Wednesday, 22 December 2010

energy boost

We got our first Feed in Tariff payment today of £150 for generating electricity from the solar photovoltaic (pv) panels on our roof, on target with what our installer, Southern Solar, predicted.  We get paid a guaranteed rate that will pay off the hardware in 12-14 years, plus we get free electricity when we use what we are generating. So we cook, clean the house and wash our clothes on sunny days, reconnecting ourselves with natural cycles too.

Good Energy, who is our electricity supply company, tells us that there are 10,000 households in Britain generating electricity in this way now. It wrote telling us that it’s keeping its prices fixed despite mainstream suppliers putting theirs up by up to 7% this winter – scandalous given they also announced huge profits practically in the same breath. So if ethics is important, it would be worth thinking of changing supplier to Good Energy, who deals only in renewable energy.

But no man’s an island and true resilience is when all of us have access to the means to locally generated power. A transition group of us is starting an initiative in January called Roof Power Lewes (provisional name), a free service to help Lewes residents get solar power in their homes. Anyone with a south(ish) facing roof should at least consider getting involved – with Feed in Tariffs, at least this year, offering guaranteed incomes of around 7%, most mortgages can be extended to easily pay for the installation, which costs from £9,000. And now Ovesco has made an agreement with South Coast Money Line, who is working with the District Council to offer low-interest loans for renewable installations, including solar pv.

Given the Feed in Tariff incentive has been in place since April, and electricity prices are only set to go sky-high over coming decades, how come more than a handful of Lewes residents haven’t installed solar pv yet? Maybe they are deterred from the outset by the District Council’s planning conservation officer who, recommends refusal on street-facing roofs (I checked the other day) on the grounds of much of Lewes being a Conservation area (untrue, all non-listed roofs in conservation areas are permitted) and also being an Article4 Direction area (true, but it means that the £150 application fee is then waived – something they don’t tell you). However, the planning committee generally favours renewable installations, so there’s a definite knack to getting planning permission.

That’s what this group is setting out to do: to support Lewes residents to get group-discounted, funded, permitted solar pv on their southish facing roofs in 2011. It’s free, for now. We’re launching the project on 14 January. So if your new year’s resolution is to start to generate your own power, please contact us. Here’s wishing readers a warm and restful break.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

throw off the duvet

I’m amazed at how empowering DIY can be. The sudden drop in temperature has catalysed us into getting our house shipshape for the winter. Homebase now has a brilliant line in draughtproofing and insulation materials, and Bunces and Wenban- Smith do too, only a bit less choice. Last weekend we brought home two rolls of Carbon Zero loft insulation (for £10 total), sawed a little hatch in our bathroom ceiling and stuffed the roof void full of this wonderful stuff, a bit like candyfloss, spun from recycled bottles. This weekend we’re going to put our judgements aside (about not wanting to seem like poor students) and put double glazing film up on the bedroom windows. I’m more determined than ever, with the prospect of a second cold winter, to save up for double glazing throughout our house, which, like so many old Lewes houses, seems to be one big window.

Maybe I’m unconsciously aware of a great financial crash looming on the horizon. I’ve just read the nef booklet ‘Where did our money go?’ which describes the government and our economy/society as being inextricably linked with the banking industry and, so, unlikely ever to put in place the regulations needed to stop its suicidal growth at the taxpayer’s expense. It quotes Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England as saying, ‘Massive support extended to the banking sector around the world… has created possibly the biggest moral hazard in history’. Transition Town Lewes is going to be talking about this booklet and possible local solutions at an event next Thursday.

Attending a talk by Stoneleigh earlier this week only added to the impression of collapse as inevitable but also as a necessary part of the process of breaking through to healthier, local ways of running our society fairly on finite resources. As I wrote this summer, it really is time to prepare by getting out of debt where possible (and no, sorry, the banks will never forgive debt), to get interconnected and to start building resilience across the board. That means being strategic and investing our time and money into solutions – not escape plans!

So rather than snuggling under the duvet for the duration I’m going to dress up warm and get out there and engage with the snow and it all.