Some people, including political leaders, believe that environmental levies add cost to our annual energy bills, subsidising the construction of expensive wind and solar farms, making energy unaffordable for millions of people.  Sadly, these people are being mislead,  influenced by the large energy suppliers, like British Gas who recently blamed environmental taxes for their most recent price hikes.

The misinformation spoon fed to politicians by those whose interests lie in the preservation of a fossil fuel based energy industry is consumed blindly by our politicians who are overwhelmed by the amount of data that they must process to keep up to date.  The energy industry seems to be an area in which most politicians are especially uninformed, or worse, deceived.  Consumers are just concerned about rising energy prices, accepting the information given to them by energy suppliers trying to keep their customers.

The truth is that fossil fuel energy is subsidised at a much higher rate, more than two thirds higher, than renewable energy.  These subsidies are funded directly by the taxpayer, through tax credits to the shale gas exploration companies or tax breaks on investment of oil drilling and refining equipment.  Since tax breaks are not transported directly to our energy bills, they are less obvious to consumers.  Other subsidies funded by the taxpayer are embedded in departmental budgets, like the billions per year spent to maintain our nuclear power infrastructure is embedded in the budget of the department of Business and Industrial Strategy.  Direct funding of activities by the taxpayer allows for the activities to take place outside of public scrutiny.

Tax breaks for fossil fuels are funded by the taxpayer, investments in the renewable energy infrastructure that we need to ensure affordable and long lasting sources of energy for the future are funded by the bill payer.  There are many arguments that can be supported economically, that investments in renewable energy like wind and solar, pay back over the life of the energy generation because we don’t have to pay for the cost of the fuel, it is free.  The cost of the fuel incorporates the exploration cost, drilling cost transport cost of these fossilised relics we use for “cheap energy”. If the taxpayer funded our renewable energy infrastructure, by diverting less tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry and funding clean energy, our energy bills would also decline, there would be no need for ‘eco taxes’.

The truth is that for years onshore wind has been the cheapest form of energy, yet development of onshore wind generation has been discouraged by this government.  In June, 24% of the electricity in the UK was produced by solar panels.  800,000 homes have solar panels on their roofs and 200,000 have solar thermal hot water. Just recently, the price of electricity from offshore wind was trading at half the price of electricity from new nuclear power on the capacity market.  It is time to stop the distorted, misinformed news on renewable energy and to hold our politicians accountable for supporting the construction of more renewable energy in our communities.

We can work together to ensure that we have affordable heat and electricity into the future and stop listening to the propoganda on Eco Tax, or that the lights will go out without expensive new nuclear.  Battery storage is creating the reliability we need into renewable energy, eliminating the need for base load power.

Now is the time to support your local community energy group, to get behind the movement for local energy and stop accepting the highly selective news intended to manipulate public opinion coming from the media as our truth. We can create a cleaner, safer world for our children if that is what we choose to do.

In Summer 2017, the people of Lewes celebrated the tenth anniversary of their local energy co-op Ovesco by honouring them on the latest Lewes Pound note.

Ovesco was born out of the Transition Town movement and has gone on to develop many high profile community energy projects in the area, including huge solar installations at Harveys Brewery, Brickyard Farm, and several schools and colleges.

Keep It Local - Lewes Pound Ovesco

Being commemorated on the Lewes Pound is a brilliant visual demonstration of the way that Ovesco keeps money within the local economy, and adds value to the community far beyond the energy systems they install.

Research on spending shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business 63p stayed in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.

In contrast to the Big Six energy companies (only two of which are UK owned), community energy groups are rooted in their localities and understand the concerns of residents and stakeholders. You would never find BHESCo or Ovesco, for example, embarking on a project that was opposed by local people, such is the case with fracking plans in Lancashire or oil pipelines in North Dakota.

By embracing the community, and employing local traders and installers to carry out projects, community energy groups are able to support local business and stimulate the local economy. Not only does this benefit domestic job creation, but it has a positive impact on business rates too.

Community Energy South Celebrate Lewes Pound

Because community energy groups are owned by local residents, any profits made can be reinvested in developing more locally owned energy projects, instead of being paid out as interest to shareholders. It is also common for community energy groups to channel some of their revenue towards tackling fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of cold homes in the area. As well as benefiting individual households, this can also alleviate pressures on local health services as physical and mental wellbeing improve.

In fact, even generating and using energy locally has intrinsic advantages, because it cuts down on transmission losses and is a much more efficient use of the energy produced. In addition, creating a local supply network (such as residents of the Brooklyn Microgrid have recently achieved), insulates a community against external price increases and even possible power cuts.

Benefits of Keeping It Local

In all of these ways, whether its creating jobs, reducing bills, or improving health, it is very clear that keeping it local has tremendous benefits for creating an independent and resilient community. When services and insitutions are owned by and run by the people they serve, they will inevitably be responsible, democratic, and sustainable.

Our advice? Act local, join your community energy co-op ASAP.

Earlier this year, Community Energy England produced the UK’s very first ‘State of the Sector‘ report, highlighting the emerging influence and importance of community owned energy in 2017.

The community energy movement has witnessed tremendous growth over recent years, now boasting 222 organisations throughout the country, which can collectively generate 121MW of clean renewable energy. That’s enough to power 85,500 homes, and has reduced carbon emissions by 110,000 tonnes since 2002.

community owned energy england

The emergence of this new type of energy ownership and generation is in keeping with a wider transformation of our energy supply.

