The need for local renewable energy

Last Monday saw the publication of the third and final report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This one focussed on the actions we need to take. In short it said that if we want to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees we need to make drastic changes at once. There is no time to lose. The fossil fuel infrastructure already in operation, planned or under construction is more than enough to bust the available carbon budget comprehensively, the IPCC found, so we must stop building more and start retiring what is already in use.

Now I know that many people believe, as I do, that the current energy crisis demonstrates a compelling reason for the UK to become self-sufficient in energy production as quickly as possible. But this self-sufficiency must not be through the use of either fossil fuels or nuclear energy. It doesn’t even make economic sense to do so. The cost of solar and wind energy has plummeted by up to 85% over the past decade, making them cheaper than nuclear, gas and coal. Renewables, combined with better insulation and energy efficiency measures, provide the only way out of the current energy crisis and the only way to prevent climate breakdown.

There is though, a further dimension to this need for a drastic change to our energy generation strategy. To my mind our energy needs to not only be derived from 100% renewable sources (chiefly wind and solar) but also be generated locally.

It is really sad that the application to construct the Navitus Bay windfarm off the coast of Dorset was not approved. Had this windfarm been built is would have been able to supply up to 80% of Dorset’s electricity. I really fail to see how the sight of wind turbines out at sea could have distracted from anyone’s enjoyment of our wonderful world heritage coastline. As we urgently need to make full use of the wind available to us I really hope another application comes forward in the next round of licensing.

One of the advantages of the local generation of electricity is that it limits the energy lost through transmission. An even more local idea is through the establishment of Energy Local schemes like the one in Bridport. This scheme, the first of its kind in England, enables 55 households to form a club and buy their electricity directly from the Salway Ash wind turbine at around 12 pence per kWh. There are plans through the building of a 1 acre community-funded solar farm to supply an additional 250 households in Bridport. Just imagine what could be achieved if turbines were sited on the hills surrounding the town. Evidence shows that objections to onshore wind quickly fall away if local people directly benefit from the power generated. I would love to hear your views on this.

A combination of a large windfarm off the coast of Dorset together with Energy Local clubs established in as many towns and communities like Bridport as possible would ensure that our energy would not only be secure from world events, but it would be lower cost, low carbon and support the local economy. Our local economy could be further enriched by a massive project to ensure that all our homes were retrofitted to the highest energy efficiency standards possible. Whilst the free energy efficiency advice and promotion of ‘energy champions’ by Bridport Town Council is a great start, this needs to be expanded and greatly enhanced by Dorset Council, who need to start showing leadership.

One aspect of this need for leadership should be through the development of a policy regarding planning applications for double glazing in listed buildings and the siting of solar panels on buildings in conservation areas and on land in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Their current approach relies far too heavily on the opinions of conservation officers who, in my opinion, seem to prioritise the conservation of the past at the expense of adapting to the future needs of citizens. This is a topic that I will be returning to – probably quite soon.

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