Winter is coming, and with it comes the looming spectre of our winter energy bills. Fuel poverty, market fiddling, and Parliament infighting are starting to creep into the headlines. The majority of these come around every year; mostly due to the weather, but partly due to there being nothing else to report in the cold season once Santa has been on his jolly way. However, this year is different. This year there is an Energy Bill going through Parliament, allowing a once in a lifetime opportunity to radically change the way our power market works. This means that it’s time to take action and show Ministers that the public wants Clean British Energy.
The Clean British Energy (CBE) campaign has been in hibernation recently, but on 13th October we joined other local Friends of the Earth groups to take part in the CBE Day of Action. The stunt used Saatchi & Saatchi’s famous 1979 Conservative campaign image of a queue forming behind an unemployment office with the words “Labour isn’t working” emblazoned above it. For our stunt the plan was to form the iconic queue, but have it running through a banner stating “Green is working” with everyone in the queue donning green hard hats. The symbolism is straightforward; we would represent the thousands of jobs that have been created from the growth of green industry, such as renewable energy firms, and the potential for future growth bolstering our economy and creating more jobs.
In the UK, close to a million green jobs have already been created, with a large proportion of these jobs coming from the energy sector. Thanks to excellent research conducted by volunteers at Birmingham Friends of the Earth we also know that roughly 1,300 jobs could be created by the creation of a solar industry in Birmingham. Add to this the different research centres into new technologies at Birmingham’s universities, and pioneering schemes like Birmingham Energy Savers, and our city is in a great position to be at the forefront of a cleaner, fairer and more efficient energy market, combining large national renewable energy projects with community energy schemes.
We rallied the troops, and a few friends from Greenpeace, on a fine Saturday morning in Victoria Square for the CBE Day of Action stunt, and we made quite a sight. Not quite Lord of the Rings battering the gates of Gondor, but still a very welcoming amount of support. With everyone there and in good spirits, the banner was erected, hard hats placed neatly on our heads, and an orderly queue emerged around the fountain outside Birmingham’s library. Although this may be an over-dramatisation of the stunt, it was a fun few hours on a Saturday morning, and it was great to see such a turn out, allowing us to get excellent media coverage and spread the message of the growing green economy.
Stunts like ours were performed around the country; a 250 strong queue was formed outside the treasury in London, which included green business and NGO bosses. Also ‘in’ on the stunt was everyone’s favourite business woman Deborah Meadon. All in all, both locally and nationally, the Day of Action was a huge success and has given us a great platform to build from.
Everything sounds good at the moment for CBE, but the truth is more stories are appearing, showing us what we are up against. What is probably not a surprise to most people, but has come as a shock to news outlets and Ministers, is that energy pricing is being manipulated by energy firms to ensure bigger profits. Two whistle blowers from a price-reporting agency called ICIS raised concerns about manipulation of wholesale energy markets, with one saying he saw suspect trading activity in Autumn 2011.
This first story has been quickly followed up by reports of Conservative MPs being recorded expressing their views on wind policy. Chris Heaton-Harris MP was caught admitting he hadn’t read much reliable research about the effect of wind turbines on birds, saying “The ‘bird blending’ phrase really hurts [the RSPB]. How true or not, I’ve got no idea because I’ve not seen any half-decent research about this.” He then went on to publicly criticise the RSPB for their support of wind energy stating, “Certainly [wind turbines] have a very bad interaction with bats and a number of species of birds … there really is the evidence out there and there are now international studies pointing at this.”
It is also been revealed that, according to Tory MP Peter Lilly, the Chancellor George Osborne “regrets” the government’s commitment to renewable energy. With the cabinet reshuffle allowing climate change skeptics into pivotal positions, it is going to be a tough push to ensure our future is clean and sustainable.
The next phase of the CBE campaign is beginning now, and it is time to increase the pressure. A substantial part of this campaign has been petitioning and calling on individuals and organisations to switch their energy suppliers to greener alternatives, but the campaign is now picking up momentum as it moves into the next phase. This will concentrate on lobbying MPs and getting them to send our message to Parliament, making sure there are no missed opportunities when the Energy Bill goes through.
To do this we are planning to host an exhibition using photographs from a national Friends of the Earth competition, as well as local photographs we will source ourselves. The national competition was a joint venture with Good Energy, asking people to produce photographs that captured the beauty of renewable energy generation, both physically and ideologically. Many of these photos are certainly breath-taking and can be seen on the national Friends of the Earth website. We decided for our own exhibition we should add photos that are more relevant to Birmingham, showcasing the potential for rooftop solar power in the city. MPs from across the city will be invited to the event, offering the chance for informal discussion around the photographs and an opportunity to ask officials to show their support for the campaign.
We have high hopes that the exhibition will be a great focal point for getting the public interested in what’s going on in the energy sector, showing them how much of an effect the upcoming Energy Bill may have on them, and hopefully how much effect the public can have on what goes into the Bill. There is a lot to get involved in with the Clean British Energy campaign at the moment, and although it is a very ambitious campaign, right now is a very important time for us to work towards securing our energy future.