Post-truth politics, Trump, and #Manchester #climate nonsense

Everyone sneers at Donald Trump.  So crude, so wrong.  And yet all around us, here in Manchester are behaviours we tolerate and amplify that made him possible and that mimic him.

What the hell am I talking about?  The wilful disconnect between the elites (be they Council or Activist bosses) that leads to apathy, anger, resentment, despair.  People come to one or two meetings, at most, and then piss off, for very understandable reasons.  Or never come, and are never brought up to speed on what’s going on in a meaningful way.

And then the absolute abuse of language, the words like ‘participation’ and ‘innovation’ sprinkled like pixie dust on the rotting corpse of this Council’s credibility on climate change. Then these clowns perpetrate all sorts of bold lies and evasions  exactly of the kind that Trump tells, knowing that nobody – nobody who ‘matters’, anyway – is going to call them out for it.

And so many people who think that they are good, responsible, who believe they would never be a Trumpite do nothing when elections – the very fucking basis of legitimacy – are promised and then cancelled.    When conferences that are supposed to hold the Council and its pathetic cronies to account for escalating failure are cancelled, they  look the other way because to speak up would be to risk the wrath of those who hold the purse strings… Meanwhile, councillors who are paid to represent us just sit there and let bureaucrats and executive members spin out more lies.

Here’s Paul Horner, a purveyor of fake news. “Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything any more – I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s really scary.”

Posted in #mcrclimateplan, Manchester City Council, Steering Group | 2 Comments

A new circle of hell: the latest farcical #Manchester #climate “plan”

screamThey’ve innovated. And made things even worse. Was it possible? I didn’t think so. But the so-called Manchester Climate Change Agency (it’s not an agency, for important reasons that will become clear), managed to make the launch of its Climate Change “Plan” an even more disvisioning and dispiriting debacle than the last one (see account of that here).

Manchester is a diverse place,and it is a real achievement to gather 70 ‘random’ people and have at most 4 non-white faces, but they managed it – not through their incompetence and complacency over the last few months, but by their inaction, staggering ineptitude and anti-democratic behaviour (cancelled elections, cancelled conferences, secret meetings, rubber-stamp “consultations”) stretching back over seven painful years.

The tl:dr is this. A potentially effective, potentially fresh process, has, since 2009, been throttled and is now a shambling won’t-die putrid corpse that serves as a stab vest for Manchester City Council and its hangers-on, and as an anxiety-management ritual for people who know we’re doomed but don’t know what to do about that. If you want to know the gory details about this overwhelmingly offensive event, read on.

So, we milled around in the foyer of the Manchester Museum before being decanted across and upwards into the room with the giant fossils [insert tired analogy here].  We were not given name badges which might have helped people ‘break the ice’, because building connections between those present was not on the agenda.  This was about being talked at. Of course.

The event started with an inaudible mumble, until the microphone was turned up (nice to show they’d done their tech work beforehand).  There were NO answers to the specific questions posed in the open letter last week (which had been received, but was ignored).  There was some self-excusing/justifying nonsense about how because they’d had 700 people say something about their document (or was this just attending ‘climatelab’ events this was somehow twice as good as the 2009 process.    So, let’s get this straight; Having 5 months of workshops and drafts during 2009 etc is supplanted by getting people to clicktervate on a pre-written pile of mush that is only happening to a) replace the now-to-difficult 2009 commitments and b) be a last desperate advert to funders for the so-called “Manchester Climate Change Agency” .  The fact that alongside the ‘draft’ climate plan there had also been a ‘draft’ implementation plan tells you how little they were expecting/intending to change their actions in response to the consultation…

There was an admission that feedback on the last AGM (see hilarious account of awful event here) was negative and that they’d ‘learnt’ and weren’t going to do death by powerpoint but instead have ‘interaction.  You know what’s coming, don’t you, reader?

We then had a powerpoint presentation.  Full of unintelligible slides and nonsense. After about half an hour of this I looked at my watch. Five minutes had passed.

There were to be ‘robust governance’ structures for the Steering Group.  You know, that one that was supposed to have elections (never happened).  That was supposed to hold day long conferences (cancelled in 2014).  That Steering Group that holds its meetings in private – stakeholders not allowed. That Steering Group which held a meeting earlier this year where 8 people sent apologies and only two were present.  Yes, THAT steering group.

