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Financing Local Energy Transitions In A Just, Community-based Way

Financing local energy transitions in a just, community-based way

This November, the SONNET project channelled its inner rock star and “went on tour”. In other words, we took our experiences and lesson learnt, and brought them on the road to Bristol (UK) to share with a wide-reaching regional audience.

The SONNET City Lab in Bristol explores ‘Community Municipal Bonds’ (CMB) as an innovative new way of financing sustainable energy projects, like energy retrofits and renewable energy installations. It therefore only seemed fitting for the SONNET on Tour in Bristol workshop to dive deep into “Financing local energy transitions: an expert roundtable workshop on supporting energy transitions through green bonds”. Revisit the event agenda here.

But what is a CMB exactly? The SONNET team at Bristol City Council has put together an informational video to make that clear: In sum, a CMB is a low risk investment bond that is backed by the local council (in this case, Bristol City Council). Energy audits are undertaken to see what energy improvements are needed, what these will cost, and how much they will reduce energy costs. Community members are then invited to invest in these improvement projects, and the savings made thanks to lower energy bills are used to pay back investors.

The SONNET on Tour event in Bristol opened with a tour (offered in-person or pre-recorded) of the Filwood Community Centre, which is one of the local community buildings exploring whether a CMB would be the right fit to help it fund energy efficiency projects.

Following this opportunity to see the potential of a CMB in practice, the event re-convened a short walk away at another Bristol community building (the Knowle West Media Centre) for two days of expert roundtable discussions and hands-on exercises to help participants conceptualise of new and innovative energy transition projects that would be suitable to their own local contexts.

The discussions were lively and highly interactive. They introduced success stories of similar community financing tools in the UK and Portugal, and explored the potential of SONNET’s City Lab approach to help communities test new innovations.

Early on, participants were energised by David Tudgey of Bristol Energy Network, telling local leaders, “Cities have to step up on climate action when nations don’t.” Soon after, Karl Harder of Abundance Investment explained that CMBs can be used not only to advance climate action, but specifically to advance just climate action: “If you’re raising money from the community, that will likely come from the wealthiest members of the community. CMBs aim to ensure that the benefit from that money serves the entire community.”

The event was a success, with one participant sharing: “I will be starting conversations in my own Council about the possibility of launching community municipal bonds to support the local energy transition in our area.”

This was the first of two SONNET on Tour events. This iteration in Bristol convened energy leaders from Northern and Western Europe, with participants spanning the UK, Finland, France, Germany, Portugal, and Switzerland.

This January, we will convene a second such event in Warsaw, which will bring together leaders from Eastern, Central and Southern Europe. The event in Warsaw will consist of one day of workshops held in English and open to wide, online participation, followed by a second day in Polish for a diversity of Polish municipalities and local leaders.

For more information about the upcoming Warsaw event, follow @SONNET_energy on Twitter, where we will announce all updates.

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