Transition Rye and Energy

Rye as a Transition Town? So, what is a transition town and why should Rye be part of the initiative? That is what this blog is about, a way of stimulating the discussion about the future of the town and what we, as residents, can do to improve it.  It will succeed if you, the reader, take part in the discussion and help form the future of the town.

Why should we be thinking more about the future of the town now rather than at any other time? Because large changes are under way – we have come to the end of an era and there is now no going back. Modern life depends on an abundant supply of energy and, to get that energy, we have been generating an awful  lot of carbon dioxide – CO2 for short. Scientists keep telling us that the climate is changing and indeed our experience of weather during the last couple of years bears this out – excessively cold at the end of 2010 and much less rain – the reservoirs are less than half full this Spring. Something is definitely happening.

At the same time the cost of that energy has shot up – in a very real sense the era of cheap energy is over and the evidence is all around, most immediately in the price of petrol at the pumps and the stubbornly high cost of electricity and gas. A shorthand for this is the price of crude oil and some of us remember when it was $3 a barrel – corrected for inflation that would be a current figure of $17 a barrel – currently it hovers between $90 and $100 a barrel, shooting up to a recent high of $147 a barrel. You’ll have to forgive the dollar and barrel shorthand – it’s the way the oil industry has always done it – see http://www.wtrg.com/prices.htm for an excellent analysis of the history of crude oil prices.  These headline prices are reflected therefore in  every other energy source price.

These prices represent input costs on  every endeavour in life – including running Rye. The added kicker is that the use of fossil fuel for energy is practically all we have known in the last 150 years and has been the underpinning of the extraordinary economic progress during that period – and, in a sense, why Rye has been able to keep its marvellous sense of history with a built environment and unique ethos – and high energy usage.

The twin pressures of climate change and high energy prices therefore mean we have to change how we do things, at the same time preserve our heritage for both ourselves and generations to come. In a nutshell that is the challenge of Transition Rye. We have to plan for a different future.

Brutus in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, memorably says;-

The enemy increaseth every day;

We, at the height, are ready to decline. 

There is a tide in the affairs of men, 

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; 

Omitted, all the voyage of their life 

Is bound in shallows and in miseries. 

On such a full sea are we now afloat; 

And we must take the current when it serves, 

Or lose our ventures.

Purple prose it may be, but he expresses clearly the danger of inaction. There is indeed great fortune in taking the right course of action. How then, to select that course?

The thesis is that we can improve our future by community action – more specifically by the community planning and investing in its energy future – community energy. Rye is particularly well suited for this approach. It is a comparatively self-contained and compact community in a large hinterland and surrounded by small villages. We are situated in a wonderful part of the country with excellent natural resources, water, wind and sun – we have one of the highest solar gains in the whole of the UK. We think we can establish a community-based energy enterprise owned in large part by the community with the objective of making us progressively more independent of imported energy, at the same time reducing the emissions of CO2  and making money for the community.

Such a radical agenda will necessarily mean quite significant changes over the next 20 years  in how we do things and modifications to the local environment. The government has set targets of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2020 and 80% by 2050.The changes to meet these targets can only come about by agreement – they cannot be imposed since we do not live under a dictatorship. It is hoped therefore in successive entries to this blog to establish some of the basic background – the size of the problem if you like – and invite you to comment and put up your ideas and solutions. It will be an interesting ride!