An hour later I looked at my watch.  Another five minutes had in fact passed.  Something about ‘scope three emission’, but no mention of how in the 2009 plan the Council had in fact promised that it would be switching to scope three emissions reporting by 2013.  They never actually did it of course.  Maybe the speaker could quiz the relevant council bureaucrat on this?  If he can find that bureaucrat, that is.

“Climate change critical role every organisation”.  Yes, the 2009 plan called for 1000 organisations to endorse the plan and write their own plans, with the Council’s support.  220 organisations endorsed it. Two wrote plans.

Another hour or two.  Another five minutes.  Clear opportunity for business, economic success and health: This is bureaucracy speak for for ‘nobody gives grants to anything with ‘climate’ in the title, so we will stick to inward investment and throw in ‘social effects of austerity. PLEASE SOMEBODY GIVE US SOME MONEY.’

Blah blah. The final sentences were – inadvertently, the most revealing If we fail to engage.. “the other 99.5% of the city we need to tell a story to.”  Nothing about listening to stories, sharing stories, writing stories together. No. Our story that we the enlightened white middle class bureaucrats will TELL to other people.  Genius. What could possibly go wrong?

Then, this is hilarious – there was a justification of why there were no interim targets between now and 2050.  It is… because… wait for it… because Manchester is so far ahead of other cities (sic) in making a 2050 commitment, that wasn’t needed!  The level of audacity and vacuity is impressive, even by this city’s standards.

BTW. The event was not filmed or audio-recorded.  I mean, if you can’t come out at 5.30 on a week night, you clearly don’t care about the issues and don’t deserve to be involved?  Child-care? Shift-work? Caring responsibilities?  No, you just don’t care about climate change. But if you wait around, we will eventually tell you our story….

Reader. It Got Worse.  No, seriously.

It was then (by now about 1830) supposed to be ‘over to us’ for the ‘innovative’ ‘participatory’ bit.  But wait, first there were four ‘pre-arranged’ contributions.  You see, after the AGM debacle they’d taken out the keynote speech, but still felt the need to slip in more speeches. They just didn’t have the basic courtesy to call them that.  Meanwhile, a slide called ‘Call to Action’ was flashed up.  Readers of sufficient vintage will know why that is fricking hilarious.

First up we had Councillor Rosa Battle, currently Executive Member for the Environment.  It will be her signature that agrees to any further extension of funding for the ‘Manchester Climate Change Agency’, which is actually a Community-Interest-Company that is wholly funded by Manchester City Council.  The Council has been throwing money and staff at the Steering Group for years, to no visible impact. It refuses to say how much.  Will that end in 2017-18?  Who can tell?

Rosa Battle, by the way once told a scrutiny committee of Manchester City Council that hundreds of people had been consulted on the Green and Blue Spaces Strategy, the writing of which was outsourced to BDP for £30k.  I challenged that, and eventually the actual number was revealed? Generously counted, the actual number was fewer than 50.

As the good councillor spoke, people started to leave – starting with several young women. They looked glum/uninterested.

Battle was followed by someone from Jacobs, who gave a mercifully inaudible spiel for her company.  That was followed about five minutes later by another pre-booked spiel.  And then a fourth.

In the Q and A (which wasn’t) I stuck up my hand and observed the crushing white/middle-classness of the room, seven years after this so-called process was launched. I asked about elections, conferences, and open-ness of Steering Group meetings – can ‘stakeholders’ attend the meetings of the ‘Stakeholder Steering Group’?  I pointed out that the so-called Manchester Climate Change Agency isn’t what most people would understand as a government agency but in fact a community interest company that changed its name to try to impress funders. As such, it is immune to Freedom of Information Act requests.  How convenient.   There were no answers to me, or to the later question from someone else about the need for a Plan B.

Because crucially, this was NOT an opportunity to hold the steering group to account!  This was just a space for people to promote their own pet projects and neuroses.   The Steering Group provided the wine and nibbles, but was resolutely not going to be held to account. #stayclassy.

By now (1850) even more people were leaving. I asked one woman why and she said “I’m tired and my feet hurt.”

Rather than have any answers to questions, the organisers foisted a poet (the less said the better) on us, who stood there, in lieu of those answers, in front of a slide that said ‘ongoing conversation’.  I kid you not.

Ten minutes later and the official evening was over, half an hour before its scheduled end.  About a quarter of the 70 or so people had left by then, but the others got to fill in feedback forms (no selection bias there then).

