Setting up an energy forum is a good way to stimulate informed and constructive debate about how issues of energy efficiency and sustainability impact the local community and how they can be addressed at the local level. The key to establishing an effective forum lies in gathering together the right group of people to reflect the area’s interests, relevant skills and abilities, who can then work towards finding a way of advancing energy matters that is appropriate for local needs and circumstances.
Although that might sound a bit of a tall order on the face of it, with a little thought, it can often be a lot easier than you might at first think.
Who Should Take Part?
An energy forum is a different thing from either a project group or a local community energy network, principally because it generally involves fewer people and those that are a part of it are usually there because they have a particular knowledge or ability to bring to the proceedings. Setting up a successful forum requires you to gather together as wide and representative a group as possible, while taking care to balance things so that no one interest-group predominates.
To be really effective, your membership needs to be drawn from many sectors of the local community, including industry, community groups, builders, tradesmen and local or regional government.
Local energy companies, renewable energy installers, representatives of local project groups, your local councillor – and maybe even MP – local landowners and planners are all good first candidates to invite to join the forum. They probably won’t all say yes, but at least once you’ve got a few on-board, you can begin to select further members to complement the skills already represented.
Although many of the people on a forum typically represent some form of organisation or group, there is nothing to stop you inviting anyone who has a strong interest or particular contribution to make; the only real rule is to keep the right balance.
What Does A Forum Do?
First and foremost, a forum is unashamedly a talking-shop, where interested people can come together to discuss issues in an informed and sensible way, with the aim of developing some constructive ideas as to how the group’s main aims can be taken forward.
An energy forum can allow a whole range of important issues to be considered, but from a deliberately local viewpoint. If the mix of participants is right and reflects as wide a cross-section of relevant interests and expertise as possible, the forum can have a real role in improving the local and regional awareness on a variety of energy-related matters. Aside of the obvious economic and environmental benefits of encouraging energy saving measures and supporting moves to more sustainable sources, there are social aspects too, not least in terms of helping to identify and eradicate fuel poverty.
Some of the aims for your local energy forum might include:
- Encouraging greater energy efficiency in the area
- Providing an opportunity for local energy issues to be debated
- Exploring the most suitable technologies for local communities
- Acting as a central contact point for energy matters
- Trying to influence local and regional planning and decision making
- Providing support to people in the area to save energy and lower their energy bills
The aims are likely to evolve over time in response to changing circumstances – and the ability to react in this way to address local needs as they develop is probably one of the most important roles for the forum. In addition, the nature of the group makes it a very useful way to keep the energy issue at the top of the local political agenda as well as ensuring that the community in general stay informed and up-to-date regarding the latest in energy saving ideas. It can also help catalyse and support new projects in the area and act as a source of information and expertise for anyone looking to begin improving energy efficiency for themselves.
Setting up a local energy forum may involve a bit of effort, but once the ball starts rolling, it can be surprising how beneficial having done it can be in the long run.