The last twelve months have witnessed incredible expansion and change here at BHESCo. Our team has doubled in size  compared to this time last year, prompting a recent relocation to a larger office space within the Brighton Eco Centre. We raised £270,000, which we continue to plough into new community energy projects.

We have completed eight clean energy projects this year, including our largest project to date at the Montessori Place school in Uckfield.

Our Energy Saving Service that was launched in January 2016 has now completed over 200 domestic and commercial energy surveys.  We are now authorised to issue Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) and our application for a consumer credit licence was approved by the FCA.

It is always nice to be recognised for the work we do and we were humbled to receive several awards for our work in the community, which included a day out at the Houses of Parliament.

Being a relatively small team, there is no way we could possibly have achieved so much this year without the invaluable contributions of our many dedicated volunteers, and of course without the belief and community spirit of our members. Thank you everyone who has helped make BHESCo’s dream a reality – we wish you all a wonderful Christmas, and look forward to reporting again soon on the exciting new projects and programmes we have lined up for 2017!

 

A giant £100 billion black hole is predicted to dominate the coming year’s economic outlook for the taxpayer, judging by recent comments made by our new Chancellor, Philip Hammond. This eye-watering annual deficit represents a doubling of the national debt since the economic crisis of 2008.

uk-government-gdp

Naturally, the government will continue its slash and burn tactics to supposedly lower the national debt by making more cuts to the valuable social services that distinguish us as human beings.  The impending Autumn Statement is expected to announce the continued pursuit of policies (disguised as an economic strategy) that do not yield improvements to our collective quality of life, lead to economic recovery, strengthen our currency or even deliver the promise of balancing our national budget.

Failure to deliver on this last point in particular makes it abundantly clear from Mr Hammond’s Autumn Statement that the relentless pursuit of austerity is ideological, magically aspirational and zealously misguided.  Even Conservative Ian Duncan Smith accused the Government of balancing the books on the backs of the most vulnerable in society.

end-auserity

The way out of this black hole is not by cutting social services.  It is by investing in important infrastructural projects like renewable energy and public transport networks, and increasing lending to creative, responsible entrepreneurs.  The old excuse that this government inherited the deficit from the previous one is tired, worn, and devoid of any responsibility or complicity.  The massive deficit inherited in 2010 was £76.6 billion, but the Tories have managed to increase this deficit to over £100 billion while destroying the quality of life for many of our most vulnerable citizens.

The latest BBC Panorama programme about Care Homes showed the appalling conditions that residents were subjected to at centres managed by the Morleigh Group.  The directors of this private care home operator lived in a large stately home, a stark contrast to the residents and attendants alike. In one example uncovered by the programme, care home attendants had to separate a bedpan from a neglected 90 year old patient’s buttocks because she had been sitting on it for so long, her buttocks had slipped into the pan.  The poignant and burning questions are:

– Why do we neglect our elderly when they took care to raise us from small infants?
– Why has taking care of our elderly, become something to be outsourced?  With the exception of hospice, surely our own families can look after each other?

Social services do not and should not deliver commercially attractive returns for taking care of our family members, providing medical assistance, public transport or other support services that may have once been provided by the community.

Clearly the government has money for the projects that they want to undertake.   For example –

  • Hinkley C Nuclear Power station, which will be funded to a great extent through the ‘Capacity Mechanism’, which basically means it will be financed by the taxpayer.
  • The extraction of shale gas from our land, a process that is not proven safe, can turn our water  into a toxic cocktail of hydrocarbon chemicals and is not expected to be economically attractive due to the poor quality of the extracted gas
  • the expansion of Heathrow, where the government should be challenged on the robustness of their traffic projections into the next 20 years, considering the availability of fossil fuels for our transportation and energy services, the certain increase in the cost of flying and with proper value for money analysis undertaken to consider alternatives, like travel by train and other public services.
  • the renewal of the Trident Nuclear Missile deterrant, at a cost of over £205 billion of tax payer money. The nature of a deterrent is that we must be attacked first.  In this age of information technology, can this government demonstrate the value for money to the taxpayer of this enormous investment that only works after the damage has been done?

