10 ways we can reclaim our energy supply

Would you like to live in a zero carbon future, where a whole new approach to energy has delivered benefits not just for the planet, but also for people and communities?

Rethinking how we access the energy we need is a key challenge as we work to build a zero carbon future. Changing our approach to the production and ownership of energy — who generates it, and who profits — could have many wider benefits, including for people and communities that could benefit financially from local renewable energy projects. Continue reading “10 ways we can reclaim our energy supply”

CAT supporters ‘Make it Happen’ at the CAT conference

Last weekend saw the return of CAT’s annual members’ conference – three days filled with ideas, inspiration and connection. Fundraising Officer Tanya Hawkes reports.

CAT was alive with people and ideas at the weekend. Over 100 CAT members, supporters, staff, lecturers and students arrived for the ‘Making it Happen’ conference. How to ‘Make it Happen’ is the new phase of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research, and this provided the focus for the conference.

We celebrated the opening of CAT’s new biomass boiler, wrote a collective letter to Theresa May, explored environmental politics with expert speakers from around the UK and danced the night away to a ceilidh band with local organic cider and fresh food from CAT’s gardens.

A collective letter urged Theresa May to act now to get the UK to zero carbon

This was the first CAT conference I’ve helped to organise and the positive energy and transformational discussions were exhilarating. By far the most interesting part of the weekend was presentations by CAT members and students. Val Walsh gave a passionate speech about the tremendous political changes in the UK in the last two years. Ian Care inspired us to find our inner geek. Lucy Care led a group who collectively penned a letter to Theresa May, signed by all the conference attendees. We heard about so many new projects that people are starting – waste reduction at festivals, new food waste schemes, and plans for community energy programmes.

What is so inspiring about the work of CAT supporters is the strength of the peer to peer learning and sharing of ideas and expertise. It feels like this is the epitome of what CAT stands for: strengthening the environmental work of ordinary people, and inspiring confidence in each other to make real world changes, whilst firmly situating ourselves realistically within current political and economic frameworks.

Our expert speakers came along to share and explore idea with delegates. Engineer Adam Tyler led a biomass heat tour around CAT. Helen Atkins, researcher on the latest phase of Zero Carbon Britain, led a session how to re-centre the voices of marginalised people in the environmental movement. Alex Randall, from Climate Outreach, delivered a workshop on the unhelpful ‘framing’ of refugees in relation to climate change in the media. You can download his podcast here.

Exploring the gardens with CAT growers Roger (far left) and Petra (right)

Rachel Solnick, a food waste expert and co-founder of ‘This is Rubbish’ shared her plans and expertise with us. CAT lecturers, trustees and staff led workshops in biodiversity, building methods and gardening techniques. Chris Blake, Deirdre Raffan and Dr Jane Fisher explored new innovations in community energy and educational tools for children and adults. Professor Tim Valentine unpacked the psychology of climate change action. Petra Weinmann and Roger McLennan, CAT’s growing experts, ran practical gardening sessions. Craig Shankster and Paul Allen led a session on deep well-being including an opportunity chance to ‘bathe’ in the sounds of gongs to develop deep relaxation, which at the end of a non-stop weekend of information, discussion and practical sessions was most welcome!

There were so many amazing and useful sessions by CAT members, staff and visiting speakers – look out for details about them over the coming months, in blogs and articles. The centre seems very quiet now the buzz of conversation has dulled as the last guests left. We hope very much to see you all next year. Thank you for ‘Making it Happen’ with us.

Zero Carbon Conversations

During our latest Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) course, film-maker Mike Erskine asked people about their hopes, fears and ambitions for a climate safe future.

Watch these Zero Carbon Conversations to find out how people stay positive despite challenging times, where they think the barriers lie, and what they think needs to be done to make change happen.

If this inspires you to take action, why not join us on the next Zero Carbon Britain course to find out more about how we can get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions using technology available today.




Skill-sharing with the Wanju Ladies Club

There’s a quiet revolution happening in South Korea. People are moving ‘back to the village’ in huge numbers following the economic crisis and rejection of the consumerist and competitive urban lifestyle.

For many this is a difficult transition from a highly service-orientated city culture, but there is a group for whom it is particularly challenging and that is the unmarried women who are making the shift in large numbers. These women are not only bravely embracing a new way of life with limited skills but are also tackling long standing traditions and prejudice around gender roles.

