This week DECC announced that 82 local energy projects had been successful in bidding for £4M of its £10M Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF).
You would think that all sounds like great news and something we at GEN would be very much behind. Of course that would be the case except that the money has to be spent by the end of March 2012!! Surely, as tax payers, we should all be sceptical about a fund which comes out of almost no-where and offers relatively significant sums to spend in a matter of 2 months.
I did the sums - that gives these first 82 projects exactly 60 days to spend, if you average it out evenly across all of them, £50k each. Except it will be less than 60 days because it will take time for final decisions to be made and actioned and, at the end, I bet final forms and 'proof-of-spend' invoices have to be submitted by mid-March. How do you expect community energy projects to spend this amount of money in such a short space of time? This is crazy!! To make real impact requires time to bring people in and get then on-board and try to initiate change. Even 12 months is often too short a timescale.
You wonder what they will do with the remaining £6M - perhaps they will announce more winners in the next few weeks - even less time!!
Maybe it's just the 'tax payer' in me but I have been the Chair of a local transition group in my community for the last 2 years so I do feel qualified to comment. We successfully received about £25k through the Climate Challenge Fund - but by the time they awarded it to us we only had about 9 months to spend it. Even this was a challenge!
No doubt there are exceptions - projects with carefully thought out plans and full-time paid staff that are in a position to spend these sorts of amounts almost instantly on something that is worthwhile and sustainable. But my experience is these will not be the norm. Making large sums of money suddenly available to community projects with very tight 'spend deadlines' is likely to result in inadequately planned and unsustainable outcomes that chiefly benefit commercial suppliers of kit.
I put ZERO blame on the local energy projects and 100% on the way the government has released these funds. I thought we had got over the problems that meant public money has to spent by artificial deadlines imposed by financial managers!
We wish all those successful projects the very best with their intentions - we really do. But I'd be surprised if they were not the first people to agree these timescales are utterly ridiculous and the money would be much more effectively used if spread over the next 12 months.
We await the DECC funded due diligence report on all these projects in the Summer telling us what a huge positive impact that this funding has had. Cynical about these? Just a tad. The money has been spent, the report is rarely independent, few people read them, and no-one is likely to be accountable!