The Big Society solution for clean energy
Yes we need new nuclear, big offshore wind farms and new coal with CCS.
But the energy conundrum we now face requires a new and broader approach in which our communities are encouraged to produce their own energy.
When David Cameron became Prime Minister he set out his vision for a Big Society. A society that gives citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, to solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want.
We need to keep the lights on and produce cleaner and greener energy to help tackle climate change and we need action at every level of society to achieve this.
In short, we need a Big Society solution to clean energy. This means our communities have a vital role to play, but so far, it’s been a massive missed opportunity.
I want to change that and we’re already making strides.
Firstly, the coalition Government was quick to overturn the ban on local councils selling electricity back to the national grid, opening up new sources of income including the full benefit of the feed in tariff. At present only a pitiful 0.01% of electricity in England is generated by local authority-owned renewables.
Secondly, we’ve given certainty to communities, with backing for a range of financial incentives. It’s why I personally backed feed in tariffs and championed an incentive for renewable heat that will drive a step change in the way we generate heat at all scales, including as an alternative to using gas for heating our homes.
It’s because of the importance of local communities that I’m concerned about large scale green field based solar farms being allowed to distort the available funding for domestic solar technologies. We want to see far more solar panels on Britain’s roof space but not all over the countryside.
Thirdly, we are championing those communities that are already taking action to inspire other communities to become local energy economies. Communities will not only benefit financially and environmentally, but will create a market in green goods to help our economy grow.
New Mills – a community-owned hydropower scheme in Derbyshire is a great example. With an annual turnover of up to £30,000 gained from exporting electricity and other agreements, they’ve even opened up the turbine as a tourist attraction. The cash made is then ploughed back into the community so everyone can benefit.
It’s a living, breathing, energy generating example of the Big Society.
I want to see the success of New Mills emulated around the country with village halls, town halls and schools creating their own local energy economies.
But we know that money won’t make that happen alone. It’’s why our new Community Energy Online website goes live tomorrow to provide practical help to get local projects up and running.
I’ve seen the enthusiasm for buying local in my own constituency. Every month there’s a farmers’ market selling hearty produce grown nearby. It’s popular and people like it. There’s something gratifying about buying fruit and veg from a neighbour – it helps the local economy, it cuts down on food miles and it tastes a lot fresher.
I want to create the same excitement for local energy generation Now is the time to return power to the people to get power from the people.
Greg Barker is Minister for Climate ChangeTagged in: david cameron, Energy, environment, wind farm
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