Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Jatropha-fuelled plane touches down after successful test flight

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Tuesday 30 December 2008 12.52 GMT

Air New Zealand plane flown on second-generation biofuel
The search for an environmentally friendly fuel for airplanes took a leap forward today with the world's first flight powered by a second-generation biofuel, derived from plants that do not compete with food crops.
An Air New Zealand jumbo jet left Auckland just before midnight GMT with a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and oil from jatropha trees in one of its four engines. The two-hour test flight, which took the Boeing 747 over the Hauraki Gulf, showed that the jatropha biofuel was suitable for use in airplanes without the need for any modifications of the engines. It forms part of the airline's plan to source 10% of its fuel from sustainable sources by 2013.
"At an emotional level, it was an exciting day today," said Air New Zealand's chief pilot, David Morgan, who was on the test flight. "We achieved everything we wanted to achieve and it as a significant milestone for the aviation industry, doing the very first jatropha-fuelled flight. We're thrilled."
The flight was completed as the US airline Continental announced its own plans to test second-generation biofuels: next week it will fly a plane over the Gulf of Mexico with fuel derived from algae.
Air travel contributes 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and is one of the fastest rising contributors to climate change, but the search for a greener alternative to kerosene jet fuel has been problematic. Airlines cannot use standard first-generation biofuels such as ethanol because these would freeze at high altitude. In addition, environmentalists argue that manufacturing biofuels can produce more emissions than they absorb when growing, and can also displace agricultural crops and push up the price of food.
Air New Zealand's biofuel was made from jatropha nuts, which are up to 40% oil, harvested from trees grown on marginal land in India, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. The fuel was pre-tested to show that it was suitable for airplanes, freezing at -47C and burning at 38C.
The flight included a series of tests to assess how the biofuel-powered engine operated compared to the ones running on kerosene at different speeds and at different stages of a normal flight. "The flight was notable for the lack of any surprises – everything ran normally and as expected," said Morgan. "The fuel was indistinguishable from jet A1, a true drop-in fuel. You could not see a difference in the four engines."
Continental's forthcoming demonstration flight will use a mixture of jatropha-derived biofuel and fuel made from algae, supplied by the San Diego company Sapphire Energy, seen as leaders in the search to make useful oil from micro-organisms. In the first commercial test flight of biofuels in the US, one of the engines on a Boeing 737-800 will be filled with a 50-50 mix of biofuel and traditional jet fuel.
"One of the reasons we chose algae and jatropha is that both are not food sources and can be grown in arid regions and virtually anywhere," said Leah Rayne, managing director of global affairs at Continental. "So they do not compete with food crops for water."
She added that, although the jatropha and algae fuels did not require any modifications to current aircraft engines, it would take several years of test flights for the biofuels to be certified for general use by airlines.
Robin Oakley, head of Greenpeace UK's climate change campaign, warned against overinterpreting the results of the test flights. When Air New Zealand announced its biofuel plans in November, he said: "We need a dose of realism here, because this test flight does not mean an end to the use of kerosene in jet engines. The amount of jatropha that would be needed to power the world's entire aviation sector cannot be produced in anything like a sustainable way, and even if large volumes could be grown, planes are an incredibly wasteful way of using it." Environmentalists argue that curbing flights is the only true solution.
The Air New Zealand and Continental planes are not the first to use biofuels: in February, Virgin Atlantic successfully tried a mixture of 80% jet fuel and 20% biofuel - made from coconut oil and babassu palm oil - in one engine of a Boeing 747 on a flight between London and Amsterdam.

Airlines step up search for viable biofuels

By Bettina Wassener
Published: December 30, 2008

HONG KONG: Despite plunging oil prices, airlines are intensifying their search for alternative fuels to make flying more affordable and environmentally friendly for the long haul.
An early test of the commercial and technical viability of one such biofuel took place Tuesday in the skies above Auckland. Air New Zealand, the main New Zealand carrier, staged a successful test flight using oil derived from jatropha, a weed that can grow in arid conditions and produces inedible oil. That means it need not encroach on land or crops used for feeding the world's swelling population.
For two hours, pilots tested the oil, in a 50-50 blend with conventional jet fuel in one of the four Rolls-Royce engines powering a Boeing 747-400 aircraft - the first test flight by a commercial airline using jatropha oil.
"Today we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history," said Rob Fyfe, Air New Zealand's chief executive. The project has been 18 months in the works.
The results of the test flight - and two others by rival airlines in the United States and Japan in January - will be closely watched by an industry that is determined to wean itself from ultimately finite supplies of conventional crude oil and shift toward sources of renewable, low-emission fuels.

A big increase in crude oil prices - to more than $147 a barrel in July - provided a strong incentive for the industry to reduce its exposure to volatile oil prices as soon as possible.
But pressure to reduce carbon emissions also drove the search for alternatives. The International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines, aims for its members to use 10 percent alternative fuels by 2017. The group also has the ambitious goal that airlines will be able to fly carbon-free 50 years from now, with the help of technologies like fuel cells and solar energy.
Such goals have ensured that research and development into greener flying have continued, despite the recent retreat in oil prices to $40 a barrel and despite shrinking demand as the global economy slows to a crawl.
Having conducted a series of tests Tuesday, Air New Zealand and its partners in the venture, the U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing, the British engine maker Rolls-Royce and the technology developer UOP, a part of the U.S. business Honeywell, will review the results "as part of our drive to have jatropha certified as an aviation fuel," said Captain David Morgan, the flight's chief pilot.
The hope is that the test results will lay the groundwork for jatropha to be available in commercially viable quantities in three to five years, executives of the companies said.
Virgin Atlantic in February became the first airline to test a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, using a 20 percent mixture of coconut oil and babassu oils in one of its four engines.
Two more airlines are to test their concoctions in quick succession next month. Continental Airlines on Jan. 7 will conduct a test flight powered by a blend involving algae and jatropha, the first biofuel flight by a commercial carrier using algae as a fuel source - and the first biofuel-powered demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner.
And Japan Airlines is planning a test flight Jan. 30 from Tokyo using a fuel based on the camelina oilseed.
Together, the tests will try out not only different sources of alternative fuel, but also their use in an array of different engine types used by the world's airlines.
With the use of ethanol facing increasing criticism - it has been blamed for corn shortages that have led to food riots in parts of the world - hopes increasingly rest on inedible crops, like algae and jatropha, which can be grown without drawing on forested or arable land.
Unlike biofuels made from crops like soybeans and corn, jatropha needs little water or fertilizer and can be grown almost anywhere - even in sandy, saline or otherwise infertile soil. Each seed produces 30 percent to 40 percent of its mass in oil, meaning it has higher yield per acre than many other plant oils, experts say.
Still, even the potential use of jatropha has not been free of criticism, with some observers fearing that farmers could be tempted to substitute edible crops for jatropha in the hope of getting better prices.
Algae may be free of this potential problem, but research into algae is not as far advanced, said an Air New Zealand spokesman, Mark Street, explaining the airline's decision to focus on jatropha.
Air New Zealand, which aims to meet 10 percent of its fuel needs through sustainable biofuel by 2013, said the jatropha used on Tuesday's flight had been grown in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

NZ airline flies jetliner partly run on biofuel

The Associated Press
Published: December 31, 2008

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Air New Zealand has tested a passenger jet powered partially with oil from a plum-sized fruit known as jatropha, in efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and cut its fuel bill.
With its test flight Tuesday, the airline became the latest carrier experiment with alternative fuels, partly due to the threat of rising oil prices but also to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from aviation, which are projected to rise by up to 90 percent by 2020 according to European Commission projections.
Air New Zealand said the two-hour flight from Auckland International Airport was the first to use what are known as second generation biofuels to power an airplane. Second generation biofuels typically use a wider range of plants and release fewer emissions than traditional biofuels like ethanol.
One engine of the Boeing 747-400 airplane was powered by a 50-50 blend of oil from jatropha plants and standard A1 jet fuel.
"Today, we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history," Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe said shortly after the flight.