Jijeong and Bohyun with Jyoti and Paul from CAT's courses team.
Jijeong and Bohyun with Jyoti and Paul from CAT’s courses team.

This week we welcomed two such women: Jijeong and Bohyun from the Wanju Ladies Club, a cooperative established to up-skill and enable single women returning to the country. In just three years they’ve established the cooperative and created training courses and materials on heating, cooking, renewable energy, insulation, rainwater harvesting and up-cycling. Jijeong and Bohyun are two of the seven founding members who are all activists in social and environmental movements and experts in the field of alternative and appropriated technology.

By up-skilling women in this way the club hopes to enable women to be more autonomous in their homes but also to elevate their status within their communities, improve the lives of the village as a whole, and to establish these women as role models for future generations of girls to become learners and teachers, transforming culture over time to be more inclusive and welcoming.

Jijeong and Bohyun came all this way to learn about CAT’s evolution and how we’ve challenged gender stereotypes over the years, from hiring a female builder Cindy Harris to lead construction at CAT for 17 years, to continually questioning our thinking and actions to attract a more diverse audience to CAT as members, visitors and students. Our latest Zero Carbon Britain research ‘Making it Happen’ (coming soon!) also features special content on gender and race equality and the author Helen Atkins was interviewed by Jijeong and Bohyun during their stay.

Whilst here our guests have also attended a course in Traditional Timber Frame Joints with Carwyn Jones and ‘a way of building used locally sourced materials’ with Maurice Mitchell, author of The Lemonade Stand.

We are the first to admit we don’t have all the answers but hope we can help them during their visit by sharing how we aim to inspire people from diverse backgrounds. So what’s next for the Wanju Ladies Club? Well they’ll be setting up an advice service for aspiring community energy projects as well as a construction cooperative for social housing initiatives, and that’s just for starters…. We wish them all the best for what sounds like an amazing and very worthwhile project.

Student open space day tackles barriers to Zero Carbon Britain

Students from the Centre for Alternative Technology’s (CAT’s) Graduate School of the Environment held an interactive Open Space day to discuss barriers to bringing about a rapid transition to a low carbon economy. The outcomes of the day are being fed into the Zero Carbon Britain – Making it Happen research currently being undertaken by CAT.


The open space style of the event meant the day started with 40 people but no agenda. The participants came up with and held 16 smaller group discussions on a diverse range of topics during the day. This 2-minute film gives a flavour of the day.

The 16 discussions covered a broad range of topics, but the structure of the day allowed each session to be focused, and useful for developing the research. Topics covered included:

  • Reaching a wider audience, including reaching out within workplaces
  • Using the resources of new build property developers and retrofitting existing buildings
  • Community energy, and how you create strong community groups
  • Political action, both local and wider
  • Creating an inclusive movement, that is founded on equality and diversity
  • Looking at a more individual level, at setting personal goals, behaviour change, valuing resources and handling both ‘eco-guilt’ and bad news on climate change
  • Values and learning from nature
  • Having a hopeful vision that inspires us

If you are interested about finding out more about CAT’s next research project, you can read about Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen initial findings online, or come along to our short course on the 28-29th April, which is just before the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, meaning you can combine the two for a stimulating long weekend in Machynlleth.

Power in the Land

alana_quilt-detail-230x170We are excited to hear that the North Wales arts collective X-10 are opening their new show Power in the Land this weekend.
The dynamic, diverse and multi-talented group of ten artists were inspired by the closure and decommisioning of the last nuclear power station in Wales – Wylfa in Anglesey – at the end of 2015.

The resulting work – two years in the making – is an engaging medley of work in video, sound, performance, installation and in graphic and photographic forms.

The impact made by the arrival of Wylfa in the 1960’s on the language and culture of this corner of Wales is explored, together with the legacy of a major power institution on the landscape.

The 10 artists have been chosen for their exhibiting experience, their creativity and their willingness to explore beyond the obvious, to eNo-entry1-230x170xperiment and to engage in creative dialogue with each other.

They have been working together on the site and responding to the physical, material and energetic presence of the power station, as well as its geographical landscape, and the interactions with the local community.

Join Alana Tyson, Ant Dickinson, Jessica Lloyd-Jones, Robin Tarbet and Teresa Paiva in conversation and lively debate on Saturday 6th Feb, at 5pm in the Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown.
No booking necessary.
Refreshments available for a small donation

The group are taking their touring exhibition across Wales before traveling to England and Europe.