One long-term adviser of climate shenanigans in Manchester described it to me as “a farce”. That person is wrong. This is a tragedy, with no end in sight, other than the collapse of western civilisation, which may not be as far off as you think.

So, to recap.  The steering group has now held an event which was the standard sage on the stage, except  a) four of their sages were shoved into the so-called “interactive” slot.  b) no chairs were provided and c) no answers were provided.  This seems to be a new and special kind of devious/stupid  (I am always reluctant to ascribe a guiding intelligence to these cock-ups, and that’s especially true in the current case).

Was the event a ‘success’?

Well, obviously that depends on your criteria, motivations and needs.  From a purely bureaucratic/funding point of view, you could argue (and I would) that this “plan” is only happening because every three years the Steering Group realises they have achieved feck-all and other people are noticing.   So there was a ‘refresh’ in 2013, [I would commend that post, btw] which  sank without trace.  On that perspective this ‘plan’ is two thing. Firstly, it is a way of superseding the 2009 plan, which would soon have become awkward (all that talk of ‘creating a low carbon culture’ for example). And secondly, and more important –  as an advert – to the City Council and potential funders – “Give us some money.”

For the people attending, well, it sort of worked for some, especially those who got to speak (invited or otherwise) – they got to feel important or engaged, even if only for a minute or three. For those attending in the hope of learning something about how to get involved, or having a sense of hope, then I suspect the event was a crushing failure.  Why else would so many people (20?) have left before the end?

How did it get to this, from the possibilities of 2009?

Well, as someone once said, a body in motion will continue in the same direction blah blah.  The direction for Manchester is for ‘technocratic’ (or at least bureaucratic) control and secrecy, not just on climate, but on everything.  That could have changed if the promises of 2009 had been kept. But it was never going to be the Council and its toadies who kept the promise. It was going to be the social movement organisations.  But Friends of the Earth decided it liked being lapdog more than it liked being watchdog.  The Green Party imploded (no posts on its website between April and October, nobody at this event to write a blog post about it – I think).  There’s another so-called policy outfit out there, but I will spare its blushes; suffice to say you’d have to be “seriously sado-masochistic” to get involved.  The ‘anarchists’ have two comical failures to their names – Manchester Climate Action collapsed because one key individual left the city; that’s how ‘non-hierarchical organising’ works, apparently. More recently, ‘Reclaim the Power’ cancelled a meeting but forgot to tell the punters, and seems to have died.  Meanwhile, the Transition Towns stuff died twice, and the socialists spend their time walking backwards around Albert Square.  All these groups hold events every bit as sterile and top-down as what the Steering Group perpetrated tonight.  Meanwhile, nobody tries to keep the City Council honest, not even MCFly so much these days.

I’m tired and my heart hurts.

PS. This.

“But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty…

Posted in Steering Group | 2 Comments

Open Letter to ‘Steering Group’ boss on #Manchester #climate “plan”

Dear Gavin,
next Monday night sees the launch of the Manchester “strategy” for climate change 2017-2050.  Of course, there already is a “plan” for the years 2010-2020, but since all of the commitments to that have long ago been broken, it make sense to replace it before awkward questions about it are raised.
Two months ago, when the “consultation” about the plan was extended by a week, I wrote to you the following
Hi Gavin,
quote for publication please, that takes in how many responses have been received by the initial deadline, the different methods used to get responses from ‘hard to reach’ groups, and the reason for the extension
Thanks.
 

Naturally, I did not receive any response.

So I ask again, this time in public.

I’d also like to know what specifically the social media strategy was – twitter, facebook, youtube.

I’d also like to know what the mainstream media strategy was.  Was a press release sent out, were individual journalists at the BBC and Manchester Evening News contacted?  Did stories in fact appear – if so, when?

You were not involved in the 2009 process, but I recall well that there were many public meetings and writing groups that led to a plan for 10 years. Over 100 people were thanked in the glossy book that was produced (I’ll happily supply you with a copy).  Given that this “plan” to be launched on Monday is for three times as long, and takes us all the way to ‘zero carbon’, presumably there have been  at least three times as many such meetings and events.  But I seem to have missed them. All.

They also don’t appear to have been listed on the official calendar for the group. (See screen grab below from this morning). Then again, neither is the launch.  Perhaps time to have a work with the very well paid staff about this?

calendar

 

PS  There are also no minutes available for the “Steering Group” (you know, the one that members of the public are not allowed to attend) since February 2016.

