ELENA funds municipal power in Green Capital Bristol

Bristol has made a name for itself as one of the UK’s most progressive cities – and is currently holding the prestigious Green Capital title . Now, with help from the EIB via ELENA funding , Bristol is setting up its own energy company. A spokesperson from Bristol City Council tells us all about it.

· Why did the council decide to set up Bristol Energy?

Local authorities are facing pressure to ensure they are resilient to the physical, social, environmental and economic challenges of the 21st century. Bristol prides itself on being an innovative, forward-thinking and sustainable city, and this is partly what helped it become European Green Capital 2015 (the first UK city to hold the title), and one of the Rockefeller 100 resilient cities. The idea to create a municipal energy company came as early as 2010 during the preparation of the city’s successful European Green Capital bid, inspired by the German Stadtwerke example.

Our model for a city-owned energy company offers a unique opportunity to generate income that can protect the services deemed crucial for the city, as well as be used to invest in local renewables and low carbon initiatives. This is only part of what makes Bristol Energy a force for social good.

· What are the benefits for citizens?

The city will become more resilient, and as such, more able to respond to its citizen’s needs. Bristol Energy will create jobs but also growth in energy expertise in the city, whether through its direct employment or indirectly through the jobs it will help to generate by investing in local renewables and low carbon projects.

A portion of Bristol’s citizens, like in many other areas of the UK, are faced with fuel poverty. Bristol Energy will aim to alleviate this through fairly priced tariffs. What’s more, Bristol Energy’s physical presence and community events will offer local customers that extra personal and accessible level of customer care and support. Events held in communities, in particular, will help some of the city’s most deprived citizens access information that could make a difference. It is often the poorest sections of society that are on expensive pre-payment meters, or that would benefit from that extra bit of help to understand their tariffs and bills.

  • How is electricity generated?

Bristol Energy, for the moment, purchases the energy it sells directly from the market. The company’s primary focus is to be socially responsible, aiming to help combat inequality and fuel poverty. One way to do this is through fairly priced tariffs.

The cost of renewables on the market remains more expensive than traditional energy sources. With a view to keeping its energy prices affordable, Bristol Energy is not restricting itself to buying only renewable energy, at least for the moment.

· What resources are required from the council?

The council would not have been able to explore the municipal energy company route were it not for funding from the European ELENA Programme. We received a £2.5m assistance grant which financed additional staff for the preparation of the council’s energy investment programme, including plans for the set-up of the company.

Having said that, the ELENA funding was just the beginning. The council has had to make a significant monetary investment, including the provision of financial guarantees in order for the company to be able to trade on the market.

The company’s core management team is made up of industry experts recruited by the council, and is now building Bristol Energy using their extensive experience, while working according to the council’s ethos and overall objectives.

· What's the vision for the future?

The company aspires to become low carbon over time, while not sacrificing its core social objectives. Once profitable, Bristol Energy will play a significant role in increasing the amount of renewable energy generated locally. It is also looking to enter into power agreements with renewable generators and to draw energy from the council’s energy assets. For example, Bristol City Council already has two wind turbines totalling 5MW capacity and will complete two solar parks with 10.2MW combined capacity before summer 2016. The rest of the council’s 1.3MW solar PV capacity is installed on its operational buildings, with the majority of it being used on site. Furthermore, the council also owns a number of energy centres powered by biomass boilers and backed up by energy efficiency gas boilers that feed its heat networks.

Being one of the first municipal energy companies in the UK, Bristol Energy aims to become a model for other UK local authorities.