Big Energy vs. Peaceful Protest: The Trial We Should All Be Watching

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In the early hours of 29th October 2012, sixteen UK activists from No Dash For Gas  scaled the 300ft chimney of West Burton, the first in a new fleet of up to twenty high polluting gas fired power stations sanctioned by the Coalition government.  They succeeded in shutting down the power station and halting construction for a week by occupying the chimney.   EDF Energy is suing these activists and their friends for £5m. This corporation is threatening to indenture peaceful protesters as a means of stifling opposition to its role in destroying people and planet. We should all be watching this trial, and standing for No Dash for Gas.

 The Dash for Gas

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The coalition government has entered the global ‘dash for gas’, abandoning renewable energy policy in favour of a gas based energy policy which campaigners warn will put carbon reduction and clean energy targets out of reach.

Last year, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) approved plans for up to twenty new gas fired power stations in the UK.  Joss Garman, political director of Greenpeace, said: “Green-lighting a whole fleet of new fossil fuel power stations would cause a huge jump in emissions and blow this autumn’s once-in-a-generation opportunity to replace dirty power stations with clean ones.”

On top of this, Chancellor George Osborne used his Autumn Statement last year to announce the UK government was lifting it’s moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) to extract shale gas.  The moratorium has been put in place after Fracking giant Cuadrilla caused minor earthquakes in Blackpool and research by three independent groups on behalf of DECC confirmed further seismic events could not be ruled out if Fracking progressed.  Fracking, is a highly water intensive process which mixes noxious, carcinogenic toxins with soil and water tables, and caused 11 earthquakes in Ohio alone last year.  It is a dirty, inefficient and dangerous development.  Thanks to the Coalition Government, Cuadrilla and the Frackers are back in the game in Britain.

The UK stood committed to decarbonising its energy supply by 2030, as a key milestone in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.  The recently published energy policy of the Coalition government removes the 2030 target, rendering 2050 a pipe dream.  The policy places the bulk of investment into gas fired power stations, Fracking and new nuclear.  It also does nothing to look at reducing energy consumption.  The UK plans a two thirds rise in electricity consumption while Germany, the manufacturing centre of Europe, forecasts a drop in demand by a whole quarter.

The cosy relationship between big energy and government has contributed to a global reduction in clean energy investment of 11% last year.  The US cut its investment in clean energy by a third.

While countries like Germany are undergoing a green technology revolution, generating jobs, reducing energy consumption and transferring consumption from dirty for clean technologies – the UK is following the US model and placing its bets on falling gas prices, ecologically harmful energy sources and shifting state support from small scale green technologies, to dirty big energy giants.

The Big Six Monopoly

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The UK government is not only encouraging environmentally harmful energy supply, but is doing nothing to protect the consumer from the energy price hikes by the Big Six Monopoly which have seen average household energy bills rise 159% since 2004.

EDF Energy joins Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), British Gas (owned by Centrica), E.ON, RWE nPower and Scottish Power in the Big Six of energy suppliers which hold the monopoly over the UK consumer.

Energy watchdog OfGem reported recently that the Big Six had increased their profit per customer rise by 733% through a string of price hikes.  Looking at just last year, we can see how this works.  Whilst announcing price rises of 9%, SSE announced a rise in profits of 40%.  NPower saw a 25% rise in profits, yet raised its tariffs by 9%.  British Gas residential saw an 11% rise in profits, yet raised tariffs by 6%.  The whole Big Six produce massive profit increases each year while announcing price rises at several times the rate of inflation on their customers.  Rather than sharing their successes with their customers, they are instead using their monopoly to rig the market with coordinated year on year price rises which are impoverishing their customers.

The result has been a dramatic rise in fuel poverty in the UK.  A household is deemed as being in fuel poverty if it spends more than 10% of its annual budget on energy.  Today, the average direct debit energy bill for a British household each year have risen to £1247. Pensioners have been hardest hit with energy bills for the over 65’s now £1,355.90, doubling since 2005.

Given these astronomical price rises, whilst wages remain flat and social security is cut, it is condemning but not surprising that 3.5 million homes in England alone are now in fuel poverty; Three hundred thousand additional households joined the rank of the fuel impoverished during Winter 2012, and it is estimated that 9 million households will join them by 2016.

