Lisa Nandy’s vision of energy democracy isn’t idealism – it’s already starting to happen

Labour is breaking with a dated consensus

Members of Westmill solar co-op celebrate at their first AGM

A bold and refreshing vision for the UK’s energy future was spelled out yesterday by Lisa Nandy, the shadow energy and climate change secretary, at the Labour party conference. It wasn’t only about her commitment to clean energy –  she spoke of Labour’s plans to ‘democratise [energy]’ in Britain by putting ‘people back in charge’.

With seven million people in the UK living in fuel poverty and one in seven globally living without access to energy, Labour’s vision for a fairer energy system is much needed. Global Justice Now has been a fierce advocate of energy democracy both here in the UK and globally. It would mean energy is fairly distributed, democratically controlled and managed to recognise the planet’s limits.

As Nandy rightly explained, moving to ‘community-based energy companies and cooperatives’ could provide a ‘new powerhouse’ in the UK and ensure a more just energy system for us all. Energy municipalisation – giving the people back control of their energy system – is an effective way of challenging the monopoly held by the big six energy companies. This monopoly currently sees fuel poverty for millions in the UK, and increasingly unaffordable energy bills.

Critics of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet might attempt to accuse Nandy of ‘pie in the sky’ idealism, but the fact is that this transition to energy democracy is already taking root and thriving in many parts of the world. Here’s a taste of just three of them:

1. Nottingham and Robin Hood energy

Indeed, as mentioned in Nandy’s speech, this process of energy democracy has already begun here in the UK. In Nottingham the local council has set up a not-for-profit energy supplier, Robin Hood Energy, and estimates it can save customers up to £237 a year on bills.

Already their first customer has had their annual energy bill cut from £2,000 to £1,400. Companies like Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham being run for people, rather than just for profit, demonstrates real alternatives to the Big Six’s domination of energy markets.

2. Hamburg, Germany

Much has been written about Energiewende, Germany’s transition not only from fossil fuel generated power but also from centralised to decentralised energy production.

But the changes aren’t just stopping there. In Hamburg, the second largest city, citizens voted in September 2013 for their local council to buy back the energy grid from multinational companies E.On and Vattenfall. The change came following the Our Hamburg – Our Grid campaign which argued that these companies were failing to act in the best interest of local people and were delaying the shift to renewable energy.

Similar plans are being brought to the table in Berlin too.

3. Uruguay

Uruguay is one country with public ownership of its energy system which is showing how a more just energy system could be achieved. The government has set ambitious targets for both ensuring everyone has access to energy and also shifting to more sustainable energy sources, both for electricity production and for other services such as transport. To date, 99 per cent of the population of Uruguay has access to electricity and almost two-thirds is produced from renewable sources.

Energy efficiency also plays a major role in Uruguay’s plans to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The labour movement in Uruguay not only played a major role in fighting off attempts to privatise the energy sector in 1992, it is now engaging in proposals to democratise the state-owned energy company, UTE.

4. The UK pushing for the opposite in Nigeria

With energy privatisation having been such a disaster in the UK and in so many other parts of the world, it seems ludicrous that the Department for International Development (DfID) is determined to use UK aid money to implement this failed model of energy privatisation in countries such as Nigeria. DfID is presently spending nearly £100million of UK aid money, via free-market fundamentalists, Adam Smith International, to support the privatisation of Nigeria’s energy system through a program called the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF).

Ken Henshaw from Social Action in Nigeria said that when he met with DfID over the disastrous programme: “They admitted the privatisation has failed, but when I talked about energy democracy, about communities owning and generating their own renewable electricity, it seemed they’d never thought of that.”

This persistent adoption of energy neo-liberalism isn’t restricted to DfID – it’s characterised numerous government departments, from the Treasury through to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Nandy’s speech at the Labour conference is finally breaking with this dated consensus and pointing the way to what a modern and forward thinking energy system might look like – just, sustainable and democratised.

Sakina Sheikh is an administrative and fundraising assistant at Keep Our NHS Public. She writes in a personal capacity

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8 Responses to “Lisa Nandy’s vision of energy democracy isn’t idealism – it’s already starting to happen”

  1. stevep

    Britain`s energy policy is a mess, with a confusing miasma of privately (often-foreign) owned companies competing and disputing which form of power is best.
    We have the powerful nuclear lobby insisting only their form of power offers the way forward.
    The Greens argue that wave and wind are the way to go.
    Powerful private interests want Fracking.
    Oil production in the UK is uncertain.
    The deep mining coal industry was wilfully destroyed by political dogma.
    It seems a common purpose is needed and can only be achieved by bringing the UK`s energy industries into common ownership, with a unified strategy…to provide sustainable energy for Britain.

  2. Mike Stallard

    Sakina, I thought that Labour was the party of the worker.
    With all this green energy, the prices are going up because wind does not blow all the time for the windmills and the sun does not shine at night onto the solar panels. The coal/oil fired power stations, where our power really comes from are being closed down now and the nuclear industry went ages ago.
    Green energy is directly to blame for the Redcar redundancies. The electricity price drove them out of business.
    Green energy is directly to blame for the increased price of electricity for the vulnerable and the poor.
    Green energy will be entirely to blame when the computers fail and the lights go out.
    Green energy is completely responsible for the secret diesel power generators hidden and ready to deal with the coming failures. South Africa, I understand, and Syria both are ahead of us in the field of electricity failures. But we are rapidly catching up with them.
    Tinkering with who runs the production of this vital part of modern living will not help and you know it.

  3. Mike Stallard

    So – no fracking, no dirty power stations, lots of windmills and solar panels and tidal banks.
    So – oil production and oil fired power stations, much more coal mining and many more coal fired power stations, and a cut back on Greenpeace and other lobbyists in the EU.

    Contradiction here?

    No! Nationalisation will sort it out for us fairly and with respect and dignity for the vulnerable and the OAPs and the NHS!

  4. Cole

    Nationalising energy is bonkers, as is Corbyn’s idea of reopening coal mines. You want to create more competition so we can move to renewable energy as the costs come down (which is already happening).

  5. Mann T.

    If these solar panels were on seven foot stilts, the land could be farmed.

  6. Black shuck

    Mike – I used to think like you, but, for various reasons got into details of energy production in Germany. I believe we can have ‘workers’ power at a local level, through co-operatives and councils (maybe in a nationalised energy system). Check this out:

  7. Black shuck

    A good case for nationalisation, Mike! Thanks for this – very useful, will get gears working!

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