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Current± Chats: Green Party’s Andrew Cooper talks election manifestos, more renewables and tackling the climate emergency

Image: Andrew Cooper.

Current± talks to Andrew Cooper, the Green Party’s energy spokesperson and councillor for Kirklees representing the Newsome Ward in Huddersfield, about supporting onshore wind, encouraging investment and enabling community energy.

How will you encourage the £6 billion private investment mentioned in your manifesto?

I guess actually, the useful thing will be having the £12 billion public investments in the first place to act as leverage. If people know that the public sector is putting its hands in its pocket too, it makes it more attractive for investment from the private sector as well.

And looking at other options, there are high-carbon options and nuclear, those sort of things are becoming less of an option under our policy proposals and therefore, it's the place the private sector will be put in.

In terms of wind power, is the 70% going to be onshore or offshore?

A lot more onshore than previously. Offshore, certainly we want to continue with that, but it is more expensive and we want to make best use of money.

We do want to take account of issues like areas of outstanding natural beauty, but we want to provide a much more favourable mechanism for onshore wind, as it is essentially banned in England at the moment and there are very few developments that can move forwards.

So we want to change that, and have a system that is more favourable, such as they have in Scotland.

We will support this through the local authority planning process, we want to change the national planning policy framework, which provides more enabling powers to local authorities.

In the meantime, we probably want to provide advice on landscape to local authorities, we don't want to completely throw the issue of landscape out the window. We think that there is an issue in some areas about the impacts of wind on landscape, but not to the degree that it basically negates it happening at all.

Whichever economic mechanisms we decide to use, they'll be well supported. And once they are in place, they will be stable and won't change radically over the 10 years of the deal.

The manifesto also says that you'll introduce new support for solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro, and other renewable energies. How you can see them fitting into the energy landscape?

Well, we're saying that we actually want to have the vast majority of our energy coming from renewables over the next decade. And we are giving ourselves a tough challenge, we're ensuring that nuclear is not going to be part of the mix, we want to reduce energy demand, all those sort of things.

Storage is going to play a huge role here in making sure that the much greater use of solar, hydro and other renewables are actually utilized the best effect. So yes, you do intermittency with the technology such as solar and wind. But we want storage to be a big part of things going forward to ensure that those technologies can be used to the best effect. And also increasing grid capacity, doubling grid capacity to ensure that we can actually make best use of renewables.

You mentioned tidal which has been repeatedly criticised for how expensive it is but the Green Party is still looking to go ahead with it regardless?

Well, if you look at the comparisons with things like nuclear and the amount of money that's been thrown at it, if we if we are to look at truly renewable and truly green technologies, then the investment into things like tidal would be certainly a worthwhile thing to do.

The ability of tidal to provide a significant about electricity is great, so it's certainly technology that we'd want to support.

Do you think you'd revisit things like the Swansea Bay project?

Oh, definitely. We definitely would.

How will you go about doubling network capacity?

Well, if we're going to get new large wind capacity in place, we're going to need to make sure the network is available to take advantage of that.

Looking at new large generation, we've also got to look down at community scale to ensure that buildings can take micro-renewables, when those come through.

We want to basically, throughout the whole of the network, make sure that yes, we've got some big generators that are able to come into the network but also at the lower scale, that people can actually utilise those renewables on their own buildings.

So we want to get as many solar panels on roofs as we possibly can, but we need the network to be able to cope with that.

As part of increasing the capacity on the network, are you going to aim for greater levels of interconnection with Europe?

Yeah, I think we've got a statement in the manifesto about interconnectors.

We will have a much more flexible network with interconnectors, and the more flexible that we are with our links with Europe, they can take advantage when we have overcapacity, and the other way around.

So that sort of connection makes the whole of the energy network more efficient and more effective, the wider spread.

In terms of EVs, your investment is much more reserved than your opponents. Could you expand a little on why?

Well, there is certainly concern over large-scale battery technology and how that's utilised, we're more interested in the greater use of public transport and supporting public transport rather than private car ownership.

We don't think EVs are necessarily a bad thing themselves. But our emphasis is on public transport.

You’ve promised to enable communities to develop their own renewable energy projects, but what's stopping them from doing that now?

There are some community renewable projects going on, but the finance behind it isn’t there. We don't have the feed-in tariff anymore, to any extent, so the incentives for doing those things are not as great.

Local authorities, which could actually be the people that could help communities establish community schemes, are not as well-resourced that they could be. We need to get more capacity at the local level to enable more projects to get off the ground.

There's also a need for more skills and expertise in the solar sector, the ups and downs of the feed-in tariff over the last 10 years has meant that we've got a very destabilised solar sector, so we need to provide the stability to allow schemes like community projects to thrive and flourish.

We need to make sure that industry does not see what we've had from the Conservative government and the coalition government, where we had constant changes to the feed-in tariff over the years, generally downwards. We need stability. So a feed-in tariff would be a good mechanism to use, but with no interference from government once it's actually established.

Rooftop solar is going to be more cost effective, so we want to promote rooftop solar as a more cost effective option. But generally, it's just important to have a good financial mechanism such as a feed in tariff to enable projects like that to get off the ground.

The manifesto says that you will emphasise the need for behavioural, how will you go about this?

It's more about providing advice and assistance. If you look, what 10/15 years ago, we had energy saving trust advice centres, we had people helping, showing people how to make best use of the energy in the home, advice on controls, enabling people to make the right choices in terms of the energy that they use and they purchase. So we've thrown that all away.

There's very little energy advice and support that's out there these days for households. So yes, behavioural change is important, but we've got to provide the advice and assistance and the ability for those people to be able to make changes.

Do you think the desire to make those changes to have a greener, more efficient energy sector is out there then?

I do. I've worked in energy advice, and a lot of people assume that people know a lot of information because they do. But out there on the streets, people do not necessarily understand the benefits of renewable energy, they don't necessarily understand how to make best use of the controls on their existing heating systems. So they don't necessarily know how to get the cheapest energy or the greenest energy when they are making that purchase choices.

So yes, advice is needed.

And finally, how achievable is net zero by 2030 and what held it back in the past?

Political will has held it back, and a lack of belief in government.

This is a climate emergency, so we need to utilize this in the same way that we would on a war footing. It needs the same approach that we took as a nation during the Second World War, where the whole of society was geared towards addressing the threat.

But the real benefit of this is by addressing the threat we don't just save the world, we can actually create a better world. And that's the prize to be gained.

Editorial

Molly Lempriere Deputy Editor, Current±

Molly Lempriere is deputy editor at Solar Media, responsible for its UK-facing publications Solar Power Portal and Current±.

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