Along with investing in new technology to replace outdated fleets and new designs that reduce weight and air resistance, the International Air Transport Association says airlines are experimenting with a range of plant materials in an effort to find the jet fuel of the future.
The association, which represents 230 airlines, said it wants 10 percent of aviation fuel to come from biofuels by 2017 as part of a broad climate change plan. Air travel now generates only 2 percent of global carbon emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming, but the industry's high growth rate has raised concern about future emissions.
"There are very promising biojet fuels, and jatropha is one of them," association spokesman Anthony Concil said Tuesday, adding that the industry is also looking at switch grass, algae and salt-tolerant plants called halophytes.
Jatropha is a bush with round, plum-like fruit that has been found in parts of South America, Africa and Asia. Seeds from jatropha are crushed to produce a yellowish oil that is refined and mixed with diesel.
Tuesday's flight was a joint venture by Air New Zealand, airplane maker Boeing, engine maker Rolls Royce and biofuel specialist UOP Llc, a unit of Honeywell International.
In February, Boeing and Virgin Atlantic carried out a similar test flight that included a biofuel mixture of palm and coconut oil — but that was dismissed as a publicity stunt by environmentalists who said the fuel could not be produced in the quantities needed for commercial aviation.
Continental Airlines has said on Jan. 7 it will operate a test flight out of Houston using a special blend of half conventional fuel and half biofuel with ingredients derived from algae and jatropha plants.
Simon Boxer, of environmental group Greenpeace New Zealand, said it was inevitable that airlines would show greater interest in sustainable biofuels as travelers become more aware of the harm that air travel causes the environment.
But he said it wasn't clear whether jatropha was really sustainable. He questioned what the environmental impact would be if jatropha grew popular and more land and resources were needed to produce it on a commercial scale.
Ken Morton, a Boeing spokesman, said he expects more airlines will embrace biofuels as countries introduce emission taxes and emission trading schemes that will impact the industry.
"It makes a lot of commercial sense to invest in these biofuels," said Morton, who was on hand for the New Zealand flight. "Certainly, it is what the public wants."
Jatropha on first glance appears to have many of the attributes demanded from the industry.
It grows almost anywhere, so it wouldn't compete with food crops as corn-based ethanol does and has a lower freezing point than traditional biofuels like palm oil.
India appears to be most bullish on jatropha, with plans to plant 30 million acres (12 million hectares) by 2012. Already, the Indian government says it has successfully run dozens of trucks and buses on jatropha-based biodiesel and 18.5 million acres (7.4 million hectares) of jatropha saplings are growing along the country's railroad tracks.
While Air New Zealand heralded Tuesday's flight as successful, Group Manager Ed Sims cautioned that it will be at least 2013 before the company can ensure easy access to the large quantities of jatropha it would need to use the biofuel on all its flights.
"Clearly we are a long, long way from being able to source commercially quantifiable amounts of the fuel and then be able to move that amount of fuel around the world to be able to power the world's airlines," Sims told New Zealand's National Radio.

RWE gets link for new nuclear plant

Published: December 30, 2008

LONDON: RWE npower has secured grid connection rights for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa in north Wales and acquired options to buy farmland close to the existing nuclear power station, the company said on Tuesday.
The UK arm of German utility RWE has been granted permission to feed 3.6 gigawatts of electricity into the national grid at the site on the island of Anglesey but will consult with local people before making any firm plans, the company said.
"We are serious and committed to progressing new nuclear options. Anglesey's nuclear heritage means it has great potential as a location for new nuclear build," RWE npower Chief Executive Andrew Duff said.
Duff called on the government to clear the way for investment in other types of generation to avoid a looming shortage of power plants before new nuclear plants are built.
"Nuclear energy can provide clean, secure and affordable electricity supplies in the mid and long term, but the country also needs early and significant investment in a diverse mix of power generation in order to reconcile climate targets and security of supply," he said.

"Without major investment in UK energy infrastructure over the coming years, the UK faces shortages in the approach to 2015."
The government wants to replace ageing and state-built atomic energy facilities, like the Magnox power station at Wylfa which is due to close in 2010, with new nuclear reactors built and run by the private sector.
France's EDF, the world's biggest nuclear power operator which is already building a new plant in Flamanville, France, has said it plans up to four reactors in Britain.
EDF bought land near Wylfa early this year but has since said it would rather build at two sites owned by British Energy, a company it is in the process of buying.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren)

Taking Credit for Energy Efficiency

Thinking about energy upgrades for your home in 2009? The good news is that the array of federal and state incentives to make your home more energy efficient has never been greater. The bad news, of course, is that strapped consumers in a weak economy may not have a lot of cash or home equity to use to leverage the credits.
The past year's volatility in energy prices turned a lot of attention to alternative sources of home heating and electricity. To help spur interest in alternative energy, Congress extended and expanded federal tax benefits in October, with several new provisions set to take effect Jan. 1.
With a recession under way, many companies marketing alternative-energy systems or home-efficiency improvements aren't seeing a rise in demand for their offerings. "A lot of consumers are sitting on their wallets and waiting to see how things pan out. Whether it's Christmas presents or energy retrofits, there's not a lot of money being spent," says Steven Nadel, executive director of the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
But the extra tax savings make it worthwhile for energy-conscious homeowners to take a closer look, especially given continued uncertainty in natural-gas and heating-oil prices. Some states have sweetened the pot with rebates for energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. And with planning, taxpayers may be able to carry over some of the credits.
Solar Power
The most generous of the new provisions is a tax credit for installing home solar-power systems. Until now, the federal tax credit for residential solar systems was capped at $2,000. Starting Jan. 1, homeowners can claim a full 30% of their installation costs for new residential solar-power systems, with no cost cap. If you live in a state with a rebate program, such as California, Connecticut, New York or New Jersey, the state will kick in thousands of dollars more toward your installation cost.

According to Barry Cinnamon, CEO of solar-system installer Akeena Solar Inc., a three-kilowatt rooftop system in California would cost in the neighborhood of $24,000. State rebates would total $5,000, plus a 30% tax credit on the remaining $19,000 would get the upfront cost down to $13,300, he says.
"Now you're into a 6½-year payback period [for energy savings to pay off the system's cost], even if electricity costs don't go up," says Mr. Cinnamon. "The economics have never been better." But, he adds, "Commercial and residential customers don't have the money to borrow right now."
Savings in the Wind
Brand new in 2009 is a tax credit for small wind turbines for residential or business use. The small-wind credit is available this year for the first time since 1985, when it was phased out as part of a broader simplification of the tax code.
That credit isn't expected to have as large an impact on the market as the retooled residential solar credit -- it is limited to $1,000 per kilowatt, with a maximum credit of $4,000. The popular 10-kilowatt systems can cost from $50,000 to $60,000.
"It's not enough to move the market," says Mike Bergey, president of Bergey Windpower Co. in Norman, Okla. "So far it has made the phones ring more, but it hasn't made the systems fly off the shelves."
Due to local permit issues -- the towers for the small turbines are usually 60 feet or taller -- small wind power is still practical only for homes that sit on an acre or more of property, Mr. Bergey says. The American Wind Energy Association doesn't recommend installation where wind speeds average less than 10 miles per hour.
Nonetheless, the new federal credit could sweeten the deal for homeowners in states with rebate programs for small wind turbines. New York and California offer up to $20,000 in rebates for a 10-kilowatt system.
Offsetting the AMT
Both the solar and wind residential tax credits can be claimed against the alternative minimum tax, also a new feature in 2009. That will help taxpayers with a lot of itemized deductions and tax credits get the full value of the energy tax credits.
Some planning may be called for to ensure that you have enough tax liability to make full use of the residential tax credit for solar or small wind systems, or a similar credit for geothermal heat pumps. Credit amounts that aren't used in the year the system is installed may be carried forward to the following tax year.
The tax credit for geothermal heat pumps, which use heat stored in the ground to warm or cool a home, is capped at $2,000.
Improvements to help your home better trap heat or cool air in 2009 could qualify you for an energy efficiency tax credit of up to $500. The tax credit is good for 10% of the cost of such activities as adding insulation, or replacing windows and external doors.
Newly installed high-efficiency furnaces, boilers, heat pumps and water heaters also are eligible for the 10% tax credit. But these credits, combined with any window and insulation credits, may not total more than $500 for the same home.
You're out of luck, however, if you made such improvements in the 2008 tax year. When Congress renewed the tax credit, it did so only from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2009.
Stove Credit
Congress added biomass stoves, such as those that burn wood pellets or corn for heat, as a new category of appliance eligible for the energy efficiency tax credit. Purchase of an eligible biomass stove in 2009 can qualify you for a $300 tax credit -- which still counts toward the overall $500 cap on home energy-efficiency improvements.
Wood-pellet and corn stoves are gaining popularity with consumers as a secondary heat source that can help save on gas or heating oil bills. Leslie Wheeler, communications director for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, says pellet-stove sales through the third quarter of this year were up 168% over 2007 figures. That increase reflects in large part the summertime rally in natural-gas prices that carried over into the fall.
Pending Guidelines
But a word of caution: The IRS is still in the process of penning guidelines for which specific models of wood-pellet and corn stoves will be eligible for the tax credit.
"Our retailers have been calling, saying, 'Which stoves qualify?' " says Ms. Wheeler. She says that once the IRS issues its regulation, expected in mid-January, manufacturers will be able to certify which of their products are eligible. The trade group will also post a list of qualifying stoves on its Web site,
More tax incentives could be on the way as renewable energy sources are expected to benefit from coming economic-stimulus legislation, and President-elect Barack Obama's energy policies in general. But Mr. Nadel of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says where the economics make sense, homeowners would be well-served to move ahead with energy improvements now. "I'd do it, I wouldn't wait to see if I can get a little more from Uncle Sam," he says.—Tom Herman is on vacation.

