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Power to the people
Published:  28 January, 2014

Local communities will be able to take more control of their energy bills and help transform the energy system thanks to proposals unveiled by the government in Britain's first Community Energy Strategy.

In a survey carried out by the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC), over 50% of people said that saving money on fuel bills would be the major motivation for getting involved with community energy schemes. Meanwhile, four in 10 respondents said they were already interested in joining a community energy group, and taking part in collective switching or collective purchasing schemes.

Under the plans, government will broaden the support available for community energy projects, whereby people come together to reduce their energy use or purchase and generate their own energy. Plans include:

Energy & Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: "We're at the turning point in developing true community energy. The cost of energy is now a major consideration for household budgets and I want to encourage groups of people across the country to participate in a community energy movement and take real control of their energy bills. Community-led action, such as collective switching, gives people the power to bring down bills and encourage competition within the energy market."

Energy & Climate Change Minister Greg Barker added: "The Community Energy Strategy marks a change in the way we approach powering our homes and businesses - bringing communities together and helping them save money – and make money too. The Coalition is determined to unleash this potential, assist communities to achieve their ambitions and drive forward the decentralised energy revolution. We want to help more consumers of energy to become producers of energy and, in doing so, help to break the grip of the dominant big energy companies."

Since 2008, at least 5,000 community groups have participated in energy projects in the UK. The Ashton Hayes Going Carbon Neutral project in Cheshire, for example, saved local households an average of £300 a year through encouraging behaviour change and installing simple energy efficiency measures.

In the future, government said the generation of electricity by communities themselves could put pressure on energy suppliers to drive down prices, creating warmer homes, cutting carbon emissions and diversifying the UK's energy mix.

Estimates suggest that energy generation schemes involving local communities, such as installing solar panels on social housing buildings, could supply enough electricity for 1 million homes by 2020.