We need more renewable energy and a new pricing system

The jolting rise in the price of energy should help focus minds on the urgent need to speed up the transition to renewable energy sources. We need to make that switch to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it would be good if it also helped reduce and stabilise energy prices. 

That’s not guaranteed under the current pricing system for electricity, where the price we pay is mostly set by the market price of fossil fuels, even though these only generate around 40% of the energy we use each year. Renewables are now the cheapest source of energy and supply more than 40% of the UK’s annual electricity consumption. But some gas generation is needed most of the time. So electricity prices are still tied to oil and gas prices. That’s why they are currently so high, and set to rise further.

It looks like we need more renewable generation and a new pricing system, especially as electricity consumption is set to rise significantly as we seek to decarbonise our heating and transport. The government’s target is for the electricity supply to be net zero by 2035. This can only be achieved by a major increase in renewables and nuclear power, along with a big reduction in the energy we use. We need to cut out unnecessary consumption and retrofit our housing stock.

Onshore wind turbines and large solar farms are the cheapest ways of creating energy, green or otherwise. Wind has the advantage, though, of using far less land than solar and is more efficient. It also has the lowest ‘embodied energy’ per unit of energy generated– the energy required during manufacture– of any form of energy production.

The first wind farm in the UK was opened at Delabole in Cornwall in 1991. Between 2009 and 2020 wind energy in the UK grew by 715%, but most of that generation is onshore in Scotland and offshore, mainly along the east coast of England. Onshore wind was effectively blocked in 2015 when the government banned public subsidies for onshore wind farms. The ban was dropped in 2020, but there are still tough planning requirements. 

The history of wind energy means existing sources are a long way from Teignbridge, involving electricity transmission losses. You may have noticed it can be pretty windy in Devon. Indeed, the South West is second only to western Scotland as the most exposed part of the UK. We should make the most of our natural advantages! 

Teignbridge District Council agrees and recently consulted on potential sites for wind turbines in the district. Action on Climate in Teignbridge put in a response to the consultation supporting the creation of onshore wind sites, provided they minimise adverse effects on the environment. Badly designed wind farms can damage bird and bat populations in particular. 

They can also be unpopular with residents. That’s partly why there was an effective ban for several years – wind turbines were regarded by some as a blight on the landscape, and noisy as well. On the noise front, wind turbines are now remarkably quiet. For planning purposes, noise from turbines must be shown not to add to the constant background noise levels for no further work to be required. 

There is not much to be done about the visual impact of most wind turbines. Like electricity pylons, roads and housing developments, they are man made structures in the natural environment.

It seems we are more likely to accept new structures that are familiar to us, like roads and housing. This is despite them having a greater detrimental impact than wind turbines both visually and ecologically, not to mention their high greenhouse gas emissions. Roads and housing are also more likely to persist for a lot longer than wind turbines, if eventually we are able to generate our energy from other low carbon technologies. We could also limit wind turbine deployment if we become more careful about how much energy we consume and distribute energy better.

But even if we build wind farms wherever we can in Devon, taking into account factors such as whether there is enough wind, the proximity to the grid and protected nature areas, less than 2% of the county’s total land area would be occupied by wind turbines. That compares to 5% of land in Teignbridge that has been built on. That doesn’t sound too bad for a technology that will help meet our carbon emission reduction targets and potentially be a source of cheap energy.

Cutting carbon emissions: a new district-wide climate project

Teignbridge is a beautiful district to live in – but, like the rest of the world, it is part of the climate problem, but also, part of the solution! There are so many people worrying about the crisis – so many communities that would like to help reduce climate change – what if we could work on it together?

Action on Climate in Teignbridge is planning to launch a project that will support community-based volunteers or existing groups who are looking for ways to enthuse and inspire their community to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Can you spare a few hours to help us do this? You don’t need special qualifications, just enthusiasm for spreading the message that everyone can do something to reduce carbon emissions. We’re looking for people who love communicating (maybe even public speaking), organising fun events, creating colourful posters and graphics, and achieving miracles on a tight budget! If you can do any of these things (we don’t expect you to do all of them!), please get in touch with Kate about joining our team    

We are looking for an overall project coordinator.  If we can’t find a volunteer, we are confident that we can get funding to pay someone to be a self-employed, part-time coordinator. You wouldn’t need specific academic qualifications, but you would need to have a friendly and optimistic outlook, and be able to talk, write, listen and express ideas clearly.  

