Cllr Barry Lewis is the Leader of Derbyshire County Council.
We are looking at a very different future for society and industry, thanks to climate change. The policy shifts made by politicians and governments globally, to respond to climate impacts will change nearly every aspect of our lives. Floods, fires, extreme heat, and even albeit perversely, extreme cold weather events, have been markedly increasing and impacting us all. Places like Derbyshire have become the frontline in climate change, with significant floods and incidents that have gained national attention. My earlier article on this is here.
The Prime Minister recently outlined his ten point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and set the blueprint (greenprint?) for the UK. Nearly all (if not every) local authority has already pledged to radically cut CO2 and become net zero by around 2030 and to help our economies decarbonise by 2050. We Conservative led authorities now lead in this critical debate.
As Conservatives, we’re clear we want to enjoy a cleaner, greener, better world – why wouldn’t we? As parents and grandparents, we want to leave a better world for our children and grandchildren. Young Conservatives raised in a concerned society have a keen sense of this too. We also want a fair society built upon values we’re familiar with, namely enterprise, opportunity, and the production of wealth as the means to raising aspiration and lifting all in society. If we can do this within a new green economy, then all the better, especially as the stars are aligning internationally, nationally, and of course locally.
At Derbyshire County Council, we’re positioning ourselves, not uniquely I might add, to lead on the production of hydrogen fuel. We have local expertise, thanks to our manufacturing and engineering base in and around the county, but we’re going further. We’re thinking out of the box, something we’ve been doing since the 1700s, when Sir Richard Arkwright and Jedediah Strutt harnessed the waterpower of the River Derwent to power the cotton mills in the (first Green) Industrial Revolution.
We’ve developed a new concept of Green Energy Entrepreneurs backed by a £2 million grant scheme recently approved by Cabinet. As well as providing grants for businesses to green their operations, there is a community energy component. The green energy revolution needs to be a game-changer for our communities, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift the energy market from being dominated by large national corporations to one that is primarily local in nature.
Imagine in rural areas, farmers or landowners, and in urban areas, owners of disused brownfield or unused buildings, working with knowledgeable individuals, coming together to generate energy at small to medium scale from biodigesters, sunlight, water, wind, or even hydrogen, that could be sold directly to their local communities.
Combine this with simple microgeneration systems utilising small household wind turbines (under 1m diameter giving up to 200w), a photovoltaic panel or two, and a decent but small lithium-ion battery to run the household LED lights on a 12V circuit, and a circuit to charge devices on – and you reduce the need for electricity from the local grid. And this can be achieved via an easy conversion giving free low maintenance energy. So easy in fact; why haven’t we already done this? Because current planning policies prevents us. We need to shift this once and for all.
If we swept away many of the planning obstacles to this, we would reap the benefits: like reduced need to build largescale offshore windfarms or ugly huge solar parks. We need to reduce the vastly expensive infrastructure costs of connecting to the grid. That is the killer of any renewable energy project because it’s capable of doubling the costs. Another area where obstacles need removing is hydro power. We’re blessed in Derbyshire with this resource, as are many other parts of the UK, but the licensing and ownership of waterways makes it fiendishly complicated to harness the now very straightforward ways of generating power from water with smaller, ecologically sound submersible turbines.
With obstacles removed, Green Energy Entrepreneurs could, via larger scale battery storage, supply clean energy directly to their local communities, thus making these schemes more desirable – and sell surplus capacity into the grid, benefiting either the entrepreneurs or the communities. Along with it, we can create local highly skilled jobs in a way we rarely see in rural areas and towns anymore. What better way of recovering from the Pandemic?
What we need are changes to local planning laws and fair local policies to allow this to be easy – not hard. We need Government to recognise that this shift to a vibrant, local renewable energy market will require the removing of regulatory and market barriers.
Conversely, we need to be thinking too about regulation that ensures the new local energy market is always fair and that energy is guaranteed, with high quality local infrastructure – and recognises that the provider is obliged to ensure it makes it to every local home. We can see the potential pitfalls – but they’re not insurmountable.
Let’s get ahead and start planning this cleaner greener future. Let’s make aspiring for our communities, by supporting green entrepreneurs to provide one hundred per cent clean energy – and creating jobs and skills, the cornerstone of Green Conservatism.