The following speech was delivered by BHESCo CEO Kayla Ente as part of a Game Changers Women’s Leadership Summit at the Houses of Parliament on 23rd November 2018.
Spending time in nature can be restorative and can often bring peace. Something perhaps we could use a bit more of. Nature is very important to us and we are part of it. I grew up in America, during the 60s and 70s, a time when people staged group demonstrations to reject the things they didn’t like in the world and back then, governments listened because we stopped a war – the Vietnam War! It was a time when the industrial revolution was in full gear. We were still ignoring the greenhouse effect, although I did learn about it at university.
The biggest influence in my younger life was the television programme the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, the David Attenborough of that time. I remember feeling like I was diving with those fish and turtles under the deep blue sea, where life was a colourful balance of competition and co-operation. That bit of blue magic was my inspiration to dedicate my life to defending the silent voice of mother nature.
Life has changed a lot since then. I work in the energy industry that John Major called broken. Yes, we have an energy crisis; it is a crisis because we continue to subsidise the extraction of fossil fuels, gas and oil, to support a habit that is destroying us. And like addicts we need to recognise the state that we are in and make a change to stay alive.
The energy industry is responsible for 30% of climate change. Last month the International Panel on Climate Change warned that there are only 12 years left for us to keep the global temperature rise at 1.5°C to stop catastrophic climate change. We already have 1°C of global warming and look what devastation this is causing. Fires in California, flash floods in Athens, heatwaves, droughts and burned sweet peas in my garden this summer – all the havoc that climate change is playing out in real time.
If we are honest, we are probably scared, if not terrified, because we don’t know what to do about it, which makes us feel helpless to do anything.
As consumers we all have the power of choice. The only power that you really have is how you choose to spend your money.
Where does your energy come from, do you know?
Do you have dirty energy?
Since fossil fuels are a primary contributor to climate change, this is something that is concerning me and a lot of people. Perhaps it concerns you as well.
I will let you in on an insider secret. The UK government subsidises fossil fuels at 8 times the amount of subsidy for renewable energy.
The subsidies are in the form of tax breaks, loans and export guarantees instead of means that are transparent to us like the ECO charge on your energy bill.
In 2010, when the Feed in tariff subsidy was introduced, we generated 2% of our energy requirements from renewable sources, like wind, solar power and biomethane. Today, only 8 years later, 32% of our energy supply comes from clean energy, all the result of efforts to match the subsidy for clean energy to the level already provided to dirty energy. This will change though, since the government is removing all subsidies for small scale renewable energy from March 2019.
Onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of electricity according to Bloomberg, was virtually banned in 2015, despite polls that say 67% of the British public support onshore wind. It doesn’t seem to me that the government is listening to us.
We don’t need more dirty energy, we need clean energy
We can’t burn 80% of existing fossil fuel reserves because of climate change. Because fossil fuels are a limited resource, we are pursuing more extreme and expensive methods of extracting it, which pushes the price up.
The government likes this because it gets substantial income from the tax on fuels, so it is overruling local councils, making it as easy to get planning permission to drill for gas under our homes and in national parks as it is to put up a garden shed.
Although fracking wells last on average 10 years, the impact on the environment, being land and water pollution, is permanent. Fracking injects toxic chemicals with lots of water into the ground poisoning the water and soil with ethylbenzene, phenol and benzene among other known carcinogens.
In the USA where fracking is rampant, billions of gallons of toxic water is shipped from fracking sites to California and dumped into the Pacific Ocean. The impact on sea life is extraordinary and may make the nature documentaries, like Jacques Cousteau that we love a thing of history.
This is what makes fossil fuels very dirty.
Nuclear power is a dirty fuel and it is expensive. In order to build the new nuclear power station at Hinkley C, we are committed to pay 50% more than the current electricity price for the next 35 years. This looks like a bet that prices go up that much in the next 7 years, when the plant is expected to be operational.
30,000 people die in Britain each year from winter cold because they can’t afford to or are too afraid to heat their homes. These are deaths that could be prevented. Let’s create heat that people can afford. Rising prices make energy, which is a necessity, less accessible to all of us.
We don’t need more dirty energy, what we need is more clean energy
Proponents of nuclear power try scaremongering that the lights are going to go out. Yet 60% of the electricity generated by nuclear power plants is wasted in generation and distribution. With the innovations in battery storage for our electricity grid, there is no need for new nuclear power and yet, our government is pursuing it with a passion.
Recent estimates by the government confirm that the taxpayer may be liable for £225 billion to decommission our nuclear legacy. How many of you have been to one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, in Cumbria?
Most people don’t know that the UK has the largest stockpile of toxic and dangerous plutonium in the world, stored in Cumbria. This plutonium takes tens of thousands of years to break down. We have no way of storing it for more than 200 years and no single village, town or city in the country wants to host the temporary storage facility.
What would you rather have in your back garden, wind turbines or nuclear waste? Nuclear power plants dispense toxic radioactive elements like Tritium in the Irish sea. We should be angry that the government is using our money to fund toxic, expensive and dangerous new nuclear power stations.
We don’t need more dirty energy, we need more clean energy
Here’s a realistic picture of the energy supply that we could be building to serve our needs starting with a commitment to this strategy now. The UK could be a leader in renewable energy generation and battery storage. The Environmental Change Unit at Oxford did a study about 15 years ago that concluded 99% of our electricity requirements could be met with offshore wind farms strategically placed all over the island. Because the wind is blowing somewhere around the island 99% of the time.
We have the power of choice. How we spend our money can make a difference. Now I am asking you to exercise this power by switching to a 100% renewable energy supplier. You can find them on our website here.
If we all switch to a 100% renewable energy supply, we will create a demand push in the market which will force the move from dirty to clean power. This will drive the infrastructural investment to fund jobs, new industries and stimulate the economy.
We don’t need any more dirty energy, we need clean energy
By 2030 we should have built windfarms off the coast of the British Isles that are pulling in free electricity that will run our robust industrial complex. Local energy requirements will be met through local energy systems, solar panels and heat networks.
BHESCo have designed a model that empowers communities to generate their own energy, it’s proven, it works and it is100% replicable. Affordable heat that is generated from renewable resources like wood fuels, biofuels and solar heating. 60% of the woodland in the UK is not managed. We can manage our woodlands better to create renewable heating fuels.
BHESCo is working with a village near Brighton to build a heat network to replace their dirty oil heating with heating from wood fuels that they grow in their own forests. This will reduce the cost of their heat and significantly improve the air quality in their village.
The effort that lies between the reality today and this vision for tomorrow is germinating in energy co-operatives like BHESCo. Community, local energy allows us not only to take control of our energy supply, it ensures lower priced affordable energy, while providing a pathway to carbon emission reductions. You can make a difference and the world can change as a result of what you do.
You can support community energy groups like BHESCo in your village or town. If eliminating fuel poverty, making energy affordable, saving lives and avoiding climate change isn’t already attractive enough, BHESCo pays a 5% compounded interest return to our shareholder members.