 

Or perhaps, given the farce where only two of the 10 members showed up, and the Executive Member for the Enviornment almost never showed up, you abandoned meetings?

Posted in #mcrclimateplan, Steering Group | Leave a comment

Lecture: “Bangladesh confronts #climate change” #Manchester,7 December

1700 on 7 December. Free, no need to book.

The Global Development Lecture Series brings together scholars involved in cutting edge research on international development. It aims to facilitate dialogue and discussion, providing a space for leading development thinkers to share their latest research ideas.

This lecture will be delivered by:

  • Dr Manoj Roy, Lancaster University
  • Professor David Hulme, The University of Manchester
  • Dr Joseph Hanlon, Open University

The lecture will be followed by a Q&A

Everyone knows that Bangladesh will be flooded as climate change causes sea levels to rise. But as Roy, Hanlon and Hulme argue in their new book Bangladesh Confronts Climate Change, that does not have to happen. With one billion tonnes of silt deposited in the country from the Himalayas every year, Bangladesh’s engineers are seeing whether the land could rise faster than the sea – if the science of regulating flood waters can create innovative water management practices based on indigenous knowledge. The new book challenges the assumption that the solutions to problems of climate change will come from the rich and advanced nations. Poor people and poor countries are “doing it for themselves”. While rich nations and emerging powers debate climate change mitigation and ‘who’ should pay for the costs of adaptation, the Least developed countries, and especially Bangladesh, are taking action. They have been coping with an exceptionally difficult environment for millennia and are already using their knowledge. They are not ‘waiting’ for donors and foreign aid.

Posted in Adaptation, University of Manchester | Leave a comment

North Pole Sees Record Temps, Melting Ice Despite Arctic Winter

The end is nigh. Reposting from here.

Fwiw: Mitigation is dead, ‘two degrees’ is dead.  Manchester didn’t do its fair share, didn’t keep any of those fine 2009 promises.  But worse, by being gutless cowards and idiots, and by not doing adaptation at a community (ward-based) level, Manchester City Council’s elected members, bureaucrats and camp-followers (sycophants and grant-grubbers)  have condemned the populace to an even-shittier future than might have been the case.  They deserve nothing but obloquy and contempt.  They will weasel out of the blame, of course. So it goes. Glad to be 46, glad not to have children.

 

‘Climate Emergency’: North Pole Sees Record Temps, Melting Ice Despite Arctic Winter

Arctic is losing ice and heating up despite seasonal onset of 24-hour darkness—phenomena that break all previous records

Arctic sea ice

“There are some areas in the Arctic Ocean that are as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit above average now. It’s pretty crazy.” (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr/cc)

As 2016 continues on its march toward becoming the hottest year on record, the Arctic is seeing extreme warmth beyond anything previously recorded at this time of year—prompting alarm from climate scientists around the world.

“Folks, we’re in a climate emergency,” tweeted meteorologist Eric Holthaus.

The temperature at the North Pole as of Thursday was a stunning 36ºF (20°C) above normal.

The bizarre heat is fueling the rapid melt of the pole’s ice caps, and it is particularly unusual because it’s all happening during the polar night—the time of year when the North Pole never sees the sun, observed UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain:

Other meteorologists on Twitter highlighted the abnormality of the situation:

The cause? According to the Washington Post, it’s the result of an elongated jet stream propelling hot air farther north than normal—which is caused by climate change.

“The Arctic warmth is the result of a combination of record-low sea-ice extent for this time of year, probably very thin ice, and plenty of warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a very wavy jet stream,” Jennifer Francis, an Arctic specialist at Rutgers University, told thePost.

The Washington Post continued:

Francis has published research suggesting that the jet stream, which travels from west to east across the Northern Hemisphere in the mid-latitudes, is becoming more wavy and elongated as the Arctic warms faster than the equator does.

“It will be fascinating to see if the stratospheric polar vortex continues to be as weak as it is now, which favors a negative Arctic Oscillation and probably a cold mid/late winter to continue over central and eastern Asia and eastern North America. The extreme behavior of the Arctic in 2016 seems to be in no hurry to quit,” Francis continued.

Another culprit is that areas of open ocean water are showing unusually hot surface temperatures, according to Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Center, who was quoted by environmental writer Hannah Waters on Twitter.

