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The grass is greener…

By Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity
The grass is greener...

Ecotricity began life in 1995, born from the realisation that the conventional way of making electricity, by burning fossil fuels, was the biggest single source of climate change. Our proposed solution was a new kind of electricity, the green kind.

We were the world’s first green electricity company, and while the technology to make green electricity was relatively new, we could see a potential future where all electricity was made this way – utilising the wind, sun and sea.

What we couldn’t see was a renewable alternative for gas, and for many years we held the view that we had to simply wean ourselves off this rather versatile energy source, and shift heat loads from gas to electricity.

That changed for us in 2010 when we bumped into the concept of green gas – gas made by the anaerobic digestion of organic material, which could then be ‘scrubbed up’ and put into the gas grid. It was a direct parallel to green electricity. And our missing link.

There was no green gas available in Britain at that time. The gas we’d found was a by-product of a factory in Holland. We introduced the green gas concept to Britain that year with our green gas tariff, and in the process we took a big evolutionary step: we moved from being a green electricity company to a fully fledged green energy company, from having half the answer to having the whole answer. It was one of our most exciting moments.

At the same time, we set about making plans to build our own sources of green gas in Britain using our ‘bills into mills’ model – the tagline that describes quite well our core approach, harnessing our customers’ energy bills to build new green energy mills.

The main issue we struggled with was feedstock: what to put into our green gas mills. At one end of the spectrum we could see food waste, at the other end energy crops. Both had their drawbacks, and after a lot of analysis we concluded that neither could really do the job on the scale we were looking for.

We kept looking for the solution, and then a couple of years ago we came across a new idea that held the answer to the feedstock problem and so much more, something that brought a whole new dimension to the potential that making green gas had to offer.

THE IDEA IS SIMPLE – TO USE GRASS

On 18 November 2016 we unveiled a national plan for Britain based on this new concept, in a report called ‘Green Gas Mills: The Opportunity for Britain’.

As we show in that report, grass can provide all of the gas needs for 97% of Britain’s homes by 2035, and create a new industry, supporting up to 150,000 jobs and pumping £7.5bn into the economy.

Making gas from grass has none of the drawbacks of energy crops, food waste or fracking either – in fact, it has no drawbacks at all. If we do it this way, we’ll make big cuts to carbon emissions, take a big step in making Britain energy independent, develop a new process of supporting food production by improving soils, create wildlife habitats on an unprecedented scale and provide support for farmers who are set to lose EU subsidies following Brexit.

We’ve recently got planning permission to build our first prototype Green Gas Mill in Hampshire, too – so the new way of making gas is right around the corner. And there’s something else – making our gas this way is a viable alternative to fracking. We simply haven’t had that until now. People have rightly been fighting tooth and nail up and down the country to prevent fracking, but they’ve not had an alternative to support. Green gas from grass is the missing piece of that puzzle.

It’s not too late to prevent fracking. There has been planning permission granted in Lancashire, but fracking hasn’t started in earnest yet. In light of this new way of making gas, we need to take a breath – step back and have a proper review of where we’re going to get our gas from in Britain. That’s why we’re calling on Theresa May to stop fast-tracking fracking and look at green gas as the genuine alternative.

We need the government to get behind this simple, abundant and benign energy source. And we need people to get behind it, too – by boycotting the energy companies that support fracking. Four of the Big Six energy companies in Britain either support or are deeply involved in fracking – which means their customers are unwittingly supporting the fracking industry through their gas bills.

If customers boycott the companies who support fracking, we can show the industry that it simply isn’t wanted in Britain. That means switching to a green energy supplier that’s opposed to the fracking industry – if people switch to us that’s great, but the important thing is to avoid those energy companies that support the fracking industry.

A boycott is a powerful tool – and it puts us in a strong position to try to prevent fracking in Britain. The vast majority of people in this country do not support fracking – if they reflect that in their choice of energy company, it would have a big impact. We’ve worked with anti-fracking groups around the country for some time. Now we’re going one step further to oppose fracking in Britain.

We’ve submitted planning applications to build Green Gas Mills at two sites in Lancashire where there are already plans for fracking: at Ryedale, the first consented fracking site in Britain for five years, and Roseacre Wood, another of Cuadrilla’s Lancashire projects.

We want to show that there’s another option for local communities, and make sure we have a proper debate at the local level, in the same way that we want MPs to debate it at the national level.

According to the government’s own Public Attitudes Tracker, support for fracking has reached an all-time low, with only 17% of people in support of the controversial process. Fracking is perhaps the most unpopular energy source ever known. Local people are currently shut out of the planning process on fracking.

County councils make the decision – but even if they turn down a fracking site, the government steps in and approves it over the heads of the people. The next few years are crucial in the development of a sustainable energy policy in Britain. And we really will see its impact on the landscape around us – we’ll either be growing grass, or we’ll be fracturing and destroying the land beneath our feet. For me, the choice is simple.

As Bob Dylan almost said, the answer, my friend, is growin’ in the wind.

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