This is one more  reason why the transition from fossil fuels is so important.  As we take more services like the provision of energy away from fossil fuels by building more renewable energy generation, we have more gas and oil to run other industries, like transportation, where energy prices are certain to rise due to scarcity.  Oil prices have already doubled since last February.  Conventional sources of cheap oil have disappeared and the growing cost of generating energy under the government’s current energy strategy can be solved with current, proven technologies.

We believe that the government needs to apply austerity to its own practices; to eliminate departmental waste, to be accountable for responsible spending of taxpayers’ money, and to invest our money in projects that are well run.  Our government seems to have sufficient funds for the military industrial complex and for short-sighted investments like Trident and Heathrow, so the money is there for a fully functioning welfare state should we choose to use it this to this end. Therefore we believe it is vanity projects like HS2 and Trident that must be sacrificed by Mr Hammond first, before cuts are made to our invaluable social welfare system.

Evidence from a variety of sources suggest that the world is heading for a serious energy shortage in the years ahead. Rapid economic development in China and India, coupled with consistent energy use in already industrialized nations, will put a huge strain the world’s ability to meet a projected rise in energy demand.

To everyone at BHESCo it seems abundantly clear that a consequence of this global rise in demand will be a huge corresponding rise in cost, unless action is taken now to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy waste.

“One thing is certain,” said Nobuo Tanaka, the IEA’s executive director, “the era of cheap oil is over.”

‘Business Green’ reported that the Government may have to extend financial support to UK industry, as the latest projections from the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) confirmed that business energy costs may rise by around a third by 2030.

According to one forecast published by The National Grid, the price of electricity could double over the next two decades. Indeed, this year already oil prices have nearly doubled from their February lows.

domestic fuel price graph

And of course, a tremendous increase in energy consumption by industrialising nations like China, India, and Brazil, will lead to an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions.

The IEA believe that this anticipated emissions increase would result in a 6oC rise in the average global temperature by 2100, which would likely devastate many species and coastal communities worldwide.

It is essential that visionary leadership on a national scale is matched by a proactive grassroots movement at the local level to promote a rollout of energy saving measures and habits. Much like communities came together to ‘Dig For Victory’ during the war, we feel that the same ethos is needed now in the battle against climate change.

There are dozens of small changes that households and businesses can make in order to lower their energy use and carbon emissions, ranging from to replacing lights that are frequently on with LEDs, replacing old inefficient appliances and topping up your insulation.

Through our Energy Saving Service, BHESCo is helping our local community to make these essential changes to the way we use energy. The beauty of it is that by initiating energy saving measures in the home and reducing carbon emissions, people are also able to make huge savings on their annual energy bills. Its almost like getting paid to save the planet!

For help reducing your energy use, please view our Energy Saving Tips page or contact BHESCo to book a visit from our Energy Saving Team.

Since securing sufficient majority in the Commons a year ago to be freed from the shackles of their coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Government has been relentless in its efforts to dismantle Britain’s blossoming renewable energy industry.  Despite the lack of success that austerity has had in furthering economic resilience versus the success that the clean energy industry has had in creating jobs, the Conservative government is in hot pursuit of its dogmatic, ideological agenda.

Under the auspices of ‘protecting hard working families from higher energy bills’, HM Treasury slashed the subsidies and tax incentives that once supported our young and maturing green economy.  The funding that was provided from those energy bills bolstered a new economy with new jobs, new skills and paved the way for the necessary transition from fossil fuels.

In the short space of twelve months the Tory government has enacted no less than fourteen new articles of legislation which, combined, have severely undermined the ability of renewable energy enterprises to secure new business and finance new installations.  The impact has been to delay building the new distributed energy infrastructure that we desperately need to keep our energy bills affordable in the future.

