Campaigners seeking rights for Britain’s 400-plus power co-operatives to sell clean electricity locally this week hailed a milestone on their road to victory.
Power for People, the campaign which backs a Local Electricity Bill, this week signed up its 300th member of Parliament. They include 116 Conservatives, including Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee, sometimes described as the heart and soul of the Tory Party.
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer is among signatories backing a ‘Right to Local Supply’. Enshrined in a Local Electricity Bill first debated last year, the right would empower communities to sell locally generated electricity directly to households, businesses and local public services, thus reducing commercial generators’ dependence on foreign gas.
Britain relies on Russian gas for no more than 3% of this nation’s power generation.
MPs from all major parties and across the UK’s nations rallied behind the bill at an ‘Empowering Community Energy’ debate in Parliament in November.
In May, the Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee came out for a Local Electricity Bill, after finding that obstacles including expensive, over-complicated licencing had frozen community co-ops’ generation at 2017 levels.
Supporters such as WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB and over 100 local authorities say Ofgem’s over-complicated licencing is an outdated, unjustified legacy of nationwide-only supply.
During the debate in November, Labour grandee Hillary Benn commented on how “frustrating” it was that Brits who want to contribute both to fighting climate change and fuel poverty, find difficulties put in their way.
Cross-party sponsors of the bill – including lead sponsor Conservative MP David Johnston – are now in talks with energy minister Greg Hands MP and D-BEIS.
Hands recognised during November’s debate that community groups can be a catalyst to behaviour change by consumers, and promised to explore the issue with campaigners.
A local power plant, for local people, Tubbs
Money which consumers spend on energy bills levied by multinational suppliers is siphoned out of local economies, often failing to build new local clean energy infrastructure, the campaigners argue.
“Both are now more crucial than ever, as the UK works to combat the challenge of reducing our reliance on foreign gas imports, the price of which is soaring amid the Ukraine conflict” said Steve Shaw, director of Power for People.
If made law, say campaigners, the bill could let community renewables groups off their leash. They contribute now no more than 0.5% of national electricity generation. Potential exists for that share to rocket to 10% by 2030. Economic and social benefits would flow, in the form of local jobs, and more consumer accountability over pricing.
“The biggest threat to human civilisation and the natural world is climate breakdown”, Shaw added.
“Global (carbon) emissions have increased by over 400% since 1950, with levels of CO2 at their highest concentration in the past 2 million years”, he added. “But it is not too late to turn things around”
“The enormous emissions reductions the Local Electricity Bill aims to bring must be a key pillar in our mission to avert climate catastrophe whilst making our energy system more robust and boosting local jobs and the economies of communities across the country.”
A one-minute video on the Local Electricity Bill is available here. https://powerforpeople.org.uk/community-energy-animation/