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Renewable energy in the South West - a role for the RSA?


  • Climate change

The independent Committee on Climate Change reports that the Government is a long way from having any credible account of how it is going to reach its target of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. This comes after Professor David MacKay, the Government’s Chief Energy Scientist pointed out last week that the UK exports up to half its energy use through its reliance on imported industrial goods. Meanwhile hardly a week seems to pass without more bad news about the impact of climate change.

These were the issues that provided the backdrop to the Eden Forum which I attended at the end of last week. I wasn’t there for the closing sessions as I wanted to get back for my younger son’s first football match of the season (he won 11-0, as you ask). But a strong view has begun to emerge about the direction the Forum - a collection of environmentalists, politicians and political strategists, writers and business people - might take its future work.  The Forum had heard from community groups based in the South West how hard it still is to cut through the economic and bureaucratic hurdles to micro generation, despite the scope for local energy which exists in that wet and windy part of the country and the incentives the Government has tried to create through Renewable Obligation Certificates.

James Cameron, Executive Director of Climate Change Capital and a long time friend of the RSA, discussed with the Forum the idea of some kind of South West energy bond which could provide much needed capital for putative micro generators of renewable energy, while also offering a decent return to investors as the price attached to energy production and carbon emissions inexorably rises. There are many things that would need to be in place for such a bond to get off the ground. One might be to demonstrate a real commitment to invest among the people of the region.

I don’t know what came out of the last session (maybe someone who was there can add a comment) but if this idea was taken forward could there be a challenge here for RSA Fellows in the South West? Could they use their networks to sign up thousands of local people willing, at least in principle, to become small investors in such a bond (by the way, many small scale example of funds like this exist around the country)? Ultimately, a regional bond will require the backing of major institutional investors but showing that thousands of small investors are committed could be very powerful in getting the backing of bigger funds, Government agencies and energy utilities.

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