Community energy solutions: Plymouth

In 2012 Plymouth’s co-operative city council established a Low Carbon City Team, which helped to identify the city’s potential for community energy solutions and forge partnerships. The council funded pre-development, initial community engagement and business plan development.

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In 2013 it joined forces with local residents to form Plymouth Energy Community (PEC) which then set up a second Industrial & Provident community benefit society (Bencom), PEC Renewables, to fund and manage renewable energy installations. PEC has 850 members, 95% of whom are local residents, and the number is rising, with more joining as the current share offer progresses.

Marie-Claire Kidd reports that Plymouth’s energy future is changing. PEC Renewables launched its first share offer in February 2014. It closed after seven weeks, oversubscribed at £602,000, with 144 investor members, around half of them local. This enabled it to install free solar photovoltaics on 18 schools and three community buildings between May and November 2014.

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The installations, which collectively represent 0.78 megawatts, are now generating half-price electricity for their community building hosts. Surplus electricity is sold to the grid. The bencom also receives income in the form of a government subsidy, via the Feed-in Tariff.

PEC Renewables launched its second community share offer this February, this time with a £950,000 target. It will fund more free solar photovoltaics, and bring the bencom’s community fund to more than £1.2m. It is forecasting a return of up to 6% for members, which rises to 10.5% including tax relief. The offer, which closes on 5 May, has already raised £510,000.

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Plymouth’s largest solar roof will be installed on Plymouth Life Centre, a diving centre and one of the busiest leisure centres in the country, and there will be solar panels on four more schools, bringing the total to 1.3MW. (Above: panels on Midland House, a Plymouth council office)

Plymouth has 11,500 households in fuel poverty – 10% of its population – and an energy-inefficient housing stock. The city council has produced a plan to reduce emissions from the council estate by 20% by 2015 and reduce citywide emissions by 30% by 2020.

One of its main aims is to help local people to understand their energy options, so it is promoting grant schemes for free cavity and loft insulation and subsidised external wall insulation, offering savings of around £260 per household per year. It has also provided energy tariff advice for over 600 households, offering average savings of £180 per year.

PEC Renewables’ community fund is being used to tackle the challenges of rising energy costs, fuel poverty and climate change. Projects include PEC’s fuel debt advice service, which has helped local residents clear £55,000 of energy bill arrears in the last 10 months, and its energy team, which trains volunteers to provide free home energy advice to at-risk households.

 

To learn about Plymouth’s plans for the future, read Ms Kidd’s article.

A different economic model: 2 – a constant, stable,‘steady state’ economy

George Monbiot suggests that it is time for a government commission on post-growth economics which would invite contributions from those already investigating the possibility of moving towards a steady state economy: one that seeks distribution rather than blind expansion; that does not demand infinite growth on a finite planet.

Localise West Midlands is dedicated to advocating and building such an economy

Such a commission, Monbiot points out, should ask the questions that never get asked:

  • Why are we wrecking the natural world and public services to generate growth when that growth is not delivering contentment, security or even, for most of us, greater prosperity?
  • Why have we enthroned growth, regardless of its utility, above all over outcomes?
  • Why, despite failures so great and so frequent, have we not changed the model?

The Constant EconomyAs MP Zac Goldsmith says, introducing his excellent book, the rainbow-titled Constant Economy: how to create a stable society:

“Since the industrial revolution, our economies have grown at the expense of the natural world. But as pressure mounts on the earth’s finite resources, we can no longer pretend that business-as-usual is a realistic option.

“One way or another we will have to change. The longer we delay, the more our societies will be at the mercy of events and the harsher the eventual adjustments.

“There is an alternative: a constant economy. The constant economy operates at the human scale and, above all, it recognises nature’s limits. In a constant economy:

  • resources are valued not wasted,
  • where food is grown sustainably,
  • goods are built to last,
  • energy security is based on the use of renewable sources,
  • and strong communities are valued as a country’s most effective hedge against social, economic and environmental instability”.

George Monbiot points out that, when the next crash comes, these questions will be inescapable.

See also: A different economic model: 1 – money creation, ‘a long-neglected question’

A lesson for Britain: Brazil promotes food security and local food procurement, strengthening family farming

graziano da silvaVested interests replacing the now defunct Flying Matters, a lobby group funded by the aviation industry, vigorously defend the profitable import of food from countries with malnourished people. A better way forward, socially, economically and environmentally is offered by the Director General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Jose Graziano da Silva (Extraordinary Minister for Food Security), one of the champions of the Zero Hunger project in Brazil, which raised 28 million people above the poverty line during the 8 years of the Lula administration.

