The Future of Solar Energy in the UK: An evening with Alex Chalk MP

On Friday 5th October, Stoke Orchard Eco-Community Centre hosted a panel discussion on ‘Government and the Future of Solar Energy. We were delighted to welcome Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham to the panel. Alongside Alex, the panelists included; Dr John Henry Looney of Sustainable Direction, Dr Peter Boait from Gloucestershre Energy Co-op and Sophie Franklin, of Tewkesbury Town Council. Hope for the Future supported local Tewkesbury constituent, Jerry Barr, to organise the event which was chaired by our own Assistant Director, Sarah Robinson. In this guest blog, Jerry, reflects on his Hope for the Future journey which began back in 2017…

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Engaging with Laurence Robertson, MP for Tewkesbury Borough, Gloucestershire

I was delighted to meet with Jo and Sarah on their visit to north Gloucestershire early in 2017 and hear how Hope for the Future were helping citizens and churches to work with their local MPs on climate change issues.  As a citizen in the Tewkesbury area I had met with Laurence Robertson, our MP on a number of occasions but with frustratingly limited response.  However, HFTF had  established that Laurence had in the past asked a number of questions in the Commons on solar power and suggested that he be invited to chair a panel of experts at a public forum on the subject.  

  The event was held in Stoke Orchard Community Centre with 198 solar panels on its roof.

The event was held in Stoke Orchard Community Centre with 198 solar panels on its roof.

The event took place with Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham present as Laurence Robertson was unable to attend.  The venue was nevertheless in Laurence’s Tewkesbury Constituency and appropriately in a new Community Centre built on the site of the old National Coal Board Research Centre in Stoke Orchard.  A building fitted with an array of 198 solar panels, a low carbon heat exchange system and other impressive sustainable features. Furthermore with all the residences constructed on the rest of the site fitted with PV solar panels.

Alex Chalk was joined by Dr John Henry Looney of consultancy ‘Sustainable Direction’ who advises businesses in making smart decisions about reducing their carbon footprint. Among his examples was the possibility of using the energy stored in the batteries of electric cars when not in use, how might this be made available at times of peak usage?  Also on the platform was Dr Peter Boait who is at the forefront of research into energy and sustainable development.  He suggested that communities might form cooperatives such as the one under discussion for residents of Barton St in Gloucester, where neighbours could buy and sell surplus energy to each other.  Alex Chalk spoke about the need for government to take the lead on carbon capture and storage.   Alex sees climate change as one of the biggest threats to our future and one that the UK government needs to take at least as seriously as terrorism and antibiotic resistance.  

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The following week two of us, myself and Sophie Franklin, were able to meet with Laurence Robertson in his Tewkesbury office and share the content of the forum with him.  We were delighted that Jo Musker-Sherwood was able to join us for that meeting and guide us in developing the conversation.  He has undertaken to raise some of the issues in the House and to join us in a visit to a newly constructed Zero Carbon Home in the Constituency.

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As the panel discussion drew to a close, Sarah asked each of the panelists that action they planned to take following the event. To which Alex Chalk responded “I’m going to focus in Parliament on how resources are recalibrated – we could do a lot more with tax payer funding. I’m going to carry on cycling and eat less meat – it’s probably healthier for me too!” Sophie Franklin left the discussion on a positive note as she promised to “convince the whole of Tewkesbury Town to become greener” Since the event, Hope for the Future have suggested some questions to Alex Chalk’s constituency office which we hope he will raise in parliament. Alex has already asked a question on energy meters earlier this month. We are delighted that Jerry and Sophie have secured a visit with Laurence Robertson and look forward to staying updated on their progress to a zero carbon Tewkesbury!