Oriel Davies
6th Feb to 6th April, 2016

Main exhibition of artworks and artists talks.
Anglesey Arts Weeks
19th March to 3rd April, 2016

Artist’s group working process Open Studio.
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
14th May to 18th July, 2016

Main exhibition of artworks.

Community energy in Wales: overcoming the challenges

The benefits of community energy projects cannot be overstated, so why do so many fail to get off the ground? Paul Burrell from Machynlleth based Anemos Renewables shows how some Welsh communities are tackling – and overcoming – the obstacles. This article orginally appears in the CAT membership magazine Clean Slate

If we are to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, we need a rapid transition to a clean, efficient, renewables-based energy system. Community energy projects have a huge role to play in delivering an equitable and fair energy system. In Denmark, for example, over 100 wind turbine co-operatives have a combined ownership of three quarters of the country’s turbines. The price per kWh for electricity from the community-owned wind parks is competitive with conventional power production.


Community energy is the natural tonic to commercial renewable energy developments, which are largely owned and operated by corporations. Utility companies and large development companies are often based financially outside of the UK. Current planning guidance only requires commercial projects to give a small percentage of this revenue to the local community, whilst the lion’s share is funnelled out to commercial shareholders.

In contrast, a community-scale energy project places ownership of the power generator, either wholly or in part, within the local community, and the net revenue accumulated during the lifespan of the project is distributed to local people and projects. These projects ensure that members of the local community retain some control over their power generation options, which then reduces reliance on imported power and, in the longer term, reduces carbon emissions.

Community energy development within Wales, particularly in the case of wind energy schemes, are supported by national planning policy that recommends planning departments support projects owned and operated by local communities. Furthermore, there are grant funds available for community energy development (Ynni’r fro is one example). A well-sited renewable energy scheme is a valuable long-term asset, particularly with rising power costs and strong UK incentives for generation. Wales also has an extensive network of established communities which, until fairly recently, still operated a large number of hydroelectric projects and are therefore used to being in control of their power generation.

A well-sited renewable energy scheme is a valuable long-term asset.

This all sounds good so far, especially when you factor in the excellent wind and water resources that Wales possesses in abundance across a large percentage of the country. Yet despite the factors in their favour, community energy schemes across Wales are being held up by lengthy planning processes and local opposition.

In the South Wales Valleys economic cuts are biting, and opportunities for communities to generate extra revenue are limited. To combat these negative factors a local arts-based organisation decided that a windblown hilltop in Ferndale village would be the perfect place for a community-owned wind energy scheme of significant scale. The group approached the local landowner and quickly developed an idea to deliver a cluster of commercial-scale turbines that would then generate revenue for the community, to be used in improving access to art facilities for all. The site itself was commercially viable and able to technically accommodate the wind energy scheme, and so the planning application was prepared, submitted and, after some time, approved by the local planning authority. By then, however, delays during the planning process meant that the legal agreement between the landowner and the group had expired. Meanwhile a commercial developer had approached the landowner and placed a better offer on the table than that from the community group. The landowner signed with the commercial developer, who subsequently developed the wind energy scheme, retaining all ongoing profits. The local group now have the pleasure of watching the turbines spin whilst receiving almost none of the revenue produced. The group are still working on developing another community renewable energy scheme.


Further north, in the Black Mountains, another community group has set up a community development trust with the aim of improving opportunities within the locale. Awel AmanTawe (AAT) had approached a local landowner (as in Ferndale) and agreed a deal to deliver a small cluster of commercial-scale turbines across the site area. The majority of the revenue from the scheme was to be routed back into the community, with many expected benefits to the economic situation. That was over ten years ago. Since then, despite the site finally gaining planning consent after an extended and expensive battle with the planning authority, the turbines are yet to be installed. The reason for the delay is a combination of local opposition to the scheme and the council planning department obstructing the commission and construction of the site. Visit the proposed site today and you are unlikely to find a more suitable wind site in Wales. It is, in fact, only the ongoing commitment of AAT that has kept the scheme and local hopes alive, and the group is now working towards an installation date of 2016. Having spent 10 years developing the project with nothing yet on the ground, the organisation has discovered just how costly and time-sapping this process can be.