Small-scale family farmers, who accounted for a significant percentage of the agriculture/livestock production in Brazil particularly of staple food items, were usually excluded from agricultural policy discussions. They mobilised and a national program, the Pronaf, was created in 1995, offering the first credit line specifically designed for family farming in Brazil.

Local food procurement, a success in Brazil today

school meal brazilA School Meal Law (Pnae) was passed, requiring 30% of the public food purchases for school meals to be made locally from family farmers. It strengthened local and regional markets, fostered the circulation of profits in the region, recovered regional food habits and promoted the establishment of associations or cooperatives, which play an instrumental role in organizing food production and protecting the economy of the poorest sectors of the population.

Da Silva commented: “This ensures stable markets for farmers and at the same time ensures culturally-acceptable, nutritious and fresh meals for school-going children.

zero hunger coverA Family Agriculture Food Acquisition Program was set up and generates income for poor family farmers (household income not exceeding R$ 110,000) by selling their surplus food produce to the federal government and encouraging the creation or development of marketing channels for family farming products. It also provided a price guarantee tool for part of their produce.

A range of initiatives, included crop insurance and special credit lines were created for young people, women, organic crops, working capital and shares in cooperatives, agroindustrial projects, rural tourism, environmental recovery and semiarid regions.

The farmers’ organizations financed and set up stocks of products of the current harvest, strengthening food security systems and keeping food products in their localities, allowing any surplus to be sold when prices are more rewarding for farmers. Read more here and in the book (right) co-authored by Dr da Silva.

Several countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are adopting similar approaches.

modi da silva agric

 Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva recently met India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi and discussed India’s National Food Security Mission. Both agreed that food security comes first and national governments must have the flexibility to put in place suitable mechanisms to achieve it. Modi sought the FAO’s cooperation in designing a campaign for women which would highlight ways to improve families’ nutritional value and food habits. They discussed ways of linking family farming production to school meal programmes by creating local food procurement programmes and increasing the nutritional value of the mid-day meal scheme for school children.

Meanwhile, British farmers are encouraged by their unions and government agencies to produce more food for export, though prices then inevitably fall as supply rises, and the global market consistently rewards only the speculator or the unproductive middleman.

Globalisation – the open trading system – is fragmenting

Philip Stephens, an associate editor, in the Financial Times: Globalisation – the open trading system – is fragmenting; it needs an enforcer – a hegemon, a concert of powers or global governance arrangements”.

Evidence: the collapse of the Doha, the demise of global free-trade agreements, and the emergence of regional coalitions and deals. The emerging economies are building south-south relationships and the Brics nations are setting up their own financial institutions.

Colin Hines, co-founder of LWM goes further – and deeper. He advocates the rebuilding and rediversifying of economies by limiting the entry of finance, goods and people from other countries, ensuring local provision of goods, finance and services and weaning themselves off export dependence. Depending on the context, ‘local’ goods would come from the nearest source, the region, the nation state or even a regional grouping of nation states – eg oranges from EU/Spain.

Domestic businesses and funding sources would then meet the needs of the majority in society in all countries. The prospect of such increasing economic security for the majority could gain widespread political support ranging from those on the left, the centre and the greens through to small ‘c’ conservatives.

In 2008, just before the economic collapse, as GND convenor, he presented a mechanism which would have enabled the Green New Deal to prosper. ‘Green Quantitative Easing’ would have made every building in the country energy efficient, and built hundreds of thousands of new, affordable and energy-efficient homes. A massive boost would have been given to economic activity, providing jobs on a living wage in every community in the UK, whilst reducing its environmental impact.

Later this month he will be speaking in Italy at a conference of left economists to float the progressive protectionism agenda and criticise the left, centre and greens for their support of open borders, leaving the extreme right in an ever more powerful position.

Swadeshi movement, which ‘prefers the neighbourhood over the remote’, affects Indian government policy

 

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New Delhi Television online reports that the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and a farmers’ organisation met India’s Environment Minister today to protest against the go-ahead given by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee on July 18 to field trials of 15 GM crops, including rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal. The Environment Minister, in a statement issued later by the SJM said “the decision about field trials of GM crops had been put on hold.” More on this issue here.

The writer met several SJM members in India and was prompted by this report to summarise their approach.

Swadeshi believes that the unbalanced individualism of the West is destructive of community living. The individual requires the mutually complementary and interactive relationship of the community.

The market has to be an instrument and not the master of the people. The smaller the size of the market, the better. The Swadeshi approach is to limit the size of the market not to eliminate it as communism does. The Swadeshi global view is ” let a thousand markets bloom – not merge into one global market “.

Swadeshi prefers the neighbourhood over the remote and accepts only need-based transnationalism.

