The United Kingdom is the fourth richest country in the world. It is a cornerstone of the global economy, with billions of pounds of investment pouring in each year. We have a highly educated workforce, access to the most advanced technologies available, and have enjoyed tremendous (though diminishing) international influence ever since Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine 300 years ago.

 

So why is the UK not a leading light in the quest towards a green and sustainable future?
Why, in 2012, of all 28 member states was the UK the third lowest producer of renewable energy in the European Union, ahead of only Luxembourg and Malta?

 

energy_from_renewable_per_c

 

It certainly isn’t due to an absence of means. According to figures from the National Audit Office, the Exchequer was able to find an astonishing £1,162 billion to support the banks during the financial crisis of 2008.

 

The British government’s response to a crisis it seems, is based less on the resources available than upon their idea of what is labelled a ‘crisis’. If the vested interests of the City of London are threatened for example, then evidently no expense will be spared to ensure its survival. If a crisis involves the survival of planet Earth however, and all the millions of species that depend on it, including us, then we see quite a different picture entirely.

 

As part of the Renewable Energy Directive agreed by the European states in 2009, the UK is committed to achieving 15% of its energy needs from sustainable sources by 2020. As a barometer of progress, we were supposed to have achieved 10% by 2010, but this target was missed. True, the UK has made much progress over recent years with the introduction of the Feed-in-Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive, but it is far from certain that we will reach our goal of 15% in five years from now.

 

One thing that is certain, is that the UK has not embraced the transition to a sustainable economy in the same way as our European neighbours. Iceland is able to supply 85% of the country’s housing with heat from geothermal energy.
Sweden leads the EU with 52% of its energy coming from renewable sources, followed by Latvia, Finland, and Austria which are able to generate a third of their energy needs sustainably.

 

So why does the UK have such an unambitious target only 15%, which many say will not be met by 2020? A major reason is surely our love-affair with nuclear power. The UK currently has 16 reactors with a total generating capacity of 10 gigawatts of electricity, and plans to increase this to 16GW with the first new reactors expected to be operational in the early 2020s. This new generation of nuclear power stations will require a total investment of at
least £60 billion, and that does not take into account the ‘nuclear clean-up market’ which is estimated at £70 billion at Sellafield alone. It is abundantly clear that our policy makers are determined to steer us towards a future that benefits the big corporations that inform them.

 

 sellafield

 

Unfortunately for us however, nuclear is definitely not the answer. Often, the public is subject to a vociferous campaign of disinformation surrounding nuclear energy. The reality is that nuclear power poses major security and environmental risks, is heavily dependent on taxpayer subsidies, and generates deadly radioactive waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years. Furthermore, the processes involved in mining and enriching uranium, the construction and dismantling of a nuclear plant, and the transport and disposal of hazardous waste are anything but ‘low-carbon’.

 

So what does this mean for renewable energy in Britain, where our government are happy to spend £100 billion to renew a Trident Nuclear Defence system, while cutting subsidies to renewable energy? In the same way that the Civil Rights Movement was born of a frustration with government inertia, we too cannot stand idly by and wait for our leaders to show us the way to a sustainable future.

 

If the UK is to meet its green energy targets, then the momentum must come from the grassroots. In the absence of leadership from above, we must invest in renewables at a community level, and take control of our energy fut
ure. BHESCo is committed to establishing the first community owned micro-grid in Brighton and Hove, helping to set down a blueprint for others to follow, and moving the UK towards our targets for 2020 and onwards.

 

300 years after Newcomen’s steam engine, its time for a new revolution in England…

 

 

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.

deccOn 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.

Virtuous CircleBrighton and Hove Energy Saving Co-operative (BHESCO) launched its bid to raise £1M to fund up to 10 community renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Sussex.

When people put money into the co-operative, they become members and buy shares. For a minimum investment of £250, each investor receives a 5-7% year on year return.  BHESCo has advanced assurance for the Enterprise Investment scheme giving 30% relief on the amount invested.

People who invest £500 will be able to claim £150 of that straight back in their next tax return. If the interest rate continues into subsequent tax years, investors will have doubled their money in 11 years. Moreover they will become part of a movement that helps reduce reliance on fossil fuels and contributes to a more sustainable future.

The offer was formally launched via Ethex, the UK’s award winning positive investment website. The minimum investment is £250 and the maximum is £100,000. To apply visit www.ethex.org.uk.

BHESCO’s share offer feeds into an innovative business model that forms a blueprint for energy groups across the country. By establishing a portfolio of services, including partnerships with energy suppliers, energy assessments and energy consultancy, the co-operative has successfully created a number of robust revenue streams. The model can be adopted in other towns and cities to ensure endurance of local energy groups.

The event has received coverage from local newspaper, The Argus and The Brighton & Hove Independent. The first installations include a biomass boiler for an independent school in Hove and a total retrofit of energy saving technology, including a solar array, for a social enterprise that manages affordable office spaces. BHESCO is also working with Brighton & Hove City Council to install solar on schools.

As well as benefitting from the government’s Feed-In-Tariff and renewable heat incentive – which guarantees a fixed price for community generated renewable energy for 20 years, the projects will also make significant savings on energy bills.

These factors combined give investors a 5% annual return on their investment, while enabling BHESCO to reinvest any profits in more community owned energy projects.

Kayla Ente, Founder and CEO said: “We’re used to thinking that doing good and making money are often opposed, especially when it comes to energy, but that doesn’t apply here.  This is a win-win-win – Sussex gets more renewable energy while properties are made more efficient, cutting our carbon footprint and energy bills. Businesses and organisations we work with get cheaper energy, and the people who’s money makes it happen receive an interest rate that’s 10 times better than what they’re getting on their bank savings.”

Notes for Editors:

BHESCO (www.bhesco.co.uk) is a co-operative society registered with the Financial Conduct Authority registered number 32097R.

The offer is not affected by the FSMA 2002 regulations on public offerings on shares. For more information on community shares, see www.communityshares.org.uk

Community energy is a fast-growing sector of the activity, aided by the payment of the Government’s Feed-in-tariff and renewable heat incentive that guarantees a fixed price for 20 years, enabling BHESCO to reward its members with strong financial returns.

 

Hove Civic flyer A5 V2 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


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