The first task for the coordinator would be to find and support community-based climate volunteers, who would usually be town/parish-based. We would be particularly interested in working with anyone who is a member of a Teignbridge climate group. 

The coordinator and volunteers would be given introductory training and ongoing coaching to help them deliver small-scale projects – but it would be up to them to find projects and challenges that will enthuse people in their communities. Here are possible carbon cutting projects that your community might like:

  • Energy – cutting home energy use and costs
  • Reducing the impact of our clothes/fashion industry 
  • Listening to teenagers – and helping them to take action
  • Running a repair café
  • Running a community larder

If you are interested in any aspect of this idea and want to find out more, please contact Kate 

ACT’s response to Part 3 of the Local Plan consultation

Teignbridge District Council’s current Local Plan, which runs from 2013-2033, is being revised and extended to cover the period 2020-2040.  Part 1,  which specifies the policies associated with new developments including renewable energy, was consulted on in 2020. The result of the consultation and any changes coming out of it are as yet unpublished.  Part 2, consulted on in mid 2021, covered what TDC describes as major sites for housing and employment.

The current consultation is on Part 3, covering sites for renewables (wind and solar), small scale housing and travellers. The consultation closes on 24th January 2022.

ACT is not responding to specific sites, where these are listed, unless we have identified a particular concern in relation to climate change or ecological impacts.  Instead, our response is to the broader aspects of these proposed sites and the associated policies/criteria that govern their selection.

We encourage everyone to respond individually, especially regarding specific sites they are familiar with.  It is important to include comments that address the criteria identified by the council in the consultation.  Not doing so may result in the comment not being given the weight it may otherwise deserve.

Although you are strongly encouraged to respond online, ACT’s response will be sent by email to localplanreview@teignbridge.gov.uk. This is because there is no facility to do this using the online facility other than for solar PV where there are no individual sites identified. 

COP26: Mission accomplished?

There are differing opinions on whether Cop26, the climate conference held in Glasgow last month, was a success or failure. There was progress on some areas and an agreement was signed, but there is little expectation the governments that signed it will take the action necessary to keep global warming to 1.5C.

Jessie Stevens, the Ogwell teenager who founded the People Pedal Power movement and cycled from Newton Abbot to Glasgow for the conference, says the event felt to her like a business meeting not a climate conference. “It was a sterile environment, and such a contrast with the outdoors life I had been leading on the cycle trip.”

Photo credit: Catherine Dunn

Jessie describes her bike trip as “a life-changing experience”. She had nine full days of cycling, two rest days, and the last day was a short one, covering the final 20 miles to Glasgow. “I met lots of amazing people and learned lots of new skills.”

Photo credit: Catherine Dunn

She was supported on her trip by Adventure Syndicate, a collective of women endurance cyclists, and was accompanied on her first day out of Newton Abbot by 50-60 cyclists. The rest of the time between 10-40 cyclists joined her, for anything from an hour to the whole day, which was more than she expected.

“After the isolation of lockdown it was just great to be with people and the miscellaneous encounters I had were really special. It showed me just how much good there is in the world and how kind people can be.”

Jessie had trained for the trip on Dartmoor, and says that proved a big advantage, as she found the rest of the country relatively flat! But although the cycling wasn’t too arduous, long days on the bike, twinned with long evenings of media commitments proved tiring.

Asked about her first impressions of Glasgow and the conference venue, Jessie says it’s hard to say as she had few expectations. “There was the culture shock of being in a big city after having gone nowhere bigger than Exeter for two years, and the venue itself was smart, massive and corporate. There was a lot of greenwashing, by which I mean lots of company stands and brand placement. It felt as if there was an agenda to how it was all laid out.”

Jessie had a coveted pass for the blue zone, where the negotiations between world leaders took place, as one of four Young Reporters for the Environment from the UK. “The blue zone [closed to the public] looked from the outside like it was somewhere you could move around freely but it was strictly segregated,” says Jessie, who spent much of the first week there.

“It felt like the youth representatives were there as a token. There were very few instances when we were allowed to speak, and when we were there was a strong feeling that young people were speaking but not being heard. It was upsetting. It didn’t feel fair to the people who had come from the Global South to share their stories.”

