Calderdale’s Energy Future strategy outlines how Calderdale Council aims to achieve ambitious reductions in the area’s energy use and carbon emissions by 2020. We clearly need to find effective and fair ways of doing this, but the Strategy is full of spin and short on substance. Calderdale Councillors voted unanimously on 15th February to adopt the strategy, which came into effect on April 1st 2012.
The 15th February Calderdale Council meeting
I couldn’t hear everything the Councillors said at the meeting, because some of them speak quite softly and some have their backs to the public gallery. But I think a councillor said that last year about one hundred people had attended public consultation meetings about Calderdale’s Energy Future.
This compares to 16,000 signatures on petitions opposing Calderdale Council’s proposal to move Halifax Central Library – a figure quoted in a discussion of that topic and dismissed by a Councillor as an insignificant proportion of the adults in the Borough. So maybe sauce for Calderdale’s Energy Future’s goose isn’t sauce for the Central Library gander. But maybe I misheard the figure of one hundred people. Maybe it was nine hundred. Either way, I think it would be A Good Thing if Councillors showed some consistency and clarity about what constitutes a democratic mandate for their decisions.
If you have comments or questions about the Strategy, you can contact your Calderdale Councillors.
Does my society look big in this?
What you think and feel about the Strategy is likely to come down to what you think and feel about the coalition government’s cuts to public services and local government spending. Because, as far as I can figure out, these cuts basically define Calderdale’s Energy Future strategy.
In April 2011, the Coalition Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review cut Leeds City Region local authorities’ budgets for publicly-funded home insulation programmes by 80%. Down from £20 million over three years, to £4 million.
The coalition government justifies cutting local government funding for public services on the grounds that this will open up opportunities for private sector businesses, voluntary groups and social enterprises to provide these services instead. That’s the theory, and Calderdale’s Energy Future strategy seems to accept it and work within its terms. But it’s a very questionable policy.
Can we be confident that businesses, voluntary groups and social enterprises will step up and provide these services, once the public sector is out of the picture? Will people have the money to pay for them directly out of their pockets, rather than indirectly out of taxation? What happens to fairness, when those who can pay, get the services, and those who can’t have to go without?
Is it right that public services are seen as a fit source of private profits? And will the introduction of the profit motive distort the provision of services – for instance, will businesses simply abandon services which are unprofitable, and concentrate on the profitable bits? What happens to the people who need the unprofitable services that are no longer available? Calderdale’s Energy Future ignores these questions.
Green Deal, large scale commercial wind farms, and biomass energy generation
The Strategy seems to accept the coalition government’s policy of cutting public services and hoping that businesses, voluntary groups and social enterprises will pick up the pieces. Accordingly, it proposes two main ways of reducing the area’s carbon emissions and energy use:
- encouraging householders and businesses to pay for energy efficiency improvements in their homes and business premises – mainly through the new Green Deal scheme. This is despite the fact that even the government’s own advisers on the Climate Change Committee have calculated that the Green Deal won’t work, and recommend instead that the Big Six energy companies should pay for insulating homes across the country, on a street by street basis.
- opening up the Borough to developers of large scale commercial wind farms and biomass energy generation (ie energy from burning wood, energy crops and a variety of waste products)
Calderdale Energy Future Summary of engagement events-public and business says that a 2011 study (Low Carbon and Renewable Energy Capacity in Yorkshire and Humber) identifies that Calderdale could generate 110 mw from wind, using current technology if all suitable landscape was utilised. This could be achieved by the approval of 20 more commercial scale turbines.
Calderdale has already approved three commercial wind farms, at:
- Crook Hill
- Todmorden Moor
- Ovenden Moor
Together, they can generate 39.2MW.
Calderdale is also considering an application to repower Ovenden Moor by reducing the number of turbines from 23 to 10 and increasing the power output from 9.2MW to 25MW. This would give Calderdale 55MW of wind energy by 2021.
Community-owned wind farms – this looks like a better idea
The CEF Summary of Engagement events points out that four community owned wind farms, each with five x 1.3mw turbines would together generate enough energy for 10,000 homes, producing 26 mw electricity.
The four community owned windfarms and the existing commercial wind farms, with Ovenden repowered to 25MW, would generate 81MW of electricity. Enough for around 31,154 houses.
There are also promises of support for community groups to carry out various social and environmental activities, including community renewable energy schemes groups – although the CEF documents show that these are marginal, in terms of achieving the targets for reducing carbon emissions, energy use and costs.
Calderdale’s Energy Future strategy for promoting the Green Deal needs revising, because it won’t work and it’s socially unfair
Even the government’s own impact assessment and its advisers on the Climate Change Committee say that the Green Deal won’t work – but Calderdale’s Energy Future draft strategy relies on it to reduce household carbon emissions by 25% by 2020, from the 2005 level.
The Green Deal is the coalition government’s way of transferring the costs of reducing carbon emissions away from the energy companies and society as a whole, to individual householders.