One in three Scots makes green resolution

Published Date: 31 December 2008
By Jenny Haworth

SCOTS are planning to lead greener lives in 2009, a new survey suggests.
More than 1,000 people in Scotland were asked whether they planned to make resolutions this Hogmanay to help the environment.Of those who said they planned on making a green New Year resolution, recycling more waste and using energy-efficient light bulbs were the most popular choices, each accounting for 34 per cent of those surveyed.A third of people questioned said they planned to walk more, and smaller numbers said they intended to drive less, cycle more and turn the heating down.It is the latest evidence that many Scots are becoming more concerned about their impact on the planet.At the beginning of 2008, The Scotsman launched its Let's Go Green Together campaign in conjunction with the Scottish Government.Already, thousands of people have signed up to pledges to lead greener lifestyles. These range from recycling more, to turning off the lights and getting involved in community initiatives to help the environment.Michael Russell, the environment minister, said: "To help prevent climate change and protect the environment for future generations, we all need to reduce the impact of the way we live."He suggested this year Scots should consider making a green New Year's resolution, and said taking a small step would make a huge difference. "It's great to see that so many Scots are already planning to go greener in 2009," he added."And the good news is that as well as helping the environment, being green can often save you money, too – something that's more important than ever during the current economic climate."The survey of 1,013 adults was carried out for the Scottish Government to inquire about people's resolutions for 2009.The most popular greener resolution among women was to recycle more, while men favoured switching to energy-efficient bulbs.Fifteen per cent of those surveyed said they would drive less, 16 per cent have vowed to cycle more and 25 per cent said they would turn the heating down.However, 29 per cent of those surveyed said they had no plans to recycle more, drive less, walk or cycle more, turn the heating down, or use energy-efficient bulbs.A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have always said there is more work to be done."But equally the 'Go Greener' campaign is encouraging people to take small steps."According to the survey, carried out for the Scottish Government by Scottish Opinion, people aged 45 to 54 were most likely to recycle more, with those over 65 least likely. And 7 per cent more women than men were likely to recycle more.Those aged 55 to 64 were most likely to drive less, and 25 to 34-year-olds were most likely to cycle more. Women were more likely than men to walk more in 2009, with 36 per cent saying they would, compared to 29 per cent of males in the survey.Over the past year, The Scotsman has highlighted the work of communities and individuals across the country as people make efforts to go green.These range from the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust's efforts to set up a scheme to use renewable sources to provide mains electricity on the island for the first time, to the Fife Diet, in which scores of people ate local food for a year.Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has published its draft climate change legislation.If passed by parliament next year, it will bring in targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.This would include emissions from international air travel and shipping from the start, prompting green groups to say it is the most ambitious in the world. There will also be annual targets to make sure progress is made.Our campaignLET'S Go Green Together was launched with ten pledges which The Scotsman urged people to sign up to.• Recycle household waste using locally provided facilities. • Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth. • Switch to using energy-saving light bulbs.• Leave the car more often and cycle, walk, share a car or use public transport. • Use rechargeable batteries, not disposable ones.• Re-use carrier bags when you shop. • Buy more seasonal and unpackaged food. • Hang your washing up to dry rather than using a tumbler dryer. • Organise or volunteer in an environmental project in your local community. • Pay back environmental impact of any flights you take and choose not to fly when there's an alternative.

Global warming: Reasons why it might not actually exist

2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved, according to the Telegraph's Christopher Booker. Sceptics have long argued that there are other explanations for climate change other than man-made CO2 and here we look at some of the arguments put forward by those who believe that global warming is all a hoax.

Last Updated: 1:51PM GMT 30 Dec 2008

Some icebergs are melting -but not necessarily because of mankind's actions Photo: REUTERS
Temperatures are falling, not rising
As Christopher Booker says in his review of 2008, temperatures have been dropping in a wholly unpredicted way over the past year. Last winter, the northern hemisphere saw its greatest snow cover since 1966, which in the northern US states and Canada was dubbed the "winter from hell". This winter looks set to be even worse.
The earth was hotter 1,000 years ago
Evidence from all over the world indicates that the earth was hotter 1,000 years ago than it is today. Research shows that temperatures were higher in what is known as the Mediaeval Warming period than they were in the 1990s.
The earth's surface temperature is not at record levels
According to Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis of surface air temperature measurements, the meteorological December 2007 to November 2008 was the coolest year since 2000. Their data has also shown that the hottest decade of the 20th century was not the 1990s but the 1930s.
Ice is not disappearing
Arctic website Crysophere Today reported that Arctic ice volume was 500,000 sq km greater than this time last year. Additionally, Antarctic sea-ice this year reached its highest level since satellite records began in 1979. Polar bear numbers are also at record levels.
Himalayan glaciers
A report by the UN Environment Program this year claimed that the cause of melting glaciers in the Himalayas was not global warming but the local warming effect of a vast "atmospheric brown cloud" over that region, made up of soot particles from Asia's dramatically increased burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
Temperatures are still dropping
Nasa satellite readings on global temperatures from the University of Alabama show that August was the fourth month this year when temperatures fell below their 30-year average, ie since satellite records began. November 2008 in the USA was only the 39th warmest since records began 113 years ago.

Safety experts say cars should be fitted with speed limiters

Owen Bowcott
The Guardian, Wednesday 31 December 2008

Speed limiters should be fitted to cars and lorries on a voluntary basis to reduce carbon emissions and cut accidents, a transport advisory body has recommended.
The innovation - using satellite navigation technology to read the road's speed limit and adjust the vehicle's accelerator - was given a cautious welcome by the Department for Transport yesterday.
The report by the Commission for Integrated Transport and the Motorists' Forum claimed accidents involving injuries could be cut by 12% if the system was adopted universally - with a manual override system - and by more if the speed limiter was mandatory and always on.
The Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) system has been tested in the UK over 355,000 miles of driving on roads where the speed limit was known.
Urging its adoption, Sir Trevor Chinn, chairman of the Motorists' Forum, said: "The UK has an enviable record on road safety but we still kill nearly 3,000 people on our roads each year. This report shows the potential substantial savings in injury accidents that could be achieved."
Using the system on urban roads with a 30mph limit could increase fuel consumption and emissions, because cars operate more efficiently above that speed, the study acknowledges. But there should be significant reductions on roads where the limit is 70mph.
The report recommends voluntary fitting and use of the device, suggests government vehicle fleets should be equipped first of all to encourage other drivers to join the scheme, and proposes that it should be provided for newly qualified drivers and those convicted of dangerous driving.
The DfT said: "It has the potential to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on our roads ... our view [is] that it could be a useful road safety feature for drivers who wish to use it."
The technology is in its infancy and will require mapping of speed limits on every UK road. Automatic speed controls have frequently been greeted with suspicion.
The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, Norman Baker, said yesterday: "This is a well-meaning thought but one which could have dangerous consequences. Any attempt to control speed could mean that drivers might not be able to accelerate out of dangerous situations. This could make road safety worse."
The Institute of Advanced Motorists' director of research and policy, Neil Greig, added: "ISA may be able to ensure that all cars observe speed limits, provided that critical safety conditions are met and tested. However, even with these assurances, an understandable deep-rooted concern about Big Brother will have to be overcome."

Rainforest's chewing gum tappers go organic to get out of a sticky situation

Threatened industry hopes new product to be sold by Waitrose will be its Jo Tuckman in Calakmul
The Guardian, Wednesday 31 December 2008

