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No Dash for Gas

When we dashed into the station, scaled the ladders and camped on top of two of the chimneys, we knew we were likely to face legal consequences for our actions.

We huddled in the bushes outside West Burton gas-fired power station in the early hours of a cold October morning. Laden with climbing gear and supplies, we were steeling ourselves for the final, stealthy approach to the perimeter. Suddenly, a pair of headlights loomed ahead of us. A security patrol had spotted us! We had no choice but to run – but which way? Should we abort the action? Or head for the power station? One quick huddle in the undergrowth and the choice was made. We were going for it. Luck was on our side – the guards thought we were heading for the coal-fired power station next door, so when we broke from cover we had a clear run.

When we dashed into the station, scaled the ladders and camped on top of two of the chimneys, we knew we were likely to face legal consequences for our actions. If found guilty of “Aggravated Trespass” (the anti-protestlaw most commonly used in cases like this) we could be hit by fines, community service or even a short prison term. However, we all felt the issues at stake were so serious that we were willing to accept that risk.

Following intense lobbying from big energy companies, the government is planning to build up to forty new gas power stations. According to their own committee on climate change, this would blow our climate change targets out of the water, and the rising price of gas would add around £600 to the average household’s bills by 2020.

A new ‘Dash for Gas’ would push millions of people into fuel poverty,and bring us one step closer to disastrous runaway climate change.

We camped on circular metal balconies around the outside of the chimneys, eighty metres high. When the police arrived they didn’t try to get us down, as we had hoped – it was too difficult to even attempt it. We phoned the power station manager to ensure the plant was switched off, and then the expert climbers on our team dangled inside one of the chimneys on a portable ledge to make sure they wouldn’t turn it back on again.

On a diet of oatcakes, cereal bars, dried fruit and strange self-heating meals used by mountaineers, we occupied the chimneys for a full seven days – the longest environmental occupation of a power station in UK history. One of our team built a charging station out of scrap solar panels to keep our phones powered and we managed to fix a rope between the two chimneys so people and supplies could travel back and forth in spectacular style. It wasn’t until we’d come down and spent a night in the police cells that we learned the stakes were even higher than we thought.

The company that owns the power station – energy giant EDF – was planning to sue us for £5 million. They claimed our occupation had created significant knock-on costs by delaying its building work. Of course, we didn’t have £5 million, but this wasn’t about the money. This was about scaring people away from protest. If they succeeded in suing us, we could lose our homes and any savings, and then be forced to either declare bankruptcy or pay a monthly charge to EDF for the rest of our lives.

We decided to fight back and the support we received was incredible. In less than three weeks we had 64,000 signatures on a petition condemning EDF’s decision. We reached millions of people talking about the lawsuit in mainstream and social media – far more coverage than the original action had got! Our supporters paralysed EDF’s Facebook and twitter accounts with sarcastic messages and set up a website (called EDF*OFF) to encourage people to switch suppliers. People protested at their recruitment events and hundreds more pledged to take direct action against them.

Thanks to all this pressure, EDF was quickly forced to back down and drop the £5 million damages claim – an amazing victory. The homes and financial futures of the “No Dash for Gas 21” are now safe from EDF’s legal bullying but millions of people will not be safe from fuel poverty and climate disaster if the government and the energy companies’ reckless gas expansion plans are allowed to go ahead. We’ve learned something important from EDF’s attempt to sue us. We’ve learned that together, we can be powerful.

We stopped a huge energy corporation in its tracks and if we keep working together in our tens of thousands, we know we can achieve even more.

 

A new ‘Dash for Gas’ would push millions of people into fuel poverty,and bring us one step closer to disastrous runaway climate change.

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