Thursday, 28 April 2011

pass it on

I’m sitting in the far corner of the grounds of the disused St Anne’s School in Lewes. It’s 6am and the blackbirds are just ending their chorus. I’m on gate duty, part of a 24 hour rota guarding three gates. Climate Camp South East, who is occupying (squatting) the 3 acres of unused land, is meticulous about security: past climate camps have taught us that the police can behave aggressively and unlawfully. 
Climate Camp came to Lewes last Thursday and is spending a week modelling how to live lightly on the land, working collectively using consensus; inviting local people to visit; and training in creative direct actions culminating in a non-violent direct action on one of the many climate crime scenes in Sussex: perhaps the proposed biofuels plant near Shoreham , oil drilling in ancient woodland in the National Park or the Newhaven incinerator. One of the benefits of climate camps is that people learn to self-organise and self-manage – an essential skill in the coming age of less stuff and more connection.

Bizarrely, soon after we occupied the site, we heard from several sources that East Sussex County Council, the owners of the site, had recently condemned the building and that demolition was imminent – apparently common knowledge in County Hall. ESCC even, we were told, believed we had occupied the site in protest of the demolition. 

So the climate camp called a community meeting on Tuesday, attended by 70 people including a representative from all three levels of Lewes councils, to discuss the issue. We sat on the land, outside. By the end of the meeting it was dark but it was clear that although ESCC was evasive about demolition, Lewes District Council was prepared to do everything in its power to prevent the building from being demolished and that Lewes residents wished to use the land and start to vision for future interim uses, which ESCC said it would be open to proposals. 

Although it seems likely that ESCC will try to maximise the money it can make from (our) land by intensive development deals, possibly already in the pipeline, it does seem possible that Lewes resident activists can make a stand. Indeed, the residents at the meeting formed a group called STAND – St Anne’s Diggers. Their first events are a Royal Weeding this Friday and a Beltane Picnic on the land at noon on Sunday. Everyone is welcome. Pass it on.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

escape like squirrels

It was incredible to witness the level of support for community energy generation at the launch this week of Ovesco’s share issue for Britain’s first community-owned solar power station (see photos here). The launch raised the amount pledged close to the £200,000 mark, with a total of
£306, 000 to be raised by the end of May. I feel so glad to be part of a community where big visions are held and then realised together – despite all the power struggles going on at government level. There’s still time to make a pledge at the Ovesco website.

For those who also like to agitate in a more physical way during these strange and disturbing times and the tipping points of climate chaos loom ever nearer while our leaders procrastinate, a week-long Climate Camp is coming to a place near Lewes this weekend. It’s shaping up to be a brilliant event for anyone who would like to become a little more radical. In true Climate Camp style, the venue will be a surprise: watch this  wonderful website closely for news and directions, and come along for a cup of tea and a spot of creative direct action.

DH Lawrence: ‘When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego and when we escape like squirrels turning in the cages of our personality and get into the forests again, we shall shiver with cold and fright but things will happen to us so that we don't know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in, and passion will make our bodies taut with power. We shall stamp our feet with new power and old things will fall down, we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like burnt paper’.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

solar so good

It was odd last week to have two Viva Lewes columns with opposing views about solar pv, with me singing its praises and The Trouble With feeling quite grumpy about it. At the risk of boring some readers, I’d like to address TTW’s concerns one by one.

Our demand for electricity is in the winter, when the sun shines less.

Sorry, but this is irrelevant. Every kilowatt hour of electricity produced by renewable energy, summer or winter, is a kilowatt hour not produced by fossil fuels. Both CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain and David McKay’s excellent online book Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air outline how Britain can power itself renewably through a spread of technologies, including solar photovoltaics (pv).

Solar PV is too expensive.

