Energy Efficiency and Sustainability

01.11.17

People power

Helen Andrews Tipper, senior manager of cities and regions at the Carbon Trust, on why clean energy infrastructure needs better citizen engagement.

There are currently more questions than answers about the future of our energy system, but one thing is certain: it will require an unprecedented level of input from stakeholders. Those stakeholders will include anyone from an individual engaging with demand-side response through a home energy management system, through to a major hospital or development complex being asked to move away from their existing energy supply and connect to a heat network. 

Local government is playing the lead role in developing some of these schemes, particularly heat networks. Part of that role includes taking primary responsibility for stakeholder engagement and co-ordination, ensuring the best possible outcome for all parties. But the challenge goes beyond simply finding the best methods to engage stakeholders, or the resources to actually do so. There is also a fundamental ethical challenge.

A council developing a local energy project needs to ask how they view the people they hope to supply with energy. For most private sector energy suppliers, the answer is simple: they are simply customers. But for a local authority the answer is more complicated. Their potential energy customers are also their actual citizens, voters to whom they made electoral promises and people to whom they have a duty of care. Whilst there may be overlaps between the notion of citizen and customer, there’s no escaping the fact that they are not the same thing.

Whilst a private company might take the approach of seeking to engage stakeholders to achieve a particular pre-determined goal, the perspective is different for a local authority. The needs of the local population should be the starting point and guiding principle of their engagement, and these go beyond the need for a project to generate a financial return.

Clean energy infrastructure projects will be pursued, or abandoned, for a variety of reasons. However, we know that one of the most significant motivating factors will be the desire to make money. It is clear that the ultimate beneficiaries of projects should be local citizens who get a clean, secure and affordable source of energy, but the debate over the extent to which they benefit, when and how remains.

Time and again we see local energy projects that have stalled and failed because of poor early engagement. This leads to unnecessary project costs piling up, where the technical and financial investigations hit bumps and roadblocks because there was nowhere near enough consideration of whether this is actually a project that stakeholders want. And ironically, of course, it is those stakeholders who ultimately foot the bill.

One of the most effective ways to engage is through early and open collaboration. In local energy projects this means making fewer assumptions about the likely outcomes of the process, working with citizens to understand their objectives, and genuinely taking them on board.

Take, for example, the ultimately successful construction of the Bunhill heat network in Islington. The project team had a problem working out how to cross a housing estate. It was only after holding a meeting to consult with residents of the estate that they found a workable and mutually acceptable solution. Strikingly, it was the residents who came up with the answer – one that had not been considered by the engineers or project team.

Treating local stakeholders as citizens and not just as end customers for clean energy is not only the right thing for local authorities to do, it also has a positive practical impact on project development. The consequences of failing to engage stakeholders, or engaging them ineffectively, come with serious costs attached.

Light touch consultation with customers may seem like the simpler option in the short term. But in the end a collaborative approach with citizens is not just the right thing to do, it is the best way to get a project to succeed.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.carbontrust.com

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

related

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

South Tyneside Council could be lumped with £7.6m PFI bill if closure of ‘inadequate’ school goes ahead

16/11/2018South Tyneside Council could be lumped with £7.6m PFI bill if closure of ‘inadequate’ school goes ahead

A South Shields council could be burdened with a massive £7.6m PFI bill if a poorly-rated secondary school in the area is forced to close, ... more >
Council to axe finance director as part of bid to plug £35m budget shortfall

16/11/2018Council to axe finance director as part of bid to plug £35m budget shortfall

Staffordshire County Council is to cut its own senior leadership team as the authority tries to tackle a £35m funding gap in its budget. ... more >
Cumbria council mulls over plans for major ‘one-stop-shop’ local government reshuffle

16/11/2018Cumbria council mulls over plans for major ‘one-stop-shop’ local government reshuffle

Council members at Cumbria County Council debated yesterday the possibility of abolishing their current local government structure in favour of a... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >
‘Once-in-a-generation’ £600m devolution deal for North of Tyne

02/11/2018‘Once-in-a-generation’ £600m devolution deal for North of Tyne

Ministers have signed a £600m devolution deal for the North of Tyne in a “once-in-a-generation” transferring of devolved power and investment to a new combined authority. T... more >
Local authorities given set dates for financial settlements

25/10/2018Local authorities given set dates for financial settlements

The date that councils will receive their local government finance settlement for 2019-20 has been announced as 6 December. This follows the announcement by the Ministry of Housing, Communit... more >

the raven's daily blog

Social value in public procurement

12/11/2018Social value in public procurement

Rose Lasko-Skinner, researcher at Reform, is currently working on a paper looking at choice and competition in the public sector and has written on how failure to understand risk makes for poor procurement practices. Here, she discusses the importance of social value. The “state of crisis” declared in HM Prison Birmingham in A... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

comment

The digital buying community is live

12/11/2018The digital buying community is live

Many of the requirements from buyers posted on the Digital Marketplace were either non-compliant or poorly worded, which resulted in challenges f... more >
A force to be reckoned with

12/11/2018A force to be reckoned with

The South Bank plan, which refers to a number of investments and proposed activities across a massive plot of land south of the River Aire, is on... more >
Less for less: the risk of 'core offers'

12/11/2018Less for less: the risk of 'core offers'

As councils across England struggle with their finances in the face of massive cuts from central government, Simon Edwards, director of the Count... more >
A two-speed England

05/11/2018A two-speed England

Central government needs to change its approach to local transport planning and investment, including by consolidating funding and maximising dev... more >

interviews

New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

05/11/2018New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

The new chief executive of one of the new unitary authorities in Dorset has outlined his approach to culture and work with employees, arguing tha... more >
Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >
Cllr Cutts on dealing with children’s services pressures: ‘I can’t magic money out of the air’

26/09/2018Cllr Cutts on dealing with children’s services pressures: ‘I can’t magic money out of the air’

The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council has outlined her priorities for dealing with soaring demand of children’s services and social ... more >
Nottinghamshire considers unitary shake-up proposals in a bid to balance books

05/09/2018Nottinghamshire considers unitary shake-up proposals in a bid to balance books

Nottinghamshire County Council is considering proposals to scrap its current two-tier structure for a new unitary system in order to save on... more >

public sector focus

View all News