Serreze commented to the Washington Post: “There are some areas in the Arctic Ocean that are as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit above average now. It’s pretty crazy.”

The alarming Arctic weather happens during the United Nations climate conference in Morrocco, and as environmentalists and climate scientists in the U.S. grapple with the prospect of a president-elect who denies the existence of climate change. Things are indeed not looking good for the planet, experts warn.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Upcoming Event: When finance knocks at city hall´s door. 24 November #Manchester

Not climate change, but still worth a look, especially if you’re pondering how ‘local money’ (sic) can be put to local use…

quimbymoneyThurs 24 November 2016, 1-2pm, Alliance Manchester Business School East, Room B2 [MAP]
Sebastian Möller (Bremen): When finance knocks at city hall´s door: Derivatives and municipal debt management

 

Sebastian Möller, Research Associate & Doctoral Student
Research Group “Transnational Political Ordering in Global Finance” (Prof. Sebastian Botzem)
Institute of Intercultural and International Studies (InIIS), University of Bremen
http://www.polfinance.uni-bremen.de | smoeller@uni-bremen.de | @smoeller84
Local budgets and global finance:
Municipal governments ́ engagement in the derivatives market and the role of transnational service firms (PhD project)

Project overview: This project explores the financialization of municipal finances through the rise of “active debt management” policies, in particular the use of interest rate derivatives and derivative loan contracts such as LOBO. All over Europe, prior to the recent financial crisis, city councils have purchased interest rate swaps, swaptions, caps, collars, and the like in order to manage their increasing debt portfolios and, in particular, to reduce their heavy interest payments. Thereby, city budgets and local politics in general have become much more connected with rules, performances, and rationalities of global financial markets. City treasurers, for example, increasingly turn into market observers, investors, and financial adventurers. This extends and transforms traditional debt relations of subnational public entities and contributes to the seemingly boundless expansion of finance. However, local governments usually lack financial market expertise and previously had hardly any direct interrelations with global finance. Therefore, the expansion of sometimes highly complex and often risky financial products to the realm of municipal finance is surprising and in need of an explanation. Arguably, local governments traditionally represented a border line of “the long arm of finance”. It ́s expansion to town halls thus is an interesting case for the overall financialization of the state.

Preliminary findings suggest that the combination of municipal over-indebtedness and pressures arising from austerity politics on the one hand and financial innovation as well as changing business models of financial service firms on the other hand have provided a favorable environment for the rise of municipal derivative deals. Moreover, the use of established social relations between councils and their principal banks and often transnationally connected service provider seem to have facilitated this trend. Therefore, the case of municipal derivative deals also sheds light on regional intermediation between global financial markets and locally embedded financial systems. Furthermore, municipal derivatives are an illustrative example of both the usage of state power as a driver of financialization and the infiltration of public administrations with financial market logics. The

project analyzes cases in the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, and Italy. It aims at identifying mechanisms and transnational patterns of the financialization of municipal debt management using a critical political economy perspective and engaging with literature from the fields of human geography and economic sociology.

Posted in Upcoming Events | Leave a comment

Plug for Upcoming Carbon Coop event in Manchester – ‘hacking the energy system’

Reposted from here.

What next for community energy?

Community energy has been hard hit by cuts to renewable subsidies and It is a time of great change and uncertainty for those in the sector. In this blog post I look at some of the ideas for the way forward for community energy. We will be discussing all these issues and more at our forthcoming event – ‘Hacking the energy system’. For more details see: https://hacking-the-energy-system.eventbrite.co.uk

Over the past month I have been to a variety of energy-related events around the country including the Community Energy Conference, Clean Energy Live, and the Low Carbon Networks Innovation conference, which has given me a broad overview of the current state of the progressive part of the energy sector. Times are hard for community energy following the drastic reductions in subsidies, which formed the basis of most community energy schemes and registrations for new organisations have plummeted. This follows the fortunes of the small-scale solar sector which has collapsed with several businesses going under and the loss of thousands of jobs. The new government has also not given much reason for hope in the future. Having agreed the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor at a strike price far above market rates (and according to some above even the cost of solar plus storage today) it has also recently progressed plans to impose fracking on communities around the UK in seeming contradiction with its recent re-committment to EU and international green house gas reduction targets. The recent proposed changes to rate relief (currently the subject of an early day motion in parliament and talking up of the ‘costs of embedded generation’ are also worrying. Onshore wind also continues to be out of favour (despite buoyant public support in most of the country) and subject to special local vetos despite its low costs (to be compared with fracking which enjoys a government veto over local objections!). There is talk of a new Contracts for Difference (CfD) tender aimed atlarge scale solar and storage, although this will likely only benefit existing large EPC (Engineering Procurement Construction) contractors and financiers who have dominated the large scale solar sector for several years. Despite all of this community energy groups continue to deliver schemes around the country and new technologies and market reforms offer a way forward.

