15 May 2017
In the face of catastrophic climate change, we need to encourage energy efficiency and cleaner, renewable energy production, more than ever before. Unfortunately, our current government seems to be indifferent, if not intentionally hostile, to promoting this constructive, job-creating transition to a cleaner, income-generating and robust energy bill saving economy. This government is promoting funding of the destructive fossil fuel and nuclear industries. Our MPs own pension scheme invests in the fossil fuel industry for starters. While a significant minority recently backed divestment from fossil fuels, sadly the majority of MPs in government did not1.
Then there’s the promotion of the hugely unpopular hydraulic fracturing industry against the democratic will of the people2 and the attacks on onshore wind3 and solar energy4, both very popular renewable energy technologies5. These renewables, given the chance to flourish, as it did before the government started taxing and wrapping the renewable industry in red tape, can transform the UK’s energy security fears, reduce fuel poverty and meet our vital climate targets. We could have an economy that works for local, small to medium-sized businesses and domestic consumers alike, rather than an economy that benefits only the large energy corporations which still dominate over 80% of the UK’s energy market. The constant drain on the public’s finances by the UK’s large, enormously profit taking energy companies, duping the customer with over-priced energy tariffs, have serious consequences for people’s livelihoods and wellbeing.
One significant step to reducing energy bills for both domestic customers and businesses is to improve energy efficiency. According to the Office of National Statistics’ 2011 census, Brighton & Hove had the highest proportion of residents privately renting out of any town or city in England and Wales; more than 30% of households. Around 26,000 people are on the council housing waiting list and 1 in 69 people in Brighton & Hove are homeless6.
However, the incentive for private landlords to increase the energy efficiency of their properties just isn’t there. The government’s weak legislation requiring landlords to improve their properties’ energy efficiency, by achieving a minimum energy performance rating of E on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) by April 2018, isn’t helping at all. Yes, there are other regulations, which came into effect from 1st April, where a tenant can apply for consent to carry out energy efficiency improvements in privately rented properties7 under the provisions of the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) Regulations 2015. However, in the current climate of retaliatory evictions for tenants who merely ask for simple repairs, let alone applying for consent to carry out improvements, it makes this legislation appear a greenwash exercise, with no meaningful support for those threatened with homelessness8 or suffering in fuel poverty.
To make UK households truly energy efficient the government needs the EPC rating of landlords’ properties to be at least a D. This is overdue for the huge numbers of residents living in sub-standard, enormously expensive, energy inefficient properties across the country. The government could help landlords achieve warmer, more comfortable homes with incentives. With the new round of Energy Company Obligation 2 Transition (ECO2t) funding for efficient heating and insulation grants, there should be more focus on offering all those landlords’ properties with EPC band ratings below a D, more fully funded grant access9.
BHESCo is an award winning not-for-profit community energy co-operative offering an innovative PAYS (pay-as-you-save scheme) for those domestic and business customers who can’t afford to pay for the energy efficiency improvement measures up-front. The savings from their energy bills are used to pay for the installations over a period of time and the occupants or tenants feel more comfortable in a warmer home, helping to reduce their energy bills. However, to encourage uptake there needs to be more of an incentive and active promotion in all sections of our community.
Another reason for requiring a D rating, is those landlords who wish to invest in solar energy generation can do so, thus helping to stimulate the UK’s wounded solar PV industry10 and make it economically viable for landlords. To obtain the maximum Feed-In Tariff (FIT) for solar PV installations, a household must attain a minimum EPC band D rating11. However, the government also needs to realise that renewable energy is going to be the cheapest form of energy production in the near future. Onshore wind is already our cheapest source of electricity. Not to mention the benefits of secure, locally-produced energy and the dire consequences from global climate change if we don’t act now. The government’s own Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published a report saying a solar project commissioned next year was predicted to cost between £62 and £84 per megawatt hour (MWh) with onshore wind coming in at £49 to £79/MWh. Compare this to the cheapest form of gas costing between £60 and £62 and £154 to £166 for a more expensive gas system12.
We need active, forward-thinking local councillors and MPs to lobby Westminster and help promote energy efficiency and renewable technology in their constituencies, especially coming up to this general election in June. The technology and capability is already here, but we need the political will to make it happen now and not when it is too late.
- Holder, May 2017: 50 MPs back fight to divest parliament pension fund of fossil fuels, Guardian, 08/05/2017, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/08/5o-mps-back-fight-divest-parliament-pension-fund-fossil-fuels?CMP=share_btn_link.
- Simple Switch, October 2016: Government Overrules Council to Allow Fracking in Lancashire, https://www.simplyswitch.com/government-overrules-council-to-allow-fracking-in-lancashire/
- 10:10, April 2017: Stop the government wrapping wind turbines in red tape, https://1010uk.org/articles/blownaway-planning
- Johnston, March 2017: Budget 2017: Solar industry facing devastating 800% tax increase, Independent, 08/03/2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/solar-industry-budget-2017-800-per-cent-tax-increase-green-renewable-energy-a7618191.html
- BEIS, May 2017: Energy & Climate Change Public Attitude Tracker – Wave 21, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/energy-and-climate-change-public-attitude-tracking-survey-wave-21
- MAIS, May 2017: Housing Crisis: Community Solutions 2017, 11/05/2017, https://maisnetwork.net/2017/05/11/housing-crisis-community-solutions-2017/
- Residential Landlord’s Association, 2017: MINIMUM ENERGY EFFICIENCY STANDARDS, https://www.rla.org.uk/landlord/guides/minimum-energy-efficiency-standards.shtml
- Whitworth, February 2017: Revenge eviction law ‘not working’, 09/02/2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/38795177/revenge-eviction-law-not-working
- NEA, Feb 2017: IN FROM THE COLD: The funding gap for non-gas fuel poor homes under ECO and a proposal to fill it.
