Friday, October 07, 2011

Alliance relaunches to help communities push for renewable energy

Aikengall Community Windfarm
Tony Juniper, the former Friends of the Earth Executive Director is to spearhead a new campaign to drive grassroots support for renewable energy to make sure developments don't suffer due to the Government's changes to the planning regime and its apparent back-pedalling on commitments to fight climate change, as evidenced at the Conservative Party Conference this week.

The group, called ‘Action for Renewables' (A4R), is a partnership of NGOs, trade unions, grassroots voices and industry.

Its Campaign Advisory Board consists of journalists, environmental activists and politicians from across the political spectrum.

Tony Juniper, who has been appointed Chairman, said in a statement: “The case for renewable energy is clear. The UK needs to play its part in tackling climate change, which we can achieve by harnessing our extensive natural energy resources.

"The new green industries which will achieve this will also generate tens of thousands of new jobs in some of the most deprived areas of the country.”

The group has been set up to counteract "myths and hearsay" about renewables with information, and “is about setting the record straight and encouraging people to stand up and support properly-sited renewable energy developments around the country".

“The silent majority in support of renewables needs to make its voice heard (now more than ever. Action for Renewables intends to give it the tools to achieve just that.”

The group believes that the ‘silent majority’ includes 85% of the population who ″support the use of renewable energy″, as they responded to a 2009 Department for Energy & Climate Change market research exercise called 'Renewable Energy Attitudes and Awareness'.

The same research showed that 60% strongly ″support the use of renewable energy″, and even found an increase in those aged 16 - 24 who favour wind power, with 83% in favour of its use, and the oldest age group is the one most likely to actively disagree with wind power use (but only 9%).

When asked if they would be happy to live within 5km of a wind power development, the number in support dropped to 62% - still almost two thirds.

The Labour Government ran such a survey for several years, but the Coalition Government has not, so these are the last available figures.

Renewable UK therefore thinks that the anti-wind minority has an unfair and disproportionate impact on planning decisions. At the time, in response, Renewable UK launched an earlier campaign, called Embrace Wind.

This was relaunched in 2011 to encompass all renewables, as A4R.

Adam Bell, speaking for the campaign, says that A4R already has 3000 supporters, and will be able to supply resources to campaigners to let them support a particular development in their area.

The campaign is funded by the renewables industry, particularly wind power companies, and so faces criticism that it is a front for these large companies.

In response, Bell said that the "information we provide will be as objective as possible. If it is in any way inaccurate we will soon be picked up on it, so it is in our interests to make it as authoritative as we can and to use the best available science."

Indeed, the website's blog currently contains a lively debate between pro- and anti- wind activists on the topic of noise.

Evidence shows that local people are more likely to support a wind farm development when there are direct benefits to them personally, with the developer letting them contribute to its planning and receive some kind of financial return. A better educated public will be more likely to ask a developer to involve them in this way.

The campaign intends to fight for all renewable energies, but because of its origins in Renewable UK (although the campaign is independent from it), some technologies such as solar and biomass are currently poorly represented. Bell says this will improve with time.

Bell also said that although the government's changes to the planning regime can present a threat to the development of renewables, there are "plenty of opportunities".

"The fact that the communities can propose community development orders and even that there is a provision to organise referanda on a local scale about particular issues, are positive steps for supporters of renewable energy," he said.

A4R's members include Alan Moore (ex-chair of the Renewables Advisory Board); Alan Whitehead MP; Bill Oddie; Charles Kennedy MP; Frances O’Grady (TUC Deputy General Secretary); John Sauven (Greenpeace CEO); Jonathon Porritt (former Director of the Sustainable Development Commission); Maria McCaffery (Renewable UK CEO); Peter Ainsworth (Chair of the Conservative Environmental Network); Polly Toynbee (Guardian journalist); Stan Blackley (Friends of the Earth Scotland CEO).

Tony Jupiter has recorded a video about the importance of renewable energy to support the relaunch.

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