The Emergence of a Municipal Energy Sector in the UK – Developments, Rationales and Tensions
2015 saw the development of a new trend in the UK, of ‘energy municipalisation’, with the entry of the first five local authorities into the electricity supply market. Many more local authorities in the UK are now investigating setting up municipal electricity supply companies. Municipal actors have not played a significant role in UK electricity supply since the centralisation and nationalisation of the industry in 1947.
The presentation will outline the key developments in this new municipal energy sector – including which cities are pioneering the trend, who may follow, and what different models are being adopted or considered. It explores the rationales for these developments, from revenue generation to low carbon transition, that are being advanced by some of their proponents, before discussing some of the tensions and ambiguities present in the municipal energy project.
These tensions, around questions of scale and locality, and between market and democratic rationales, are examined in the context of five factors that are significant in the trends towards municipalisation: market liberalisation, distributed energy, smart technologies, city devolution and what may be described as a broad and diverse ‘energy democracy’ movement. The presentation will explore the often paradoxical relationship between rationales of democratisation, distributed ownership and market competition that characterise this emerging sector.