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 groups 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.
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
With the fossil fuel industry up to capacity, the government has ignored the obvious alternative and decided to hand out tax breaks for dirty gas, oil and nuclear power, despite overwhelming scientific and economic evidence of the benefits of renewable alternatives.
So, the air gets more polluted and unnecessarily cold homes continue to contribute to the misery and deaths of thousands of vulnerable people each winter.
We have the resources and the research, and most significantly the will to overcome the energy challenges we face in the UK. Within the space of a year 15 community groups in Sussex alone have joined forces to support energy savings and the development of locally generated renewable energy. But those in power are sidestepping the obvious solution diverting taxpayers funds to uneconomic investments.
Instead, the government offers tax breaks for the big energy companies to build more fossil fuel plants and new nuclear. The autumn statement promised £15billion for roads. It overhauls stamp duty ignoring the opportunity to link it to environmentally friendly buildings. Even the flood defense proposals are inadequate, according to experts. The treasury continues to endorse shale gas production, despite overwhelming public concern about safety and the impacts on land, water and air, including the emission of even more greenhouse gases.
As taxpayers we are right to have a say in where our money goes, and insist on value for money on government spending. One may ask how this major investment in roads and tax breaks for fossil fuels will meet the immediate need to address fuel poverty and its consequent pressure on the NHS. Furthermore, how will it encourage the generation of locally controlled renewable energy which has been proven to reduce energy prices in Germany and is supported by millions of people across the country as a way of taking back control of our own energy supply and improving energy security?
06 Dec 2013
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.
The 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.