Northern Powergrid said it has seen a marked increase in community groups interested in energy. Image: Northern Powergrid.

A new fund targeted at tackling the barriers community energy groups face when getting projects off the ground has been launched by distribution network operator (DNO) Northern Powergrid.

Local groups can secure grants of up to £10,000 for exploring net zero action, with the fund providing targeted assistance to build the capacity and knowledge of community energy organisations.

It’s hoped this will encourage more new projects that could boost energy independence and reduce the impact of increasing energy prices while helping to achieve net zero.

Power prices have soared since the tailend of last summer, leading to rising household energy bills. This has been exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and its impact on wholesale gas, oil and power prices, leading to an  increased focus on Britain's energy security – including reducing reliance on global gas through increased domestic generation.

Support on offer from Northern Powergrid includes enabling access to the right expertise or training, exploring feasible project ideas and encouraging new and existing community energy organisations to develop their projects.

The DNO is also intending to create more opportunities for peer-to-peer networking in the sector, launching its ‘Put your community on the map!’ campaign.

Community energy and climate groups are being invited to add details about their activities and interests to a new interactive map to help them get the right support, have visibility and find other like-minded, local organisations.

Community Energy England, meanwhile, is offering groups in Northern Powergrid areas free Community Energy England membership if they register before 31 May 2022.

Network learning coordinator Shannon Jacksons stated: “With community energy being ready to save £150 million to UK homes by 2030, we welcome Northern Powergrid’s timely initiatives and vital support in the region.”

The DNO will also continue to deliver free online training sessions for community energy groups in its region over the summer. It has seen a marked increase in community groups interested in energy and emissions reduction projects since it launched its community energy support programme in 2014, however it said there has been slow growth in new projects or initiatives.

Earlier this year, Community Energy England accused the government of “ignoring” community energy, with no new financial or policy support in recent government documents such as the Ten Point Plan, the energy white paper and the Net Zero Strategy.

Anda Baumerte, Northern Powergrid’s sustainability manager, said: “We are seeing a growing network of community energy organisations across the region – our interactive map will connect new and existing groups, fostering greater collaboration. We also hope that our new fund will provide the vital early support to equip them with tools to make a difference and deliver more projects locally.”

Community energy projects around the UK are becoming increasingly common, with the UK’s largest community-owned solar park Ray Valley Solar, a 19.2MW site in Oxfordshire, completed last year for example. But Community Energy England has argued that it is being ignored and abandoned by government, hampering the sector due to a lack of support.