- Solar Trade Association, August 2016: 2017 Business Rates Revaluation: Rooftop Solar PV.
- Ofgem, 2017: Feed-In Tariff (FIT) rates, https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/fit/fit-tariff-rates
- Johnston, February 2017: Government accused of trying to kill off UK solar industry before it can become cheapest form of electricity, Independent, 08/02/2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/solar-energy-uk-government-accused-trying-to-kill-off-climate-change-theresa-may-a7570161.html.
The Conservative budget announcement in July was not good news for the renewables industry, nor for members of the public who are concerned about climate change, rising energy prices and the impact that extreme methods of extracting oil and gas will have on our air, water and soil (1,2). Support for the renewable industry and tackling climate change appears be drying up at a time when we need them more than ever (3).
We see that there are cuts ahead, so that even large coal–fired power stations like Drax, who were seen as the UK’s worst carbon dioxide polluter, are complaining about how their transition to biomass is being undermined(4,5). Instead there is massive funding of taxpayers money pouring into the nuclear industry to support the construction of new nuclear power plants, decommissioning and the long-term management of its toxic waste legacy (6). We know that nuclear is not a solution for climate change or keeping the lights on as the problems are looming and it takes 15 years to build a nuclear power station. Then there’s tax breaks for the shale gas extraction industry(7), although most of us oppose “fracking” which creates numerous problems for local communities, wastes more taxpayers money because the protests against fracking in areas that are precious to us will not abate. Besides the obvious detriment to our environment, the untold clean-up costs after it’s sucked the last drop of ‘fracked’ gas from the ground beneath us (8,9) and the impact on our water supply.
We need to ask some questions; who benefits from these subsidies? How are the investments made by this government going to benefit us, the taxpayer, in the long-term? Are we receiving value for money on governments investment of our taxes and finally – Why aren’t they listening to us? Already we are paying too much for our energy. Even the Prime Minister, has moved on to the former Labour leader’s territory, and is considering a temporary cap on our fuel bills as a result of the monopolising power of just 6 big energy corporations controlling over 90% of the UK energy market (10). Unfortunately, this is only a plaster for the bigger problem, which is that our energy strategy that is not fit for purpose.
There are solutions to these problems. There is a growing movement of local community energy groups across the UK, particularly, social enterprises and co-operatives like BHESCo here in Brighton and Hove. By building our own renewable energy generation and improving the thermal efficiency of our built environment, we can take some of the power out of the hands of the big corporations inflicting price increases and reduce our energy costs, improve the energy efficiency of our homes, stimulate the local economy, tackle fuel poverty and contribute to mitigating the biggest global threat to our existence, climate change. We can join other successful communities across Europe and all across the globe who are turning to more democratic, decentralised, community-owned, renewable energy solutions, controlled by us and for us (11).
After the success of the last 2 years, the Big Energy Saving Network (BESN) BHESCo is part of a consortium of community energy groups that has applied for support for two energy champions starting again this autumn/winter (12). We will be encouraging vulnerable customers to make themselves known to us because we can help them save money by reviewing their energy bills, offering impartial switching advice to the cheapest tariffs, general advice on energy efficiency in the home and how to keep warm this winter. We will also be taking action to help people be more energy efficient through small measures that we will implement in home visits.
We really can reclaim the power. It’s up to us to do it together. That’s what Community Energy is all about.
1. Budget 2015: Key climate and energy announcements: http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2015/07/summer-budget-2015-key-climate-and-energy-announcements/
2. Chancellor to push up renewable energy taxes in Budget with ‘climate shaped hole’: http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2416918/chancellor-to-push-up-renewable-energy-taxes-in-budget-with-climate-shaped-hole
3. Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will ‘break economies’: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/dec/23/british-petroleum-geologist-peak-oil-break-economy-recession
4. End of climate levy exemption dents Drax: http://nicosiamoneynews.com/2015/07/08/end-of-climate-levy-exemption-dents-drax/
5. End support for Drax: stop subsidies for biomass power and phase out coal! http://www.theecologist.org/campaigning/2840617/end_support_for_drax_stop_subsidies_for_biomass_power_and_phase_out_coal.html
6. County councils sidelined from nuclear waste dump site decisions: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/12/county-councils-nuclear-waste-dump-sites
7. UK’s shale gas revolution falls flat with just 11 new wells planned for 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/19/uk-shale-gas-revolution-falls-flat-just-11-new-wells-planned-2015
8. Fracking plans rejected: Lancashire council throws out Cuadrilla proposal – at it happened: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/fracking/11705333/Fracking-decision-Lancashire-live.html
9. No fracking at Balcombe, says energy company Cuadrilla: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/no-fracking-at-balcombe-says-energy-company-cuadrilla-9081875.html
10. PM ‘to consider’ temporary cap on high UK energy bills (July 7th, 2015 5:50 pm): http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/843585e6-2474-11e5-9c4e-a775d2b173ca.html
11. Tory ‘blue crap’ means UK is falling behind in global switch to clean energy:
12. Big Energy Saving Network 2015/16: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/big-energy-saving-network-grant-offer-fund