Jessie also observed a striking lack of diversity. “There was little female representation, or people of colour or different social classes. It was mostly middle class white men in suits. My impression was the event was chaired by the Global North without giving the Global South the spotlight they needed.”

She was sufficiently disillusioned that on Friday 5th November, on what was billed as Cop26 Youth Day, she and around 30 other young people walked out of the blue zone and joined the Fridays for Future protest march. “We felt the streets were the only place we could get our voice and message heard,” says Jessie.

Jessie also spent time in the green zone, which was open to the public, and spoke at an event about education representing the organisation Eco-Schools. She found the second week a much more positive experience. “I felt ground down by the whole bureaucracy in the first week. But in the second week when I was out on the streets I felt the power and energy of the people, which for me highlighted the power of collective action.”

Back in Ogwell, this is the key insight for Jessie. She has to give priority to her school work, with exams coming up next year, but will also devote time to community action and connecting with other social organisations. “One of the positives of Cop26 was the media coverage of the event, but there is still a lot of work to be done on awareness, and I’m passionate about getting more voices heard. The key point for me, though, is that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of people.”

Beach labyrinth reflections

Around 100 people walked the labyrinth created on Teignmouth Beach last weekend for the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. Plenty more watched the walkers from the promenade. 

The construction effort, directed by labyrinth artist Andrew Nicholson, was tough work as the chosen location, below the lighthouse, was particularly stony. Still, the stones added to the attraction of the finished artwork as they were used to mark the labyrinth pathways.

Passing families with children joined in enthusiastically to place the stones. “That building effort with the parents and children was my favourite part of the experience,” said John Watson of Action on Climate in Teignbridge, which organised the event. “All in all, it was quite a spiritual event which I think connected with people in a most original way.”

Labyrinths have a long history. People have been creating and walking them since the times of the ancient Greeks. In medieval times, Christian monks would walk them to reflect on the journey of their lives.

The idea of the Teignmouth Beach labyrinth was “to reflect on our concerns for the environment and be thankful for the special places in our lives”, said Andrew Nicholson (pictured above). 

Those walking the labyrinth were invited to pick up a piece of rubbish found on the beach at the entrance, reflect on their concerns as they trod the meandering path to the centre, then leave the rubbish and their concerns there. They could then take a stone from the centre and walk back thinking of places precious to them.

Scott Williams, an ACT member, said: “It was amazing and moving to see the flow of people travelling through such an ancient symbol. The solemnity and peace it created within those that walked it will stay with me.”

Of course, the sea claimed the labyrinth as the tide came in later in the day. Watching the water engulf the construction, a vicar from Dawlish remarked how appropriate the image was; a symbol of the threat of climate change to many people around the world.

“There were lots of people watching as the tide came in,” said Audrey Compton of ACT. “People of all ages. People who wanted to talk. It was obvious to me that we have suddenly reached a tipping point of understanding about the environment and desire for change. COP26 may not achieve nearly enough politically, but it has galvanised ‘people power’!”

For more on beach labyrinths visit the facebook page.

Local teenager on a mission to COP26

Newton Abbot resident Jessie Stevens is heading to Glasgow for the COP26 summit in November, and plans to pedal the whole 570 miles! She will be cycling under the banner of the People Pedal Power mission she has created. This aims to inspire people (particularly young people) to join her on her journey and deliver a message to the climate conference on the need for urgent action on green transport infrastructure, and much else.

Jessie, 16, is a climate activist determined to make the voice of youth heard at COP26. Such events have long been dominated by adults, she says, many of whom may not live to see the worst effects of the climate crisis. “The youth are rarely a part of these talks despite the impacts of climate and ecological breakdown impacting them the most.”

After looking at her travel options, Jessie found the easiest, cheapest, but most polluting way to get to Glasgow would be by car or plane. Taking the (less polluting) train looked complicated and expensive. She decided she would like to travel under her own power and resolved to cycle, and make as much noise as possible along the way.

“To me, cycling is a very community orientated mode of travel. This perfectly fitted my visions of #ride2COP26 as it gives space for many individuals to join the ride, gathering force and power,” she says.

Jessie will be supported on her trip by Adventure Syndicate, a collective of women endurance cyclists, who will accompany her on a cargo bike, carrying everything she needs.

