May 2023

Dear Transitioners

We had a good Members’ Meeting in May and have some requests to share with you all.  A couple of quickies for starters:-

  • Raffle tickets are now available for you to buy/sell – £1 each in books of five – prizes £250, £150, £75 – much needed to boost our general fund which is running low mainly because of the huge increase in our insurance costs – so please let us know how many tickets you would like for yourself and to sell to your friends
  • Wye July – Sunday 9 July, 11 till 3:  We will have a stall with plants to sell or swap.  Everything is growing like crazy at the moment.  Rather than composting your surplus, please could you pot it up for this event.  Offers of help on the day would also be much appreciated

The main reason for this newsletter is a talk we had from Philip Jenkinson on Community Owned Low Carbon Heating Schemes.  Philip has a background in engineering in the energy industry and suggested it might be worth investigating the possibility of such a scheme in Monmouth.  Please let me know if you would like to join a Working Group to investigate this further – local knowledge is more important than technical!  Philip has summarised as follows:-

Although progress is being made on developing a low carbon economy in the UK, this development has to date been focused centrally on major corporations, in my view with little benefit at the community level.  Significant strides have been made to reduce the carbon intensity of grid electricity;  however, due to technical peculiarities the provision of decarbonised heat has lagged behind.  This has left, and will continue to leave, the public heavily exposed to volatile fossil fuel markets which are likely to undergo considerable upheaval and added volatility throughout global decarbonisation efforts.

There is a significant opportunity to promote community cohesion, prosperity and resilience through community led energy independence and decarbonisation projects.  Such schemes have the potential to free our community from volatile fossil fuel driven energy markets, allowing us to actively participate in our transition to a low carbon economy, sharing in the benefits of such a transition both societally and economically. 

I am proposing that community groups within Monmouth act to identify and progress low carbon heat and electricity provision projects which are owned and operated by the community for the benefit of the community.  Economic benefits should be shared by owners of such schemes either by benefitting from reduced heating and electricity costs or these savings should be pooled and the proceeds utilised by the community to further their prosperity through investment in other public schemes.  A hybrid approach could be adopted;  the legal form of this will be determined by consultation with stakeholders. 

Such schemes are in line with commitments made in the 2019 MCC Climate Emergency Action Plan.

Although efforts are now being made to accelerate the decarbonisation of domestic heating, the options to do so effectively are limited and the nature of the problem would require monumental change in the existing energy system.  Although this may be delivered over the long term by:-

  • national roll out of domestic heat pumps – notwithstanding their significant technical challenges due to low heat grade and major electrification requirement, or
  • replacement of natural gas within the national distribution network with hydrogen – again fraught with technical challenges and requiring massive electrification using renewable energy sources if it is to be environmentally beneficial;  this is likely to take a number of decades before filtering to domestic settings effectively

Even if the aim of decarbonising grid distributed heat is achieved, it will come with significant cost to consumers and leave communities at the continued mercy of major corporations, very similar to the existing system.  It is my view that this has a significant negative impact on community cohesion by stripping the populace of their licence to act in concert to the betterment of the community and the environment. 

A range of technologies can be utilised by such schemes including these include solar  thermal, solar PV, biomass heating/CHP (using fuels which provide environmental benefit only and limit pollution), wind, heat pumps, hydrogen etc.  The selection of applicable technology will be merit based and case specific, requiring a full analysis for each project.  Chosen technologies should be:-

  • technically capable of achieving the required quality of heat or electricity
  • should be environmentally superior to continued natural gas use
  • must minimise both direct and indirect carbon impacts
  • should provide economic advantages over existing and future heat provision by the ‘grid’ and
  • be feasible for use in community ownership energy schemes both economically and in application

Much of this chimes well with the Transition Monmouth mission to tackle, through community engagement, the causes of and issues created by climate change.  As such I would like to work with the group, and other established community groups in Monmouth to push such a proposal toward realisation.

The next steps, should this be of interest, are to frame the explicit goals of any such project/projects, define the limits of ambition for such schemes and identify first potential projects for more detailed techno commercial assessment of applicable technologies such that a project cost, impact and return can be defined.