Being in the Green Party you are often subject to popular misconceptions. One which I’m sure many people have is that we are anti nuclear power. Now nothing could be further from the truth. We are actually very pro nuclear power with just some conditions around the finances. There should be no public or consumer subsidy for capital costs, the same rule should apply to ongoing revenue costs and of course decommissioning costs which are often a concern for nuclear power plants. The question then is always well would a nuclear plant ever be constructed under such a hostile financial regime? To which we would answer “ Constructed? it already exists! It is 93 million miles away, is pretty reliable, predictable and if it ever did develop a fault we really would be in trouble”.
The UK Government is also very pro-nuclear power but it prefers its nuclear energy to be closer to home and they have a different take on the finances. The cost of Hinckley C to the consumer via the deal they have agreed on our behalf is reportedly around the £37 Billion mark. Government is all about choices and what could we do with £37 Billion with solar for instance? Here’s a very rough and ready calculation. £37 Billion/ £5000 the lower end cost of a 4kWp solar PV system would provide on-site solar energy to 7.5 million homes. This is around 30% of all UK homes. Of course that is a very rough and ready figure but it shows the potential - but possibly only the lower end of the potential. What if we had a national house by house programme which helped reduce costs further could we shave another £1000 off the cost that would be enough for 9 and quarter million homes. Such a programme would encourage significant expansion in solar manufacturing in the UK bringing with it more jobs, investment and the tax revenue that governments love. If we invested in large community owned solar PV installations the value of that £37 Billion would go even further. The advances that continue to be made in storage make solar an ever growing option for year round energy.
We need a Government vision informed by the renewables industry. During the General Election the Green Party policy in our Manifesto was attacked by some as being undeliverable but we were on firm ground because we worked with the Solar Trade Association to develop a policy that was ambitious but would be realistic based on the assumption that it would come from a Government that truly believed in a renewable energy future
Politics is all about choices and the vision we have for the future of our country and the wider world. Solar is not just a renewable energy it can also be a democratising energy that puts more power in the hands of individuals and communities and less in the hands of large corporate energy supply interests. This is not the general thrust of current UK Government policy. The abolition of the Zero Carbon homes standard for new build properties and the loss of Energy Company Obligation funding for retrofit insulation measures helps maintain high and growing domestic energy demand. The effective outlawing of onshore renewable energy through the planning system in England and the hacking away at the Feed In tariff has slowed the advance of renewables in our country and as such the UK Government should be regarded as at best disinterested in sustainable energy and at worst overtly hostile. The future at the moment is nuclear, fracked gas heating and poorly insulated buildings. It’s their choice of future , not mine and I’m sure not yours.
Brexit may be Brexit what ever that means but it is not good news for renewables. The EU Renewable Energy Directive is/was a useful driver for investment in renewables even if UK policy was pushing us in the wrong direction and we were way down the EU Renewable Energy League Table along with Malta and Luxembourg. We need to ensure that whatever Brexit means that we stick with EU targets even if failure will no longer mean a financial penalty on the UK Govt.
So what do we do?
In Kirklees our 2000 Council house solar PV programme was stopped in its tracks last year. We got to 600 before the feed in tarrif cut hit. So we had to start thinking of other ways to make progress
In Kirklees we are looking at the viability of establishing our own building standards on land that we own. Those standards would be Passivhaus standards with 10% of the energy demand of a standard new build. They could incorporate solar PV and thermal. An all party working group that I chair on Kirklees Council is developing recommendations for this policy. We want to hold a mirror up to Government to say this is what you can do when you have the political will. If that can be achieved in one Council in one part of the UK why not everywhere?
So I’d like to conclude by saying the Green Party does not have all the answers. We need the humility and common sense to realise that we need to work with others who share our vision and values for a clean energy future. So let us work together. Let’s work on solutions with common purpose and optimism.
The future will be bright , if its solar and renewable.