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Dale Vince: 'I’ve spent 30 years in renewable energy. I understand the wind and the sun'

Illustration: Tracy Worrall

6 min read

Labour donor Dale Vince speaks to Sophie Church about China, Just Stop Oil and why he doesn’t regret controversial comments about Hamas. Illustration by Tracy Worrall

Dale Vince doesn’t do small talk. “Hit me with your questions, please. I’ve got a mountain of things on. I’m happy to do this. But can we dive in?”

But then, having dispensed with the introductory pleasantries, the founder of Ecotricity makes clear he is too busy for a lot of things – including Parliament.

Vince founded Ecotricity, which sells wind-powered energy to consumers, in 1995. Today he has an estimated fortune of just over £100m and, as one of Labour’s three ‘megadonors’ – joining Lord Sainsbury and car-glass repair millionaire Gary Lubner – has donated at least £1.5m to Labour in the past decade. 

I did decide not to become an MP; I didn’t think it would suit me – my nature. It’s not the best use of my time either

Would Vince have time for one more role as climate adviser to the Labour Party?

“If I could help, then I would,” he says. “What I want to see is a Labour government bringing about a green economy for the benefit of our country. And if I could help make that happen then I would, that’s all I can say really. I did decide not to become an MP; I didn’t think it would suit me – my nature. It’s not the best use of my time either.”

But Vince can already see his influence permeating political circles. “Occasionally I see glimpses of language that I use, and ideas that I’ve used – not just from Labour,” he says. “In terms of language, I see some hints of it. And that’s a good thing. I’ve written a book and there are parts of my book that are making their way into, I would say, the national conversation, to a degree.”

Some have suggested Vince, who believes we can reach 100 per cent green electricity in five years without spending any public money, is overly optimistic about our mission to reach net-zero.

“Overly? No, I don’t think I’m even optimistic, I think I’m being realistic,” he says. “Because I’ve spent 30 years in renewable energy, from its beginning. I understand the wind and the sun.” 

He understands the opportunities in the smart grid, he says. He goes on to say that we have enough wind and sun to power the country 10 or 20 times over; that the land required is about one per cent of the land we have; and that the cost of green energy is the lowest of any of the energy options available to us. “So, you know, I see it from a resource, technology, economic perspective, and it’s absolutely doable.” 

He says China is the world’s success story in the movement towards a green economy.

“What China has done is build an industrial base, a manufacturing base, and we flogged ours off. We gave it away in the race for globalisation over the last few decades, which is, I think, a thoroughly discredited kind of capitalist ideology now.”

Dale Vince (Credit: horst friedrichs / Alamy Stock Photo)
Dale Vince (Credit: horst friedrichs / Alamy Stock Photo)

Should the United Kingdom take lessons from China, then? “Yeah, absolutely.” 

In Keir Starmer, Vince sees someone who understands the push towards a green economy. “We haven’t spoken very much,” he says, “but I do believe that he gets it. I believe that a lot of the Labour front bench see the opportunity. I don’t see how you could not see it.” 

Labour’s decision to water down its £28bn climate package does not concern him. The Tories in power for another term is unthinkable; so neutering the inevitable, ‘Labour is profligate’ attack line on their climate plans is just sensible politics, he says.

“I know that out there in the country there are quite a few people that say, ‘Oh, I wish the £28bn hadn’t been watered down or scrapped or whatever, I wish Labour would be stronger on this or stronger on that,’ and that kind of stuff. And I say to them: ‘Actually, whatever your doubts, give Labour the benefit of your doubt at the coming election because we know that they’ll be so much better than the Conservatives’.” 

But his relationship with Labour hasn’t always been plain sailing. Speaking on Times Radio last year, Vince said: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” when asked about the terrorist group Hamas. This did not land well with Angela Rayner, who called his comments “appalling”. 

Vince says Rayner had the comments put to her out of context. He stands by his remarks today.

 “I wouldn’t take them back. Because what I said is simply a truism. Nelson Mandela used to be a terrorist, then he became a president. There’s an Israeli... who used to be a terrorist and then became [a leader] of Israel. Freedom fighters and terrorists, it depends on where you sit in a given conflict.

“Really, my point was to say that in the West we tend to agree on who’s the bad guy and who’s the good guy, but we are not the only people in the world. And there are people on the other side of the conflict who see it very differently.” 

Vince made headlines last year for stopping his funding of climate group Just Stop Oil. “The Tories were beginning to use my association with both Labour and Just Stop Oil as a weapon with which to bash Keir Starmer,” he explains today. 

But he still supports their tactics. “I had a funny time on Question Time last summer. I made the point to the audience that, actually, the rain disrupted Wimbledon more than Just Stop Oil did,” he says. “And the crowd gasped at the unbelievability of what I was saying, but it was true. A lot of fuss was made about the disruption and how bad it was, but it wasn’t that bad.”

Vince has now launched a campaign to encourage people to vote, following the government’s introduction of voter ID. 

“Voting is like back in the 1800s, isn’t it? You’ve got to shuffle on down to a local community hall or something, and stand in a curtained booth and put an ink cross on a piece of paper. Why in a world of the internet and apps – there’s an app for everything – why is there not an app for voting?”

But just as he starts to warm to his theme of a technologically enabled future, the Zoom link expires and, although quickly restored, Vince has moved on. 

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