England & Wales Climate action and sustainable development

Local energy solutions and local authority leadership


Yesterday saw UK local authorities coming together with colleagues from Whitehall and NESTA, to explore the opportunities, and challenges, of being an active ‘energy’ local authority, explains Hywel Lloyd, Advisor to the Stoke-on-Trent NESTA Creative Council Team.

Many readers will be well aware that the local authorities of the Victorian era led the way in the creation of the basic infrastructure of Britain’s cities because they saw a collective local need for power, sanitation, heat, light, and even cooking, and understood that only they could make it happen.

Generations later we have mostly national systems of energy production, which offer many benefits, from a national grid connecting a huge variety of users and suppliers, to a system that can be mostly managed by national organisations, be they private energy companies, regulators, or government.

However, some energy opportunities are local and some national energy challenges could well be best addressed systemically at a local level.  A growing number of local authorities are proactively responding to both.

Monday’s conference is a stepping stone in the journey that local government has been travelling for many years, from the initial heat schemes of cities such as Southampton and Woking, to the electricity generation deployed in cities such as Peterborough, and towards the strategic place based approaches deployed by the likes of Milton Keynes.

While it is a personal view that in time there will be a ‘local government energy company’ spanning more than a few authorities, it is certainly the case that by 2016 there will be more than a handful of local authority owned energy companies, serving local authorities, local communities or both.  There will also be more local or district heating schemes, significant progress on local and home energy efficiency, greater install capacity of small-scale renewable electricity generation, more CHP (some of which will be bio-fuelled), as well as growth in the conversion of waste streams to fuels (those grass cuttings becoming bio-gas) and probably more bio-mass deliberately planted on public and local authority amenity land.

All of these opportunities contribute to local energy or the local contribution to energy supply; and all involve an input from the local authority – in some cases they may also offer reduced costs (of waste disposal) or even sources of income for an authority.

The conference looked at many aspects of delivery across finance, legal and procurement processes; at the impact of the general power and the Localism Act; and at getting the governance and strategy right while also ensuring effective public and political engagement.

We considered what helps and hinders progress, while learning from other practitioners and innovative authorities; with a view to sharing that learning with a range of Whitehall contributors, all of whom have some policy interest in the success of local energy.

While the conference is about local energy it is also about innovation, and the potential for local authorities to lead and implement innovative solutions that add value to their communities and their places.  This event arises from the work of Stoke-on-Trent City Council as part of the Creative Councils’ programme developed and supported by the LGA and NESTA.

The event is intended to develop a growing network of authorities with shared interests, including the potential for a number of issue, or task and finish groups that would look at specific issues and opportunities in more detail.  If you and your authority have an interest in this agenda, or any of the more specific topics please do drop us a line at [email protected] and we will endeavour to include you in any future activities and outputs of the work.

This post was written by Hywel Lloyd, Advisor to the Stoke-on-Trent NESTA Creative Council Team.