In the face of a fast unfolding fuel poverty crisis, the Coalition government has slashed funding to Warm Front, the scheme to provide support to UK citizens enduring fuel poverty, by two thirds from £345m when they came to power, to just £100m this year.

No Dash for Gas

Protesters at West Burton power station

A petition against the EDF Energy lawsuit has been set up by the parents of one of the No Dash for Gas activists.  It succinctly states the sense of frustration and impotence experienced by their daughter as she saw all of the above and felt helpless to stop it by ordinary routes. They write:

“She has lobbied the government, emailed companies, signed petitions and marched with placards, but nothing changed. So Claire and her friends decided they needed to take more decisive action to get the government and energy companies to change their ways.”

These activists, witnessing a rise in fuel poverty and a wave of policy which will damage people and planet said ‘enough is enough’.  They trained for months to ensure they could scale the 300ft tower and safely occupy it for enough time to make an impact.  They did.  They pulled it off.  They deserve our applause and support for being brave enough to put themselves, their liberty and their personal safety on the line for all of us, our families, our pensioners, and our public spaces.

They were arrested, charged and pleaded guilty to trespass at Mansfield Magistrates Court last year.  They face the sentencing on 20th March and 2nd April could spend time behind bars.  So the group have already accepted they broke the law in their efforts to highlight a worthy and urgent case, and are facing the consequences.

In spite of this, EDF Energy is seeking to sue them for £5m, an amount that will permanently financially cripple the individuals.  EDF claim the figure relates to loss of earnings, labour costs and other expenses caused by the occupation; yet this figure represents merely ten hours of profit for the world’s second largest energy giant.

The role of the police has also come under challenge as it became clear that they played a significant role in helping EDF build their case.

This is a case of a corporate giant in cahoots with the forces of the state legal system moving to crush the protest out of people with the threat of not only a custodial sentence and criminal record, but becoming permanently indentured to the energy giant through the imposition of an unpayable financial penalty.

A Little Solidarity Goes a Long Way

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We are living in a time when the ordinary forms of registering protest; the petitions, the marches, the writing to our MPs, are increasingly becoming a means of registering complaint but not inciting effective action.  We might get a headline, or identify the level of agreement with our dissent, but this is failing to result in corresponding political change.  We are being ignored.

Through the annals of history, when the government ignored the will of the public, they faced civil disobedience which applied the kind of tension and pressure that made protest unignorable.  The women’s vote, the abolition of slavery, the defeat of the Poll Tax, all of these changes were the result of people becoming fed up with the ignorance of vested interests and signalling loud and clear that the government had a fight on its hands.

If we stand aside and allow our fellow citizens to face not only the force of the law by the state, but the force of the law on behalf of the corporations that bank roll them, we pick up shovels and dig the grave of our own right to dissent and disobey.  We must make a stand with No Dash for Gas.

UPDATE 13/03/2013: VICTORY! EDF withdrew their lawsuit the day after this article went out under huge public pressure to stop their bullying.  Great news, and well done all!

Take Action

Sign the Petition – this petition has received over 64,000 signatures, including those of Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, Richard Dawkins and Mark Ruffalo. Please add your voice.

Switch Supplier – No Dash For Gas and friends have launched the EDF*OFF campaign encouraging customers of  EDF and the other Big Six to switch to an ethically responsible energy supplier.  If we shake our heads angrily at these stories, but continue to buy their services – we make fools of ourselves. However, if 3,600 customers leave EDF, this will cost them the £5m they are suing for. The website provides an easy way to change supplier today.  Do it.

Support No Dash For Gas – go to their website and donate cash, or turn up at court to support them as they receive their sentences.

Write Your MP – The Green Party have passed a motion to support No Dash for Gas, lobby your MP to do the same.

4 thoughts on “Big Energy vs. Peaceful Protest: The Trial We Should All Be Watching

  1. It’s a shame that Claire’s legal team did not enter a plea of not guilty to trespass and use the defence of necessity as in Esso Petroleum Co v Southport Corporation” [1956]. That would have opened up an opportunity for the courts to challenge the Government’s action in supporting these energy plants. If the plants cause pollution then it could be argued that it was necessary to prevent such pollution and that the trespass was justified..

  2. Pingback: Big Energy vs. Peaceful Protest: The Trial We Should All Be Watching | ACA The Underground

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