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Western Morning News


Date : 15 March 2005

Westcountry businessman and environment campaigner Noel Edmonds has called for "people power" to avert an energy crisis that could lead to power blackouts.

Mr Edmonds told an environmental forum on Saturday that the issue was "too important to be left to politicians" as he urged a huge take-up of renewable energy.

He was speaking at a conference in Wincanton, South Somerset, which brought together some of the most far-sighted developers of "green" sources of power. These included producers of biodiesel as a clean transport fuel, heat pumps which replace boilers using fossil fuels, solar heating specialists, and companies using hydro-power and small domestic wind turbines.

Mr Edmonds, who lives at Jacobstow in Devon, and is chairman of the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), emphasised the enormous potential of power and conservation from all these sources but said it could only be realised with a "ground up, not top down" approach.

Speakers warned that Britain faced an energy crisis, with a shortfall of electricity from conventional sources, while Government policy was not tackling the urgent problem of global warming.

Mr Edmonds said the REF was "getting a dialogue with decision-makers" and "we have to get this further up the public and political agenda". But he added: "I don't think we should wait for the politicians. People should take the initiative. We have a flawed energy policy in this country and unless we take swift action the lights will go out. We have to wrest back control of the democratic process. Every man, woman and child in this country needs power and we must restore power to the people. There have been so many people contacting us to say 'we want solar panels or thermal heating, how do we do it?', this has to be made far easier for the consumer."

Mr Edmonds said he believed the Government was "trying to get itself out of the mess it created" over windfarms. The message was finally getting through that people who opposed wind turbines on sensitive landscapes "are not against the planet and nothing could be further from the truth". He added: "One of the reasons I feel so strongly about developers of windfarms is that they diminish the value of other forms of renewable energy."

In a presentation called "A Halo is Not Enough", Dr John Constable, research director for the REF, warned that "there is no point making people poorer just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because it would lead to a low-tech economy".

He added: "Government policy is starting to shift. Security and reliability of supply are increasingly important. Renewables have to be good teamworkers. We are paying a very high price for very small emissions savings. Large-scale CO2 reduction will be achieved by carbon capture and sequestration. It will also come to the UK from efficiency and energy saving." There must also be a greater emphasis on domestic and community-based initiatives, he said.

Malcolm Shepherd, of Wessex Grain, which makes bioethanol for cars, summed up his frustration over the "short-termist" attitude of ministers. A lack of financial incentives meant his company exported to Spain and Sweden the clean fuel that could be used in the UK, he said.

Campbell Dunford, chairman of Save the Vale, which hosted the forum, and has fought off plans for giant turbines in Blackmore Vale, said: "The issues are huge but we can all make a small difference."

Mr Dunford, who is also chief executive of the REF, warned: "This is not a future problem, it is a problem now."