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
17 Jul 2015
In 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.
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.
On the 4th June 2015, the Chancellor, George Osborne announced £4 ½ billion of cuts including £70 million to be cut from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) budget.
The Carbon Brief released a report previous to this on the 3rd June 2015 highlighting the limited scope for cuts within the DECC and the potential impact if cuts did take place.
With the Conservative government promising to decrease public spending, whilst protecting health, pensions and education, unprotected departments such as the DECC are likely to be the focus for cuts.
Impact of cuts
Carbon Brief analysed the 2013/14 budget of the DECC which was £3.4 billion. The money spent on managing the UK’s military nuclear waste and decommissioning legacy accounts for 65% of this budget. The core departmental priorities accounts for the remaining 34%.
The Carbon brief concluded that 87% of the overall budget was essential and would not be eligible for cuts. This 87% is made up of costs relating to the nuclear legacy, international agreements and legal liabilities from formerly nationalised energy industries. Therefore, 13% of the budget could potentially be cut from the DECC’s budget. Currently, 2% (£70 million) of their budget has already been cut.
The impact of these cuts will mean there is less money to dedicate to research on energy and climate change as well as schemes to help people out of fuel poverty.
One example of a scheme which the Carbon Brief suggests is likely to be cut is Green Deal. This a government scheme lead by the DECC which helps people find the best way to pay for energy saving improvements they want to make to their homes including energy grants, like the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund. These improvements can include insulation, heating, double glazing and renewable energy sources which can help reduce long-term energy costs. Without the support of the government, less people will have access to the funding needed to make important improvements to their homes.
Importance of community energy
When the government is demonstrating that they are willing to make cuts to energy and climate change services, the need for community energy projects becomes clear.
Community energy projects which favour renewable energy sources can help to create a more secure energy future for the community in addition to helping reduce the impact of climate change.
Access to cost-efficient local energy benefits all members of the community but is especially essential to people who are living in fuel poverty.
22 Apr 2015
Of the many challenges that the city faces in the years to come, affordable housing and energy costs in particular heating, rank high. This years, Hove Civic Society forum explores some potential solutions. The three parliamentary candidates for Hove, Graham Cox, Chris Hawtree and Peter Kyle will put forward some of their solutions and engage in a debate with Andrew Winter, CEO of the Brighton Housing Trust and Kayla Ente, CEO of BHESCo who will present their views about the need for affordable housing and heat as well as outlining some possibilities from experiences drawn from other cities. Questions will also be taken during the meeting.
7:30pm at the Courtlands Hotel, the Drive in Hove BN3 3JE
Free for Hove Society members, visitors pay £3 at the door