeping Warm This Winter scheme across Wiltshire.

To avoid untenable rises continuing for years to come, we must start focusing on long-term strategies to reduce the nation’s reliance on volatile imports and deliver stable, affordable and perhaps most importantly, sustainable energy.

After a disappointing COP28 which ended with a weak call for countries to move away from fossil fuels, as opposed to concrete decisions to phase them out altogether, my faith in the UK government to grasp and act on the climate emergency continues to diminish. Time and time again, the current government has rowed back on climate commitments and watered-down programmes which would help us achieve net zero.

In Wiltshire, the misery inflicted on the residents of Marlborough, Calne, Melksham and hundreds of villages by Storms Henk, Isla, and Jocelyn has been bad enough, but our woes were brought into stark relief when a falling tree caused the death of a man in Kemble. Local Tory MPs who still oppose wind and solar installations need to be brought to account at the ballot box when they stand for election this year. Warm words do nothing to help hard-pressed families wringing out wet carpets and consoling children distraught having watched soggy Christmas gifts being consigned to the bin.

Despite a worrying lack of urgency and limited support for community energy initiatives from Number 10 (there was next to nothing in the Chancellor’s autumn statement) I’m proud to be involved with Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy – one of the estimated 500 community energy groups now active across the country who are taking matters into their own hands, delivering clean energy schemes, reducing carbon emissions and saving people money (£3.3m for UK households in 2021).

Groups like ours, run with the best interests of the planet and local community at heart, are a vital part of the green energy mix but I was unsurprised to learn that only 1% of British adults feel they know a great deal about the concept of community energy ( Bristol Energy Cooperative data). Emma Bridge, Chief Executive of Community Energy England said,

“Community energy is the big green elephant in the corner of the energy room. From villages to cities, community organisations are helping homes become cosier, greener, and cheaper to run. But this is done on a shoestring. Government really needs to step up its support for this vital community resource.”

It is such a shame that more people don’t have a greater understanding of the sector when, with the proper backing, it could do great things. In Wiltshire alone there are a number of established groups providing and operating #renewable energy schemes and #energy efficiency services for the benefit of local people. From #solar panels for schools and scout huts, to electric car charging points and free energy advice sessions, community energy organisations are leading the charge toward net zero at a local level and offering vital services to the most vulnerable.

I would strongly urge you to learn more about the work we do and consider getting involved in whatever way you can. Where COP failed, we can succeed and I hope that 2024 will be the year that community energy’s full potential is realised.

Julian Barlow is chair of Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy

Originally shared on LinkedIn on 25th January 2024