Community-Based Ethical Energy

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Ian Westmoreland:

"The best way to avoid using unethical sources of energy is to generate your own. At Grow Heathrow, Transition Heathrow’s off-grid community food growing site in Sipson, we generate our electricity from solar panels and a home-made wind turbine. When we charge up our mobiles, we know exactly where that power is coming from. It is not in our interest to use harmful sources of energy, since we would be the first to feel any harmful effects. The closer to the point of use that energy is generated, the more incentive there is on the consumer to use clean sources of energy.

It’s at the community level where this approach has the potential to have the biggest impact. Across the UK, community-owned renewable energy projects are starting to pop up, providing villages and neighbourhoods with their own ethical sources of energy. But progress on this is painfully slow, especially when compared to the rest of northern Europe — in Denmark, an incredible 80 percent of wind turbines are owned by community cooperatives. Electricity generation in the UK is still dominated by the “Big 6” energy companies — Centrica, EDF, E.ON, Npower, Scottish Power, and Scottish & Southern. While there is still profit to be made from unethical and unsustainable energy, the Big 6 will continue to base their business model around them, at the expense of future generations.

The good news is that for many climate justice activists, climate is no longer the front line of resistance in the UK — there is a recognition that in order to tackle climate change, radical social change is needed. Like movements in the global South where resistance to IMF austerity and ecological devastation have long gone hand in hand, activists have to learn to combine and integrate our priorities and our forces. Demanding ethical sources of energy is a response to the challenges of climate change and peak oil, but it is also a response to the austerity measures introduced by the coalition government. The cuts that have been made to schemes to encourage renewable energy and sustainability, at a national but especially at a local level, reinforce the dominance of the Big 6 and reduce the likelihood of a widespread move towards community-owned energy. Having a decentralised network of community- and neighbourhood-level energy generation will result in a more resilient energy network that can withstand shocks to the system and avoid the increasing centralisation of control over our energy generation into the hands of a small group of corporations that are “too big to fail”." (