“The cargo bike will not only provide physical support, but will also tangibly represent one of the viable solutions to developing a more sustainable transport system,” says Jessie. “After all, this journey is not just about highlighting what is wrong, but also about demonstrating solutions.”

Adventure Syndicate will also co-produce a film documenting the journey and the stories of those involved and the people Jessie meets along the way.

Jessie will set off on 20th October, covering between 50-70 miles a day, and invites people to join her for a few miles to highlight people power—both in terms of active travel and political voice.

To find out more visit:

https://httpspeoplepeddlepower.wordpress.com/

or email people.pedal.power@gmail.com

Electric cars line up in Newton Abbot

Newton Abbot’s first electric vehicle (EV) roadshow held on 25th September was well attended, with lots of people stopping to chat to members of the South West EV Owners Group and others who had brought their cars along.

The event, organised by Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) and ChargeWorks, a local electric vehicle consultancy, lined up 11 EVs by the clocktower.

Some of the cars were almost new, others already up to six years old. Those on parade included Nissan Leafs, Tesla Models S and 3, a Renault Zoe, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia e-Niro, VW ID.3 and a VW e-Golf – just a small sample of the EVs available today.

One Tesla owner, John, had come from Bridport in Dorset for the day to share his enthusiasm for the joys of going electric. He bought his first Tesla in 2016 and recently switched to  a newer model. He decided to buy an electric vehicle to be greener, he says. He also has solar panels, runs a wood chip range for his central heating, and is investigating a solar thermal panel for hot water.

John’s Tesla (the burnt orange one in the picture) has a range of 300 miles, but he confesses on long journeys he has to stop every 150 miles for personal reasons, and the car only takes around 15 minutes to charge on a rapid charger anyway.

David, another Tesla owner from Plymouth, says his running costs are much lower than on his old diesel car – £250-£300 a year for his 12,000 mileage, down from £1,500. Another advantage is the lack of any scheduled maintenance. Electric vehicles still need servicing regularly, to replace windscreen wipers, change brake fluid, etc, but with no emissions test and fewer parts, repairs are minimal. “You can expect to do 300,000 miles without any problem,” says David.

His enthusiasm was infectious as he talked about the technicalities of charging and the price of new cars. He says EVs may appear expensive but hold their value better than petrol or diesel cars, and as they have more space inside you can consider a smaller model than you might otherwise have done.

Emma Fancett of ChargeWorks estimated around 800 people walked past the cars and stopped to chat throughout the day. “Some hadn’t previously talked with others about the electrification or decarbonisation of private transport,” says Emma. “Others had, but were keen to find out more and debunk some of the myths they had been harbouring.

“Some walked the length of the line up, chatting to each owner to quiz them on their experiences, tips and tales, some went straight for a car they were interested in to scope it out for a future purchase or lease. Others enjoyed more general conversations around carbon emissions, the fuel crises, technology or fast cars.”

Julian Stringer of ACT says: “The selection of available EV models is expanding all the time, so we are thinking of arranging another event in the future, and would be particularly interested to hear from owners of other types of EVs at the more affordable end of the range who would be interested in sharing their experiences.”

Cars weren’t the only vehicles on show – some electric bicycle owners were also around to spread the word about the joys of two wheel travel. Richard from Newton Abbot uses his Cube bike, with a powerful 500w motor, to commute to work in Ashburton. It has cut his journey time by 10 minutes compared to his regular bike and allows him to arrive at work cool, calm and collected instead of in a lather from pedalling hard.

Richard still goes out for leisure rides on his ordinary bike, and has persuaded his partner to accompany him on the electric one. She was so impressed with the ease of cycling on it they ended up in Moretonhampstead when they had planned on just going to Bovey Tracey on the cycle path.

Electric bikes are often an addition to the household collection of bikes rather than a replacement. Once you have made the switch to an electric car, though, it seems there is no going back. “You will smile every time you get in the car,” says Tesla owner David.

Wildlife Warden September Newsletter

This month’s newsletter covers a talk on Cirl Buntings by Cath Jeffs, a conservation officer with the RSPB; information about upcoming webinars; the Great Big Green Week events held in Dawlish and Newton Abbot; plus a summary of the projects Wildlife Wardens have taken on around the district.