A Canterbury Tale

Bryony_Worthington_PictureBryony Worthington on a school visit that restored her faith in green policy making
While Westminster has been dominated by rows about electricity prices, with the Prime Minister making up policy on the hoof and OFGEM offering inadequate proposals, it was with some relief that I boarded a train last Friday to visit a low carbon energy success story. I was off to Canterbury to visit some sixth form students, to find out how they and their inspirational teacher had completed an energy project that cut the school’s CO2 footprint by almost 70% – saving the school an estimated £1.5 million over the next 20 years.
Working on policy can often feel very abstract, cut off from the real world that you are hoping to influence. So it was great to see first hand the effect of two policies that Labour initiated whilst in government.
Chaucer Technology School looks like a regular 1960’s school, vaguely reminiscent of The Inbetweeners, but under the hood it now has something special. Chaucer has slashed its emissions and energy bills through the installation of two smart bits of kit: a voltage optimization unit that has cut electricity bills by around 13% and a wood pellet biomass boiler that has slashed emissions by 55%.
The school originally responded to the 10:10 campaign challenge to cut emissions by just 10% but when they looked into it they saw that they could go much further and make money whilst doing it. A carefully designed ranking process helped them select voltage optimization and a biomass boiler as the most cost effective and least disruptive options. Both have now been installed and everyone involved is delighted with the results. Kent County Council has gone from not believing that it was possible to now seeing the project as an exemplar that they would like to follow in 21 other sites.
It was all made possible by one amazing teacher, Mr Ges Cocker, who has made it his mission to ignite in his students’ a passion for engineering; but also because of two key policies: the Salix grant facility, which offers five year 0% interest loans to public buildings for capital investments and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) which provides a rewards for the carbon savings that arise from installing renewable heat sources.
Thanks to these policies, the school is making savings of around £8k a year on its electricity bills. On its heating bills meanwhile, it has saved around £45K a year and received a further £40k of income from the RHI. The pay back time for the initial project loan was just 2½ years, and over two decades the net benefit to the school will be around £1.5m. The educational benefits for the newly inspired students are much harder to quantify. But they are planning to invest some of the money saved in improving energy efficiency still further through installing LED lighting systems.
Friday’s visit has restored my faith in the power of effective policymaking and helped lift my spirits after a very depressing week worrying about the fate of the arctic sea ice. It is projects like those at Chaucer that offer the long-term solution to rising energy bills. Whilst reforming the electricity market to ensure it is properly cost reflective and fair is hugely important, the more fundamental challenge is to help homes and building managers around the country follow the school’s example and slash both their emissions and bills.
I am extremely proud of Labour’s record in energy policy. Friday was my first day as Shadow DECC Minister in the Lords and whilst I look forward to helping shape our own policies, I want also to influence the all important Energy Bill – legislation that will have failed if it does not secure more investment in a whole host of projects like the one at Chaucer. Ges Cocker and his team of eloquent sixth formers are available for advice and consultation should anyone in DECC, No.10 or, indeed, No.11 care to contact them.
Baroness Bryony Worthington is Shadow Energy and Climate Change Minister in the Lords
Published 21st October 2012

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