It will surprise many to learn that Wiltshire has been Britain’s leading county for the development of renewable by energy entrepreneurs for the past two years, and now generates zero-carbon power equivalent to more than a quarter of its needs.
These are remarkable feats that we should all applaud. However, the Tories seem determined to halt this growth in its tracks, and crush a once-booming industry, with a new-found scepticism for the fight against climate change.
Polls show that public support in Britain for renewable energy and climate action is at an all-time high, indeed at 85%, according to a poll conducted for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), published in February.
And yet, the Conservative Party has effectively ended support for many renewable energy projects. The resulting slowdown in wind and solar development has implications for local air pollution and global climate change. And for Wiltshire, it is also bad news for local jobs and inward investment.
For the last two years, our county have been the fastest growing county for the development of renewable power by independent developers — meaning those outside the major energy suppliers such as the “Big 6”. We are now third overall, across all Britain, for cumulative installed capacity of independent renewables, according to the energy firm SmartestEnergy.
Last year, Wiltshire generated 640 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity from renewable sources, according to SmartestEnergy, compared with total county-wide consumption of around 2,400 GWh. In other words, Wiltshire now generates zero-carbon, renewable power equivalent to more than one quarter of its electricity needs.
This is a truly a great achievement. Unfortunately, the Tories are now putting this at risk.
From 2015, the Tory government terminated direct support for onshore wind and large-scale solar, replacing this with a new approach, requiring developers to bid for subsidies. That was a good idea, following a trend in other countries like Spain and Germany, with a goal to cut costs for consumers.
The trouble is, the government has held only one such auction, in February 2015, with no announced plans for any more. This means that the Conservative Party has abandoned the cheapest forms of low-carbon energy, despite polls showing that all of us want cleaner energy which protects our health and avoids dangerous climate change.
There is another way.
There is a balance to strike, between supporting low-carbon energy and minimising costs to consumers. The Conservative Party has gone too far, all but eliminating support too fast, and in the process putting solar panel and wind turbine installers and electricians out of work, and placing at risk further independent renewables investment which totalled £1.5 billion nationally over the past four years.
Instead, we should be embracing renewables as the way forward, towards a more modern, decentralised electric grid, using the most cost-effective tools at our disposal. With the cost of renewables tumbling, now is the time to reap the benefit.
There are special ways that Salisbury can get involved.
In our city, the vast majority of households still throw away their organic and garden waste, which typically goes to landfill. This can have serious environmental consequences, releasing the powerful greenhouse gas methane, for example, as it decomposes.
Instead, we could use such waste to produce energy, through anaerobic digestion, to generate low-carbon electricity, alongside a clean by-product which farmers can use to boost their soil.
Anaerobic digestion has seen a doubling in installed capacity in the past four years, SmartestEnergy found, showing that this is a mature technology waiting to be deployed further.
I propose a 5 megawatt AD plant for Salisbury, located in one of our local industrial estates, to safely and environmentally dispose of household food and green waste. Such an AD plant would generate enough low-carbon electricity to power 5,000 homes.
It is for proactive plans such as these that I urge you to vote for me, Paul Sample, for a cleaner, fairer, more modern and forward-looking Salisbury, on June 8.