No Dash for Gas responds to EDF’s call for dialogue

After threatening to sue them for £5m, EDF invite the campaign group No Dash for Gas to be stakeholders in their business. They received a frank reply

July 18, 2013 · 7 min read

Energy company EDF have invited campaign group ‘No Dash for Gas’ to take part in a Stakeholder Advisory Panel.

The company claims to be concerned about the environmental and climate change challenges that have been highlighted through recent ‘disruptive protest’. They seek to ‘address these issues and develop protocols which will guide its response to such demonstrations in the future’.

No Dash for Gas, however, see this as an attempt to prevent protest and allow the company to operate business as usual, with no real regard for their social and environmental impact.

The invitation, described by No Dash for Gas as absurd, was dispatched by Will Hutton, former adviser to David Cameron and an Editor of the Observer Newspaper. Hutton is now Chair of EDF’s Energy Stakeholder Advisory Panel.

No Dash for Gas insist that stakeholder panels serve to maintain ‘protest groups’ on the periphery, intermittently including them to appease voices that become too obvious to ignore. They agree to meet Hutton on their own terms at the upcoming ‘Reclaim the Power’ action camp, taking place between 17-21 August at EDF’s West Burton power station.

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Their written response:

Dear Mr Hutton and EDF,

Thanks for your invitation to input into the discussions of the EDF Stakeholder Panel. Let’s get this straight: EDF is trying to figure out how to deal with future protests, and you want our thoughts on how the company should proceed.

This seems a bit odd, really. I mean, just a few months ago your colleagues at EDF were suing us for £5 million, and now they’re asking for our opinion on dealing with protest? It feels a bit like being punched in the face and then offered a nice cup of tea.

All the same, seeing as you ask so politely we’ll be happy to share our thoughts on how EDF can avoid problems with protest in the future.

First things first – and this should be obvious by now – DON’T sue people who protest at your power stations. A giant utility company that makes £5million of profit every two hours launching a lawsuit designed to financially cripple 21 members of the public was never going to go down well. It was a crude attempt to silence legitimate criticism of your company’s practices and once the public backlash against the lawsuit got going, you very sensibly backed down. So piece of advice number one: don’t do that again.

Now let’s look at your specific questions:

1)  What protocols should guide EDF Energy’s response to such situations in the future?

OK, this one’s pretty easy. There’s a reason why people are protesting against new gas power stations – it’s because building a new wave of the things would make it impossible for the UK to meet its (already inadequate) carbon reduction targets, and would thus make a future of unstoppable climate change much more likely.

In addition, a greater reliance on gas power – a fuel source that every serious energy analyst tells us is going to become much more expensive – would plunge thousands more UK families into fuel poverty.

So next time someone protests at one of your gas power stations, all EDF needs to do is look at the basic climate science, do a few sums, realise that new gas power stations are a terrible idea and start decommissioning the plant immediately.

2)  Are there practical steps that can be taken that would help to minimise the risk of protest, or protest that is disruptive or dangerous?

Yes. The best thing to do is to leave the protesters well alone and let them get on with it. The 21 who entered West Burton in October 2012 were all trained in the necessary safety skills and took great care to ensure that no protesters, staff or onlookers were put in any danger. The only source of risk was the fact that a new gas power station was being built, thus putting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the planet at risk from dangerous climate change. The protesters were doing their best to minimise this risk too.

3)  How can EDF Energy better develop an open dialogue with objectors? Are there actions or forms of communication that could ameliorate concerns or the likelihood of disruptive and dangerous protest?

Absolutely. The first rule of dialogue is to listen to and understand the other side’s position. EDF clearly hasn’t done this. Objectors like ourselves have gone to great lengths to point out some crucial facts to EDF: for example, that the CO2 from EDF’s UK coal and gas plants cause £5 million of climate change damage every day; that EDF’s attempts to get a guaranteed price for its nuclear electricity represents a massive multi-billion rip-off public subsidy that could be better spent on energy efficiency and renewables or that EDF’s decision to use its huge wealth and power to lobby against Government renewables targets and in favour of more nuclear power and fossil fuels is anti-democratic and completely disgraceful.

The best way for EDF to “ameliorate concerns” and reduce the likelihood of future protest is to take all the above points into account, reduce its prices to a level that people can afford, set a timetable for the closure of all its fossil and nuclear power stations, and release its lobbying stranglehold on Government so that energy efficiency and renewables can be expanded to take their place.

4)  Even if conflict and protest are inevitable, are there rules that should inform or change EDF Energy’s responses? What actions would you recommend the company take?

On the contrary, conflict and protest are completely avoidable. All EDF Energy needs to do is dissolve itself as a company, liquidate its assets and hand the money over as seed funds for community renewable energy projects across the UK. Sadly, we’ve got the impression that EDF isn’t very keen to do this for some reason.

Let’s get real here. There is a growing body of research that shows that a 100% renewably-powered UK is perfectly possible and potentially very popular, especially if local communities are given greater control over their (renewable, affordable) energy sources, and workers in polluting industries are able to retrain for the clean energy sector. Unfortunately the Big Six – including EDF – are making so much money out of the status quo that they’re determined to stand in the way of these real solutions and keep the country locked into using fossil fuels. We won’t get that cleaner, fairer energy future unless we, the public, stand up and demand it – and that means that we need more protest, not less.

EDF’s latest consultation process is an attempt to try to deter that vitally-needed protest by presenting itself as a caring, listening company. But a consultation of this kind cannot come to a fair conclusion, because the wrong people are sitting on the panel and writing up the results. If EDF are willing to convene a panel consisting exclusively of communities suffering from the effects of climate change around the world, plus victims of fuel poverty in the UK, and were to give them free rein to speak their minds on the issues of EDF and protest, then we might be interested in what that panel had to say. Until then, EDF can best avoid future protest by following our other suggestions, above.

Yours sincerely,

No Dash For Gas


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