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A Visit to The Phoenix Works from Alex Sobel MP

Sep 5, 2019

Our in-house renewable installation experts The Phoenix Works recently received a visit from Alex Sobel, the Labour Co-op MP for the nearby constituency of Leeds North West.  

A keen advocate of the need to improve our green infrastructure, Alex stopped by The Phoenix Works’ warehouse during parliamentary recess as part of his Green Action Week - which was all about highlighting environmental issues faced in his local area. We gave Alex the lowdown on the electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure that’s necessary for the transition to a low-carbon future, while he answered a few of our questions about the policy framework needed for a clean air future, what renewable energy means to him, and whether he has considered going EV himself. 

What sparked your interest in renewable technology?

I’ve been interested in renewables since I was at university - particularly in the transition away from fossil fuels, because that’s exactly what we have to do to avoid catastrophic climate change.

How big a problem do you think air quality is and are we doing enough to combat it - particularly around Leeds?

In Leeds, it’s a huge problem. There are estimated to be about 80 deaths related to air quality in the city every year.  We’re meant to be getting a clean air zone covering the inner parts of the city and it was supposed to be done by the end of this year, but unfortunately, the government has not provided the cameras or the payment system in time. So the council is ready but the government isn’t - it’s going to be delayed. I think the clean air zone will be important though.

The transition to electric and other low emission vehicles is really vital, but we need to have the sort of infrastructure that The Phoenix Works is putting in. We need electric infrastructure everywhere in the city, to encourage people to transition from petrol and diesel to EVs - or at least plug-in hybrid technologies; currently my constituency has not yet had its first public EV charging point put in, though it will come in any day now - that’s how slow it’s been. A constituency like mine should have 30-50 points to make mass scale ownership of electric vehicles viable.

Alex Sobel with an electric charger

Would you consider buying an electric vehicle?

Yeah, absolutely. I live in a first-floor flat though, so that makes charging my main problem. That said, I’ve borrowed a Nissan Leaf for Green Action Week, which the owner charges in a garage - and I’ve got a garage so that’s something I’m going to look at now. I’d rather that because we actually don’t have enough public charge points today that I can reliably trust.

How do you envisage a brighter future? 

It’s about trying to create a transition to a low-carbon economy, so it’s not just about energy and transportation; it’s also about waste, land management, biodiversity... all of these things that fit together. It’s not just about climate; it’s also about health, about poverty, about reducing fuel poverty. If the normal for new builds becomes a super-insulated home with solar panels, then that can help to reduce the risk of people falling into fuel poverty, and making sure they’re not getting cold because they can’t afford to heat their house in the winter. It’s about all of these interlocking issues.

Alex Sobel looking at a phone

Are there any current or future initiatives local authorities and the government can adopt to address the clean air problem we face?

I support a Clean Air Act in this country, and the government is dragging its feet. The lack of clean air in urban areas is a public health crisis and we should be doing everything we can to reduce that. Not everybody can afford an electric car and install photovoltaic solar panels on their roof, so you need to have other solutions. With public transport, we should be seeing a transition to electric and hydrogen buses - in other parts of the country electric buses are quite widespread now, and there’s ten hydrogen buses in London. We need to have all these solutions to help clean the air up.

We’re the in-house installation arm Tonik Energy, so we not only providers of green technology - but we also offer renewable energy for homes too. Is that something you’re an advocate of too?

Definitely. We need to see a big growth in renewable-only electricity providers. The “Big Six” obviously dominate, so we need to encourage a more equal playing field. With the cost of renewables coming down, it’s not just about solar - it’s about wind and it’s about hydro too. Homes powered by any mix of renewables has to become our new normal.

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