Over in Pembrokeshire two other community schemes have been threatened by council policies. Both schemes are for medium-scale turbines and located in areas where planning consent should be achievable. The projects were undertaken using EU grant money, with volunteers and employed consultants working on development.

The planning applications clearly illustrated that revenue from the installed wind turbines would be retained by local groups and that any visual impact of the turbines would be offset by the positive effects of local ownership. However, Pembrokeshire Council ruled that both schemes were in conflict with landscape protection policies, and both schemes were refused at planning committee level. At this stage, resource-limited community groups face two options: to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, which incurs further costs and volunteer time, or to hold back on the project. In this particular case both groups appealed, one of them successfully. The Planning Inspectorate acknowledged the community benefit package as offering mitigation to the potential landscape impact from the installed turbine, whilst in the other case they did not. The refused project continues to forge ahead with a redesigned scheme and hopes to resubmit planning in the near future, while the consented project is aiming for installation in the near future.

It is vital we enable communities to reap the benefits of decarbonisation.

The last example of a community energy project in Wales that is struggling to get off the ground is in Ceredigion, an area with some of the best wind resources in Wales. An enthusiastic community group wanted to install a single medium-sized wind turbine that could power up to 300 homes. A deal was made with a local farmer and planning work was commissioned. The local golf club argued that the wind turbine would cause the golf club to lose money, potentially causing a flickering shadow on the golf course. The objection was upheld and the landowner stepped quietly away from the project. Ceredigion Fair Wind has now found other wind energy sites and is working towards a further planning submission – speaking volumes about their indomitable spirit, something which is proving critical in delivering these kinds of projects.

The future – energy democracy

Climate change is not going away; power demand is rising and our reliance on imported fuel is growing. Meanwhile millions are struggling to pay the extortionate fuel bills from the Big Six energy companies, with over 2.28 million people in the UK living in ‘fuel poverty’.

Small energy co-ops show how we can build a sustainable and affordable energy future and offer hope to communities that are desperately trying to source extra income to keep public services and opportunities open to all. There are a great many positive examples of community energy schemes in action, but many of them have only come about through hard- fought battles with outdated council planning rules as well as prejudice against renewable energy.CSI-Energy-Democracy

2014 closed with a stark warning from UN climate scientists that we must take action now to quickly and rapidly reduce carbon emissions. It is vital that in doing so we empower and enable communities to reap the benefits of that decarbonisation. The Welsh Government continues to support such schemes via the excellent Ynni’r fro and by improving policy to help planners give favourable weight to community energy applications. Financial incentives continue to support renewable energy schemes, and the wind and rain continue to batter Wales, providing an excellent sustainable resource to be exploited. In many areas there is local ambition and, despite the challenges that community groups face, it is apparent that victories are starting to emerge. As such projects become widespread and the benefits become clear there is substantial reason to believe that Wales can vastly improve its network of community energy projects – providing hope and inspiration to future generations facing the ever-increasing challenges of climate change.

About the author

Paul Burrrell lives and works in Machynlleth, Powys, having completed an MSc in Advanced Architecture and Environmental Studies at the Centre for Alternative Technology in 2008. He currently works for the Severn Wye Energy Agency alongside Ecodyfi on the Ynni’r Fro Scheme, which supports communities who wish to install their own large-scale renewable energy systems. Paul works in both Ceredigion and Gwynedd as the Ynni’r Fro technical development officer, assisting groups from the initial contact and site assessment (feasibility) stages, then providing on-going technical support throughout the development phases of the wind, hydro or anaerobic digestion projects. He coordinates funding applications that are required at each key stage from the funding body, and can assist groups to legally constitute (if required) and to facilitate community liaison events.

Making the most of the skills he gained studying at CAT, Paul is now co-director of Anemos Renewables (set up in 2011), an independent company that works with local farmers and landowners to develop small to medium scale wind energy schemes. The company’s MCS-accredited installers offer services including a full ‘Turnkey’ service for the installation of MCS-certified Evance 5kW R9000, Aircon 10S, Winspot 5kW and Tozzi Nord TM535 wind turbines. They also offer consultancy services for the development of small and medium (<500kW) wind turbine projects, including feasibility studies, preparation of planning applications, system design, grid connection and project management of the installation. For further information see www.anemos.org.uk or contact Paul Burrell at zephyros@anemos.org.uk