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Municipal energy as a force for social good

Source: PSE - Oct/Nov 2015

Mayor George Ferguson 3 - chris bahn resize 635816320698908194Bristol mayor George Ferguson explains why the city is launching its own energy company.

My mission is for Bristol to be an entrepreneurial, innovative and resilience-focused city. More than ever, local authorities are having to find new ways to maintain and develop their economic and social prosperity and to support the services they feel are important for their citizens.

Bristol Energy, one of the first municipal energy companies in the UK, is an example of our innovative approach to supporting the city. The energy company will be a force for social good, offering access to fair and transparent tariffs, whilst providing a much needed new income stream for the council to reinvest in local services and community-owned initiatives.

European Green Capital

Plans to set up an energy company were part of Bristol’s successful bid to be 2015 European Green Capital, but discussions within the council began as early as 2010. There are great examples of how this already works in some of our sister cities in Europe, and other new municipal energy initiatives are starting to emerge in the UK. This is because it makes such good sense.

We have thought long and hard about what we want this company to stand for. Bristol Energy will offer a fairer deal for households and organisations. In general terms, everyone will benefit from competitively priced, simple-to-understand tariffs. And specifically, Bristol Energy will ensure fair prices for those in fuel poverty.

For example, those on pre-payment meters are often among the most fuel poor, and Bristol Energy will strive to help them escape the higher tariffs they currently face.

Bristol Energy will be sustainable, not only as a result of its reinvestment practices but also because it will help to boost community participation, employment and local investment. The company will look to increase low-carbon energy generation in the city over time, and will support our new district energy network, providing more efficient heat and power to homes and businesses. The most important factor setting the company apart from the big energy players is, of course, that it is wholly owned by Bristol City Council, meaning Bristol Energy belongs to its core customers.

Solar Panels Temple St - Chris Bahn 2015

Choosing the right model for Bristol

We studied the possibilities and risks of different models. We received financial help towards our feasibility study from the European Investment Bank (EIB) under its European Local Energy Assistance (ELENA) Programme. Other UK cities looking down municipal energy avenues are exploring a range of approaches, from fully licensed supply, through to working in direct partnership with an existing energy supplier, and even running not-for-profit companies. We drew on experience and best practice from across Europe, considered alongside the specific needs of our city.

This summer, the council was able to give its final seal of approval to a 10-year business plan. We chose to set up a fully licensed supply company, wholly owned by Bristol City Council as its sole shareholder, but run by energy experts. We feel confident that this model delivers flexibility, minimal risk, serves the city’s interests well, while upholding Bristol’s green credentials.

Wind Turbines - Chris Bahn (2) resize 635816321767642319

There will undoubtedly be challenges as we move forward. One of these will be to find the right balance between reconciling the objective of setting low enough tariffs to protect the poorest and most vulnerable with that of generating revenue to help maintain and improve crucial services.

We now have the managing director of Bristol Energy, Peter Haigh, in place to drive the company towards launch. I’m delighted that we’ve found a respected leader in the industry who shares our vision for both fairness, environmental responsibility and accountability.

I look forward to seeing this worthwhile initiative bloom, where locally generated renewables support the regional economy, creating sustainable energy for future generations. This is an incredibly positive movement which we are proud to be part of, and we hope to help lead the way for other cities in the future.

M-Shed PV installation - August 2015 - crane 1 resize 635816321626238108


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