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.

 

 

“I wouldn’t want to be the MP in Parliament who voted to oppose Hinkley C”.
With a very concerned look mixed with fear, this quote comes from an insider in the Halls of Power of the Energy Industry. Yet he works for a company that has chosen to put at the heart of its strategy the preparation and facilitation of the transition to a distributed network. This, in essence, is a bet on the proliferation of local renewable energy generation, and a move away from the inefficiency of centralised power stations. A distributed network is needed when there are lots of energy generators installed on rooftops, in the hills, in the sea and under the streets of our cities, towns and villages.

BHESCo estimates that there is almost 50GW worth of applications for battery storage facilities wanting to connect with the 8 Distribution Network Operators and the National Grid. This is about 10 times the power generation capacity of Hinkley C and Moorside combined, at a fraction of the price to the taxpayer and to future taxpayers. Granted, this is an emerging technology, as yet without a track record, however in the 10 years it will take for these nuclear power plants to be operational, battery storage will have become mainstream. As Steven Holliday, former CEO of the National Grid, announced in 2015, “base load power is obsolete.[1]” Base load nuclear power is wasteful, where at present 60% of the electricity produced is lost in conversion, transmission and distribution.

Despite pleas from over 160 organisations, this year’s national budget includes a ‘Solar Tax’ collected in the form of business rates. If you own a solar array less than 50kW, the value of your property for business rates will be increased by the nominal value of the solar array on your roof. This will have enormous implications on small businesses that have become solar generators because the tax is most likely to approximate or exceed any benefit that they receive for the free electricity from the sun. Because any investment in energy generation requires a certain return in order for investors to commit their hard earned cash, a business rates tax on solar arrays eliminates any incentive to accelerate our transition from fossil fuels by investing in generating your own electricity.  The ‘solar tax’ is an intentional assault on free power from the sun as, for example, gas combined heat and power systems have been exempt from business rates since 2001.

Now consider the subsidies for investors in shale gas exploration, or ‘fracking’. This subsidy comes in the form of tax breaks called Enhanced Capital Allowances that permit firms that are investing in shale gas exploration to deduct the cost of the equipment directly against their taxable income, in many cases virtually eliminating any tax due. For companies like Centrica, who are a large investor in Cuadrilla, these tax breaks run into the millions [2] . Other similar tax breaks will be enjoyed by Ineos, who intend to invest £168 million in shale gas exploration (which at 40% tax relief, amount to £68 million) or IGas who invested £16 million in equipment in 2015. Nuclear power on the other hand costs the taxpayer billions each year for transport, storage and decommissioning of existing power plants alone, before we even being to count the cost of constructing new ones such as Hinkley C and Moorside, as each of these proposed plants are being constructed using unproven technologies. Simply put, the “solar tax” is an assault on the little guy, just another addition to the unfair tax policies that protect the 10% and burden the 90%, in this case, small businesses.

For anyone who believes that we must take responsibility for our energy supply now for the sake of our climate and our energy security, we wonder: what is the difference in tax receipts for the Treasury if the money comes from the clean energy industry or from dirty fossil fuels or nuclear? Or do we really want to spend our money as taxpayers supporting a government that is afraid to make the decisions that we need to ensure that we have clean, affordable energy in the future? Wouldn’t we rather ensure that our schools have sufficient funds to properly educate our children, or that the NHS continues to thrive as an accessible customer service focused health care system?

Join the fight today by writing to your MP, signing an anti-fracking or anti-nuclear petition, or becoming an investor in Community Energy.  Make sure that important decisions about our future are made from a position of courage, not fear.  Mostly make sure that you are informed, as such short sighted changes to tax legislation will have long term impacts on our quality of life.

 

[1] www.greentechmedia.com

[2]energydesk.greenpeace.org

Guest Blog, by Jaden Yang of University of California, Berkeley

solar battery

Distributed generation such as rooftop solar panels creates an economic democracy where every person can generate electricity from their own solar photovoltaic cells. Another benefit is lower transmission losses since the solar energy comes directly from their rooftop. However, one of the biggest challenges of renewable energy is energy intermittency. Solar panels on a rooftop can only generate electricity during daylight hours, and if a solar panel generates more electricity than you can use in the moment or does not generate enough, electricity must be exported or drawn from the grid to compensate. For this reason, solar panels do not always generate electricity when the domestic demand is greatest.

