On Friday night, Hope for the Future hosted a panel discussion at St John’s Church in Menston on the theme of ‘Renewable Energy and Fuel Poverty’. The event was attended by Shipley MP, Philip Davies, and covered a range of topic; from reducing household bills to fracking …to solar powered cars! The event was organised by constituent Marilyn Banister and Hope for the Future’s events coordinator, Emma Stevens . Here, Emma reports on the discussion, reflects on the outcomes and ponders the potential next steps…
This was my first event with Hope for the Future and knowing that Mr Davies was one of only five MPs who had voted against the 2008 Climate Change Act, I wasn’t sure how a discussion that part-focused on renewable energy would go (and as my first event, I obviously wanted it to go well!). Back in February 2017 a group of Shipley constituents had met with Mr Davies and were interested to know more about his views on climate change and related issues. There was the potential for this to be a challenging discussion but, supported by Hope for the Future in advance of the meeting, the group decided to focus on Mr Davies’ strong local ethos.
As Mr Davies had previously shown an interest in reducing local energy bills, the meeting was framed around fuel poverty and following a productive meeting Mr Davies agreed to speak at an event held in the constituency. The aim was to bring together speakers from different backgrounds to provide the audience with multiple perspectives through which to look at the themes of renewable energy and fuel poverty. Joining Mr Davies on the panel was Emma Bridge the Chief Executive of Community Energy England, Sam Hall from liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue who leads on their green conservatism work and Andy Stephenson from NAREC Distributed Energy.
The speakers each opened with individual presentations in which Mr Davies stated that he “enjoyed a good debate”. Fortunately, this is what we were provided with in the subsequent Q&A session. Mr Davies opened stating his belief both in climate change and its impacts. He agreed that renewable energy in the UK had been a success story, but Mr Davies’s great contention was this; Whilst the UK’s emissions may have dropped, what about the rest of the world? In putting more rigorous climate change legislation in place has the UK simply lost out on business opportunities, whilst forcing polluting businesses to other parts of the world for other countries to deal with?
Sam responded with ample examples of other countries’ recent leadership that leaves the UK in the danger of being left behind and Andy’s fuel poverty angle emphasised the importance of energy efficiency measures to reduce demand in the first place. Emma inspired us with a story from a village in Kenya that was using solar lamps to enable children to finish their homework in the evenings, met with appreciation from the audience.
Hope for the Future co-founder and trustee, Jemima Parker, chaired the discussion and got the Q&A started with audience members’ questions about wind energy’s future potential and costs. Sam was able to dispel some myths about the stagnation of renewable sources, explaining that they are not a fad and have actually grown from 11% to 29% of the energy mix between 2012 and 2017. Mr Davies focused on the sunk costs associated with investing in intermittency of the technology “not working when the wind doesn’t blow” whilst Emma encouraged Mr Davies to also take into account the added social benefits of community owned renewable energy; “its democratic, sustainable and the financial benefits are shared”. Appealing to the new generation of developers and engineers, Andy spoke of new technologies such as battery storage which can overcome the concerns raised by Mr Davies. “We can have energy that is cheap, reliable and green”, our panelists insisted.
Tackling another contentious issue in fracking, our panelists were largely in agreement that fracking should not form a focal part of the UK’s sources of energy in the future. Mr Davies stipulated that he believes energy security to be one of country’s biggest issues and was therefore more open to the role that fracking could play in providing cheap energy for all, citing the US as an example. Owing to queries that had been raised earlier in the evening around wind turbines’ impact on the natural environment, Emma Bridge was keen to say that based on those underlying concerns “why would we [then] frack there?”. Sam appealed to Philip’s small state conservatism to encourage the Government to allow communities to decide if they want fracking or wind for themselves.
With voices from politics, community, research and industry, this discussion offered a diverse range of opinions. Reflecting on the broader issue of climate change there were concerns that without a legally binding international agreement, the UK may wrongly prioritise its energy future. However, in his closing remarks, Sam noted that the much bigger danger facing the UK was that the investment made in renewable energy would be lost just at the moment that the UK stands to most benefit from the dividends.
Looking to the future, Marilyn Banister concluded the event by encouraging the audience to see how they could improve the lives of their local communities now and for generations to come. Following the event conclusion, we asked Mr Davies if there was anything that had changed how he thought about some of the issues discussed. “I wouldn’t say that my opinion has changed, but it has developed. I learned more about the great local benefits of community energy, and it’s an interesting point Sam makes about my ‘small state’ view regarding wind energy. I’m also interested to learn more about battery storage from Andy”. Philip also offered to take part in a Hope for the Future school workshop in his constituency – a great outcome to a successful event!
I’m really looking forward to organising more fantastic events on a wide variety of themes during 2018. If you would like our help in putting on a climate change event in your constituency then please get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org