Introducing Switched On London, a new campaign coalition demanding clean, affordable and democratic energy in the capital through local public ownership.
The floods in Cumbria are a reminder of how close to home the impacts of climate change are being felt. Three once-in-a-hundred year floods in ten years aren’t an indication of terrible misfortune, but of a new baseline. As leaders and business executives meet in Paris with the outcome uncertain, in London the fight for clean, affordable energy is being taken in a new direction.
In the face of a cartel of energy companies whose turn to renewables is far too slow — and whose profit-hungry business model leaves thousands struggling between heating and eating in the winter — Switched on London is a new campaign launching to build energy democracy in London. We demand that the GLA (Greater London Authority) sets up a new public energy company that works for people, not for profit.
The needs for clean energy and for affordable energy are deeply connected. We have already waited far too long for the private sector to ride to the rescue and deliver renewables.The big energy companies’ commitment to fossil fuels is as profound as their drive to make enormous profits, which have increased ten-fold since 2007. We need to democratise our approach, including people in decisions about their own energy, and giving the public sector the capacity to invest in new sources of clean power and energy efficiency.
In spite of the Tory government’s bizarre attack on the community energy sector, there remain some tools open to the public sector to challenge the dominance of the Big Six. An announcement last year indicated that the Mayor of London had seemed to be using one of these – called ‘License Lite’ – to step in to provide a route between public and small-scale energy producers and big consumers such as Transport for London. ‘Licence Lite’ could have given the GLA the chance to break the Big Six’s control over energy supply.
Sources within the GLA this week, however, have revealed that Boris Johnson, far from doing this, has signed off yet another contract with one of the big energy companies themselves, RWE nPower. They will run the scheme, providing billing and administration; tasks they’ve proved singularly bad at in their own business.
This is another blown opportunity by this mayor. After decades of flawed competition and rising prices, over one million Londoners are in fuel poverty, thousands die every year from air pollution, and our commitment to deliver renewable energy is falling short. While major European cities like Munich and Copenhagen are committing to 100% clean power, London is lagging behind. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Switched On London is putting forward a proposal that could help the Greater London Authority become the tap-root of a new energy system in our city. We’re a broad coalition of community organisations, trade unions and NGOs coming together to propose a bold but achievable vision of a very different energy future: one geared around ordinary Londoners, not powerful business executives.
We want a new non-profit company that offers fair, affordable prices, reinvesting in energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty. By taking public control we could directly drive investment in the 21st century renewable energy sources London needs. With a range of democratic mechanisms – from elected board-members to open borough assemblies and public referenda on important issues – we could truly shift power to people’s hands.
This is a perfectly realistic goal. London could start moving rapidly by divesting its £4.8bn pension pot from fossil fuels. It could launch municipal bonds to fund new clean energy sources, as it did for Crossrail.
Local authorities like Nottingham and Bristol have already taken steps in the direction of public energy along with dozens of cities across Europe. Londoners have had to live with a broken energy system too long, and it’s time to change it.