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Renewable energy doesn’t need to be owned by big companies – it can be owned and run by communities

Updated: May 18, 2023

Photo: Wind turbine site Severn Road Avonmouth Bristol: Mark Pepper, David Tudgey, Kye Dudd, Dr Charles Gamble, Roger Sabido (Oct 2020)

Community hub Ambition Lawrence Weston is celebrating the news that they’ve been awarded planning permission for the largest wind turbine in England. The tallest structure to be built in Bristol, the wind turbine is proof that renewable energy can be owned by communities, not just by big business.

Once installed the turbine will produce enough low carbon electricity to power 3,500 homes and make CO2 savings of 1,965 tons every year.

Our community energy journey:

Ambition Lawrence Weston (ALW) is a grassroots, resident-led and driven Development Trust, Registered Charity and Company. It was founded by local residents in 2012 to deliver their Community Plan that brings together the aspirations of over 1,200 residents who responded and gave their views.

After working with ALW to deliver a fuel poverty workshop in 2014 with Bristol Energy Network, I was invited to become their community energy consultant and co-create and help deliver energy projects funded by The Big Local Trust and the Bristol Green Capital in 2015.

In 2016, local resident and member of ALW Energy Group Roger Sabido suggested that we build and own a community wind turbine. To which I replied, ‘well, I do know of a wind engineer who happens to be a volunteer with Bristol Energy Network’ (Dr Charles Gamble now Operations Manager for the project).

Recent changes in the planning law meant the project wouldn’t be permitted without a change to either our local plan or the Neighbourhood Development Plan. Undeterred, we found a potential route to planning by applying to the Urban Community Energy Fund which was supported by local organisation CSE. Bristol City Council Energy Services Team agreed to help us identify suitable council land.

Our application was submitted the same day my son was born in March 2016, so I have a wonderful time stamp of how long we have been working on this project. You can watch the project’s development – and all ALW’s other energy projects on YouTube.

It’s been a long journey from that first conversation to planning consent. Our achievement wouldn’t have been possible without the engaged support from residents of Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston Ward, local community groups, and local councillors – in particular Jo Sargent who helped to canvass residents in 2016 for their support for onshore wind.

Bristol City Council has supported us from the very beginning, with Mayor Marvin Rees and energy cabinet member Kye Dudd giving us their backing, and Council officers lending practical support including development funding through the Bristol Community Energy Fund development loan and Port Communities Resilience Fund grant. This led to other funders including Power to Change sandbox program, Bristol and Bath Regional Capital who have committed a £150,000 development loan this year, and the West of England Combined Authority who have committed £500,000 capital grant funding through their Low Carbon Communities Fund.

Since the planning policy changes in England in 2016, on-shore wind deployment has dried up. Only three on-shore windfarms were completed in 2019. We hope that the success of ALW’s wind turbine has turned the tide and set a precedent for further community-led applications across the country. Ambition Lawrence Weston has shown the power of communities and grass-roots driven projects, and demonstrated that our communities, given the right support, can take control over their destinies, push the shift to renewables and play an important role in bringing forward a Just Energy Transition. This will help Bristol go carbon neutral by 2030, and provide a blueprint for the hundreds of other community energy groups around the UK to create green jobs in the midst of a deepening recession and quicken the transition to a zero carbon energy system.

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