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Activism

These artists are turning their street into a solar power station

More and more workers are striking over pay and conditions, thousands are relying on people power and taking to the streets – and some have now decided to bring power to the people in their street.

Two artists are so fed up with political inaction on the energy crisis and climate change that they’re taking matters into their own hands – by turning their road into a renewable power station.

The Power Station is a community movement that aims to install solar panels on 150 Victorian terraced houses on an east London street. It’s a way to reduce each household’s carbon footprint as well as their eye-watering energy bills and provide a blueprint for the rest of the UK.

It sounds farfetched, but this is the work of filmmaker Daniel Edelstyn and artist Hilary Powell, last seen blowing up a van containing £1.2million of payday loan debts in the shadow of Canary Wharf.

For those that missed it, the couple’s Bank Job stunt involved opening their own “bank”, printing and selling money as art, using the cash raised to buy-up second-hand debts and then destroying them in dramatic fashion. The V&A and The Bank of England Museum bought their artwork, and a documentary about the project was nominated for best entertaining documentary at The British Documentary Awards last year.

They’ve dialled down the anarchy this time but are still printing their own money and selling it. Only now it’s to help raise the £100,000 needed for the bulk buy of solar panels for an initial 20 houses. If all goes well, the first panels should be on roofs in Lynmouth Road, Walthamstow, this autumn.

It’s well timed. The global shortage of oil and gas has sent prices rocketing. That’s welcome news for producers, who are sitting on record profits, but less so for those picking up the bill. Families across the UK are being pummelled by a £700 increase in energy costs, soon to be followed by an £800 rise when the price cap is hiked again this autumn.

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For millions of people, it will no longer be a choice between eating or heating because they won’t be able to afford either.

“We want to wake people up to what they can do,” Edelstyn tells The Big Issue. “It’s called Power Station, but ultimately the real power station is us. We feel like we are trodden on and that politics is broken and many of us are feeling depressed and powerless. What we are trying to show is we do have power. When we come together and organise we can achieve great things.

“We are giving solar panels to some of the people who are the most fuel poor in this street. One in three households could be living in fuel poverty by the winter, and we’re trying our best to help the people who are struggling.

“Action on climate needs to be for everyone not just homeowners and those able to afford the time and money to access energy saving measures. By unleashing our own financial stimulus via art we want the project to be open to all, including the most fuel poor.”

The project is rooted in the “solarpunk” idea of infrastructure as a form of resistance. Edelstyn says solar power can “liberate people from energy companies”, and talks are taking place with an ethical lender to see if they will partner with the project to allow people in other streets to take out low-interest loans that will be “paid for by the sun”.

An example of the Greenback money being sold as art for the Power Station project. Image: Hilary Powell

“This should be the priority of a new sensible government at a time when there’s an energy crisis,” he adds. “Not propping up the fossil fuel industry. We’ve had candidates for prime minister trying to outdo each other in terms of being anti-net zero. We’re not the extremists in this story.

“We want to create systems that allow people to take action without having to glue themselves to something or go to prison. We’re thinking of the future generations. We have two children.”

One of the obvious obstacles with the project is that not everyone owns their home. Edelstyn says only one private landlord is on board with the scheme so far, and it’s proving difficult to get others interested because – even if the costs are covered – they say there’s not much in it for them. After all, they don’t pay the fuel bill. Their tenants do.

As for the council, Edelstyn says it is supportive but says its social homes in the street can’t yet be included, as it has its own process for installing solar panels based on energy efficiency ratings and would have to carry out work through its own contractors.

The hope is that landlords will be easier to convince once the project is off the ground. So far £35,000 has been raised through the art sales, cash donations and contributions from neighbours receiving the panels, and they have two more weeks to hit the £100,000 target. 

Edelstyn is confident, but says it’s not make or break. They see this as the start of a long-term movement with an ambitious overall fundraising target of £1million to establish a model to be used as a blueprint for others in the position to do similar schemes.

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Neighbours in areas such as Stroud in Gloucestershire have already come together to bulk buy panels for their roofs, and there are government grants for low-income families wanting to install them. But it’s not moving quickly enough.

“Homes make up more than 20 per cent of the UK’s CO2 emissions. And more than half of the CO2 emissions in Waltham Forest come from its housing stock,” he says. “We are talking about rapid decarbonisation.”

The couple are asking people to sign up as members free of charge to find out more about the project.

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