It prioritises the satisfaction of practical human needs – food, clothing, housing, education, healthcare, drinking water, energy and transport – values frugality, savings, thrift etc. and seeks to remove the distortion of defining economics as multiplication of wants and efforts to satisfy them, powered by greed.

Swadeshi advocates that income-inequalities remain within reasonable limits. Like the early co-operatives, it believes that the ratio of income of the top 20% and bottom 20% should not exceed 10:1.

The Swadeshi philosophy is not against creation of wealth – merely an injunction against unlimited consumption; a mandate for conservation and preservation of national assets and resources; an emphasis on personal and family savings and an injunction against wasteful and needless expenditure.

Calls for a living wage

Andrew Lydon writes that, over the last year, probably the most radical proposal made by Labour leader Ed Miliband is about the Living Wage and Living Wage Zones:

minimum not living wage logo“Living wage zones would work for everyone – the people who get decent pay, the employers who get a more committed workforce and the government that saves money on credits.” He said the proposal was a labour market reform that tackled in-work poverty and lifted productivity without boosting the welfare bill.

Refocussing on raising the minimum wage, on the 19th May Miliband launched a report by a previous vice chair of KPMG, Alan Buckle, who looked at the issue through ‘business eyes’. He says action on low pay should be seen as part of a wider strategy to move towards a high skill, high productivity economy and that we should recognise that higher pay will be good for government finances, in terms of the need for fewer tax credits and a lower social security bill.

jrf logoThe Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard project aims to define an ‘adequate’ income. Read more here.

Of the 400 councils In England and Wales 82 are now paying or committed to pay their staff the living wage. All 32 councils in Scotland are living wage employers paying their staff at least the living wage.

As Citizens Advice Scotland’s Chief Executive wrote to the chancellor earlier this year, economists suggest the economic multiplier for income transfers to low income families is higher; they estimate that for every pound GDP increases by £1.60. Families with low income spend the additional money, stimulating the economy by boosting demand and supporting businesses.

living wage logoBut what of private business? Archbishop John Sentamu, who chairs the Living Wage Commission, points out that hundreds of employers – those who are able to do so – have begun to pay a living wage?

In a Huffington Post article, Jehangir S. Pocha, the Delhi-based editor-in-chief of NewsX, said:the one thing that would combat poverty without bankrupting the exchequer – is getting businesses to pay workers a living wage . . .”

Andrew Lydon looks for evidence that the ground is being prepared and we wonder if will ever become the norm. Pocha sees a profound psychological obstacle to achieving a living wage (and, we would add, other reforms):

“This social assumption that “they” are inherently different from ‘us’ and do not have to have access to things like decent housing, clothes, food, leisure, education and health care is etched into the Indian psyche”.

This social assumption is also etched into the psyche of British decision makers and their corporate allies.

Localising Prosperity? See Localise West Midlands’ new website

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On the Localising Prosperity website, Localise West Midlands asks if you want to maximise the benefits of economic development in your area: “Do you want a socially inclusive, redistributive, prosperous economy?”

This is about localising prosperity for everyoneby integrating community economic development into everyday business. About understanding and building upon an area’s existing strengths so that it can develop from within – maximising the local economic and social benefits for all. To learn more, go to the new website.

It’s a private, public, social and for-profit agenda.

It can be used within public bodies, community groups, private businesses, local enterprise partnerships, Chambers, Business Improvement Districts, thinktanks and the voluntary sector anyone who wants to play a role in making places better and sharing prosperity.

There is a “virtuous circle” relationship between more locally owned businesses, more local power, better social outcomes and greater prosperity:

Loc prosp graphic

LWM’s research concluded that higher levels of small business and local ownership lead to higher levels of economic success, job creation, social inclusion, civic engagement, well-being and local distinctiveness, and this virtuous circle explains how.

So we can realise local economic power rather than handing it to ‘absentee landlords’ i.e. distant private and public sector owners with little understanding of the local area.

Localise West Midlands secured funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust for 2013-14 to develop this work, building on their 2012-13 research findings and generating practical outcomes from the approach.

Graham Young’s account in the Birmingham Mail quoted Professor David Cannadine: “The Barrow Cadbury Trust has been both an exemplary and a pioneering charity, especially concerned with social improvement, social justice, peace and reconciliation.” Many local people will remember the founders’ son, Paul Cadbury, who furthered these causes, chairing Birmingham’s Research Committee, which published a 1941 document called ‘When We Build Again’, a visionary attempt to look beyond the Second World War towards rebuilding the city.

Localise West Midlands is one of several organisations working to rebuild and rebalance the economy.

