Hackney Council goes ahead with public energy company plan
While the Big Six are under threat from a potential Labour Party plan to nationalise Britain’s largest energy suppliers Hackney Council has unveiled more details of its new energy company.
Hackney Light and Power will be entirely owned and run by the borough’s local authority.
Home to around 280,000 people, Hackney joins Nottingham, Islington, Doncaster and Leeds among others in venturing into the energy arena from a public perspective.
The council hopes the company will help it slash its carbon emissions, reduce fuel poverty and put it at the vanguard of a new wave of urban clean energy producers.
What’s behind the new venture?
The firm is the result of a 2018 manifesto pledge by the Labour-run council.
Councillor Jon Burke, Hackney Cabinet Member for Energy, Waste, Transport and Public Realm said the move would help the council “halve its planet-heating emissions by 2030 and deliver net zero emissions by 2040.”
“Our renewable and low-carbon energy company will focus on turning Hackney into a major generator of electricity from rooftop solar,” he said.
“Upcoming solar projects at London Fields Lido and the West Reservoir Leisure Centre will ensure these buildings become the first in the borough to use decentralised clean energy as a significant source of their power.”
Hackney Light and Power is to go into operation in spring 2020.
In June, Hackney Council passed a motion recognizing that we are in a climate emergency and announced an ambitious target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, ten years earlier than the national target set by the government.
Is it only about supplying electricity?
Reducing demand for energy and tackling fuel poverty are also priorities.
Echoing the Labour Party’s national election pledge for Warm Homes For All, Hackney Light and Power will oversee a new scheme, called the Green Homes Programme, which will upgrade insulation in local homes at no cost to households.
The company will also be responsible for building out the local electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
The authority wants to see a “rapid expansion” of charging points in the borough, to contribute to the elimination of fossil fuel-powered vehicles and encourage what it calls “zero emission at the tailpipe.”
The council aims for the energy generated by the borough to be clean and at the same time hopes it will raise revenue that it can put back into wider decarbonisation efforts and running and improving public amenities for residents.
It plans to utilize roof space on its many properties for energy production by installing solar panels. It plans to begin by generating 250kWh of power to run two of its leisure centres.
“The energy system is just one area in which we need to rapidly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet, with increasingly worrying impacts on humans and ecosystems across the world,” Cllr Burke said.
“Hackney will not remain untouched by the serious impacts of global warming.”
Is this a wise move?
The borough is no stranger to generating its own power. In the 19th century, the Shoreditch Electric Light Network was set up by the local council and was the first municipal energy company to generate electricity from burning waste.
However, the London borough is entering the market at a time when small challenger energy firms are desperately fighting for market share. There are currently over 60 independent energy suppliers in the UK.
Six suppliers have gone bust so far this year, so the venture is not without some serious risk.
Recently, Robin Hood Energy, Nottingham’s publicly-owned not-for-profit supplier, came close to having its license revoked by energy regulator Ofgem. It was one of six suppliers Ofgem had ordered to pay renewable energy bills by the end of October.
The supplier was rescued when Nottingham Council met in a closed session and agreed to lend the firm £9.5m to cover the debt.
Despite recent troubles, Robin Hood has had a big impact in the local-supplier field.
Launched in 2015 as the UK’s first publicly-owned not-for-profit energy company, it already has around 132,000 customers.
Many of the country’s other council-run energy companies are actually piggy-backing off Robin Hood.
Islington’s Angelic Energy, Liverpool’s The Leccy, Leeds’ White Rose Energy, Leicestershire’s Fosse Energy and others all use Robin Hood for their supply.
However, other local authorities have chosen to go it alone and met with failure.
In August, Portsmouth incoming city council decided to scrap Victory Energy, an embryonic low-cost renewable electricity company a previous council had set up in 2017.
Although originally promised to generate £50m for the council within five years, its development was put on hold in 2018 due to political cold feet.
While the council looked around for a buyer Victory Energy sucked £18,000 a week from the authority’s coffers.
The premature closure cost Portsmouth £2.5m and resulted in nine employees being made redundant.
Hackney Light and Power will be a risky experiment, but it could be one worth paying attention to if it succeeds in bringing another clean energy option to the market.