We are in the midst of a seismic shift in the way we use and consume energy. Developments like electric cars, smart grids, battery storage and demand response will make a huge difference to our relationship with energy by making it more local.  Community groups are perfectly positioned to be at the vanguard of this revolution.

Their drive, commitment and local insight provide an ability to put into practice emerging market developments, while the trust associated with being community owned can be vital for encouraging the uptake of new technologies such as smart meters.

Members of Community Energy South (Members of Community Energy South)

In an era of increasing devolution, it is fundamental for communities to invest in initiatives that will improve resilience. As well as generating energy independently (and reducing transmission loss), community energy creates local jobs and keeps money in the local economy. A 2014 government strategy paper on the subject observed that:

“Putting communities in control of the energy they use can have wider benefits such as building stronger communities, creating local jobs, improving health and supporting local economic growth.”

The age when coal and nuclear power dominated the supply market is over.  The gigantic power stations and reactors required to generate huge power outputs that travel for thousands of miles through the wires of the National Grid will soon be history . With access to affordable generation technologies like offshore wind and solar power, coupled with battery storage, heat pumps and a more effficient use of energy, we, as communities, are truly able for the first time to seize control of our energy future.

In countries like Germany, 35% of all renewable energy installations are community owned.  Our future, here in the UK is also community owned.  

Let’s work together to make this happen.

 

On Thursday 1st June 2017, US President Donald Trump proceeded to do what everybody knew he was going to do and announced that he was pulling the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The agreement was made in December 2015 and brought together 195 nations from around the world to create a united response to the threat of global warming. Given his history of describing climate change as a hoax created by and for the Chinese, it was widely expected that the Trump administration would reverse the sustainability actions put in place by Barack Obama in favour of policies promoting fracking, coal, and oil,  industries in which he has considerable investments.

And that’s exactly what he did.

However, what at first may appear to be a catastrophe for the climate movement may in fact prove to be a catalyst.

There has been magnificent response from America’s states, defying their President’s agenda and declaring their intention to build a sustainable future despite Trump’s decree.

In the days following Trump’s announcement, over 246 city mayors signed a joint statement pledging to “honour and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement”. Together, city and state officials have committed to reduce emissions by more than one gigatonne of carbon-dioxide by 2030 — the same amount pledged by the US in the Paris Agreement. Commenting on these developments, former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg said:

“The fact of the matter is, Americans don’t need Washington to meet our Paris commitment, and Americans are not going to let Washington stand in the way of fulfilling it”.

It seems that Trump has misjudged the mood of his people, and unwillingly ushered in an newly invigorated spirit of environmental determinism. As one reporter from CNBC writes:

“The Trump presidency marks a new era. As citizens and business leaders, it is now up to us to take the future into our own hands and create the change we want to see”.

And it’s not just Americans who have beeen vocal about a renewed fever of climate activism. The day after Trump’s retraction, China, India and Europe repeated their commitment to save the future of our planet. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said:

“To everyone for whom the future of our planet is important, I say let’s continue going down this path so we’re successful for our Mother Earth.”

In fact, one of the only global leaders not to decry the actions of the U.S. president was the UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Very little was said about the threat of climate change during the recent election campaign, the topic receiving minimal attention from mainstream politicians and media alike.

That’s why we must follow the example of American environmentalists and unite locally to set our own emissions targets and carve our own path to a sustainable future. We cannot rely on leadership from above.

There are many examples of community energy projects across the UK, with at least five thousand community groups undertaking energy initiatives in the last five years, all motivated by a desire to develop locally owned low carbon energy solutions.

We’re in the middle of a seismic shift in the way we produce and consume energy, with the impetus coming from grassroots communities. The change is unstoppable, whatever President Donald Trump and other backwards looking politicians think.

Be a part of the energy revolution. Find your nearest communtiy energy group and get involved today.
 

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.

 

  1. 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.
  2. Simple Switch, October 2016: Government Overrules Council to Allow Fracking in Lancashire, https://www.simplyswitch.com/government-overrules-council-to-allow-fracking-in-lancashire/
  3. 10:10, April 2017: Stop the government wrapping wind turbines in red tape, https://1010uk.org/articles/blownaway-planning
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. MAIS, May 2017: Housing Crisis: Community Solutions 2017, 11/05/2017, https://maisnetwork.net/2017/05/11/housing-crisis-community-solutions-2017/
  7. Residential Landlord’s Association, 2017: MINIMUM ENERGY EFFICIENCY STANDARDS, https://www.rla.org.uk/landlord/guides/minimum-energy-efficiency-standards.shtml
  8. Whitworth, February 2017: Revenge eviction law ‘not working’, 09/02/2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/38795177/revenge-eviction-law-not-working
  9. NEA, Feb 2017: IN FROM THE COLD: The funding gap for non-gas fuel poor homes under ECO and a proposal to fill it.
  10. Solar Trade Association, August 2016: 2017 Business Rates Revaluation: Rooftop Solar PV.
  11. Ofgem, 2017: Feed-In Tariff (FIT) rates, https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/fit/fit-tariff-rates
  12. 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.

 

 


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