Porfirio Baños takes the measure of the chicozapote tree that he is about to tap for its resin. He winds a rope around himself and the tall, straight trunk that stretches towards a glimpse of sky through the foliage above. He starts to climb.
"I started following my dad around the rainforest when I was 10 and working when I was 12," the 50-year-old says as he cuts through the bark with a razor-sharp machete. A bright white sap called chicle runs down the wound in the wood, prompting a smile. "I am a chiclero to my core."
The location is remote, the practice old, the tools rudimentary, and the chances to chat with spider monkeys high. But this is no world apart. Men like Baños were at the root of one of the great consumer phenomena of our time: chewing gum.
Produced only in the jungle that straddles the southern part of Mexico's Yucatán peninsula, northern Guatemala and Belize, chicle was the basis of chewing gum, from the little balls first sold in New York 140 years ago to the sticks included in GI rations during the second world war. Then in the 1950s came synthetic substitutes that shrank the industry to a shadow of its former self.
But just as it was beginning to look as if the chicle industry would fade away altogether, Mexico's chicleros may be on the threshold of a comeback: they are about to launch their own brand of certified organic chewing gum, which is expected to go on sale shortly in Waitrose.
A bonus of the new gum for Britain's local authorities is that it will be biodegradable and start to break down almost immediately after use, potentially saving councils millions in pavement cleaning bills.
The epic tale of chicle goes back to 1869 when a Mexican general called Antonio López de Santa Anna was living in exile on Staten Island trying to raise money. He enlisted a local inventor called Thomas Adams to test out his idea that chicle, long chewed by Mexican soldiers in unprocessed form, could be transformed into a lucrative rubber substitute.
When vulcanisation failed the general moved on, but Adams, left with a tonne of the stuff to shift, came up with what turned out to be a brilliant idea. He added sugar and flavouring, and chewing gum was born. Within a few decades the sap once used by the ancient Maya to clean their teeth had become a symbol of modernity. Michael Redclift, author of Chicle: Fortunes of Taste, calls it "the American product for the American century".
Alfonso Valdez caught the tail end of the chicle fever that invaded the still largely virgin jungle during the boom years. "The chiclero camps were like small towns and there were dances every weekend," the 69-year-old says, reminiscing about the communities accessible only by small plane and lots of walking. "Nobody dared leave before the season was over, and if they tried to walk out alone we would find their torn-up clothes and assume they'd been eaten by a jaguar." Valdez now runs a much more modest camp at the end of a logging track on the edge of the Calakmul rainforest reserve where Baños and another nine veteran chicleros have lived since July and will stay until February.
The job itself has changed little, with each chiclero fanning out into the forest at dawn alone and earning according to how much chicle they bring back to camp at night.
The price for the raw material is too low to attract local youths who prefer to look for dishwashing jobs in Cancún or New York. These may be the last of the chicleros.
The administrators of the chiclero co-operative developed Chicza Rainforest Gum as a last-ditch attempt to save the industry. They struck a deal with Waitrose last year, they say, after touting their product around European organic food fairs. They hope it will be in 100 stores early next year.
Waitrose says it is excited about the product. "We are extremely interested in the Chicza chewing gum," said confectionery buyer Matthew Jones. "It is a great product that is organic and sustainable so we are very excited about its potential in our stores."
Valdez, an ageing chain-smoking toothless charmer who says he has fathered 42 children, is optimistic despite the global recession: chewing gum was one of the few consumer goods to thrive in the Depression. There is the added incentive that it eventually turns to dust. The annual bill for cleaning pavements of gum in the UK is more than £150m.
Chicza's packaging, meanwhile, pushes the new gum as a saviour of a rainforest in danger. The chicleros see preserving the forest as part of their job. "We don't kill the trees like farmers do when they clear land to grow corn or graze cattle," says Roberto Aguilar, 60. "We leave a wound, it's true, but eight years after it is healed and producing chicle again."
Deadly fears
But these workers of the jungle do harbour two fears, and harbour them deeply: the poisonous snakes whose bite kills in hours, and the slip of a machete that can cut the rope holding them above ground. All have lost friends and family to both.
"He just said: 'I'm finished, look after yourselves'," Baños says, recalling his father's last words at the foot of the chicozapote tree he fell from six years ago. The hardened old chiclero allows himself a moment of pathos - but then he's off again, looking for another tree to climb.

Devon stands in for polar icecap

Steven Morris
The Guardian, Wednesday 31 December 2008

Dartmoor is to be the training ground for three explorers who are about to set out on a £3m scientific expedition to find out just how vulnerable the Arctic icecap is.
Polar veteran Pen Hadow is leading the team that in February will take radar measurements of the icecap. Their findings will be made available to next year's UN climate change conference and will hopefully help scientists calculate how long the dwindling icecap could last.
Hadow, and his team members Ann Daniels and Martin Hartley, are building up their stamina by dragging car tyres over the awkward terrain and clambering over the granite outcrops with heavy packs."We are using Dartmoor to help replicate the icescape that we will travel across," said Hadow. "The tors are as good as gyms." The team is also toughening up with mentally and physically punishing sessions at the commando training centre at Lympstone, in east Devon.
"We are going to be on the sea ice for about 100 days ... measuring the thickness of the ice and snow in temperatures as low as -50C," said Hadow. "Up to 12 hours a day pulling sledges of up to 100kg requires a huge physical effort."

How Green is Apple?

By BEN CHARNY Dow Jones Newswires

SAN FRANCISCO – Apple Inc.'s eye-catching logo - an apple with a bite taken from it - has come in many colors in the past. Now, the iconic computer company is trying to prove its commitment to the color green.
In recent advertising, the Cupertino, Calif., company presents itself as an environmental leader. Apple's Web site bills its new line of MacBook computers as "the world's greenest family of notebooks." It now makes iPods and iPhones free of polyvinyl chlorides and brominated flame retardant, and it's in the final stages of making all of its products without bromine and chlorine. Both chemicals have been criticized for creating toxic byproducts.
Competitors and environmentalists, however, say Apple's green efforts have less to do with cleaning up its products and manufacturing and more to do with marketing. In a recent blog posting, a senior executive at Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. said he was "surprised" by Apple's claims of environmental-friendliness. Environmental groups, like Greenpeace, point to surveys ranking Apple below other computer makers, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard Co. in green practices.
"Apple is... guilty of using 'green' as a marketing ploy, rather than making green a core part of their business practices," said Stephen Stokes, vice president of business and climate change at AMR Research Inc.
Determining Apple's "green-ness" is difficult because much of the information reported to authorities, like the Environmental Protection Agency, is provided voluntarily. Both Apple and its detractors have ample data to make their cases. However, Apple's recent decision to highlight its environmental efforts leaves the company's eco-track record open to scrutiny and criticism at a time when green issues are coming to the fore.
Success in promoting its record could help Apple lure more consumers, who are increasingly considering the environmental impact of their choices, to the company's products. That could help Apple spur sales and its slumping share price, which has fallen 57% so far this year, far worse than Morgan Stanley Technology Index's 47% drop.
Apple declined to comment for this story, but Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said in an October report on Apple's Web site that his company was committed to developing green practices.
"I'm proud to report that all of Apple's new product designs are on track to meet our 2008 year-end goal," Jobs wrote. Among those: eliminating polyvinyl chloride and brominated flame retardants from all its products by 2009, and removing mercury and arsenic from its products' displays.
Apple also has taken steps to release more information about its environmental policies, which have helped its image. A recent survey by the Diffusion Group, a Dallas research company that studies the impact of green products on consumer decisions, found consumers view Apple as the world's greenest company.
"Chalk it up to effective marketing," said Michael Greeson, president of the Diffusion Group, of Apple's green reputation.
Still, eight of Apple's nine MacBooks - the computers it markets as the world's greenest family of notebooks - received the EPA's gold standard for meeting environmental soundness criteria. Those notebooks garnered an average of 19.5 per unit on 21 optional measures suggested by the EPA.
By comparison, eight notebooks made by Taiwan's Asustek Computer Inc. (2357.TW) got the top rating, along with perfect 21 scores.
Dell and Hewlett-Packard, each of which submits more notebooks to the EPA for rating than Apple, also have products with gold ratings. Both companies have lower marks on the average optional measures. H-P, which has about 45 notebooks rated, averages 17.5. Dell, with 27 notebooks rated, averages 18.4.
But critics say Apple doesn't compare as favorably on other measures. For example, Dell and Hewlett-Packard report buying much more clean energy than Apple; Dell 58 times more, and Hewlett-Packard five time more, according to the latest disclosures the companies made to the EPA database.
Each company reports its figures differently so the numbers aren't directly comparable because the companies are of different sizes. Still, they suggest other computer makers are making greater strides toward green business operations than Apple.
Other companies also appear to be making more progress than Apple on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming. Hewlett-Packard reduced direct greenhouse gas emissions - one of three types that are tracked - by 25% over the years, according to data the Palo Alto, Calif., computer maker provided to environmental regulators. Over the same period, Apple reported a 3% reduction in "emissions" in its 2008 environmental update.
Apple wouldn't specify which emissions for this story.
Apple also has slipped in the EPA's Fortune 500 Challenge, which asks companies to buy more alternative sources of energy, like wind or solar power. As of October, Apple ranked 35th, one place lower than it did in January. Over the same period, Dell rose to 12th from 31st, while H-P rose to 21st place from 22nd.
In November, Apple also dropped to 14th on the Greenpeace corporate environmental scoreboard, though the company's overall score rose to 4.3 from 4.1.
The apparent difference between Apple's environmental record and its green rhetoric has prompted ire among some of its competition.
Earlier this month, Bob Peterson, who runs environmental affairs at Dell, blasted Apple's recent marketing campaign in a blog posting. He said he was "surprised" by Apple's claim and that at least two Dell notebooks have better environmental ratings than Apple's.
"We wish Apple would be more bold in making a difference than making ads," Peterson wrote.
Apple also declines to provide key details about its manufacturing process to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which collects data about corporate greenhouse emissions via annual questionnaires that are publicly available. Rivals Dell and Hewlett-Packard answer most of the group's questions.
Apple largely leaves the questionnaire blank.
Write to ben charny at

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

RWE npower takes options at Wylfa

The Times
December 30, 2008
Ian King

RWE npower, the energy supplier, has secured options to buy farmland at Wylfa, Isle of Anglesey, near the existing Magnox nuclear power station. It has also secured a connection to the national grid for any new nuclear power station to be built at the site. The news comes days after competition regulators were criticised for not ordering EDF, the power group, which is taking over British Energy, the nuclear power generator, to sell land at Wylfa as a condition of the deal. Wylfa is regarded as one of the most attractive locations for a new nuclear power station.

