Clean, affordable, secure, democratic: our green energy future

| 30th September 2015
Cooperative and renewable: the Westmill wind and solar farm in south Oxfordshire. Photo: Richard Peat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Cooperative and renewable: the Westmill wind and solar farm in south Oxfordshire. Photo: Richard Peat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Britain has a huge role in effecting the global energy transition to renewables, new shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy told the Labour Party Conference. But that will mean a complete reversal of Tory policies to attack wind and solar, lock us into polluting fossil fuels and overpriced nuclear power, and maintain 'big six' profits at consumers' expense.
We want secure, affordable, energy, designed, built and owned by the people of our country, drawing on inspiration from around the world. At this historic moment, let's change the story the Tories are writing.

I start this job at a time when the stakes could not be higher. Energy is the backbone of our economy. 

How we source and fund our energy determines the jobs we do, the lives we can afford to lead, and the success of our businesses. But it is also one of our greatest challenges.

Affordable, reliable energy matters to working people here and across the world. But the pollution caused by our existing energy system poses one of the greatest risks to our health, our wellbeing and our collective future.

The transition to clean energy is one of the biggest challenges this country has ever faced. It's comparable in scale to the industrial revolution. 

And it requires the same shared determination and collective will to act that helped us to rebuild Britain after the war. It demands that we draw on the creativity, innovation and talent that Britain has to offer. But it also demands leadership.

With our historic global ties, our dynamism and our expertise, it's a leadership Britain is uniquely placed to offer. But instead, our ministers are failing our people at home, and they're trashing our historic legacy of international leadership.

Only this week Al Gore said: "It is time for the UK government to honour and live up to that legacy, and return to its global leadership position, domestically and abroad."

We must keep up the fight for climate and environment

He's right. It is a British legacy. And it's a Labour legacy. And I am not prepared to let it go without a fight. Because it was John Prescott who, in his own unique way, banged heads together at Kyoto to create the world's first legally binding climate treaty.

And it was Ed Miliband who worked patiently through set back after set back to push for a new global climate change deal fit for the challenges we now face. And now here we are, at this critical moment in history, where for the first time the world's largest economies are on threshold of an agreement.

The Paris Summit in December can be historic. It can give an absolutely transformational signal to investors and businesses around the world that the age of polluting energy is over, and that the transition to a new, clean, energy model is inevitable, irreversible, universal.

Paris can build on Labour's Climate Change Act and return us to the negotiating table every five years, increasing our efforts, until the job is done. Conference we should be proud that the UK and its Labour Government helped build the road to Paris.

But this part we've played, as a global force for higher ambition, is in danger of becoming the story of our past, not the story of our future.

Under David Cameron, Britain's influence abroad has diminished quicker than at any period in living memory. It's left us relegated to the margins of the global conversation, while others set the agenda and the pace.

Joining the global fight for a clean energy future

We want secure, affordable, energy, designed, built and owned by the people of our country, drawing on inspiration from around the world. At this historic moment, let's change the story the Tories are writing.

Their refusal to look outwards has undermined our ability to tackle shared global challenges. From climate change to the movement of refugees it is co-operation not isolation that will allow us to shape and own the future. Other nations are already investing in the future.

In China, the government is taking bold steps to reduce dirty coal and invest in renewable energy because its billions of citizens urgently need an end to chronic air-pollution. In India, the government is pioneering clean tech innovation using solar energy to connect millions of people to light and power for the first time.

George Osborne insists our economic future lies in trade with these countries - and yet he has turned his back on our own wind and solar industries.

But what if we could build a new clean energy system that would reduce our dependence on imported fuel, create the skilled, well-paid jobs we so badly need, and bring down sky-high energy bills?

It would mean a dramatic change of course. The actions of this government have left the poorest households in Britain paying six times more of their disposable income on green taxes than the richest. This is a national scandal.

