WREN has achieved much in its first five years. It was set up to promote the benefits of a low carbon economy and through local ownership of local renewable energy generating capacity, to retain the benefits of energy generation in our community.
We publicised and promoted the take-up of the government’s initiatives to reduce energy consumption and generate more energy renewably. (The government established those initiatives, it is worth remembering, to help it meet its international climate change obligations.) WREN also has an active programme of informing and supporting our local community on all aspects of energy.
We have procured or influenced around 7MW of solar PV and 1.9MW of renewable heat, and helped 160 homes obtain free insulation, which together are saving 5,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. Over 10% of Wadebridge homes have solar PV – the highest percentage anywhere in the country.
We have distributed £10,000 of our own funds to community projects and established robust and independent processes for handling and distributing the £70,000 per year of community benefit that comes to Wadebridge and surrounding parishes from three commercial solar and wind arrays, that have benefitted over 80 local voluntary and community projects so far.
We set up the Wadebridge Energy Company, which owns a 100kW solar PV array powering a South West Water sewage treatment works and provides £500 per year community benefit to Lanivet parish in which it stands.
Working with partners Western Power Distribution, Tempus Energy and Regen SW, we established the Sunshine Tariff project, which spreads some of the benefits of low cost solar electricity to people who do not have solar panels, whilst investigating the potential of shifting demand to increase the capacity of the electricity distribution network.
This is a remarkable success story, by any measure, but WREN’s ambitions from the outset were even higher.
The 100kW solar array was meant to be the first of several installations. We were near to completing the development work on a much larger solar array when the local distribution network operator, Western Power, announced that the electricity network in Cornwall was full and no new connections could be accepted, so that had to be halted. We tried to convert a commercial proposal for a wind farm at Scotland Corner into a community-owned proposal, but did not gain the support of local town and parish councils, which had already opposed the commercial planning application. We were ready to go on installing domestic roof top solar PV which would have provided electricity free to the householders, but the latest severe cuts in feed in tariffs made that infeasible.
Since the last general election, renewable energy (and community-owned renewable energy especially, it seems) has been one of the government’s targets for austerity cuts. Feed in tariffs were slashed; tax allowances on community investment in new renewables installations were removed; incentives and schemes to insulate homes have gone. New renewables installations are meant to go ahead without subsidy, we are told, whilst at the same time, the government is continuing to subsidise new nuclear, gas and diesel plants. Stuck between an unfriendly renewable energy environment and a constrained electricity network, we now find ourselves unable to develop new renewables installations in any way that makes financial sense.
We have also put a large amount of work, with partners, into developing proposals, under the banner of “Smart Market Town”, for EU funding to be invested in Wadebridge. These proposals were aimed at reducing the costs of energy for the most vulnerable in our community through the use of smart energy technology. Unfortunately, we were not successful.
We believe that any one of these large scale projects would have provided benefits for Wadebridge and secured the future of WREN. In their absence for the foreseeable future, we have to think carefully about our financial and other commitments.
Our strong current position means that we are well placed to consider how best to move forward. The WREN Board is clear that our first responsibility is to maximise the benefit to our community that our resources can achieve and has decided, with considerable regret, to close the Energy Shop on the Platt, giving three months notice at the end of April.
The Energy Shop has been brilliant for promoting the take-up of energy saving and energy generating schemes – a place accessible to everyone. However, there are now no such schemes to promote, and the number of people actually using the shop has dwindled almost to nothing. Closing it will enable us to save the rent, rates and other direct costs. It will also enable us to review the staffing levels we need without it. From 1st May until it closes completely, the shop will only be open twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
We remain on-line here at http://www.wren.uk.com and our published email addresses (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org being the main ones) continue to operate, though our telephone number in the shop will more often be on voicemail now.
We also wish to inform you of changes to the WREN Board. Stephen Frankel has stepped down from the Board. His drive and vision have been instrumental in getting us to where we are. When we say an immense “thank you” to him for all that he has done, the words seem inadequate, but thank him we do. The person with a hard act to follow, taking over as Chair, is Tony Faragher. Tony was a founder director of WREN five years ago and is eminently well placed to lead us forward.
Jerry Clark stepped down as a director in February due to family commitments, but remains active in WREN, managing the Sunshine Tariff project for which he continues to be the main point of contact for customers.
Closing the shop does not mean that WREN itself is closing. We will continue to administer the community funds, to promote education and awareness of the need to create and use energy sustainably, and to explore new ways of supporting our local community. The Wren local currency continues. Your support so far has been terrific and we hope that you will continue to support WREN.