FITThe exclusion of community energy from the Enterprise Investment Scheme, coupled with the removal of pre-accreditation of the Feed-In-Tariff, has made it much more difficult for community energy co-ops to create viable and attractive financial models  to attract new investment. The Feed-In-Tariff itself, the primary financial incentive for the renewable energy industry, has been reduced by a staggering 91% in just last 5 years.

This not only massively undermines the ability of community energy organisations to pay for and install new clean energy projects, it creates a huge degree of uncertainty and instability in an industry that is still establishing itself. No wonder that several solar power companies have been forced out of business in recent months.

To put this in context, a recent “Renewables 2016” report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (Ren21) shows that investment in clean energy is at an all time global high, especially in developing countries like Brazil, China, and India.

A 100% renewable energy supply is the inevitable future for the UK and indeed the world, and moreover, is supported by nine out of ten people.  Despite opposition from a Government that is supposed to act in the best interests of its people, the UK still managed generate a mighty 83.3 terawatt hours of renewable electricity in 2015, accounting for 24.7% of the total electricity mix.

(copyright: Tom Chance @ Flickr)

(copyright: Tom Chance @ Flickr) Bioregional

Each year that the industry has to fight for every small victory is another year that millions of tons of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, locking in more climate change and damaging our air quality.

The fact is that we cannot sit back and simply wait for things to get better. It is up to everyone to pressure your MP into supporting renewables as the long term energy generation source in the UK rather than opposing them. The same goes for local authorities.

Write to your MP and Councillor expressing your concern over recent policy changes and subsidy cuts, or even better, join a community energy initiative in your area and invest directly in building a more secure and clean energy future for our nation.

Have you heard about smart meters?  Three million have already been installed in the UK, with plans to fit a total of 53 million of them into 30 million businesses and homes by 2020. Smart Energy GB (the national campaign promoting the rollout) has just launched a campaign to raise awareness on television.  Many concerns have been expressed about the £12 billion[3] programme, such as potential health and privacy implications, as well as doubts about the true benefits and cost. Over the course of this blog, BHESCo examines the pros and cons of this new technology, and asks if this enforced rollout is really in our national interest.

Benefits And Cost Concerns

The original idea for smart meters started in an EU mandate which said the rollout should only be undertaken by member states should it provide economic benefit. The rollout is funded by the consumer, as energy suppliers will pass on the cost through their bills, estimated at £500 per person. Last year, Smart Energy GB spent more than £15 million on its campaign to encourage the uptake of smart meters.  It is questionable whether funding for the campaign is providing value for money for the bill payer, compared with other energy investments. For example, the total amount spent on the FIT and RHI, has been capped to £75 million to £100 million per year, for the generation of clean, renewable energy to keep the lights on.

Smart meters send remote readings of your energy usage to your energy supplier, meaning people no longer have to submit meter readings or receive estimated bills. The benefit of accurate bills would be invaluable should the process be infallible, which unfortunately, it is not. The requirement for constant two-way transmission from the meter to the energy supplier is part of the cost of the service and will increase your energy bill, plus it is questionable whether any savings will be made from reductions in your energy consumption. The rollout makes it mandatory for communications service providers, like BT to provide 100% WAN coverage.  The cost of this coverage will be paid by the energy suppliers. BHESCo believes there is considerable question as to the cost benefit of the smart meter rollout programme to the consumer.  Smart meters are designed to smooth out peaks in demand by introducing “Time Of Use” tariffs.  This demand management process only works if the take up of Time Of Use tariffs is high.  The Daily Mail projects that the energy suppliers will charge more at peak times, meaning that electricity and gas used in the evenings could cost 99% more than at other times.[1]

smart energy As part of the national rollout you will get a smart gas meter, a smart electricity meter, a smart meter display and a communications hub.  The communications hub will link the system to a similar wireless network outside your home. According to Smart Energy GB these smart meters will give you more control over your energy use, help you understand your bills and allow you to see what the energy you use is costing.  They claim that smart meters will benefit Britain as a whole[2], and are just the first step in a major infrastructure upgrade that will total £100 billion of investment.  Supporters claim that smart meters will help make it easier to switch suppliers creating more transparency in the industry.

