Spain sees the light over renewables

A solar panel farm

For those who dream of fuelling their electric cars – if we choose to drive – from our homes, powered by solar panels (our own or those from community projects) it seems there is hope.

The Spanish Government has passed a draft climate law to rely solely on renewable energy, buy 2050 – when it wants to reach carbon neutrality.

If approved, it would end fossil fuel subsidies in Spain.

What of us in Britain? A European commission report in January last year found that the UK government gave £10.5bn in support of fossil fuels per year, compared to just under £8bn to renewables. Australia seems to be pushing to “build fossil fuel infrastructure that will operate for decades” as it comes out of the Covid-19 crisis.

Spain sees the opportunity to create a potential 350,000 jobs from new economies per year and is acting quickly.

In Britain, our Government paid £9.3 million to switch off wind turbines last Friday, as demand plummeted because of high temperatures and commercial buildings being shut. Yet in January renewable energy produced about half what we needed as a nation.

Would be outrage if oil and gas – or nuclear – suppliers had been told to switch off, and paid, instead?

Despite the “switch off” last Saturday was the lowest carbon emitting day Britain’s power grid has ever had.

The attitude towards investment in renewables still seems negative. Perhaps that is understandable – and questions justifiable – when an Essex council invests £1bn through less than transparent channels. However, at least they have the foresight to think about a transition away from fossil fuels, a concept some of our MPs backed this week. They have asked for £30bn from Government to aid green recovery.

There was a huge opportunity missed in 2009, the financial crisis, to reset much of the world’s economy on a path that could create greener jobs and force the banks – backed by Governments – to loan money to renewable projects, for example.

Yet the prevailing wind from the top is less than welcoming. Commenting on a project that would be – if approved – Britain’s largest solar farm (880,000 panels), Helen Whately, the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, warned of a “devastating” impact by “industrialising” the countryside, but did not emphasise that it could supply 91,000 homes with energy.

“We’re not talking about a few fields – this would destroy an entire landscape. I want to see us reach net-zero by 2050, but this should not come at any cost,” she was quoted saying in the Sunday Telegraph.

Tis just the thing. Mines destroyed the earth. Refineries industrialised landscapes. Fracking cracks open the earth with unintended consequences, possibly causing earthquakes (not yet proven).

Are wind farms – also – any uglier than the windmills of old or the telegraph poles strewn around the country to aid our communications? We must move to a different age.

And the cost. That’s the point. It is transition now to limit the rise of global warming to 2C in time. We’ve had our chance for the soft solutions. Yet we have stalled. New on-shore windfarms were discouraged by the same colour of Government that presides today. Only recently have the barriers to on-shore wind been lifted.

Helen Whately drags her feet. She needs to talk to Alok Sharma, the secretary of state for business and energy. Making our contribution to the climate emergency “means making the UK a world leader in renewable energy”, he says.

If she fears that putting solar panels on fields is industrialisation that will lead to the land being used only for industry – or housing – in the future, she needs to seek to change the planning law, not blame the drive to a cleaner fuel supply, or creation of jobs.

She might want to join colleagues – 132 from across Parliament – in supporting the Power for People campaign’s Local Electricity Bill, which asks for the removal of impediments to local groups setting up their own energy systems to act as companies to supply their communities.

It is precisely the swathes of wide open space in places such as Kent – which could be badly affected by the extra floods that climate change brings – that can be used to create renewable energies.

Just imagine if all schools had solar panels, to power them through the day, but in the holidays and after the school day ends, could sell that energy to residents, meaning better funded schools. They would then be invested in the whole concept and find ways for their groups, societies – their communities outside school – to do the same.