Hardly a day goes by of late without headlines about gas and electricity price hikes or political rows over energy policies.
Ensuring a sustainable, affordable energy supply is a priority for councils, communities and economies and can be a way of demonstrating real community leadership. As well as needing to cut costs as major energy users, positive action can help tackle fuel poverty and carbon emissions, promote local jobs and investment and ensure a secure power supply for the future. Councils up and down the country - including Stockton-on-Tees, Dudley, Reading, Portsmouth and Southampton to name but a handful – are leading impressive energy initiatives at present.
Active participation in the provision of energy can save money and generate income. Energy efficient building and retrofit works, providing advice and information are also key roles local authorities can play. Leading the local response on the public policy issue of energy affordability is a prime example of our 'Ensuring Council' vision for local government, which means: active stewardship to ensure social, economic and environmental wellbeing; linking strategic decision-making with capacity to deliver; and generating income through municipal entrepreneurship.
The Ensuring Council also promotes collaboration rather than competition – and such collaboration will be vital to the success of municipal energy efficiency and power from sources such as solar, wind and biomass. APSE has been vociferous on this agenda for the last four years and has brought together energy exemplar authorities to share their experiences through an energy collaboration group over the past two years. Collaboration has become a key theme of our advisory groups on renewables and climate change. Sharing knowledge of topics such as finance, law, procurement and risk makes the vision for green energy so much more achievable.
One advantage of public over commercial entrepreneurship is that it can foster such collaboration, rather than competition. Another is that, without shareholders, surpluses generated directly or by a locally owned energy body can be reinvested to meet local needs.
As winter approaches with all too many households terrified to switch on their heating, taking local control of energy is a way to bring power to local communities - in the tangible and metaphorical sense.