Energy Bill: Bishop of Carlisle calls for more community-led energy generation

On 19th July 2022 the House of Lords debated the Government’s Energy Bill at its Second Reading:

The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I take many of the cogent and very well-informed points that have already been made in this debate, not least the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on the need for international co-operation. Even so, I welcome all three pillars of this Bill. Its stated direction could offer at least a step forward towards the goal of net-zero carbon.

I suggest in particular two rather domestic but, I hope, practical areas that could, in my view, do with further development in the Bill; namely, local renewable energy generation, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and carbon capture, which has been addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan.

In both cases, I hope noble Lords will forgive special reference to Cumbria, where I live. It is currently engulfed in a very contentious debate about the Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven that is not nearly as straightforward as it might first appear. Cumbria also has the “energy coast”—originally coal, then nuclear and now, increasingly, renewables. It has the Walney Extension offshore wind farm, which has more than 20% of the UK’s wind farm generating capacity. What is more, as a county, we have more than 50% of all the potential small-scale hydropower generation in the north-west.

I must declare an interest here, since my own diocese, the diocese of Carlisle, has developed two local hydro schemes: one at Rydal, which powers, among other things, our diocesan retreat and conference centre, and one at Scandale.

There has been little or no growth in community-led energy generation schemes over the last six years, and we need more of them. Such schemes currently provide about 0.5% of the UK’s electricity generation but, as we have been reminded by some of the many briefings that we have all received, no doubt, they have the potential to provide as much as 10% by 2030. The Church of England’s vision for net-zero carbon for its own buildings and operations by that date involves a very considerable increase in on-site renewable energy generation.

We need an enabling mechanism, such as that outlined in the previous Session’s Local Electricity Bill, which makes it possible for community energy schemes to sell power directly to local consumers. Current energy market rules make that very impractical at present. Those rules need to be changed. The benefits of more community schemes are considerable. They include a significant contribution to greenhouse gas reduction, greater energy security, more job creation opportunities, lower local energy bills, and better community ownership of the transition to net zero. Local involvement and empowerment really matter, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, reminded us.

In Cumbria, community participation is already taking place through, for example, the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership and the Kendal Climate Change Citizens’ Jury. Of course, there is a cost to all this. In the Church of England, nationwide, as we encourage all our suitable church and school buildings to install on-site renewable energy generation, we need to mobilise both private and public investment, including public sector funding—we hope—in order to reduce our carbon emissions.

With regard to carbon capture—and much more briefly—there is no doubt that the Bill will enable much-needed further development of carbon capture, utilisation and storage, but perhaps it needs to be more clearly targeted in two areas in particular. One is that of industrial processes, such as the production of gravel and cement. The other, which again brings me back to Cumbria, involves reshaping agricultural subsidies to enhance natural capital through carbon storage in peat. In the Lake District, peatland already holds about 23 million tonnes of carbon. The intentional management of peatland across the country could make a valuable contribution to carbon capture and storage.

I look forward to the Bill’s further progress.


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