Buy renewable energy!

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Buy renewable energy!

By Cristina Brooks


Green MEPs and NGOs at the European Parliament. Part of the Global Frackdown movement (greensefa under a Creative Commons Licence)

The fracking industry in the US is about to collapse. The price of oil has gone down 50 per cent in eight months because of Saudi Arabia’s unexpected decision to sell its oil cheaply.

There are now not enough people to buy the extra gas and oil from fracking. So frackers are not drilling. And they are not making much profit, so they might not be able to pay back the bank loans.

One company, Stone Energy, has cut the number of fracking wells it plans to drill in the Marcellus Shale region. Other companies eg. Goodrich Petroleum, BHP and EQT are also drilling less. Across the US, shale gas fracking is shutting down.

Centrica is a company that wants to start fracking. They own rights to frack in Britain. They say lower oil prices will mean they won’t make so much money from its drilling-fields this year. So they might not start fracking in Britain.

Oil prices all over the world move at the same time. So fracking is more difficult when there is less demand for gas and there is too much gas around: so prices go down.

The chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA) said recently that because of renewables, recession and low coal prices, there is a low demand for gas in Europe. But Britain needs a lot of gas – for 38 per cent of fuel for power-plants.

One way for Britain to need less gas is to get power from household or community-owned renewables, not commercial energy plants.

At the moment, there are not many of these in Britain. It’s easy for fossil fuel investors to get cheap bank loans, but impossible for individuals or community groups to get them for renewable energy.

Community projects often cost less than $15 million. Banks are not really interested in these small amounts, said Emma Bridge, chief executive of community generator association, Community Energy England (CEE).

Crowd-sourcing and community funding schemes like Trillion Fund can pay for some renewables. But for bigger renewable projects, the laws we have now don’t give communities much right to buy and make money from them.

Renewables have a problem with funding and also a legal problem; especially in places where laws don’t allow the public to buy shares in private power plants.

The new Infrastructure Bill (now going through parliament) says the public can only ask for 5-per-cent ownership of large wind-turbine projects, even when they are in public areas.

Lord Cameron of Dillington said that if the public could own 10-per-cent of wind-turbines, this would mean activists could stop the construction of wind-turbines.

In Denmark, they do not allow fracking, and the opposite is true. Most of the wind power in Denmark is owned by communities. Wind power provides most of the power in the country on some days. The money from wind-energy bills goes to helping local communities. This is because of a law that says the public must own up to 20-per-cent of wind turbines.

‘For a long time, Britain has been one of the worst countries in Europe for using renewable energy,’ says Paul Monaghan (sustainability advisor at Co-operative Energy). Co-operative Energy is managed by consumers. They think the public should own at least 25 per cent of larger renewable power projects.

But the British government do not agree. They are moving in the opposite direction. Soon, they will take away the rights of people who own land in Britain to stop fracking happening under their own homes.

If we allow more public ownership of renewables, this can protect public access to electricity and water. This is important now with the problems with fracking and less oil and gas reserves.

Cristina Brooks is a freelance journalist based in London

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