Mark Thomlinson introduces the local climate action group working on sustainable energy initiatives in North Kensington, London.
Climate action can sometimes feel slow, intangible, and - at its worst - hopeless. But where it’s vibrant, exciting and real right now is North Kensington, the neighbourhood of Grenfell Tower, where a few weeks ago we successfully completed the crowdfunding for solar panels on the Westway Sports Centre. The solar panels will save 28 tonnes of CO2 every year, the equivalent of the carbon sequestered by more than 3000 trees. Better still, profit will create a £42,000 Community Fund to benefit the local area.
There is so much I love about this project, which is run by North Kensington Community Energy (NKCE), supported by Repowering London. The concept is this: we crowdfund to install community-owned solar panels, pay a healthy 3% interest to investors, then sell the electricity at a discount to the building owner. It’s climate action, it’s community ownership, it’s profits staying local. You can probably do it where you live, too.
Kensington is not a part of the world short of wealthy investors, but many of the 200+ NKCE members are people from middle and low-income backgrounds who want to be part of building a sustainable world. There is a maximum investment, and the minimum investment starts at £50 for residents under 25 years old or on benefits, meaning that more people can get involved. All investors become members of NKCE and have a say on how the co-operative is run and how the Community Fund is spent. This community element is especially important for a borough that despite its wealth also has high levels of deprivation.
NKCE has successfully completed projects in the past, too. In 2019, we installed solar panels on two schools, Avondale Park and Thomas Jones primary schools, and on a community centre. We hope to keep going.
If the Local Electricity Bill passes through Parliament, this would mark an important step for community energy. It will allow surplus generation to be sold to local people rather than to utility companies (often at a bad price), and wins are needed now that the feed-in-tariff, a government subsidy, has ended.
But maybe the most exciting part of NKCE is the networks we are building. Twice a month, volunteers meet (online for now) to discuss how we can move forward, and on 23rd February, we partnered with Lambeth Community Solar to share our experiences. To my surprise, NKCE is full of young people, and regular volunteers come from all age groups and include retired teachers, people working in PR, academia – and even the Civil Service!
Climate action can look like many things, and isn’t all about gluing yourself to trains. In my case, it was finding a group of passionate people in NKCE who inspire me to do more. Influenced by friends of mine who seem to prefer the ‘ostrich approach’ to the environmental crisis, my original plan was to attend just one volunteer meeting and see how it went. But surrounded by motivated people, feeding on each other’s energy, I now find myself actively engaged, building the networks we need to make change; and building a world I believe in.
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