At tonight’s full council meeting of Norwich City Council, Labour group’s motion backing the Local Electricity Bill was passed unopposed. Proposer and seconder speeches were unable to be heard owing to time pressures, but these can be read in full below.
The Local Electricity Bill, which is due to have its second reading on 10th December, seeks to unlock the potential of community-scale renewable energy. This would help cut carbon emissions, keep money in local economies and improve public buy-in for climate solutions.
Cllr Emma Hampton, cabinet member for climate change – proposing speech:
The need to get to net zero is becoming more and more urgent.
To get there, we need to bring people with us and make the benefits of a green agenda clear. This is necessary to achieve a truly just transition – and to achieve the public buy-in needed for the system, and behavioural, changes required to reach net zero. Often this will revolve around providing people with alternatives – real alternatives which both bring environmental benefits and enhance people’s lives.
This motion today focuses on one such opportunity: the chance to unlock the full potential of community energy by supporting the Local Electricity Bill.
At the moment, just 12% of our power in the UK comes from renewable sources – and only 0.5% from community energy generation. A Parliamentary inquiry in April stated that, if there were reforms, the community energy sector could grow twenty-fold by 2030. This is a huge potential, but it’s being blocked by harsh energy market and licensing rules. The cost of selling locally generated energy to local people is disproportionate and insurmountable for too many groups. It’s been estimated that, on average, setting up a licensed energy supply company can cost over £1 million.
The Local Electricity Bill – which is due before parliament for its second reading – would legislate to fix this.
It would make the cost and complexity of being a licensed electricity supplier proportionate to the scale of your operation. This means it would be more viable for current community energy companies, and potential future ones, to sell locally generated energy directly to local customers – rather than the current system of having to sell it to a utility who then sells in on to customers. Ofgem, the energy market regulator, would be given the statutory duty of establishing the new market rules which underpin this. The Bill lays down the basic principles of how this would work, but also requires that Ofgem consult and engage with stakeholders and experts to get the detail right.
And if its potential was unleashed, community energy could keep money in local economies and increase the resilience of communities. Every pound of people’s electricity bills could be spent locally: supporting local, skilled jobs, funding local initiatives and powering homes, workplaces and transport. People would be able to see around them, in their communities, the immediate benefits of buying into renewable power.
The Local Electricity Bill has strong cross-party support. It’s most recent iteration is being presented by a Tory backbencher, and Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, is one of the eleven named sponsors on the Bill – alongside LibDem, SNP, Plaid and Tory members – and not to leave the Greens out: their MP has also been a long term supporter. Around 100 local authorities to date have passed motions in support of the Bill, and I hope we’ll join them today.
This level of support is promising, however the responsible government ministers have said that they agree with the broad intentions of the Bill – yet ultimately don’t support it as they insist there is already a right to supply. That right may exist in some form, but that doesn’t change the fact that the cost is too often too high to make becoming a local supplier practically possible. Given the level of backbench and cross-party support this Bill is receiving, and how this is a government which tends to say no before it says yes, it’s vital that Local Authorities, individual MPs and the grassroots keep the pressure up. It is, once again, down to us to show local leadership while the Tory government fails to do so nationally.
This council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and has made substantial progress towards achieving net zero emissions from our own council operations by our target of 2030 – as well as working alongside partners towards the city as a whole reaching net zero by 2045: a goal that is five years ahead of the government’s 2050 target.
As part of our climate and environmental programme, and our work towards these goals, we’ve promoted and provided practical solutions to allow residents to make the move to renewable energy.
We were the first city in the UK to run a collective energy switching programme: helping households across Norwich to benefit from collective buying and get the best deal for their energy. This project now only supplies renewable energy, and the average saving per household has been over £170 – with two thirds of those signing up being offered a saving on their utility bill.
We were also the first authority in the country to run a reverse public solar auction, with businesses competing to buy clean power generated by rooftop solar arrays on residential and commercial properties.
And of course we set up Roar Power, our white label renewable energy company for Norwich and the region: which is distinct from community energy companies certainly in the sense of this Bill and discussion, in that we partner with an existing, national licensed energy supplier – but nonetheless Roar Power has provided residents with a real alternative to the big six energy providers and has seen reinvestment locally.
These projects have served both to cut emissions, and to reduce fuel poverty. We made clear in our original climate declaration that tackling the climate emergency has to go hand in hand with tackling the social and economic emergencies people are facing, and this remains the basis we work on.
This Council endorsing the Local Electricity Bill would support this approach too. If enacted, the Bill provides huge opportunity to cut carbon emissions, invest in local communities and strengthen public by-in for climate solutions.
Cllr Ian Stutely – seconding speech:
The Bill, if enacted, really can unlock the potential of clean community energy in Norwich, helping us achieve city-wide carbon neutral targets earlier, while boosting the local economy and creating new, highly skilled jobs.
As we have heard, the proposal would boost the community energy sector with local renewable energy generators selling directly and cheaply to local customers.
The antiquated regulatory system that operates now, where licenses to supply energy are charged at a national level, creates disproportionate set-up costs that prevents community energy suppliers entering the market. It ensures the big corporate suppliers – still reliant on fossil fuels – maintain their market dominance, and stifles investment in renewable energy infrastructure.
Local renewable energy generators (such as schools, businesses, and homes with solar panels) receive a fixed price – typically a few pence per Kwh – to export unused energy to the national grid. Generators must sell to one of the big license holders who resell that energy to other local customers making huge profits.
The Bill proposes to provide potential for any renewable electricity generator to become a licensed supplier, with set-up costs proportionate to their size. This would ensure they could sell cheaper energy directly to those other local homes and businesses. This in turn would generate demand and drive investment in local renewal electricity infrastructure. A cheap, clean, local renewable energy supply, with local income generation and reinvestment that provides new, local, highly skilled jobs.
These operations would also help to accelerate the introduction of battery storage systems, the cost of which are falling rapidly, and help improve grid efficiency ahead of the investment that is required to future-proof it.
Norwich City Council’s white label energy supplier, Roar Power, is a local supply scheme which offers competitive electricity from renewable sources, but it can only operate viably in partnership with a national license holder – currently Octopus. The Local Electricity Bill would remove the requirement for that partnership and offer enormous potential benefits for forward thinking local authorities like this Labour council.
Removing regulatory cost barriers could enable Norwich City Council to become a major local generator, investing in renewable energy such as solar across the city, selling power cheaply, but viably, to our residents and reinvesting profits in communities, accelerating our retrofitting program, and helping to eliminate fuel poverty forever.
It’s an exciting model.
I formerly second the motion and urge members to support it.