Why I helped occupy a gas power station in the name of a better future
This time last week, I was at the top of an 80 metre smoke stack at the new West Burton gas-fired power station, bidding my friends goodbye and steeling myself for a stint in the local custody suite.
This chimney had been my home for the last five nights and I’d quickly grown accustomed to waking up to the breath-taking sunrise over the river Trent and the terrifying fact you could see through the floor panels 300ft to the ground when you rolled out of your sleeping bag.
No Dash for Gas didn’t do this for fun, though; in fact, it was windy, cold, wet and consistently scary up there. We all have very strict bail conditions and will face trial at some point in the next few months.
So why are ordinary people willing to go through all this? I can’t speak for everyone that took part in the occupation and there are a diverse range of reasons, but chief among them is outrage at this government’s wholesale destruction of climate change policy.
As our name suggests, No Dash for Gas planned this action to bring attention to the coalition’s reckless plans to build a new wave of dirty gas power stations. The energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, recently announced that the government wants to encourage as many as 20 of these plants to be constructed by 2030.
But as the government’s climate adviser, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has warned, this risks pushing the UK out of reach of meeting its legally binding carbon reduction targets. John Gummer, chair of CCC, recently wrote to Davey, warning that the government’s dash for gas could be illegal.
And last week, the new energy minister, John Hayes, launched an astonishing attack on the most cost-effective, clean alternative to gas, onshore wind, despite being told not to by his boss, Davey. This is just the latest example of the on-going erosion of the consensus on taking action to tackle climate change.
Over the past few years, intense lobbying by some of the most powerful polluters in the world has eroded even the modest gains made by democratic attempts to shape our energy policy, which culminated in the 2008 Climate Change Act.
This has in turn undermined the confidence of investors in clean energy, with leading wind turbine manufacturers, Vestas, axing plans to build a factory in Kent and announcing job cuts. At a time when around a quarter of our electricity generating capacity will be coming offline, undermining investment in clean alternatives is an extremely dangerous game for the government to be playing.
The issues of investment and ownership of energy go deeper than this though. Much of the opposition to onshore wind is the result of communities being ridden roughshod over by huge multinational energy companies.
In Germany, over 65% of renewables are owned by individuals or communities. In the UK the figure is less than 10%. Yet despite this, polling shows that 55% of people want more windfarms, compared to just 17% who want more gas power stations. Imagine if communities actually had a real stake in clean energy production.
Instead, the government wants to concentrate our power in the hands of a small group of very large energy companies, through its dash for gas. This has dangerous implications for energy bill payers, who saw bills rise by £150 last year, £100 of which was due solely to the rising wholesale cost of gas.
The Committee on Climate Change calculates that from 2004-2010, rising wholesale gas prices added £290 to bills, compared to £30 for investments in low-carbon generation.
Faced with a government intent on ripping up the cross-party consensus on tackling climate change in order to pursue an energy policy that will drive up carbon emissions and energy bills, we felt there was a compelling need to take action.
Another future is possible – one that puts the needs of people and the environment ahead of big corporations and profit. This is a future worth fighting for.
Lawrence Carter is a protester with No Dash for Gas.
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