But don't let them tell us we can't heat our homes and protect the environment. Of course we can. By minimising the costs of going green, sharing those costs fairly, and capturing the industrial benefits to improve the lives of working people. The guiding principle of our energy plan is the pursuit of social justice.

The Tory manifesto promised to "cut carbon emissions as cheaply as possible." But what have they done instead? Ruled out using more of the cheapest low-carbon power available to us, from wind farms, even where there is strong local support.

  • Pulled the rug out from under the British solar industry just at the moment that solar power is on the cusp of offering cheap, subsidy-free energy.
  • Wasted billions on an energy efficiency plan that failed to insulate the homes of our pensioners and poorest families.
  • And negotiated a deal that will leave us paying over the odds, for decades, to subsidise Chinese and French companies for a nuclear power station on course to be the most expensive ever built anywhere in the world.

It's been estimated that Hinkley C would cost bill payers more than the 2012 Olympic Games, Heathrow Terminal 2, and Cross Rail combined. All of this less than six months since David Cameron promised he would "keep bills as low as possible."

Our vision: making energy clean, affordable, secure, democratic

The Tories' energy policy isn't just putting the security of household budgets at risk, but our economic security too. Our green economy has been outstripping the growth of the UK economy by a factor of more than three to one.

But just this month, the head of the CBI warned that "from the roll back of renewables to the mixed messages on energy efficiency, these changes send a worrying signal about the UK as a place for low-carbon investment."

Last month we learned that for the first time ever the UK no longer ranks among the top 10 countries in the world to invest in clean energy. A British industrial success story deliberately put at risk by a Chancellor pandering to his backbenchers even when skilled British jobs are on the line.

Family security. Economic security. And now we face an energy security crisis. This winter British energy reserves will be at such low levels we could be forced to buy in emergency supplies. Once again families and businesses ripped off because of energy decisions beyond their control. 

Well we want to put people back in charge. But Jeremy and I don't want to nationalise energy. We want to do something far more radical. We want to democratise it. There should be nothing to stop every community in this country owning its own clean energy power station.

Across the country schools are already taking the initiative and going solar. Generating power and heat for their own use. With the right support, community-based energy companies and cooperatives could be a new powerhouse, and a path to a more secure energy future.

Labour in local government is already leading the way, effectively bypassing the big six entirely.

  • Labour leaders in Nottingham have created their own city energy company to cut bills and go green.
  • Oldham is spearheading collective switching schemes.
  • Cardiff is rolling out cutting-edge smart technologies to cut demand because the cheapest power is the power that isn't used.

Your new frontbench team - Alan Whitehead, Barry Gardiner, Clive Lewis, Harry Harpham, Bryony Worthington, John Grantchester and I, are determined to work with other towns and cities to follow the lead these trail blazers have established. To work with our local government leaders to push for a clean energy boom in our great cities.

Because our city and county regions can lead the world. They can point the way towards a safer, brighter, more secure future. To be the light on the hill for all of us who care about the cost of our energy - to our family budgets, our businesses and our environment.

We must be part of the great energy transformation

Let's not wait for this government. Because let's face it, we'd be waiting forever. Let's seize the initiative and put power into our own hands.

The transformation of the way our world powers its economy - how we turn on every light, how we drive every car, how we heat our homes and keep our phones and computers running - is already one of the great stories of human endeavour. We want it to be a story people across Britain can be proud of.

We want the names of British inventors and companies stamped on wind-turbines, solar panels, and electric cars. We want our people to own a stake in this future, and to feel proud of the contribution they have made towards the safety and wellbeing of our children, and the health of our planet. 

We want secure, affordable, energy, designed, built and owned by the people of our country, drawing on inspiration from around the world. At this historic moment, let's change the story the Tories are writing.

Let's make this a Labour story, a British story. Of how we can be leaders, innovators and own the future. And most of all, let's tell it together.



Lisa Nandy is the Labour Member of Parliament for Wigan and Shadow Energy Secretary.

This article presents the speech given by Lisa Nandy to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton yesterday, 28th September 2015.

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