They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but for now it seems to be working for the United Kingdom’s new government. Voters, fatigued by New Labor, changed the locks to Parliament and 10 Downing Street, and arranged a shotgun wedding between the Tories and the Liberal Democratic Party. The Liberal Democrats snared a few key cabinet ministries as a result of joining the ruling coalition, with one of them, Chris Huhne, taking the post heading energy and climate change.
Like many governments on both sides of the pond, the UK has ambitious renewable energy goals but is struggling trying to meet them. One issue is wind: Britain receives a good share of it, but has struggled building small-scale wind farms because local councils have resisted, choosing to keep the view (analogous to the dispute over whether offshore wind farms should be built off of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod). So Huhne’s deputy, Energy Minister Charles Hendry has attempted to change minds by working to repeal a law that prevented local governments from selling electrical power back to the national grid—which in turn would allow local town councils to raise revenues. Depending on your point of view, this is either increasing local control or bribery—local leaders may just choose to ignore those who do not want such installations near their backyard.
Living in California may leave one jaded that Californians are the masters of NIMBYism (not in my backyard-ism). This phenomenon, of course, occurs in the other 49 states and abroad, derailing plans including renewable energy projects, refineries, homeless shelters, and mass transit expansion. NIMBYism is an issue in the United Kingdom, and not just in those delicious 1990s Keeping Up Appearances episodes, showcasing Hyacinth Bucket (it’s boo-quet!), penultimate social snob, who was frantically keeping anything “common” out of her neighborhood–including her relatives, which she adored as long as they stayed in their council housing flat. How she would have reacted to a wind turbine is unknown.
For many in the bucolic British countryside, the sight of wind turbines dotting the countryside will be hard to stomach. But climate change minster Greg Barker, who like Hendry is a Tory, says the government wants to see more homes, businesses, and communities creating their own energy. The trick is to repeal a law on the books that has existed since 1976. Whether or not one believes that the green job creation will result, or if climate change data supports the need to move away from fossil fuels, are issues that are beside the point. The evidence suggests that oil will again spike at some point. The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates that 100,000 homes already have installed micro-generation energy technologies—and more would make the move if a change in law occurs. Self sufficiency will be key, made easier of more money ends up in pocketbooks instead of the utility bills.