In the UK a new theme has emerged in policy discourse and the investment of public resources around the concept of community renewable energy. A series of central government funded programs have been established with the aim of supporting and subsidizing community-based projects at a local level, an approach to renewable energy development previously the domain of alternative technology activists working outside of the mainstream. Drawing upon policy analysis and interviews undertaken with key actors, we argue that this new theme of government policy has emerged through a coalescence of largely instrumental policy drivers and does not represent a broader paradigmatic shift in the underlying norms and goals of policy. We consider the different ways the community label has been used and argue that while it has provided a ºexible space that activities, interests and objectives of various forms can occupy, its functional malleability also means that the communitarian expectations of participatory involvement are not being widely pursued or realized. Implications are considered for how, in the context of the governance of climate change, the outcomes of public investment in community renewable energy should be evaluated.