UK on cold weather health alert as temperatures tumble

Fears that below-freezing temperatures could threaten vulnerable groups
Steven Morris, Monday 29 December 2008 16.15 GMT

Britain prepares for freezing temperatures over the weekend Photograph: David Jones/PA
A "red alert" was triggered by the Met Office and the Department of Health today amid fears that plunging temperatures could threaten older people, families with young children and the long-term ill and the disabled.
Temperatures as low as -13C (9F) have been recorded in the Scottish Highlands, but even in towns and cities across the UK daytime temperatures could plunge to -5C this week.
The freezing weather, and perhaps flurries of snow, is expected to last all week, and possibly into the middle of January, piling pressure on doctors' surgeries, hospitals and social services departments.
A pilot cold weather health warning scheme is being run in north-west England by the Met Office and the Department of Health. The department said its "red alert" this morning meant the unusually cold weather posed a "significant risk to people's health".
The alert will be picked up by doctors' surgeries in the region, giving them time to make preparations to treat patients with illnesses made worse by the cold snap. Local television and radio stations will also broadcast weather warnings.
A spokesman for the scheme said: "There are more than 25,000 excess deaths each winter in this country, many of which are preventable. Actions taken during the period of cold weather can greatly benefit vulnerable groups and help reduce the impact of cold weather on people's health and well-being."
Though the scheme is being tested only in the north-west, the Met Office said people across the UK should make sure vulnerable people were keeping warm this winter.
Police and health professionals are also preparing for the impact freezing conditions could have on New Year's Eve revellers. In London temperatures are likely to tumble to 0C on Wednesday , and in Edinburgh to about -1C.
The AA has advised people travelling over the next few days to pack warm clothing, blankets, food supplies, torch and a first-aid kit. It also suggests drivers check their car battery: flat batteries are the most common cause for AA callouts.
The cold spell is being caused by an area of high pressure over Scandinavia. By the end of the week another high pressure system, off north-west Britain, will take over, bringing snow showers to northern Scotland and east England. In the past few days the coldest conditions have been in Scotland: in Aviemore today it dipped to -10.6C today.
Just how low the temperature goes depends on whether the cloud breaks and freezing fog sets in. Helen Chivers, spokeswoman for the Met Office, said it was "quite possible" the onset of freezing fog could push temperatures in the Midlands down to -5C.
She also predicted a "fair share of sunshine" but said the cold spell was likely to last until mid-January and there was an increased chance of snow."
William Hill has slashed the odds of a record coldest temperature in England being recorded this winter from 33-1 to 20-1. The bookmaker is also offering 100-1 that the Thames will freeze over this winter.

Natural disasters 'killed more than 220,000 in 2008'

Natural disasters killed more than 220,000 people in 2008, making it one of the most devastating years on record and underlining the need for a global climate deal, a large reinsurer has said.

Last Updated: 9:05AM GMT 30 Dec 2008

Although the number of natural disasters was lower than in 2007, the catastrophes proved to be more deadly and more expensive, Germany-based Munich Re said in its annual assessment.
"This continues the long-term trend we have been observing. Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes," Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek said.
Most devastating in terms of human fatalities was Cyclone Nargis, which lashed Burma in early May, killing more than 135,000 people and leave more than one million homeless.
Just days later an earthquake shook China's Sichuan province, leaving 70,000 dead, 18,000 missing and almost five million homeless, according to official figures.
Around 1,000 people died in a severe cold snap in January in Afghanistan, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan, while 635 perished in August and September in floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Typhoon Fengshen killed 557 people in China and the Philippines in June, while earthquakes in Pakistan in October left 300 dead.
Six tropical cyclones also slammed into the southern United States, including Ike which, with insured losses of 10 billion dollars, was the industry's costliest catastrophe of the year
In Europe, an intense low-pressure system called Emma caused two billion dollars worth of damage in March, while a storm dubbed Hilal in late May and early June left 1.1 billion dollars' worth.
According to provisional estimates from the World Meteorological Organization, 2008 was the tenth warmest year since the beginning of routine temperature recording and the eighth warmest in the northern hemisphere.
The world needed "effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions, so that climate change is curbed and future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control," Mr Jeworrek said.

Green Goal of 'Carbon Neutrality' Hits Limit

ROUND ROCK, Texas -- Computer giant Dell Inc. said this summer that it has become "carbon neutral," the latest step in its quest to be "the greenest technology company on the planet."
What that means, and what it doesn't, may surprise Dell customers and other consumers who have been bombarded with bold environmental promises from major corporations.
In the two years since Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," helped make climate change a marquee issue, companies from Timberland Co., the shoe maker, to News Corp., the owner of The Wall Street Journal, have promised to become "carbon neutral."
View Interactive
Dell's Carbon Footprint
The term may suggest a company has reengineered itself so that it's no longer adding to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases scientists say are contributing to climate change. The experience of Dell, one of the few multinational corporations to claim it already has achieved carbon neutrality, shows the reality often falls short of that ideal.
The amount of emissions Dell has committed to neutralize is known in the environmental industry as the company's "carbon footprint." But there is no universally accepted standard for what a footprint should include, and so every company calculates its differently. Dell counts the emissions produced by its boilers and company-owned cars, its buildings' electricity use, and its employees' business air travel.
In fact, that's only a small fraction of all the emissions associated with Dell. The footprint doesn't include the oil used by Dell's suppliers to make its computer parts, the diesel and jet fuel used to ship those computers around the world, or the coal-fired electricity used to run them.
Dell's announcement that it had achieved carbon neutrality didn't go into these details. But in an interview, Dell officials estimate that the emissions produced by its suppliers and consumers each amount to about 10 times the footprint Dell has defined for itself. That means the company is only neutralizing about 5% of the greenhouse gases that go into the making and use of its products.
Moreover, while Dell is improving its energy efficiency, it is claiming carbon neutrality mostly by purchasing environmental "credits." These are financial instruments that bankroll environmental improvements made by others, such as running wind turbines or planting forests. Dell reasons that these credits cancel out the bulk of its carbon footprint.
Yet some of those improvements would have occurred whether or not Dell invested in them, according to some of the companies involved. That suggests Dell isn't ridding the atmosphere of as much pollution as it claims.
Dell says it's trying to set an example by reducing its environmental impact as responsibly and aggressively as it can.
"There are skeptics of carbon neutrality who will say, 'That's kind of bogus,'" says Dane Parker, Dell's director of environment, health and safety. "Instead of using that as an excuse for inaction, we've said, 'There's a lot you can do.'"

Dane Parker
Mr. Parker says it wouldn't be feasible to include more emissions in the company's carbon footprint. He says many of Dell's suppliers haven't yet calculated their own emissions, and customers' contributions to the overall pie vary depending on how and where they use their computers. For now, Mr. Parker says, the best Dell can do is design computers that are as energy efficient as possible, and persuade its suppliers to reduce their own emissions. Dell has told its major suppliers that it plans to take their emission levels into account when deciding whether to continue doing business with them.
Regarding the environmental credits Dell has bought, Mr. Parker says they "meet the highest standards" that currently exist.
Indeed, Dell's program is widely praised by environmental groups as one of the most comprehensive attempts by a major corporation to combat climate change. The strategy mirrors the one that scientists and politicians are now prescribing: boosting energy-efficiency, funding renewable energy and buying carbon credits.
Dell's drive offers an early road map of the thorny questions companies will face as they attempt the massive emission reductions scientists say are needed to curb global warming. In a global economy with so many interconnected players, figuring out who should be responsible for cutting which emissions -- and how to ensure those cuts happen -- is dizzyingly complicated. Amid that confusion, Dell's story illustrates the fuzziness of some of today's corporate environmental claims.
Some observers say companies pledging carbon neutrality at this point could be jumping the gun. There's not yet uniform agreement on what should be counted in such programs, says Pankaj Bhatia, a policy expert at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental group that is working with many corporations, including Dell, to develop a standard for carbon neutrality.

