We've got the (Green) power!
By providing renewable energy from the sun, wind and rain, Midcounties’ own Co-operative Energy is reducing its impact on climate change and ploughing the profits back into local communities.
Published 7 Jul 2017
Imagine a world where our electricity comes entirely from natural sources such as the sun, wind and rain, our towns and cities get richer, businesses work together in harmony, and our communities prosper.
This is the blueprint that Co-op Energy, part of the Midcounties Co-operative, is using as it charges ahead to become greener, cleaner and even more community-focussed.
For not only does it care for the environment by providing electricity from 100 per cent renewable sources, it also ploughs profits back into local communities. Mark Billsborough, Head of Hedging and Renewables for Midcounties Co-op Energy, explains: ‘The Co-op redistributes its profits locally and pays them out as a share of profits to its members.’ And those ethics go even further – in that Co-op Energy wants to make a real impact on climate change. Because Co-op Energy gets its electricity from local wind farms, solar parks and hydro stations, it doesn’t fill the air with carbon pollutants that would come from coal-fired stations, for example.
‘By reducing our carbon emissions, we are reducing the impact on climate change,’ says Mark. ‘That is incredibly important to us.’
The secret to Co-op Energy’s success lies in its relationships with its local communities, who have set up their own wind farms, such as Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative in Watchfield, Oxfordshire, and solar parks such as South Hill Solar Farm near Charlbury, Oxfordshire. These local suppliers sell their energy directly to the Co-op under a contract called a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Co-op Energy had nine PPAs in 2014, which had grown to 40 by 2017. Now there are 66 PPAs with community groups – and half are in the Midcounties area. ‘We’ve become leaders in supporting community energy,’ explains Mark. ‘We actively try to buy energy from renewable sites within our location. It’s our goal to ensure they get a fair market price for their energy.’
One of the groups to have a PPA with Co-op Energy is Low Carbon Hub, based in Oxford, which has a hydro, as well as solar installations. Beth McAllister, who is communications executive at the Low Carbon Hub, says: ‘The Co-op was a natural partner because we also have a co-operative ethos.’
Co-op Energy also uses its profits to help local groups, like Warwickshire Young Carers, which is based in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, near Coventry, and caters for children from the age of eight who look after ill or disabled parents.
Says Mark: ‘We’ve used some of the money to give those children a Halloween party and take them to an ice hockey match in Coventry. We wanted to give them some time away from caring.’
Profits from power bills are also used to teach customers about cutting electricity costs – and to help with cost-cutting measures. After all, it’s better for the planet if we use less electricity.
Mark explains: ‘By reducing our consumption and increasing our efficiency, we’re releasing fewer pollutants into the environment. Using more renewable energy means those emissions are dramatically reduced.’
To encourage this, Co-op Energy offers practical advice.
‘We invest in our customers’ houses by putting in insulation,’ says Mark. ‘We go round to their homes to advise on how they can save money on energy, especially if they’re struggling to pay bills.
‘Little things like LED light bulbs can make a difference. If you switch off electronics rather than leaving them on standby, you could save £80 a year, and using your dishwasher when it has a full load can save £75 a year.’
Co-op Energy also spreads the word about renewables: it hosts energy conferences so like-minded people can share ideas, hunts for new suppliers and is even planning to create its own green energy.
TO GET GREEN ELECTRICITY, go to cooperativeenergy.coop