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The case for People Powered Power
Involving local people in developing local renewable energy projects is vital. Sharing the profits is vital too.
There’s a good opinion piece in today’s Guardian from Rebecca Willis, professor of energy and climate governance at Lancaster University, exploring proposals for an offshore windfarm off the Cumbrian coast, which could potentially be part-owned by local people.
There’s real symbolism in this proposal too - given the recent approval for a new deep coalmine in the area, just outside Whitehaven - a proposal which met with plenty of local resistance, but was approved anyway.
A couple of paragraphs really caught my eye (my emphasis in bold):
People worry about the climate crisis. It regularly features in opinion polls covering respondents’ top concerns. But in more in-depth discussions with people, my research team at Lancaster University have discovered a vicious circle at play. The more people learn about the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, the more they look to the government for leadership. Yet they tell us they don’t have confidence that the government will provide that leadership. There is a danger that people fall into a fatalism trap: it’s too big for me alone, they say, and yet I don’t believe politicians will step up.
There is a route out of this trap. Politicians need to put forward bold policies for the climate that link to people’s aspirations and provide tangible benefits, such as local jobs. If they did that, our research suggests that people would both reward them and step up to the mark themselves to work toward local solutions.
The fatalism trap
This kind of local involvement is vital if we’re going to have a green transition - at pace and at scale - that is also a just transition.
Involving local people - and sharing the profits with them - is, as the article suggests, a surefire way of lessening opposition to the kind of infrastructure we need to be developing.
And I have experience of this myself - both with regards to falling into the fatalism trap - and experiencing the benefits of being part of community-led solutions.
There are plenty of good examples of community-owned energy projects - and I’ve put a few hundred quid into a few projects myself, including PEC Renewables in Plymouth and Chelwood Community Energy in North Somerset.
I get a small interest payment from each project each year - but as importantly I get that sense that, in a small way, I’m helping to support and fund the transition we need away from fossil fuels.
**Update 18/10/23 - This Ethex webinar on community energy from last week is well worth a watch, featuring amongst others Power To Change, Community Energy England, Younity and Community Energy Together.**
People Powered Homes
Sadly I’ve not found any similar energy projects to invest in closer to home - although Climate Action Leeds are currently doing some work exploring the potential for community energy - so watch this space.
But when it comes to people power, we’ve got other good examples in Leeds.
In my previous role at SBB, I was closely involved in the development and promotion of Leeds Community Homes’ first community share offer - which raised £360,000 to invest in creating affordable housing in Leeds.
And alongside my friend and writing guru Chris Smith, (subscribe to his Substack here), we came up with the hashtag #PeoplePoweredHomes for the marketing campaign behind the share offer.
Projects like this are important for a range of reasons
Securing investment from local people can be one important way for innovative projects to find finance - at a stage in their development when more traditional lenders might be wary of investing.
And just as importantly, this kind of project can serve as a reminder of the power we have when we co-operate and take action locally.
As I alluded to above, I regularly fall into the fatalism trap.
I despair at the current state of our politics.
I sometimes wonder why I bother trying to make a difference.
But I also know that one of the main ways to drag myself out of that pit of despair is to team up with other people to do practical things that make a difference.
#PeoplePoweredPower isn’t going to transform our energy sector overnight.
Just as community-led housing - #PeoplePoweredHomes - is only a tiny part of the housing sector.
But when local people recognise that they do have power, and that it’s by co-operating that we can get more power (both in the clean energy sense and the political sense), then interesting things can happen.
As illustrated in this excellent short film (thanks Mike Chitty for pointing me to this in the comments to this post).
And let’s face it, we need a lot of interesting things to happen. And fast.