Dell is "going farther than most corporations" in trying to minimize its environmental impact, says Bill Burtis, spokesman for Clean Air-Cool Planet, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based nonprofit group that advises companies on how to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. But he says Dell's public descriptions of its pledge could lead consumers to the mistaken assumption that buying a Dell computer means they're not contributing to climate change at all. "If you're going to use the terminology of neutrality, you've got to be upfront about what that means," says Mr. Burtis.
Other companies pledging to become carbon neutral include Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., both of which say they are working to become more energy-efficient and are also buying offsets. Both companies include in their footprints such things as their facilities' electricity use and their employees' commuting and business air travel. Google also includes the emissions produced in the manufacturing of the servers that its data centers use, a Google official says. Yahoo doesn't include those emissions, a Yahoo spokeswoman says.
Timberland and News Corp. have said they'll become carbon-neutral by 2010. They include in their footprints essentially the same things Dell does: boilers and vehicles, electricity use and employee business air travel. And both companies say they're trying to get suppliers to curb their emissions, too.
For Timberland, its own carbon footprint represents a slice that "probably wouldn't even register in the pie chart" of all the emissions associated with the company and its products, but it's a first step, says Betsy Blaisdell, Timberland's manager for environmental stewardship. It doesn't count emissions produced by the company's suppliers, including the prodigious emissions that come from the production of leather. Cows, as they digest their food, burp out methane, a potent global-warming gas.
Ms. Blaisdell estimates Timberland will satisfy about half of its carbon-neutral pledge by using energy more efficiently and buying renewable energy. For the other half, Timberland plans to buy credits, or offsets, which it says it's vetting for legitimacy.
News Corp. hasn't computed how much of the total emissions associated with the company will be covered by the carbon footprint it has drawn. But that percentage is probably small, says Hugh Strange, a director of the company's energy initiatives. When News Corp. calculated the annual carbon footprint of its Dow Jones & Co. unit, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, for instance, it counted largely the emissions from the electricity the newspaper's offices and printing plants use and from employee business flights. It didn't include the emissions from making the newsprint or from delivering the newspapers. Its reasoning is much the same as Dell's and Timberland's: News Corp. doesn't control those parts of its supply chain.
News Corp. was initially "kind of wary" of publicly setting a carbon-neutral goal, says Rachel Webber, another director of the company's energy initiatives. But, she says, it decided that making that kind of high-profile statement "was the single most dynamic way we could inspire people" to cut emissions.
Dell's push dates to 2002, when environmentalists launched public protests against the company, saying Dell wasn't doing enough to encourage the recycling of its computers. In response, Dell launched extensive recycling programs.
By late 2006, the company began discussing a climate-change program. Dell hired Mr. Parker, who at the time was Intel Corp.'s environmental director. It also set up an internal group of executives, called the Environment 2.0 Team, to deliver quarterly updates to Dell CEO Michael Dell.
Dell first put the onus on its customers. It launched "Plant a Tree for Me," a program in which Dell's U.S. consumers can donate a few dollars to environmental groups that plant trees. Trees can compensate for emissions because they consume carbon dioxide as they grow. In 2007, the program offset about 4% of the expected emissions from the computers Dell sold to U.S. consumers, according to Wall Street Journal calculations using figures provided by Dell and technology research firm IDC. Dell declined to comment on that figure.
In September 2007, Mr. Dell announced that the company was "going carbon-neutral." It installed more-efficient light bulbs and air conditioners in its buildings, and timers that turn off lights and computers at night and on weekends. It is also trying to cut down on employee air travel. These moves have reduced Dell's stated carbon-dioxide emissions by about 4%, or 20,000 metric tons, leaving an overall carbon footprint of 490,085 tons.
Dell is neutralizing the entirety of that footprint by purchasing renewable energy and environmental credits. The bulk of those are composed of so-called renewable-energy certificates, or RECs, from wind-power projects in the U.S.
Wind power typically costs more to produce than conventional coal- or natural-gas-fired electricity. To help defray that premium and spur wind power's growth, a market has sprung up in the U.S. in which wind-power developers can sell certificates to companies that want to offset their emissions. This works much like the broader market for "carbon credits," in which companies offset their emissions by buying credits that go toward a range of projects from renewable energy to forest preservation.
The renewable-energy-certificate market in the U.S. has soared as corporate environmental claims have proliferated. One certificate typically represents one megawatt-hour of electricity from renewable sources such as wind turbines or solar panels. By that definition, the number of certificates bought voluntarily by companies in the U.S. rose to about 10.6 million in 2007 from about 660,000 in 2003, according to the U.S. government's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Prices vary, but these certificates typically trade for a few dollars apiece.
The carbon-credit market has also grown, especially in Europe, where governments limit emissions. It has softened somewhat since July, with the price of a permit dropping nearly 50%, to about $23 today. That's in part because of speculation that the economic downturn will prompt some European countries to loosen their environmental rules.
For companies like Dell, credits are crucial to meeting their environmental promises. But even as the credit market grows, it's coming under increasing scrutiny by regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission. A main concern is that some of the projects selling credits would have been built regardless.
In such cases, the revenue from credits might help a renewable-energy company's financial performance, but it's not really funding new cuts in emissions. And that means the companies buying the credits to neutralize their own continued pollution aren't achieving the environmental gains they're claiming.
Aware of this pitfall, Dell hired a consultant this summer to review some of its planned REC purchases and confirm their legitimacy.
"They wanted to make sure that when they came out and said, 'Here's our carbon footprint,' there were no surprises," says Craig Ebert, U.S. director for ICF International, the Fairfax, Va.-based consultant Dell hired.
Neither ICF nor Dell will release the report ICF prepared. Mr. Ebert says the three-page memo was a "basic assessment" of the projects. "It wasn't a deep dive down into every nook and cranny of the projects," he says, because that "really wasn't necessary, and we weren't asked to do that by Dell." He says the report concluded that the wind-power projects Dell asked ICF to vet wouldn't have been economically feasible without the revenue from the certificate sales.
The companies involved in several of Dell's wind projects say otherwise. The smallest project -- one not reviewed by ICF -- is a single wind turbine at the University of Minnesota's West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minn. The turbine, installed in 2005, was entirely funded through a $2 million grant from a Minnesota state program designed to promote renewable energy, said Michael Reese, the research center's renewable-energy director.
The university "absolutely" would have built the turbine even if it hadn't been able to sell certificates, Mr. Reese says. The approximately $15,000 in annual revenue the university gets from the certificate sales "adds up," he says, "but it's not a main component of the funding" for the project.
The situation is similar with the Elk River Wind Project, in Beaumont, Kan., from which Dell has bought a larger number of certificates. They are sold through Empire District Electric Co., a power company based in Joplin, Mo., that buys Elk River's wind energy. Julie Maus, an Empire spokeswoman, says it's able to afford the wind power because the project gets tax credits from the federal government.
The additional revenue Empire gets from selling RECs is "just sort of icing on the cake," she says. "We would have entered into the project regardless of whether we had the ability to sell these RECs or not."
The single biggest contributor to Dell's carbon-neutral claim is a trio of wind projects in Iowa owned by Mid American Energy Co., a Des Moines-based power producer.
Mid American "certainly" would have built the wind farms regardless of whether it had been able to sell RECs, says Tom Budler, the company's general manager of wind development. The wind farms are profitable as a result of the federal tax credit, he says, so the credit profits are "just additional value."
Both Empire and Mid American say the REC revenue also helps keep down electricity rates for their customers.
ICF, the consultant Dell hired to vet several of the wind projects, stands by its study, the company's Mr. Ebert says. Dell's Mr. Parker said in an email that the computer maker has "made a conscious decision to partner with the world's most reputable providers" of environmental credits.
Representatives of other projects from which Dell is buying offsets say the company's money is critical. A project to protect a threatened forest in Madagascar, for example, wouldn't have happened without Dell's investment, says Toby Janson-Smith, an official at Conservation International, the environmental group coordinating that program. Dell is offsetting about 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually through the Madagascar project.
The carbon-neutral pledges show no sign of abating. In about two years, the University of Minnesota's contract to sell RECs from its wind turbine will expire. But the turbine will continue producing certificates. At that point, the university plans to keep the certificates for itself, the school's Mr. Reese says. The reason: The university, too, plans to use the chits to claim that it's going carbon-neutral.
Write to Jeffrey Ball at

Monday, 29 December 2008

Third of Britain's mammals 'at risk'

Climate change and habitat loss blamed as eight more species join the seriously endangered list
Jo Adetunji
The Observer, Sunday 28 December 2008

