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Why aren’t business rate reforms doing more for climate change?



Sunshine By Hiromichi Torihara Via Flickr

It seems impossible for our fight against climate change to advance more than three steps without taking at least two back, and then stopping completely for us to adjust our sunscreen and waders. Even as the UK’s highest profile sceptics crack under record levels of heat, and admit that humans are responsible for global warming, their calls to action are next to nonexistent.

Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson (number 1 in the sceptics hall of shame and founder of an global warming denial think tank) told the House of Lords that the UK “accounts for less than 2% of global carbon emissions and so it’s crazy for us [to try and decarbonise our economy]… we cannot do anything on our own.”

Unfortunately these unhelpful, harmful views appear to be dominating the minds of leaders and governing bodies worldwide. As the window of opportunity for limiting climate change becomes a narrow slit, we continue to miss critical opportunities to make a difference.

One such opportunity is the British reevaluation and reformation of business rates, coming into effect in April 2017. Current taxes are under a lot of criticism from business rates advisors, who feel the costs are “out of touch with reality” for many retailers. While the reform is a chance to realign rates with reality, and take both economic and environmental factors into consideration, many industries are concerned that these needs will not be met.

Two steps back: Scotland scraps Renewable Energy business rates relief schemes

Over the last few years, Scotland has established itself as a leader in the battle against climate change, with greenhouse gas emissions falling further there than in the rest of the UK in 2014. The country’s concern to meet annual emission reduction targets has been reflected in their business rate relief strategies, primarily the Renewable Energy Generation Relief scheme.

This scheme, exclusive to Scotland, enables businesses to reduce their payments by up to 100% if they produce energy from renewable sources. Scottish businesses which qualified for this rates relief saved approximately £4 million in 2011-12, freeing this money up for further investment in green energy technologies.

However, in the last year, the Scottish Government decided to scrap this scheme, limiting the relief to “schemes in community ownership”. This seriously endangers the economic viability of country’s exemplary renewable energy sector. For the rest of the UK, we may have lost our chance to follow this eco-conscious business rates model, and to effectively foster positive attitudes towards addressing climate change.

Indeed, these are attitudes which need addressing. In the month following Scotland’s Renewable Energy scheme scrap, then-chancellor George Osborne announced that the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), which aims to incentivise energy efficiency, would also be ending. The oil and gas industry, meanwhile, would see significant tax cuts, including the abolition of the Petroleum revenue tax.

As far the 2017 reforms are concerned, the Solar Trade Association has recently discovered that business rates on commercial rooftop solar panels will increase by up to eight times. In some cases, this would completely reverse the benefits of solar installation: companies could be left spending more on tax and maintenance than they receive from returns on energy, removing any new incentive to invest in this renewable energy.

Three steps forward: Take a leaf from the Green party business rate proposals

Following the release plans for the 2017 business rate reforms, the UK solar industry has called for action and support from the government. In response, they have promised to “look closely at the impacts of the forthcoming valuation” and will continue efforts to “put the right support in place” for renewable energy businesses who will be affected.

In the run up to last year’s general election, the Green party manifesto featured plans to change the then-current business rates system. Their primary adjective was to hand power back to local authorities and small businesses by enabling councils to impose extra business rates on out-of-town supermarkets and chains. As a result, local businesses would be under reduced threat from high business rates and supermarket competition.

However, this Green party proposal could also have environmental benefits, as it would encourage customers to shop closer to home, reducing the carbon footprint of local households. If these considerations were given high priority by business rates, then attitudes towards climate change could see improvement, as businesses become more aware of how they use energy.



Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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