New business models/technology for community energy

Whilst the country has seen an unprecedented shift away from coal to gas and renewables over the past 10 years, other technology has been waiting in the wings ready for its turn. The national smart meter rollouthas properly begun despite serious concerns around its ability to meet targets for deployment, ongoing uncertainty over the technical specficication of the metering systems, and delays in deploying the IT infrastructure which will collect all the data. Community energy could make ready use of the data from smart meters to conduct energy assessments and plan and deliver products and services to members and consumers. But there are questions over costs and speed of access to consumer data which could make it difficult for small organisations to make the most of this opportunity. Whatever happens smart meters and smart grids are here to stay as they are crucial to shifting to a low carbon electricity system, it is more a question of when it will happen rather than if it will happen.

Many companies are currently trialling demand side response technology which also depends heavily on smart metering in order to determine if and when people use their electricity. Demand side response seeks to effect changes in electricity use on the demand side (usually reductions in use) and has been used to balance the national grid for decades by controlling large industrial consumers with non-time sensitive applications (think aluminium smelting and cement plants). This is a relatively easy way of introducing flexibility into the grid with clear financial benefits for all parties. Smaller business and domestic customers are much harder and costlier to engage, although there is a lot of potential flexibility with millions of electricity consumers (and/or their appliances) involved. Community energy could have a role to play in such efforts as a trusted partner to other organisations trying to engage communities who are mis-trustful of external organisations and energy companies. This has been shown to be crucial in various demand side response trials to date.

There is also a huge amount of excitement over lithium battery storage at the moment due to rapid cost reductions from mass production and developments in cell technology. Storage in general has been identified as crucial for creating flexibility and offering a range of services in the electricity system. Despite this it remains expensive and competes directly with efficiency savings and demand side response which arguably should come before throwing more tech at the problem. Storage offers some opportunities for community energy; it could be added to traditional schemes or even deployed on its own in the right circumstances to access new revenue streams. There is a danger with storage technology that it removes large companies and high-income consumers from the grid, driving up costs for everyone else who has to continue to rely on grid infrastructure. Community level storage makes a lot more sense both economically and to ensure everyone can benefit from low carbon electricity supply.

Local Supply

One idea that could provide a lifeline to community energy schemes is local supply, where local small scale generation can sell directly to local consumers, possibly in partnership with an existing supplier. Given the make up of an average electricity bill (16% supplier operational costs/profits, 27% network costs, 32% wholesale costs) there would seem to be substantial value that could be extracted from local supply of electricity which could be passed on to consumers in bill savings whilst supporting local community renewable generation. These numbers are distorted for large suppliers who are vertically integrated and sell electricity to themselves thus reducing the effective wholesale costs and increasing the chunk going to their profit margins. In some ways local supply is a way of beating the Big 6 at their own game! For this reason local or direct supply is one of Community Energy England‘s key policy areas and has risen up the agenda with the withdrawal of subsidies.

An example of local supply would be a small scale renewable generator, which typically can get only basic export tariffs (~4-5p per unit) for the electricity they generate and export to the grid, supplying electricity to local consumers on the same part of the distribution network. These local consumers may be paying 15p per kWh at the moment to their normal supplier, but could directly pay the local generators and a proportionately smaller amount in other costs, hopefully saving money in the process. Some have taken this even further suggesting peer-to-peer energy trading, although such an unregulated arrangement might make balancing supply and demand difficult and increase charging complexity in a way that offsets the benefits.

The main issue with such an idea at the moment is that supply of electricity is a highly regulated activity and so organisations wanting to sell to consumers need scale in order to break even. It is an activity beyond the reach of small volunteer led community organisations. The regulator Ofgem has made some efforts to address this possibility with their ‘Licence Lite’, but this requires generators to partner with an existing electricity supplier in a complex manner and suppliers don’t have much incentive to engage in such arrangements. In the case of large suppliers it undermines their business models as vertically integrated supply and generation companies and in the case of small ‘independent’ suppliers the legal and logistical overheads make it difficult to make work. More forward-thinking suppliers have push ahead with local supply anyway with the example of Co-operative Energy partnering with Energy Local in Bethesda, Wales to supply locally generated hydro power.

