WREN is founded on a very simple premise: each locality can transform energy from an individual cost to a collective asset. In every locality, over £1,000,000/year is spent collectively by every 1,000 people on energy for lighting, heating and transport. It follows that Wadebridge is spending over £13,000,000/year on energy. This money dribbles out of Wadebridge’s (and every other town’s) economy through innumerable individual energy bills, so people do not experience this economic leakage as a collective resource, however much they may complain about the cost.
This is rather an odd strategy for otherwise intelligent people, for in Cornwall, as in many other parts of the UK, we have some of the best renewable energy resources in Europe, including sun, wind, tide, wave, geothermal and biomass.
WREN is therefore primarily a catalyst for local economic resilience. The fact that prevailing energy arrangements are dysfunctional in other ways, for example in risks to climate systems, dependency upon capricious countries, subject to unpredictably increasing costs, and result in short and long term pollution, is here a secondary issue.
Prevailing centralised energy arrangements, where individuals are isolated and passive recipients of centralised supply, are so bad for local economies that it is puzzling that localities still collude with them. Current arrangements may seem normal, but it is worth remembering for what a brief blink of history they have existed. As recently as the 1930s, many towns had their equivalent of our own Wadebridge Electrical Supply Company. WREN is re-establishing the Wadebridge Energy Company.
WREN’s strategy is simply to go back to a future where local energy resources complement central generation and supply. The current centralised arrangements are very good for the few companies that operate them, and reassuring to governments, who tend to find distribution of responsibility unwelcome. But they are not ideal for consumers, the environment, or local economic resilience.
Wadebridge uses some 50,000 MWh/year of electricity. Our target is to generate 30% of Wadebridge’s electricity from local renewable resources by the end of 2015 and reach 100% of energy from local sources by 2020, in addition to facilitating energy efficiency measures and low carbon heating.
This programme will bring in significant benefits through community funds, as well as save people money on their energy bills. WREN is a social enterprise, owned by its members, with a one-member-one-vote structure. All benefits above running costs go to community investment and community projects.
One unacceptable facet of Cornwall life is that our brilliant young folk have to choose too often between staying near their homes, and having a fulfilling career. With the advent of superfast broadband, distance is dead, and many companies are attracted to establishing themselves in places as welcoming, innovative, supportive, and beautiful as Wadebridge. We are therefore developing the opportunities available through becoming a “Smart Market Town”
Market towns developed to exploit the benefits of their local embeddedness – social cohesion, identity, quality of life, and the benefits of short supply chains to their hinterland for food and other goods and services. Wadebridge is working hard to make sure that these local assets, including energy generation, are again maximised.
Market towns also depend upon global engagement, in the past through exporting primary produce such as wool and grain. Our 15th century bridge is known as the “bridge on wool”. Now markets can be accessed by world-class communications, so that townsfolk can export their ingenuity without, as in the past, resorting to migration.
The fact that Wadebridge has been designated as a pilot site for Smart Cornwall offers further opportunities. People will be able to benefit from the advantages of a microgrid where dynamic energy management makes it possible to exploit the opportunities provided by renewable generation and storage. The development of this energy ecosystem is also attracting commercial development from international and Cornish companies active in this new field. WREN, in partnership with Cornwall Council, Cornwall Development Company, Wadebridge Chamber of Commerce, Wadebridge Town Council, Falmouth University, Cornwall College and the Wadebridge schools, is working to establish a new commercial centre - the Smart Innovation Hub.
The opportunities presented by the low carbon economy are so obvious. WREN is determined to transform the energy economy in its own area, but, more importantly, seeks to show other localities how easy it is to take control of the second biggest resource that they have. Their biggest resource is obviously themselves and their determination to create a wise future for children.
So what has WREN achieved? Click on the blackboard below to what WREN has been up to.