Health Concerns

The wireless radio wave frequency radiation emitted by the communications hub to the energy supplier, and from the energy meter to the smart meter display, have been identified as a potential health risk.  The type of radiation emitted by such devices is classified as a class 2b carcinogen by the World Health Organization.  A significant number of complaints[4] have been lodged with physicians in countries where smart meters have already been installed, ranging from problems falling asleep and staying asleep to chronic fatigue, headaches, migraines, vertigo, tinnitus, unhealthy blood pressure levels, concentration and memory problems, learning and behavioural disorders and a more frequent incidence of ADHD among children[5]. And humans aren’t the only species affected[6];  all of nature is damaged by radio wave frequency radiation. The most widely publicised harm has been experienced by bees (colony collapse), birds (dwindling numbers of migratory species) and trees (sudden oak death and ash die back). Unsurprisingly, such information about the health implications of smart meters has been ignored by Smart Energy GB in its promotional campaign.  In fact, the televised adverts don’t really say anything about what a smart meter actually is or does:

 

The ever-present challenge of making a clear cause and effect link between smart meter radiation and the impact on health means that it is wise to proceed with caution.  We need to admit that we do not have enough medical information to proceed with such a rollout and should wait until there is satisfactory evidence that the technology is safe.  Until this happens, it is better to limit the exposure of households to radiowave radiation. History has shown us the dangers of introducing new inventions without sufficient knowledge of health impacts, notable examples include the use of DDT, Thalidomide, X-ray, smoking, asbestos, heavy metals, and uranium exposure.  In all these cases, communities were exposed to new products before the science was completely understood.

Privacy Concerns

A central data and communications company has been established to manage the data called Smart DCC Ltd [7], who are regulated by OFGEM.

Smart DCC Ltd is responsible for the smart energy code.  Its officers are representatives from the large energy companies. There are no consumer groups like Citizens Advice on their management committee.  According to an investigative report done by the Daily Mail, smart meters could be used to spy on your home.  Data collected by the smart meter could be used by marketing companies to reveal how people consume their electricity and gas[8].  Privacy and data protection are important individual freedoms.  With Smart DCC Ltd being run by the large energy suppliers, there are issues concerning the confidentiality of our consumption data that have not yet been sufficiently safeguarded by regulation.

Conclusion

We believe that smart meters are the way forward for creating efficient consumption of local, distributed energy generation.  While BHESCo supports the use of smart meters in initiatives like Energy Local (http://www.energylocal.co.uk), we believe that the meters should be connected to fibre optic networks, where any potential health risks caused by wireless radio waves may be overcome, where participation is completely voluntary and where privacy is ensured through confidential, protected data networks.  The impacts of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation must be tested and understood before a rollout of this scale is undertaken. We are surprised that the programme is ignoring the health impacts of wireless smart meters entirely.  We also believe that £12 billion would be better spent on modifications to distribution networks, where there is no capacity to connect new local renewable energy generation.  This is prohibiting the growth of renewables, holding back economic resilience.

The solution is simple, however, more costly:  Using the UK’s fibre optic network to communicate the signal instead of the envisioned wireless network would   This could be rolled out in a smaller, more localised campaign, in conjunction with Energy Local campaigns.

[1] http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-3322658/The-great-smart-meter-rip-UK-energy-giants-use-devices-DOUBLE-cost-power-need-most.html

[2] https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/the-bigger-picture/about-the-rollout

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35894922 /

[4] http://stopsmartmeters.com.au/category/share-your-story/

[5] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmenergy/161/161.pdf

[6] http://freiburger-appell-2012.info/en/observations-findings.php?lang=EN and http://www.naturalscience.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/wfns_brochure_microwaves-bees_english.pdf

[7] http://www.smartdcc.co.uk

[8] (http://stopsmartmeters.org.uk/could-smart-meters-be-used-to-spy-on-your-home-devices-could-be-used-to-create-honeypot-of-data-to-sell-onto-marketing-companies-privacy-campaigners-warn-mail-online/)


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