The hedgehog, water vole and hazel dormouse are among a number of British mammals that face becoming seriously endangered, research published today reveals.
Climate change and habitat loss have led to a dramatic increase in the number of mammals whose future survival is a cause for concern among conservationists, the study commissioned by the People's Trust for Endangered Species concludes. The Bechstein's bat, one of the country's rarest mammals, has shown a marked decline while the number of soprano pipistrelle bats has fallen by 46% in six years.
The report, the seventh annual assessment of the state of land mammals in Britain, says that more effort is needed to help the endangered species, which now number 18 - more than 30% of Britain's mammal species - up from 10 last year. Only two species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan list, the otter and the lesser horseshoe bat, have increased their numbers.
Professor David Macdonald, conservation biologist in the wildlife conservation unit at Oxford University and co-author of the report, said: "Next year, the focus of biodiversity conservation in England will shift from individual species to a more integrated eco-system approach, incorporating climate change adaptation principles and establishing complementary species and habitat conservation."
Unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, combined with hotter, drier summers and wetter winters, were causing changes in the distribution and behaviour of some species, such as the hazel dormouse, the study finds.
Although modern agricultural practices and the disappearance of hedgerows have had a significant impact on mammals such as the hedgehog, "conflict" between mammal species, particularly involving the invasive American mink, is also posing problems for conservationists, it adds. Mink-free zones on a large scale need to be established to stop the "catastrophic decline" of water voles that has been seen over the last 20 years.
Pine martens, one of the species on the list of conservation concern and extremely rare in England and Wales, are preying on capercaillie in Scotland, one of the fastest-declining gamebirds.
Wild deer, whose distribution has been increasing over the last 30 years, are the major cause of damage to Woodland Sites of Special Scientific Interest and are also destroying vegetation cover for smaller mammals. The damage caused is likely to worsen unless more work is done to fence in deer and manage their populations, the report concludes.
"The interaction between people and nature has positive and negative parts. If people are looking for a single, simple answer then they're going to be frustrated," Macdonald said.
"Conservation is as much about control and management as it is about preservation. Sometimes you've too many and in other places too few, which involves fostering where necessary and controlling elsewhere."
The report also tackles the controversial issue of reintroducing species into the wild where they have become extinct, including the beaver, which will be put back into Scotland next spring for the first time in 400 years. The report said the introduction would bring more benefits than costs to biodiversity. Other species being considered for release are up to 450 Eurasian lynx, which would give Scotland the fourth largest lynx population in Europe. Nida al-Fulaij, development manager for the People's Trust for Endangered Species, said mammals had often been neglected in people's imagination.
"We've been funding more and more mammal conservation work in the UK and are concerned about the number of mammals on the conservation priority list. There's no overall organisation for mammals, in the way that there is the RSPB for birds, and mammal conservation has been very fragmented. Mammals are not as easy to see as birds - many are nocturnal," al-Fulaij said.
"Lots are considered vermin and it's not until numbers drop, as with the hedgehog, that people notice. Sometimes there's a misconception that they're very numerous when in fact numbers are falling. Urban areas, hedgerows and gardens are great habitats and we would encourage people to go out and enjoy them."

Thomas L. Friedman: Win, win, win, win, win ...

By Thomas L. Friedman
Published: December 28, 2008

How many times do we have to see this play before we admit that it always ends the same way?
Which play? The one where gasoline prices go up, pressure rises for more fuel-efficient cars, then gasoline prices fall and the pressure for low-mileage vehicles vanishes, consumers stop buying those cars, the oil producers celebrate, we remain addicted to oil and prices gradually go up again, petro-dictators get rich, we lose. I've already seen this play three times in my life. Trust me: It always ends the same way - badly.
So I could only cringe when reading this article from on Dec. 22: "After nearly a year of flagging sales, low gas prices and fat incentives are re-igniting America's taste for big vehicles. Trucks and SUVs will outsell cars in December ... something that hasn't happened since February. Meanwhile, the forecast finds that sales of hybrid vehicles are expected to be way down."
Have a nice day. It's morning again - in Saudi Arabia.
Of course, it's a blessing that people who have been hammered by the economy are getting a break at the pump. But for America's long-term health, getting re-addicted to oil and gas guzzlers is one of the dumbest things we could do.

That is why I believe the second biggest decision Barack Obama has to make - the first is deciding the size of the stimulus - is whether to increase the federal gasoline tax or impose an economy-wide carbon tax. Best I can tell, the Obama team has no intention of doing either at this time. I understand why. Raising taxes in a recession is a no-no. But I've racked my brain trying to think of ways to retool America around clean-power technologies without a price signal - i.e., a tax - and there are no effective ones. Without a higher gas tax or carbon tax, Obama will lack the leverage to drive critical pieces of his foreign and domestic agendas.
How so? According to AAA, U.S. gasoline prices now average about $1.67 a gallon. Funny, that's almost exactly what gas cost on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. In the wake of 9/11, President Bush had the political space to impose a gasoline tax, a "Patriot Tax," to weaken the very people who had funded 9/11 and to stimulate a U.S. renewable-energy industry. But Bush wimped out and would not impose a tax when prices were low or a floor price when they got high.
Today's financial crisis is Obama's 9/11. The public is ready to be mobilized. Obama is coming in with enormous popularity. This is his best window of opportunity to impose a gas tax. And he could make it painless: Offset the gas tax by lowering payroll taxes, or phase it in over two years at 10 cents a month. But if Obama, like Bush, wills the ends and not the means - wills a green economy without the price signals needed to change consumer behavior and drive innovation - he will fail.
The two most important rules about energy innovation are: 1.) Price matters - when prices go up people change their habits. 2.) You need a systemic approach. It makes no sense for Congress to pump $13.4 billion into bailing out Detroit - and demand that the auto companies use this cash to make more fuel-efficient cars - and then do nothing to shape consumer behavior with a gas tax so more Americans will want to buy those cars. .
There has to be a system that permanently changes consumer demand, which would permanently change what Detroit makes, which would attract more investment in battery technology to make electric cars, which would hugely help the expansion of the wind and solar industries - where the biggest drawback is the lack of batteries to store electrons when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining. A higher gas tax would drive all these systemic benefits.
The same is true in geopolitics. A gas tax reduces gasoline demand and keeps dollars in America, dries up funding for terrorists and reduces the clout of Iran and Russia at a time when Obama will be looking for greater leverage against petro-dictatorships. It reduces our current account deficit, which strengthens the dollar. It reduces U.S. carbon emissions driving climate change. And it increases the incentives for U.S. innovation on clean cars and clean-tech.
Which one of these things wouldn't we want? A gasoline tax "is not just win-win; it's win, win, win, win, win," says the foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum. "A gasoline tax would do more for American prosperity and strength than any other measure Obama could propose."
I know it's hard, but we have got to stop "taking off the table" the tool that would add leverage to everything we want to do at home and abroad. We've done that for three decades, and we know with absolute certainty how the play ends - with an America that is less innovative, less wealthy, less respected and less powerful.

Running dry, running out: we're wasting too much water despite warnings to turn off taps

• Half of England and Wales suffer from 'water stress' • Report used to argue for more water meters
Juliette Jowit
The Guardian, Monday 29 December 2008

Nearly half of the population in England and Wales now live in areas of "water stress" where supply might not keep up with demand - a problem usually associated with parched regions such as north Africa and the Middle East.
The huge pressure on water supplies from large and wealthy populations in areas with relatively low rainfall is detailed in the most comprehensive report yet on the state of water resources by the Environment Agency.
The report, which will be published in the new year, warns that many rivers, lakes, estuaries and aquifers are already being drained so low that there is a danger to wildlife and a risk to public supplies in dry years, especially as climate change brings drier summers while the population is increasing.
People are also using far too much water. The study says average water use is 148 litres per person per day, and as high as 170 litres in the south-east of England - compared to a government target of 130.
The agency will use the report to argue for aggressive increases in the number of homes with water meters to reduce demand, and will support proposals by water companies to spend billions of pounds on infrastructure projects such as reservoirs and desalination plants to improve supplies and protect the environment. It is also expected to argue for a new system of regulation under which companies would be allowed to earn more profit if they reduced demand, a system pioneered in California and already being considered for UK energy companies.
"We're seeing a shift from how we ran things over the last 100 years," said Trevor Bishop, the agency's head of water resource policy. "The Victorians gave us a legacy of infrastructure ... they predicted what the future needed and provided for it. We can't carry on doing that ad infinitum.
"We [will] have 10-20 million extra people, we have got climate change; all the things we have done in the past will get less and less certain and more vulnerable, so what we're doing is trying to manage demands down."
The report brings together for the first time new and published data about the availability and use of water for 21 water companies, 24.3m households and a population of 54.4m. Scotland is covered by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and Northern Ireland by the devolved administration.
On average, water demand is 10% of "effective rainfall" - what is left over after evaporation to recharge rivers, lakes and aquifers. But because rainfall, population density and water use vary widely, a large area from Kent, north to the Humber estuary and west beyond Oxford is internationally classified as "water stressed" because abstraction is normally more than 20% of effective rainfall.
By this definition, 10.5m households and 24.1m people have less water available per person than Morocco and Egypt, says the report. Though hotter, these drier countries have lower populations.
"We don't look like [Morocco] because we have got a very, very sophisticated public water supply system [and] a different environmental situation," said Bishop. "What [water stress] means for us is the risk of extreme drought and the infrastructure we rely on to supply our water resources would come under stress."
Other statistics show:
• 30% of homes have a water meter, and on average they use 13% less water than unmetered households;
• In a third of the 119 catchment areas into which water bodies are divided, legal limits on abstraction were (or could be if fully used) exceeding safe levels for habitats, including chalk rivers and wetlands;
• Measured against European standards due in 2015, more than 90% of sites were or were probably at risk of failing because of pollution from "point sources" like factories and/or run-off from farms and roads - though many of these by only one of up to 37 measures;
• Under expected climate change, river flows would rise in winter but would fall on average by half in summer and autumn, and some by as much as 80%.
Water resources were "in many respects far better" than in the past, but rising demand, lower supplies and tougher standards meant a raft of policies were needed to keep taps flowing and the environment protected, said Bishop.
Water companies have submitted plans to invest £27bn in maintaining and improving infrastructure for water supplies and sewage treatment in the five years between 2010-15, up from nearly £20bn in the previous five years. The total, and the impact on customer bills, will be decided by the industry regulator, Ofwat, in 2009.
There were "pros and cons" to plans put forward, including desalination and new reservoirs, said Bishop. The agency also wants companies in the south-east to speed up plans to increase water metering to 80% of homes by 2030.

