deccThe 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.

References:

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:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/08/clean-energy-switch-uk-falling-behind

12. Big Energy Saving Network 2015/16: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/big-energy-saving-network-grant-offer-fund

frack free lancashireThe success of two recent events, the decision to reject plans to frack in Lancashire and the recent landmark ruling in the Dutch courts to accelerate action on climate change, symbolise a significant shift towards people being able to have a real impact on decisions being made by policy makers on the environment.

They suggest a move towards a true democracy where the people can mobilise to make a difference in their communities.

Fracking in Lancashire

Local councillors rejected Cuadrilla’s application to frack at Preston New Road, near Blackpool. This decision was made across party lines due to the local councillors’ belief that these plans would have an ‘unacceptable’ impact on the local landscape and residents.

Although this decision could still be overruled at the appeal stage, this is an important event. This represents local councillors taking action which supports local residents in their fight against big companies who are unconcerned with the environmental impact on local people and landscapes.

Case against the Dutch government

Following a recent court case, the Dutch government has been ordered to cut its carbon emissions by at least 25% within the next five years.

Previous to this ruling the only legal requirements for states to take action on climate change were international treaties. This ruling suggests that the state has an obligation to its citizens, not just other states, to have a positive impact on the environment. By framing the case as a human rights issue, the focus is on the impact of climate change on Dutch residents. There is hope that this case could spark similar legal action on climate change in other countries.

Taking action on climate change

There two examples represent ways in which people are taking action on climate change locally. It is becoming increasing clear that people want to have a say in decisions impacting on the future of the environment.

According to a recent study by BHESCo partner Climates, a social network for people taking practical action on climate change, 90% of people want the policy makers  to take ambitious action to tackle climate changeat when they meet in Paris for the UNFCCC conference in Paris in December.

Community energy groups, such as BHESCo, are one way to take action with minimal risk involved. Being part of an energy cooperative means being able to have a say in the future of energy generation in your local community.  Since half of us believe that it is our individual responsibility to take action, you can become a member of BHESCo to reduce your carbon footprint and tackle climate change.

nuclear-waste-1In the last hours of parliament before the general election, a new law was rushed through which means that local communities may have nuclear waste dumps imposed on them without the need for public support.

By classing nuclear waste sites as “nationally significant infrastructure projects”, the decisions for their locations can be made by the Secretary of State for Energy without the support of the local council or communities of residents. Additionally, they will not be bound to recommendations made by the planning inspectorate.

Nuclear legacy

The use of nuclear energy in power stations, weaponry and medicine over the past 50 years has left a legacy of radioactive waste which needs to store somewhere on a long term basis. Radioactive waste can remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years. The UK also has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world, one of the most toxic, radioactive substances ever created.

There is no long term solution in place for storing nuclear energy as current plans only last for up to two hundred years. Whilst there is a need for a long term strategy for radioactive waste, these decisions cannot be made without the support of local people who will have to co-exist in a potentially dangerous environment.

Local decisions by local residents

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) stated that they would prefer to work with public support and were willing to take action even if they failed to achieve the needed support from local people.

Following a proposal to develop a deep storage site at Sellafield, local groups have growing concerns.  Cumbria County Council rejected the construction of a nuclear waste storage facility in January 2013.  There is currently no evidence to support the long term safety of this type of storage, and no evidence to suggest that the geology of this area is suitable. Germany recently put on hold similar plans, and the only existing site in this style, based in New Mexico, has been closed following two accidents.

Whilst a local community can now reject the construction of onshore wind farms, they cannot deny fracking or the storage of nuclear waste. This shows that the government is willing to bypass the decisions of local communities to support unsustainable and potentially dangerous projects, limiting our ability to aid in the generation of sustainable energy.

Local communities should be able to have a decisive say in all matters concerning our energy landscape whether this is dangerous nuclear waste shortage, shale gas or coal bed methane drilling where they live as the quality of their living environment is at stake.

Brace yourself, there’s another £17 billion in national spending cuts predicted for this year.

