Sadiq, Sian, Zac: which of you are Switched On enough to get behind us?

With the Conservatives promising “solar revolution” and the Greens seemingly reading our minds (or at least our press releases), we take a critical look at the energy proposals on the table from London Mayoral candidates.

Solar Revolution?
Last week saw both the Conservative Party and the Greens unveil key energy policies. For Zac Goldsmith – Conservative Party candidate – the answer is, in his words, a “solar revolution” . At the heart of Goldsmith’s proposal is £150 million of investment pledged for new “solar schools” projects, alongside the incorporation of solar into new building designs and increased support for community energy projects.

London’s solar sector is in a dire state, torn to shreds by devastating subsidy cuts introduced by none other than Zac’s own party. Given this, a move towards a resurrection of our city’s immense solar potential is welcome – but the Tories’ track record on this issue raises serious questions about how seriously Goldsmith’s proposals can be taken.

How, for instance, will Zac’s proposals help the millions of low-income Londoners struggling between heating and eating in the winter? And how far can this proposal really go in challenging the power of the Big Six energy companies, whose price hikes and profiteering have left the energy industry more distrusted than even the banks? Zac’s move towards support for community energy projects risks being too little too late, following the damage done by his Party’s solar cuts.

A London Energy Company
The Green’s proposal – announced on Friday – is far more ambitious: a new public energy company for London to support the development of low-carbon energy production and to supply green energy to London households, re-investing revenues in measures to tackle fuel poverty. For those already familiar with Switched On London’s proposal for a new public energy company – a clean, fair and affordable alternative to the Big Six – it might look as though the Greens have been reading our minds (or at least our press releases!)

It’s encouraging to see our campaign – launched in December by a broad coalition of community organisers, environmental campaigners and trade unions – gaining political traction in this way. But, for us, a solar revolution in London needs to go a lot further than even the Green’s proposal.

Drawing on best practice examples of municipal energy innovation across Europe, we’re calling for a new publicly owned energy utility – cleaner and greener, cheaper and fairer – that truly puts power in people’s hands. What the Green proposal lacks is a strategy for democratising the new energy company they propose.

Before the Tories’ solar cuts, communities across the UK were – through the proliferation of renewable energy co-operatives – demonstrating their desire to take a decision-making role in the governance of the energy supplies we all rely upon. The Greens are on the right lines when they suggest that they way to resurrect these democratic energy initiatives is through the establishment of a city-wide company. But the question, surely, must then be how this new company can remain accountable to the communities and households it serves.

Towards Energy Democracy
For Switched On London, this means a company governed by elected community representatives and workers. It means a board that answers to open advisory assemblies in all London boroughs. It means total accountability, and the chance to shape the company’s priorities through petitions and referenda. Find out more about our proposal here.

Both the Tories and the Greens, then, would benefit from a closer look at our idea. Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, meanwhile, set out his stall early with a pledge for a city run on 100% clean energy by 2050. This is a useful target for low-carbon transition, but could be more aspirational and is short on detail. The key question for Sadiq is whether he can persuade voters that his vision for low-carbon transition is also a vision for social justice and democracy.

Switched On London are calling on Mayoral Candidates to take a stand for something ambitious. This is a proposal that would work for all of London, not just those who can afford it. It’s a proposal that stands up to the power of big business, decentralising control to communities. It’s a proposal for investment, not austerity – creating the fair and clean city that Londoners deserve.

Sadiq, Sian, Zac – which of you are Switched On enough to get behind us?

Photo: Stewart Black, Creative Commons.

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