A couple of weeks ago, I had the intriguing experience of being invited to the Summer Reception of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Unconventional Oil and Gas (the long-winded way of describing fracking). I’ll be honest and say that, if nothing else, the location proved the draw to jump on my bike and pedal down to Westminster.
Cycling down Broad Sanctuary, little did I know I entered another world: a gowned man stood by a hobbit-sized door in a wall, and ushered me through into the gardens behind Westminster Abbey.
On the speaker line-up for the event were Dan Byles, MP for North Warwickshire and Bedworth and Chair of this APPG, the event sponsors URS and Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Yes, that’s Ed Davey – the man who both loves shale gas and wants “nothing more than a community energy revolution”. Just how would this play out?
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love shale gas.” So went Ed Davey’s crowd-pleasing opener. He then proceeded to talk at length about the benefits he saw this type of energy bringing the UK and why we should back it. According to Davey, we can learn from the mistakes made in the US; the industry will be strongly regulated; shale forms a crucial part of our energy mix – and we can make this safe.
I share the multitude of concerns that you will have read about all over the press in recent weeks, however this blog isn’t the place to go into those at great length. But one concern that I couldn’t shake as I pedalled back east after the event: what of the communities these invasive drilling techniques would affect? Communities that sit at the heart of, and drive, the other energy revolution Ed Davey is calling for.
It’s these communities that I’ve been focusing much of my energy on in recent months, through the work of the Community Energy Coalition. Convened by Forum for the Future, this group of trusted and influential civic society organisations have been working together since 2011 to raise the profile of community energy in the UK, with the ambition of realising their vision of community energy at scale by 2020.
As part of this work, and with the intention of enthusing the wider public on the issue, this summer sees the first ever Community Energy Fortnight, running from 24th August – 8th September. The Fortnight consists of a series of events taking place right across the UK – from walking tours of hydros in Snowdonia to visits to Scottish wind turbines, a community heat workshop in Oxfordshire and a vintage bus tour of eco-homes in Manchester.
It’s these sorts of hands-on, understand-where-your-energy-comes-from events that will really engage people with issues of energy security. Not, Mr Davey, sending in the trucks and diggers to drill to the heart of communities in search of shale. Tell a story, unite communities around a common cause, and lay the pathway to a clean energy future.
Frackers of the world: take note. A very different sort of energy revolution is coming.
Photo credit: Justina Burnett