Home to one of the UK’s first municipal energy companies, a thriving network of community energy organisations, and even a city-centric renewables investment group, Bristol is tackling the monopolised energy market head on. Copyright investigates the city’s push for power over its power.

It was a slow, unashamedly bureaucratic process, initial plans were given the go ahead in 2010, but in the closing weeks of 2015, Bristol Energy was finally launched. Following in the footsteps of Nottingham’s Robin Hood Energy, Bristol City Council’s municipal power company ploughs its profits back into the public purse. It’s a community initiative that has already inspired Sadiq Khan to develop a replica for London and was one of our own, recently departed mayor’s crowning achievements.

Owned and run by the council, Bristol Energy promises to put people over profit. Its manifesto states the aim of the company is to offer gas and electricity at a fair price to consumer in Bristol, the South West and beyond.

In a marketplace dominated by six, seemingly all-powerful, energy corporations, Bristol Energy is bravely challenging a culture of uncertain tariffs and ruthless price hikes.

As well dealing with financial insecurity, and channelling profits back into council-led initiatives to tackle fuel poverty, of which 13 per cent of inner city households suffer, Bristol Energy are keen to embrace the renewables revolution too. The company actively source electricity from local renewable generators – more often than not, solar farmers and turbine owners – to help support the region’s green economy.

This summer, Bristol Energy installed 1000 Smart Meters free of charge to help further reduce energy costs by allowing residents to monitor their energy usage. By June 2016, almost 10,000 people had switched to Bristol Energy – 58 per cent of them outside of the company’s closest UK regions, the South West, South Wales, the Midlands, and the South.

Credit: Ryan Jackson

Credit: Ryan Jackson

An energetic marketplace

Another Bristol-based organisation has taken the concept of homegrown power even further by developing a renewable energy investment group. Bristol Energy Cooperative is a community-owned, not-for-profit energy group intent on expanding the supply of local, renewable energy.

As well as creating new green energy projects on its own, the coop also encourages and supports other groups to do the same.

Bristol Energy Cooperative is owned by its members who, as investors, receive interest on their investments from the profits made on the energy produced.

In June, Bristol Energy Cooperative announced that its new solar farm in Lawrence Weston, Bristol had begun to generate power. This new addition to the group’s nine-million-pound solar portfolio turned it into the country’s largest community energy group – in relation to the amount of energy it produces.

It is estimated that the solar farm will generate enough electricity every year to power around 1,000 households in Bristol.

Although Bristol Energy Cooperative are operating very much amongst the big players, generating huge amounts of renewable electricity, and offering its members real financial incentives, there are a number of smaller initiatives in Bristol who are achieving great things – but on a much smaller scale.

Homegrown energy

Bristol Energy Network is an organisation that unites energy initiatives in the city and surrounding areas run by both individuals and community groups.

The network’s mission is to provide the region with cheap, clean energy whilst filtering profits back into local economies. Under this umbrella organsitaion, over 20 forward-thinking groups and entrepreneurs are helping to combat fuel poverty and championing green energy.

Members of the network offer numerous solutions to Bristol’s energy issues. For example, Pennywise helps people to manage utility bills, budget for energy costs and reduce the amount of energy they use, while the Totterdown Energy Group is committed to making this small corner of Bristol more eco-friendly.

And other groups may soon be following suit. After a short hiatus, Bristol City Council’s energy funding platform, the Bristol Community Energy Fund, is back.

The group offers grants of up to £10,000 to independent community projects to develop local solutions to energy needs.

And Bristol’s mayor is a vocal supporter of the city’s ambitious energy targets, ‘I’m fully behind making Bristol carbon neutral by 2050 and addressing inequalities in the city,’ says Marvin Rees on the Bristol Community Energy Fund website. ‘For this, we need get the whole city involved.

‘The groups least engaged with energy issues have tended to be those most prone to fuel poverty, least likely to access information that might encourage them to undertake energy efficiency measures or to benefit from generating their own energy.’

With reliable funding and a sympathetic political ear, there’s no telling where Bristol’s energy revolution may lead.


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Do more

Support Bristol Energy by becoming a customer, visit bristol-energy.co.uk to find out more.

Learn more about ethical energy investments at bristolenergy.coop.

Discover more about the local energy initiatives taking place near you by visiting bristolenergynetwork.org.