Partly because of feed in tariffs (FITs) being taken up with gusto in 40 other countries, prices are falling, fast. Industry statistics show that the price of modules has halved in the last ten years with most of that drop in the last three years (see graph here). There are plenty of developments documented in the technical press that ensure there will be further drops as long as the market keeps growing. Even without FITS, solar pv is becoming affordable: on a good, medium sized roof a 3kW system can be installed for £10,000. Given industry projections for the cost of electricity, the payback for that is 18 years. The cost of electricity is rising by 6% a year (the average over the last 10 years) and set to rise faster, as fossil fuels deplete.

The rest of us subsidise the Feed in Tariffs.

The total cost to date of the FITs has been less than 1p a month to domestic bills and meanwhile thousands of new green jobs have been created along with tax and national insurance income to the government. In fact the inverse is true: those people who continue to use electricity from fossil fuels are being subsidized by those of us who use renewable energy. The cost of climate change is enormous; according to the influential Stern Report, the financial cost to society of not going renewable is far greater than the investment costs of renewables. FITs are a way of shifting costs to the polluters.

We should spend the money on alternatives to fossil fuels.

To get off fossil fuels we need to invest in a spread of renewable technologies, including solar pv, according to the sources sited at the beginning. If TTW is talking nuclear, David McKay cites a 2008 statistic of the cost of simply decommissioning – let alone building - UK’s nuclear power stations as up to £73 billion or £1200 a person. Out of the Department of Energy and Climate change budget of £3 billion and falling, nuclear decommissioning alone will cost £850 million this year, £950 million next year and £1.1billion the year after. And that’s just the financial cost.

Is shareholding in a local solar power station a good bet?

Well, TTW, that’s up to you to decide. Myself, I am investing (£250) not just because of the money but because it’s something I want to help make happen. If you want to find out more, the full share documents will be issued at Ovesco’s launch of the share offer next Tuesday 19 April, 7-9pm at Lewes Town Hall. Anyone’s welcome, investors or not, to the event, which will include an Energy Question Time and free refreshments. There’s an incredible energy revolution beginning here and I’m proud to be part of it.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

the sun is up, the sky is blue

...and the solar panels on my roof are chugging away – or would be if they had moving parts, generating just under 2 kilowatt hours peak, which is why we bung on the washing and cook the weekly oatcakes because all that electricity is free to use. The Feed In Tariffs of 41p per kilowatt hour mean that our roof is earning us about £900 a year, making the payback period for the panels about 12 years based on their cost of £11,000. 

More importantly for us, every kilowatt of electricity generated by the sun means we avoid burning the same amount of fossil fuels, which create CO2 emissions, which… as we know …  is a serious problem for our planet. When I read research such as yesterday’s – that rapid artic warming is likely to affect the gulf steam, which keeps our land temperate – I am even more committed to creating a renewable future in order to avoid the horrorstories that are already being created by climate change.
Nuff said. 

Third and perhaps more important of all is that oil and gas prices are creeping inexorably upwards and free electricity from the sun creates personal and collective resilience – if enough of us do enough things (including HMG, ahem) we’ll be looking at a clean future powered by the elements.  

Dear Prudence open up your eyes
Dear Prudence see the sunny skies
The wind is low, the birds will sing
That you are part of everything
Dear Prudence won't you open up your eyes?

Walking around Lewes I cannot understand why more residents don’t invest in solar pv. Here might be some reasons and my responses. ‘I don’t own my own roof’: ask your landlord to invest in them. ‘I don’t have the cash’: see if you can increase your mortgage or take out a loan subsidised by Lewes District Council from South Coast Money Line. The FITs will more than cover the loan repayment. ‘The planning conservation officer says he will recommend refusal’: I say a polite ‘Bull’. Unless you are living in a listed buiding, don’t be bullied by these council officers whose job it is to be conservative; bung in the application and ask your local councillor to ask it to be referred to the planning committee. All applications put to them so far have gone ahead. And tell them that you don’t need to pay for the planning application because we are in an Article 4 Direction. Contact me if you want some free advice. 

Finally, if you don’t have a south facing roof but want to invest in power from the sun, consider getting on board with Ovesco’s share offer to pay for Britain’s first solar power station – another fabulous Lewes first.  

Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It's beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence won't you come out to play?