The Green Deal replaces publicly funded, home energy efficiency improvement schemes. At the same time, the Green Deal reduces the requirement for energy companies to provide their customers with subsidies for for insulation and other home energy efficiency improvements.
If the coalition government tried to do this kind of thing with education or health – as they are – there would be a public outcry – as there is. But because energy policy is so confusing and poorly explained, most of us probably find it hard to figure out what’s going on. Calderdale’s Energy Future doesn’t explain any of these issues.
The energy companies can easily afford to continue current levels of subsidies – or even increase them. The big six energy companies have just announced profits of £15 million for the last year, after racking up energy prices so they really hurt householders. Even the government’s adviser, the Committee on Climate Change, has recommended that the coalition government should require energy companies to pay for ALL the cavity wall, loft and solid wall insulation needed to meet 2022 targets for reducing household carbon emissions. To do this, energy companies would have to stump up much bigger subsidies for their customers than the government requires from them under the Green Deal. The Committee on Climate Change advises that the energy companies should carry out this massive home insulation programme on a “whole house, street by street” basis. The Committee also notes that in the end, households would end up paying for this because energy companies will pas on the costs of the subsidies to customers’ energy bills. This doesn’t seem right.
As well as being unworkable, the Green Deal is also socially unfair. It cuts support for low income households to retrofit their houses and redistributes (reduced) energy company subsidies for customers’ energy efficiency improvements in favour of the better off.
Calderdale’s Energy Future draft strategy admits on p20 that the Green Deal isn’t going to be much help to the estimated 24% of Calderdale households who live in fuel poverty, because they can’t afford to pay for energy efficiency improvements. But on p 29 it apparently contradicts itself, by saying that Calderdale’s Energy Future draft strategy will “eliminate fuel poverty” by focussing “schemes such as the Green Deal and ECO, outreach and other”, on fuel poor and low income communities. (ECO – Energy Company Obligation- is the new, lower subsidy that the energy companies will have to provide to customers.)
Commercial large scale biomass energy
Where’s the fuel coming from? Can biomass energy can really be carbon-neutral by 2020? And how it will avoid pollution nuisance and poor air quality?
The proposals for “opening up the Borough to developers” of large scale commercial and biomass energy generation are so sketchy that it’s impossible to see if they are anything more than spin. Plus, there are real potential problems with the proposals for biomass energy – and biofuels for transport- that the CEF draft strategy overlooks.
The Scenario Report shows potentially available biomass resources (Table 7), but it’s not clear where these resources are available from. Calderdale’s Energy Future draft strategy says that providing wood fuel for biomass plants requires improving local woodlands and the route to market (p16). This in turn needs a woodland management plan (p 18). But before 2020 – the date for achieving the carbon emissions reduction target – can a woodland management plan provide enough wood fuel for large scale biomass energy, and also regrow trees or coppices to maturity in order to fully absorb the carbon emissions from burning the wood?
Where are the likely locations of biomass combined heat and power and biomass energy generation plants? Presumably they need to be near towns. But burning biomass creates carbon emissions, nitrogen dioxide, particulates (PM10 and PM 2.5), polyaromatic hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. Biomass and Air Quality Guidance for Local Authorities states, “Nuisance issues can…arise from the use of biomass, with the most common issues arising from smoke and odour.” So siting these plants is going to be an issue. I can’t imagine many people will want to live near one.
Calderdale’s Energy Future proposes to reduce carbon emissions by using some biofuels for transport. But a new report finds that biofuels would increase carbon emissions, not reduce them. The EU Climate Commissioner says that the EU policy that European transport fuel must include 10% sourced from biofuels is out of date, based on now-discredited information. Also, transport biofuel crops compete for land with food production, driving up food prices and depriving people of access to land for farming.
Calderdale’s Energy Future draft strategy needs to clarify proposals for the Working Group/s that will plan and oversee the implementation of the Strategy
There is a lack of clarity in Calderdale’s Energy Future draft strategy proposals for a working group or groupsthat will prepare the Strategy’s action plan and monitor its implementation – particularly over accountability, transparency and group members’ potential conflicts of interest. This needs reviewing, in order to prevent any suspicions about pork barrel politics .
A review of Calderdale’s Energy Future draft strategy needs to clarify these points:
- is the Energy Future Working Group (CEF draft strategy p29) the same as the Cross Sector Working Group (p9 and p19)? Both have responsibility for developing an action plan.
- how will the Council select working group members?
- how will the group/s be accountable, and who to?
- how will their operations be transparent to members of the public?
- will group members include what the CEF draft strategy refers to as Calderdale Council’s “strategic partners”?
- will group members be at risk of experiencing conflicts of interest – particularly if they are not just involved in creating the action plan and monitoring its implements, but also involved in carrying out some aspect of it?
- will group members be eligible to receive funding from the proposed revolving loan fund or any other “investment opportunities” that they “access” as part of their work on the group?