Leading the charge
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Date: 2 July, 2009
'Our mission is to change the way electricity is made in the UK, through the building of wind energy.'
Andy Jackson speaks to Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity
1) Imagine I’m an alien – describe Ecotricity?
We're an electricity company with a difference. Our mission is to change the way electricity is made in the UK, through the building of wind energy. We take electricity bills and turn them into windmills!
2) What sets you apart from other energy providers who are plugging their green energy initiatives?
Commitment. Our budget for building renewables is bigger than our budget for talking about them. In fact we don't have a budget for talking about them.
We invest 100% of our profits each year in the building of new green sources of energy. In fact for every pound our customers spend with us on their bills, we spend another pound building new green sources - windmills.
And we don't charge any more for this than the big guys do for their conventional power - something we call 'green for the price of brown'.
3) How worrying are trends such as recyclables not being bought and sold during this economic depression and does that impact on your business at all?
It's natural enough in this un-natural economic order where the 'market' has primacy over all. It does not affect our business but it does affect the environment.
We need a radical new approach to the way we do things, to the way we value things - we need to re asses what we value.
"The Free Market' philosophy promotes only short-term self interest and cannot deal with either societal needs or sustainability issues - money cannot be used to measure everything.
4) Do you still a buzz when a new Ecotricity wind farm opens or get a power supply deal such as at Ford's Dagenham plant?
Yes I’m always chuffed, and I still get excited. It's not the same as the first time - it can't be, but that's not to say it's diminished, it's just different.
The projects are often bigger, the turbines certainly are and the locations are very different. Every turbine is a small but crucial step in the fight against climate change and towards changing peoples attitudes towards wind.
5) Are we really getting greener as a nation?
For sure. The tide has certainly turned. There have been huge changes in the last few years in terms of awareness for example.
You can't open a newspaper today without finding the environment high up the news agenda - that's a really big step - we do need to see more action mind you. But awareness comes first.
6) There are always doom and gloom reports about missed deadlines to save the planet – are they right or is there still hope?
Where there is life - there is hope, so yes. Doom and gloom sells newspapers - when did you last read a story about something wonderful and hopeful?
What's in the news doesn't reflect what's in the world it reflects the agenda of the editors and owners - to sell newspapers. We have the means to solve these problems. it does require a fundamental rethink of how we live, but the answers are there.
And actually the life we need to live is not going to be all about giving things up, it will be a far more fulfilling in many ways, to live sustainably and with respect for the environment.
7) How green are you now compared to ten or 20 years ago?
Twenty years ago I was living in buses and trucks, building and fixing my own things. I was very self sufficient, very low impact. I 'dropped back in' to build big windmills and try and bring more change.
I probably have a greater personal negative impact (carbon wise) today than 20 years ago - but if you factor in the work I've been doing (not just how I live) the net result is far, far greener.
Ecotricity, for example, saves the emission of over 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. My personal carbon may have risen from a couple of tonnes, maybe it doubled - I don't really know but it's of that order of magnitude.
By the way, I recycle, compost, eat vegan, ride a motorbike to work, have solar hot water, a heat pump and heat store, low energy lights and so on.
8) If someone said to you in 1996 that you would be awarded an OBE for services to the environment and the electricity industry, would you have believed them?
No not at all. Just ten years before that I was 'an enemy of the state' opposing the siting of Cruise missiles by occupying the US air force base at Molesworth..... :-)
9) A question for fans of the X-Files - do you think the broken wind turbine at Conisholme was caused by an alien vessel or military experiment clipping it? How heavy would something have to be to clip a 20m blade and not crash?
I do believe that intelligent life exists in the universe. But I doubt that if it could get here from another galaxy it would crash into a windmill – then again accidents will happen. All good fun.
Truthfully, we know now that it was a manufacturing defect, at the time though we were stumped for a few weeks. It would have taken something something the size and weight of a cow by the way, as I famously said off the cuff on Radio Four.
10) How easy is it for Christian Aid supporters to switch their electricity supply?
Its so simple, it only takes five minutes to do over the phone (08000 302 302) or on our website and we do the rest.
The only thing that will change (that you will see) is who you pay your next electricity bill to and what that money gets used for.
But actually it's the biggest change you can make, electricity is the UK's biggest single cause of climate change - your bill can add to that or it can be used to counter that. If you join us.
Click here to find out more
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