blue solar panel boards
Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

We need to stop producing greenhouse gases to stop climate change getting worse. But we also need to support people to thrive where they live and lead meaningful lives, and confine the last decade of pessimism, anxiety, and grief to the history books. That means beginning the hard process of rebuilding our social democracy through the integration of co-operative ideas and guarding against what Ernest Begin called ‘poverty of ambition’.

When we have suffered long years of austerity, the necessary restrictions to save life and protect our NHS during the pandemic and know how Conservatives try to reduce budget deficits increased to meet crises, we cannot accept further financial cutbacks. Spiritually, this country is disunited and lacking hope. We have to meet our climate crisis, and other challenges, by strengthening communities and giving our country back its confidence.

Labour and Co-operative Councils have declared a climate emergency. Like the pandemic, we know why we need to act – the science tells us so. But, unlike the pandemic – where the vaccine shines a light at the end of the tunnel – science so far hasn’t said with one voice and with such clear precision what the detailed roadmap is for addressing the climate crisis.

That means doing more of what we know works, for example, by rapidly introducing large amounts of additional solar and wind energy where we can. It means doing a lot more of what we have reason to believe can work, for example innovating and implementing affordable batteries to store enough clean energy for cities like Oxford, which is starting to take place with the world’s largest hybrid battery, Energy Superhub Oxford.

We need to find ways to provide more energy, but keep it clean and make it cheap, so that everyone can enjoy the goods and services which depend upon energy—not just the people in our society with higher incomes. We shouldn’t be requiring people to compromise their living standards or aspirations for a higher living standard in the name of the climate crisis. Cheap and clean energy can be one of our strongest foundation stones in a fairer society. When that energy is community-owned, our society can only become even fairer.

Oxford City Council has just agreed funding of nearly £3.4m to help bring into being the UK’s largest community-owned solar park, generating enough clean energy every year to power the equivalent of 6,000 homes. Working with the social enterprise Low Carbon Hub that we helped to establish more than a decade ago, Oxford City Council will support the solar park at Rye Valley Solar, near Bicester, to become the Hub’s 48th renewable energy project.

In the fight against climate change, Labour Councils are doing excellent work, and some are creating and developing municipal energy companies which will make a huge difference. In Oxford we have helped to develop and grow community-owned energy. It’s a no-brainer that Labour and Co-operative local government should support community-owned clean energy. It makes sense for so many reasons.

Low Carbon Hub will benefit from another low interest loan from a trusted partner. This funding sits alongside two major income sources: the £4.5m invested by local people to provide community-owned energy and a loan by Tridos Bank, by a country mile the most ethical bank available in the UK and a certified B-Corp. Community-owned energy backed with ethical and accountable finance doesn’t just help to disrupt the energy network—it helps to engineer change in the financing of energy projects.

Fossil fuels are cheap, so cheap that it can be hard for clean energy to compete and win. By supporting investment here, the City Council is supporting efforts to keep £2.6m of energy spend in the local economy and stop it going out to the mega fossil fuel energy companies.

The introduction of more renewables can help to build momentum. The cost of solar power has dropped significantly in recent years and the deployment of yet more solar power with this project and the others that it inspires could help to reduce the cost of solar power still further. On one hand, I hope Ray Valley Solar Park will drop out of the top twenty of large community-owned solar parks in the country within a few years.

In tough times, Oxford City Council will benefit financially. The Council will receive an annual payment back of £177.5K over the lifetime of the loan, with the principal and interest repaid in full. Those who depend on our services will see the Council receive £606.5K on top of our loan for reinvestment in public services. Should the solar park generate any windfall profits, we will have a say over how the money is invested for community benefit. Communities will also benefit to the tune of £10m over the lifetime of the project.

And, for a City Council which has a science-based plan backed up by investment, to become zero carbon by 2030, this project will produce carbon savings as well as a financial bonus.

The energy generated by the project to the Council will offset up to 1000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. To meet our target, the Council is seeking an average annual (absolute) emission cut of 10% (approximately 530 tonnes of CO2) every year until 2030 – doubling our previous business as usual rate of reduction to 10% year on year reductions.

As a Labour and Co-operative Council, Oxford will continue to support clean energy because we want to keep energy spend locally, reduce our carbon footprint, and generate millions in community benefit through people-powered energy.