Is this a wake up call?
Balcombe’s close encounter with fracking has a silver lining
Being the village at the centre of a national debate on energy production has made us think about our own responsibility
Last summer the village of Balcombe inadvertently became the byword for something none of us would have chosen: public hostility to fracking.
A recent parliamentary briefing on public attitudes towards shale gas talks about “before Balcombe” and “after Balcombe”, as if our village was an event, not a place. Since then, our community has served as a lightning conductor for anti-anti-fracking flak put out by shale gas cheerleaders in government and the onshore oil and gas exploration industry. We have been accused of being irresponsible, unpatriotic, selfish and called Nimbys.
We didn’t ask for any of this. The threat of fracking took us by surprise, and so did our sudden celebrity as the poster child of the anti-fracking movement. This whole experience has been one of finding ourselves at the centre of events that are completely outside of our control. It has been a bewildering and divisive time that has opened up deep rifts in our once harmonious community.
Caroline Lucas’ arrest for her protest in Balcombe last summer – charges for which she was today acquitted – epitomised the polarisation of local opinion on this issue, with some villagers as alienated by the tactics used by protesters as others had been by the fracking plans.
But Balcombe’s close encounter with energy production has had one crucial silver lining. It has forced us to engage with energy issues to an unprecedented degree – making us think about the energy we use, where it comes from, the politics of energy provision in the UK, the pros and cons of different generation technologies and more.
This collective awakening has started us on a journey we might never have considered if fracking had never been on the cards – a journey towards a 100% renewably powered future. Our ticket to that future is a new community power company called REPOWERBalcombe. Its mission is to match our village’s domestic electricity consumption kilowatt for kilowatt with community-owned, locally generated renewable energy – and to re-unite our community behind this ambitious goal.
We’re not Nimbys. We recognise that we all need energy and that that energy has to come from somewhere, and we want to play our part in ensuring Britain’s energy security too. But we want the right to choose how we meet that challenge, and community-scale renewable technology gives us the chance to make that choice for ourselves.
Through REPOWERBalcombe, our community is choosing solar power and demand reduction to meet our energy needs. Our mission is all about taking responsibility for our energy supply, but in a way doesn’t harm the prospects of future generations or damage quality of life for our community.
We know there’s an energy crisis coming, and we’re trying to do something about it. But fossil fuels are so last century. The future of energy is renewable, and the patriots of REPOWERBalcombe believe that Britain should be leading the world in the switch away from fossil fuels – not giving out mixed messages and dragging its feet.
Something very strange is happening when on the one hand ministers single out onshore wind turbines and solar farms for attack because they are so “unpopular”, while on the other hand they go “all-out for shale gas” – when polling consistently shows the unpopularity of shale gas.
Repowering Balcombe is as much about self-determination, choice and community power as it is about generating electricity. This is a newly possible model of energy provision that is being done by us and for us – instead of being done to us. If a group of local volunteer residents can do this for our village in our spare time, imagine what whole towns and cities could do to repower themselves if they try.
Yes, this is a wake up call. We need to wake up and face our responsibilities as a community. If we want power, then we have to make it.
We have become too reliant on the big companies and their ruthless practices. We have to empower ourselves, take back our control and send these bastards packing.
Yes, I see this as a wake up call. If a small place like Balcombe can do it, so can the rest of us.