 

intermittant energy

 

Renewable energy has always faced challenges of consistency of supply and system integration. Some flexibility options to complement renewable energy are flexible peak power plants, grid integration, demand side management and battery storage. In California, a Net Metering policy that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid has given considerable benefits to solar panel owners. Unlike California, the UK has not implemented this policy widely, making battery storage systems a more attractive proposal to encourage the uptake of solar. Battery storage is not a new technology.  Up until now, due to its expense, it hasn’t been widely used in the UK. It would allow solar PV owners to generate, convert and save excess electricity for use at a later time, enabling users to make maximum use of the electricity they have generated themselves, as well as providing a solution to intermittency and production/demand mismatch.

In order to make battery storage affordable and feasible, government subsidies on green technologies can enhance both business and environmental performance. First, clean technology businesses can increase their research budget with government subsidies to improve and reduce the cost of battery storage. Secondly, if battery storage becomes popular, less people use electricity from the grid. Thus, once solar panels and battery storage systems become prevalent in a community, people have less dependence on traditional fossil fuel power generation, which will have the effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, we believe there is enormous potential for battery storage to enhance domestic renewable energy production, which itself encourages the development of better batteries in a virtuous circle.

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/)

Our government claims that we need fracking in order to provide long-term energy security. They are using fear to convince us that we need to drill beneath our homes and areas of outstanding natural beauty in order to ‘keep the lights on’. This is special interest politics in its most malicious and dangerous form.

Fracking makes zero economic sense for the taxpayer. Climate activist and author of The Winning of the Carbon War, Jeremy Leggett said that it costs $3 to buy $1 worth of gas produced by fracking companies in America.

Lessons from America

You don’t have to be George Osborne to understand that this is not a winning economic model for Britain. Fracking is creating uninhabitable ghost towns all along the Marcellus shale, ground-zero for fracking in Ohio. The water is not fit to drink, you can’t grow anything healthy in the soil, animals can no longer graze without ingesting toxins from the grass, and the air is not fit to breathe. There are reports of increasing numbers of people in the US and Australia who live around fracking sites who are becoming gravely ill.

Fracking also uses a lot of water. The State of California decided that there is no reasonable way of dumping the waste water from offshore drilling, so they decided to dump the 8 billion gallons of contaminated fracking water into the Pacific Ocean. This water becomes poisoned by harmful chemicals such as benzene and chlorine.  Fracking companies are not required to disclose the chemical composition of the fluids they use.

Hope Not Lost

We are living in an amazing time with incredible technological capabilities. Today in the UK, there are new business models being developed through partnerships between community energy groups, progressively thinking energy suppliers, renewable energy project developers, and local councils. These business models strive to create local energy generation to serve the communities where they are based, as was the case in the UK in the early 1900s.

For a small island nation the UK is lucky to have such an abundance of alternative energy sources available to us; we have Wind, Solar, Ground Source Heat Pumps, Tidal, Wave, and Anaerobic Digestion, to name a few. Additionally, we have new technologies that can improve the ways that we consume energy, like demand response systems, smart grids and energy efficiency measures.

Community Energy = Real Energy Security

BHESCo is part of a network of 20 Community Energy solar fieldgroups across Sussex and Kent that are devoted to creating local energy generation to provide REAL ENERGY SECURITY. We need to end the idea of short term thinking in our energy network and consider that energy generation projects can provide reliable energy sources for 25 to 30 years and longer.

We need to invest in our electricity grid to create the new distributed energy system that is needed to offer the taxpayer REAL ENERGY SECURITY. Fracking most certainly is not going to provide this in the long term, nor will it reduce prices for the 15,000 people in Brighton & Hove who cannot afford to heat their homes.

The current Government’s energy strategy makes no economic or environmental sense, and we say loud and clear No to Fracking! We want to leave behind a long-term legacy of clean, locally owned renewable energy that serves the community and preserves the environment.

 


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