Part of the solution may lie with the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) who stand to benefit from local supply arrangements as it can reduce network reinforcement and upgrade costs on constrained parts of the distribution network. Western Power Distribution have negotiated a novel connection offset agreement with local generators and Tempus Energy in partnership with WREN and RegenSW in a project known as theSunshine Tariff. This avoids the need for network reinforcement due to the connection of new generation by offsetting it through offering time of use tariffs to local consumers which encourage them to match their consumption to local generation.

Going forward DNOs could help enable such schemes with small changes to the charging infrastructure such as the idea of ‘virtual private wires’ or ‘virtual MPANs’ (the unique identifiers associated with electricity billing unit) which aggregate demand and generation units for settlement (the process of determining who used what and how much to bill them for). This would allow settlement to occur within the current system automatically under current charging arrangements (see: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/ofgem-publications/43856/ce-electrics-paper-virtual-private-networks.pdf). This may also obviate the need to move to a specific supplier to make schemes work as the charging is transparent to any particular supplier’s system (the need to move to a particular supplier has caused recruitment problems for local supply schemes in the past). The supplier/local generator relationship is then reduced to a commercial contract for electricity supply/generation which is much simpler than that proposed under License Lite. The creation of virtual meters would also fully realise the role of aggregators in the energy system who could then derive income from reducing distribution and transmission charges by balancing across local networks and pass these savings onto their members. Energy co-operatives would be a natural fit to administering such aggregator arrangements.

However, like some of the schemes mentioned above, this would still probably mean operating in a grey area of regulation or requiring special dispensation from Ofgem – so more work is needed to make it a reality. It would also probably require reform (and more complexity) to Distribution Network Use of System (DUoS) and transmission network use of system (TNUoS) charging to better reflect the value of local balancing for the rest of the network. Such activity is fully consistent and should be expected with the envisaged transition of DNOs to Distribution Service Operators (DSOs), offering a range of products and services to various actors and engaging in proactive management of demand and generation beyond the management of the network infrastructure. A lot of the focus in recent years has been on getting suppliers to setup and participate in complex local supply schemes, but it may be more effective to lobby distribution operators to become activists in promoting better arragements which can only benefit them in the long run.

It is also worth noting (again) that smart meters and half-hourly (or even quarter-hourly) settlement are crucial to the success of these schemes. Delays in the introduction of these will require ad hoc solutions which will increase operational and other costs and mitigating some or all of the benefits.

‘Right to local supply?’

The concept of a ‘right to local supply’ was floated by 10:10 and was taken up as part of Jeremy Corbyn’s (second) leadership platform.

It calls for local small scale generation to be allowed to directly contract with local consumers (think people sharing the same sub-station) to supply electricity, something that is difficult if not impossible under current regulation. Campaigning for such a ‘right’ would provide impetus to change regulation which is currently lagging behind the ambitions of many new entrants to the sector. It would also help overcome objections from existing large energy suppliers who could only lose under such arrangements.

A ‘right to local supply’ isn’t necessarily inconsistent with recognising the supposed costs of embedded generation (as discussed above) either. The suggestion is not that anybody can connect whatever and whenever they like to the distribution network. Generators would still need to comply with connection requirements (G59 etc.) and pay for connection/reinforcement where appropriate (although these costs could also be socialised – rehashing the ‘shallow’ / ‘deep’ connections debate which has taken place in transmission sphere). It would just ensure a level playing field and market access for small generators or groups of generators who want to supply their local community without the need to become full suppliers.

What’s coming up?

The government is about to launch a ‘Call for evidence’ on smart systems and storage. This will deal with many of the regulatory/policy issues above and could help deliver some of the potential in the existing or near future electricity system. Carbon Co-op will be engaging with this and is hosting a one day conference in a few weeks entitled ‘Hacking the Energy System‘ to help formulate a repsonse. All interested parties, including our members, are invited to attend and contribute to a vision of a future low carbon and more democratic energy system. You can find more details and book at the following link: https://hacking-the-energy-system.eventbrite.co.uk

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