Carbon-Neutral Villages, British And Czech Alike

Self-sufficiency in energy is an ambition shared by many. Increasingly we are recognising that carbon-neutral living must be for real. Communities in Ashton Hayes, near Chester in the U.K., and Knezice, an hour east of Prague in the Czech Republic, provide different real-life examples of how this might be achieved.

Co-incidence or, perhaps, rather more than that? Perhaps the renewable energy agenda is at last becoming mainstream.

In just one week recently the press in Britain and the Czech Republic alike have reported stories of enterprising villagers who have sought over the past year or so to make their localities carbon-neutral.  And suddenly, these tiny communities have found, everyone wants to know about them.

Knezice, Central Bohemia, Czech Republic
The Prague Post of 17 – 23 January 2007 carries a report by Kristina Alda about local mayor Milan Kazda’s use of biomass to make his community in Knezice (population 500) virtually energy self-sufficient.

Mayor Kazda has installed a bio-gas power plant which converts manure, straw and other biological waste, via his concrete fermentation plants, boilers and generators, to heat and electricity for the entire village.

For Milan Kazda important objectives were to revive the tradition of villages being self-sufficient and support local farmers by buying their biological waste. His route to achieving this included successful applications to the European Union for 75% of the $6m cost, plus another 20% from the Czech Environmental State Fund – and a huge amount of paperwork. But, crucially, he also involved his fellow residents, who, he says, see the whole break-even project as an investment for the future.

Ashton Hayes, Cheshire, U.K.
Ashton Hayes, near Chester in North West England, aims to be the first carbon-neutral community in Britain. An article by David Ward in The Guardian (26 January 2007) tells us that the village has engaged many of its population of just 1000 in the project to become energy self-sufficient. They aim with their Going Carbon Neutral Project to show how many different small changes can, together, achieve carbon- neutral living.

Already the school has solar panels (and will soon also have a wind turbine), and the local pub, The Golden Lion, aspires to be the first carbon-neutral pub. Similar ambitions are held by the local football team, and by the parish council chairman, Hugo Deynam, who is building an eco-friendly extension to his cottage in the village – using sheep’s wool insulation, lime mortar and recycled hardcore.

As in the case of Knezice, the project is the brain-child of local leaders – in this case, Garry Charnock (who developed this idea after a visit to a Greenpeace debate at the Hay Festival) and colleagues such as Prof Roy Alexander of the University of Chester. To maintain the eco-momentum there is a project working group of some 28 residents.

Knezice reduces energy dependency
A year or so ago neither village had begun this eco-adventure; now both Knezice and Ashton Hayes now find themselves the centre of attention.

The Czech Republic is significantly dependent on Russia (and the vagaries thereby ensuing) for its energy; 64% of oil and 70% of natural gas in the Republic originates in Russia. Coal, however, still generates 65% of Czech energy, whilst about another 30% is from nuclear sources. Only 4% of Czech energy is produced from renewable sources, although the European Union has committed every member country to make this at least 8% by 2010. Examples of alternative local energy supply are therefore of much official interest.

Ashton Hayes involves the people
In the U.K. the percent of renewables is higher, and the challenge sometimes different. The Czech Republic has a population of about ten million, roughly the same as that of London – leaving another fifty million people in the U.K. who also use significant amounts of energy, in a total geographical area only some three times as large as the Czechs’. [Demographic details here.]

With a population density like the U.K.’s it becomes everyone’s pressing responsibility to conserve resources, as the residents of Ashton Hayes have decided to try to do. Dissemination of this pioneering work is now supported by Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture, and by the University of  Chester, which is to hold a conference in April ’07 on community-led developments in Ashton Hayes.

Lessons so far?
Knezice’s mayor has taken the corporate approach of installing a single system to produce renewable energy; Ashton Hayes’ community leaders chose a diversity of approaches and engagement. But in both instances there has been consensus and buy-in from the whole community. And in both cases national authorities have encouraged interest in the developments.

Quite possibly, over time, each of these villages will also begin to embrace the approaches to energy conservation of the other. Experience suggests the critical thing is for someone to stand up and be counted at the start. What happens after that is often organic.

People understand that carbon-neutrality cannot be achieved simply through the efforts of local communities. There are also vastly bigger players who must be engaged urgently in the sustainable energy debate. But whilst no single approach to energy saving can ever resolve the issues, the meaningful involvement of ordinary people is one very good way to begin.

Posted on February 4, 2007, in People And Places, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Sustainability As If People Mattered, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: