Interview with Mark Topping, member of Forest Energy Community Initiative, Forest of Dean District Councillor for Lydney West & Aylburton and Chair of Aylburton Parish Council
Q: What does community energy mean to you?
A: Community energy is about looking at ways to reduce energy use locally, and install renewable energy systems to produce the energy we do need. It is intrinsically about ‘local’ and ‘community’; about engaging with local residents and businesses and organisations in finding ways to develop and facilitate sustainable lifestyles and communities.
I think an essential element is having the meaningful involvement of local people. So that a renewable energy project for instance, would not be something that’s imposed from above, but rather a grass roots response to climate breakdown. Both conceived and owned by the local community.
In part it comes from the desire of citizens to take practical action where they are, in the absence of an appropriate government-led programme.
Q: Why have you decided to come to the AURORA community energy meetings?
A: Because it seemed like it could be the start of something important. As a local councillor I am aware of residents desperately wanting to ‘do something’ about climate breakdown – and I share the same feeling. As I understood it, Aurora was starting with a significant solar project and hoping to ‘seed’ the formation of a self-supporting, independent energy community. This is potentially exactly what we need locally, to enable us to do what we can in response to the climate crisis.
Q: What are some benefits that you can see AURORA bringing to the Forest of Dean?
A: It will lead to carbon emission reduction. Through energy use reduction, installation of renewables and encouraging the development of sustainable living and working.
People will save money if they can reduce energy use and retrofit insulation and energy systems in their own homes. It could lead to a real sense of ownership of bigger local renewable projects.
It could lead to greater community cohesion and involvement of more people in community projects, improving mental health as people realise they are not powerless to implement change.
Q: What is your aspiration for community energy in the Forest of Dean?
A: I would like our community energy in the Forest to play a significant role in helping the district work towards carbon neutrality, at pace.