Reflections – Food & Our Future discussion event

A quick few personal reflections after our Food and Our Future event last night. These are more a response than an account, so if you weren’t there then apologies as you’re getting much less than half the conversation.
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Firstly thanks to all the people who came – really brilliant turnout – and even more to our excellent speakers, Chris Mould, Liz Dowler and Adrian Phillips, and Kate for firm chairing.
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I was glad Adrian Phillips took the macro-economic line he did – talking about the profit motives that lead to our unhealthy, unjust and wasteful consumption and shopping habits. Lots of points well made. I’d add a caveat though – I think the profit motive is pretty integral to being human, and something we can live with or even make into something positive occasionally – but it becomes dangerous when a lot of power ends up in a few hands, and the corporate power over our food supply demonstrates that danger nicely in those poor health, injustice and waste impacts.
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Amidst strong statements on the need for greater justice in access to food,  Liz Dowler mentioned that despite recent rises and food poverty, we don’t actually pay that much (say, the full production costs) for our food, and that this is another source of injustice. I’ve often reflected on this: we used to pay far more for food and far less for housing. The reversal of that has impacted horrendously on a poorly paid (local and global) farming sector and as Liz pointed out on those working for supermarkets on zero hour contracts, as part of forcing down prices for food many of us then waste.
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Funnily enough, I seem to find myself making a point about community economic resilience and strengthening the local food economy – across rural and urban areas, to better redistribute responsibility, power and profit and shorten the chains. Hopefully it’s understood that this isn’t about thinking you can feed Birmingham from a few fields of hinterland, but about catalysing the structural/economic changes that are essential for sustainable development.
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Lastly this was another forum in which there was some discussion of the comparative merits of “just getting on and doing it for yourself” (directly helping a foodbank to feed hungry people) and the duty of the state to do something (abandon some of the more inhumane benefit changes). I find this debate a little frustrating – also often heard about environment action –  because it’s so obvious that the one needs the other, and that if you do the one you need to do or at least support the other. I doubt anyone really thinks you shouldn’t help out at the foodbank because it only encourages the government to penalise the poor. As well as the direct impacts, by doing the brilliant work they do to help real people, Chris Mould can (and did, to us) put the case more powerfully to those who need persuading than can those of us who just observe.
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Alongside helping food banks we have a duty to adopt responsible diets ourselves: in reducing meat and dairy, paying as fair prices as we can, eating seasonally and wasting much less. We need a good diet as fuel for speaking out against injustice and working towards structural change.
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There will be plenty more to report- watch this space for more.
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Karen Leach
Coordinator

City politics: unrest should be seen as a wake-up call

John Rossant is chairman of the New Cities Foundation and President of PublicisLive, which has been producing the World Economic Forum in Davos since 1995.

john rossantTwo days after the event, failing to mention the 4000 people gathered in London for the People’s Assembly, John Rossant points to a ‘common thread’ running through the Arab uprisings and Occupy Wall Street, the street battles that have convulsed Istanbul, Ankara and Stockholm this summer, and the current unrest that is coursing through São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Rossant believes that: “This unrest should be seen as a wake-up call to all of us: politics in this, the first truly urban century, will largely take place in cities and will largely be about them.”

He focusses on the speed of urbanisation

“More than half of the Chinese population is now urban – from barely 20% one generation ago – and scores of millions more Chinese are expected to move into cities over the next decade. India is urbanising at a similarly breathless pace. Istanbul, a city of 1m souls in 1950, today is home to 13.5m people. Perhaps more surprisingly, Latin America is now the world’s most urban region.”

And the glaring disparities in income and opportunity

“Meanwhile, the triumph (sic) of market economics around the world has created impressive wealth and brand-new middle classes in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere. But it has also brought vast disparities in income and opportunity. Skyscrapers for the super-rich loom less than two miles from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. And just two miles in the other direction are slums without running water or other basic services. It is a similar picture in São Paulo or Rio, where teeming favelas abut gated communities. In New York City, inequality has never been so glaring as today. One stop on the subway can sweep you from one neighbourhood to another where median incomes are three times higher.”

He sees other reasons for the ‘drama playing out in global cities’: “Urban citizens want to be listened to, want their city to work better, and want dignity.”

After brief reflections on Istanbul, Cairo and New York, he turns to activism in São Paulo, initially sparked by a 20% rise in bus ticket prices, and points out the “increased sense by some that the city, Latin America’s largest business hub, is becoming a citadel for the global elite as Brazil prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 . . . their protest is not vandalism but anxiety and anger that the wealth they can see is still light years out of their reach”.

His conclusion: “This is the most important issue of this century and we should be prepared for vast new urban upheavals. In China, I believe, it is only a question of time before the weight and demands of the new city population will transform the political life of the People’s Republic. Today’s urban spring is only the beginning”.

 

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