Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow energy secretary, has accused the government of “environmental and economic vandalism.” Since the Paris climate change agreement last December, she said that the Tories have sold vital assets like the Green Investment Bank and blocked renewable energy projects, “unravelling Plan A, without a Plan B.”
Addressing a London mayoral campaign meeting in Hackney this week, Nandy argued that tackling climate change is “the biggest collective challenge we face as humanity.” Labour’s task was to “formulate a plan to get us through to climate safety.”
First, by building on its strengths in local government and, hopefully, in London by winning the mayoral election in May. Nandy cited examples of groundbreaking green energy initiates in Labour-controlled Nottingham, Plymouth, Bristol, Hackney and elsewhere.
Second, as an effective Opposition in Parliament. This week, Labour has forced the government to back down on a plan in the Budget to increase the VAT on solar power schemes from 5% to 20%. This would have added £1,000 to the average cost of a household solar installation.
Furthermore, Nandy has asked the National Audit Office to investigate the Chancellor’s decision to axe the £1 billion public find to support investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, abandoning a ten-year research programme that had wide support across industry. The decision hasn’t just damaged investor confidence at a time when we desperately need investment in our energy sector. It also means that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been simply wasted. Without CCS it will be more expensive to cut emissions.
And thirdly, by developing new ideas for “energy democracy.” A key theme in Nandy’s approach is “giving people control back over their own lives,” disrupting the energy market and tackling the power of the Big Six energy companies. So she has strongly backed community energy projects, and locally accountable energy schemes championed by Labour councils as key examples of this new, democratic approach.
Lisa Nandy was particularly critical of the decision to axe public support for carbon capture technology, a decision taken “without consultation with the industries affected, such as steel and other energy intensive industries already in difficulty with the UK’s high energy costs. Their ability to capture and store CO2 depends heavily on the successful development of this technology, so cancelling it has massive implications for jobs and growth. With our competitors like India and China are pressing g ahead with new technology investment, the government is squandering the opportunity to be a word leader in this area.
It’s pretty obvious to those of us involved in community energy that, in the face of all the evidence of our rapidly warming planet, the Tories have gone for the big brother, big fossil, government-knows-best approach to energy investment:
- blocking all onshore wind projects, the cheapest form of renewable energy, regardless of whether there is community support.
- deliberately disabling community-led solar power projects by massive cuts to feed in tariffs.
- coercing communities to accept shale gas fracking, by giving Ministers the final say in shale drilling decisions, and setting up a so-called Shale Sovereign Wealth Fund for community” benefits.”
Hackney could boast the UK’s largest community owned solar energy scheme at Banister House, but, as Labour councilor Feryal Demirci told the meeting this Wednesday, we can’t easily progress with other schemes of this kind on existing housing estates. However, the council will be pushing for solar power on all new developments.
Looking ahead, the meeting this week could lead to setting up a Hackney Branch of SERA, Labour’s environment campaign. If this helps us to develop good climate change policies for the inner city and influence Labour’s thinking, it’s worth a try.
But meanwhile, we urgently need to find new ways to bring real additional resources into community energy projects on estates and in schools, to match or supplement the meagre funds now available through feed in tariffs.
So maybe we need to work on ideas like this to lob into the mayoral campaigns while there is still time?
Philip Pearson, chair, Hackney Energy