Half of the cuts will be to bnuclear power plant and housesenefits, like the National Health Service.  This government has been relentless in pursuing its agenda of protecting their ideology at the cost of poor and vulnerable people, especially the elderly.   The Treasury introduced a budget that reduced corporate taxes, increased the personal allowance, costing the Treasury millions while cutting back benefits to offset the impact of their ideology on our national debt.  Our deficit has reached a serious state of concern, now ballooning to £1.2 trillion, three quarters of the size of the UK economy.  This might help to explain why fracking is so alluring to the people who control our energy policy – we need a source of income to boost the UK economy.  

The clean tech industry is consistently the fastest growing sector in the world.  Insufficient investment and policy turnarounds have badly impacted the UK’s low carbon industry, culminating in an attack on vulnerable people by stopping the Energy Company Obligation in March 2014.  Our Energy Policy has been broken for many years.  It’s time to start fixing it.

People with lesser means are still being fleeced by the Big Six energy suppliers.  Six million households in the UK are on key meters.  Five million households are in debt to their energy supplier, meaning that they are held captive and cannot switch.  Studies conducted by BHESCo in Brighton & Hove, have determined that people pay 20 – 40% more for their electricity and gas on prepayment or “key“ meters.  In winter, this means that people with key meters may run out of heat or electricity and not have the money to get the heating or lights turned back on.   Increasing more people across the city must make a decision whether to heat or eat.  Last year, 31,000 people died in the UK from the cold.  According to Age UK, 90% of these deaths were in people over 65 years old.  For the state not to provide for our  elderly and vulnerable people is a lamentable turn of events.  Considering the progress we’ve made in technology, our social services are evolving to Dickensian conditions.

67% of the British population would like the failed privatisation of 1993 reversed, to re-nationalise the energy industry.   Unfortunately, this is more a dream, disappointingly, a likely impossibility.   With a combined value well into the 100s of billions of pounds, the cost to the Treasury of reacquiring the energy suppliers and national grid would be too great to inspire political will.  We can also assume that since taxpayer funds have been spent on bailing out the banks, we do not have the economic capacity to buy back national assets we once owned.

Yesterday, the Department of Energy and Climate change released their Community Energy Strategy.  This report pledged support for community energy groups across the country.  BHESCo will continue to work with Brighton & Hove City Council to drive down the cost of energy locally, investing in the local community.  We expect that any support that we receive will create value for money for the taxpayer, delivering a low cost transition to a low carbon economy for less investment per kWh of energy generated or saved.

That is why Co-operative energy groups are so important.  Groups managed by social entrepreneurs are picking up gauntlet to remedy a failed energy industry.  20 years experience has been enough time for us to recognise that the model didn’t work and its time to consider attractive alternatives.  Show your support for community energy by joining BHESCo.  Call us or write to us.  Get in touch, we are here to help.

The autumn statement was released with grand plans for reducing our energy bills by transferring the energy company’s obligation (ECO) to the taxpayer. Energy companies have succeeded in lowering their liability to finance the cost of providing insulation, new boilers and draught-proofing for struggling families and vulnerable people in communities across the country.

Old-age-pensioner-keeps-warm-with-the-aid-of-an-electric-heater-2561284The question is whether this important support for the fuel poor and vulnerable people now considered to be too expensive will be reduced. Last year, 30,000 people died from winter cold related illness, one of the highest levels in Europe. Taxpayers will be financing shale gas extraction (fracking) that will be offset by less support for solar generated electricity and onshore wind. The net result is not beneficial to the taxpayer, nor to the energy consumer, creating less value for money from an economic standpoint.

The claim is that too much of the energy cost is spent on environmental measures. In fact all environmental charges comprise 9% of the average household energy bill of £1,350. These charges are for various services, including support for renewable energy and energy efficiency. Energy companies do not have a track record of success in rolling out programmes like the ECO on a government mandate. ECO replaced CERT and CESP, which were not considered successful programmes because the energy suppliers didn’t meet the government’s targets. Lots of money has been poured into ECO with little result. It’s just counterintuitive that a company whose obligation is to maximize profits for their shareholders is going to invest its resources in lowering its sales volumes by proactively investing in energy savings.

The taxpayer will not benefit from investments in shale gas extraction, for which many professionals predict will not bring down energy prices. We must focus our attention on making the infrastructural investments in the distribution network, including battery storage, and in distributed low cost generation like solar electricity and onshore wind bringing longer term value to our communities.


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