Recycling firms backpedal after price crash

Sarah Butler
The Guardian, Monday 29 December 2008

Recycling companies are beginning to stockpile raw materials as local councils struggle to off-load materials amid falling prices.
Closed Loop, one of Britain's biggest plastics recycling firms, is planning to increase its stocks of unwanted bottles by at least 5,000 tonnes and has stepped up its operation to full capacity of 3,000 tonnes a month to prevent a collapse in the relatively new industry.
The price of mixed plastics has nearly halved in the past year as some far eastern customers have stopped buying. But prices for glass and sorted plastic such as polyethylene terephthalate and high-density polyethylene have held up, according to the government-backed Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
Falling prices have resulted in some councils having trouble selling their recyclable waste. The Local Government Association (LGA) said that three-quarters of its members had been affected by a fall in prices of recycled materials. A recent survey by the LGA found that 5% of local authorities were having to store recyclable materials for longer than usual.
Closed Loop has leased four acres of land adjacent to its Dagenham factory, where it will store an additional 5,000 tonnes of plastic waste. The company is also considering storing a further 1,000 tonnes on the site of its second factory, which is under construction in Deeside.
Chris Dow, the chief executive, insisted he was not capitalising on the collapse in prices to stockpile cheap raw materials but was just keen to keep the system rolling.
Although the value of the kind of plastic he recycles had more than halved to about £50 a tonne, he insisted he would pay "a fair price".

Carbon Limits, Yes; Energy Subsidies, No

Wind and biofuel could become the next subprime mortgage fiasco.

There isn't much doubt that Congress and incoming President Barack Obama will try to impose some kind of limits on carbon emissions. The Republicans, girding in opposition, are denouncing global warming as a fraud, and claiming that either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system will impose an unacceptable burden on the economy.
Their strategy of stonewalling cedes the game in what will be the most dangerous aspect of carbon legislation -- the effort to use the proceeds of an emissions tax to subsidize a dead-end expedition into "renewable" energy.
Whether global warming is real will probably not be known for another 50 years. There are signs, in the melting of the Arctic ice cap and warming in Alaska, that something unusual is happening to the climate. But skeptics note that world temperatures haven't risen since 1998 and that, if anything, recent weather has been unseasonably cold. Still, that doesn't mean we can dump billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year without eventual consequences.

A $50 per ton carbon tax would raise gasoline prices about 25 cents per gallon -- nothing we haven't experienced in the last two years -- and accelerate a move toward electric hybrids, weaning us away from foreign oil. Nothing catastrophic there. The same levy would raise electric rates about 10%, which would encourage conservation while pushing us away from fossil fuels.
The real danger is that, instead of refunding the tax to consumers, Congress will grab the money to subsidize the current craze for specific forms of energy, particularly wind or biofuels.
Wind generation is the prime example of what can go wrong when the government decides to pick winners. The idea that it can replace significant quantities of coal or natural gas in electrical generation is a fantasy.
Windmills generate power only 25% of the time and can change output minute-to-minute. A contemporary electric grid is a highly tuned instrument that cannot vary in voltage by more than a few percentage points without causing brownouts or damaging electric equipment. Under these circumstances, wind is more of a nuisance than a source of power.
Nonetheless, wind is our fastest growing form of electrical generation, due entirely to federal and state subsidies and "renewable portfolios," in which the government tells utility companies what to build. In a few years we could find ourselves in the position of Denmark -- which has built thousands of windmills without closing a single fossil-fuel plant.

Biofuels have already proven to be an even bigger disaster. They've gobbled up 30% of our corn crop and have leveled tropical forests, while replacing less than 3% of our oil.
Solar energy, on the other hand, has distinct advantages that will emerge from limiting carbon emissions without any additional subsidies. Besides being carbon-free, solar electricity is at a maximum when it's needed most -- on hot summer afternoons. This is when the utilities need "peaking power," usually provided by expensive gas turbines. Rooftop solar collectors could provide ample peaking electricity, particularly in southern climates where air conditioning is a way of life.
The real beneficiary of a carbon-emissions regimen, however, is likely to be nuclear power. Already anticipating this revival, the nuclear industry has submitted 18 proposals for 28 new reactors before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Granted, many of Mr. Obama's environmental allies seem ready to lie down in front of bulldozers before allowing a nuclear revival to take place. But the president-elect's position seems more nuanced. His home state of Illinois, after all, gets 45% of its electricity from nuclear reactors.
A prudent position for Republicans should be: "Carbon limits, yes, subsidies, no." If a carbon tax or cap-and-trade auction is imposed, use the revenues to reduce other taxes so it won't cripple the economy. The thing to avoid is a wild, congressionally driven speculative boom in alternative energy. As Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, puts it: "Renewable energy could be the next subprime mortgage meltdown."
Mr. Tucker is author of "Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America's Long Energy Odyssey," published in October by Bartleby Press.

Power shift

Russia's warning about gas shortages in the EU comes right Opec-style cartel with other major producers

Yuri Fedotov, Sunday 28 December 2008 15.00 GMT

Britain was given a sharp reminder of the dangers to its energy supplies yesterday when Gazprom warned that western Europe could be hit by gas shortages. The Russian gas provider said a long-running row with Ukraine could disrupt supplies this winter.
The fears were raised 24 hours before Russia hosts a meeting of the world's major gas suppliers to set up an Opec-style production cartel that could push up the price of energy in Britain and elsewhere. Energy experts warned that the two events demonstrated that Russia was using energy as a political weapon, and argued Britain should accelerate its switch to renewable power in order to reduce its dependence on unpredictable carbon fuel suppliers.
Russia triggered fears of an energy "cold war" two years ago and again last year when it threatened to cut off gas first to the Ukraine and then to Belarus. This time Russia is threatening Ukraine over an alleged $2bn of arrears. Although Russia exports a relatively small amount of gas to Britain, such difficulties could push up prices for alternative supplies from Norway or elsewhere. Viktor Zubkov, who is Russia's first deputy minister as well as chairman of Gazprom, said: "We cannot rule out that the position of the Ukrainian side and certain steps, which are linked to gas transit through Ukrainian territory, could lead to a disruption of supply stability to Europe."
The Moscow company said it offered to let Kiev redeem its debt by allowing Gazprom to offset it against transit fees for next year. "So far no solution has been found because of the non-constructive position of the Ukrainian side," Zubkov said. About 80% of Russian gas exports to Europe flow through Ukraine, which insisted it would ensure the transit of supplies to European Union countries next year. "Ukraine is ready to give guarantees of uninterrupted gas supplies in 2009 to European gas consumers," said Oleksander Shlapak, chief economic aide to the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko.
The promise did little to reduce tensions. Andris Piebalgs, the EU energy commissioner, indicated he was ready to travel to Moscow early in the new year for emergency talks with the Russians and said he was "very worried". Meanwhile, a loose grouping of gas producers, known as the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, is to meet in Moscow tomorrow to sign a charter to formalise the organisation, officials at the Russian energy ministry said.
More than a dozen gas-exporting nations from around the world have been meeting since 2001, but the body has no formal membership or management. Experts from member states met last month to discuss the draft charter, and ministerial representatives are expected to sign it at the meeting, which has been driven by Russia in cooperation with Iran and Qatar. The three countries, which together account for nearly a third of the world's natural gas exports, agreed this year to form a "gas troika" for joint exploration and production, in a move that sent shock waves through importing nations.
Russian deputy prime minister Igor Sechin said last week the forum would work along similar lines to Opec, but that it would be wrong to see it as an attempt to corner the market and to force up prices. "The work that it does will be similar to that of Opec, but I want to stress that there is no talk now about any specific deals. It is simply a question of protecting the interests of producers and coordinating their work," Sechin said at the Opec ministerial meeting in Oran, Algeria, last week. David Clark, a former UK government adviser and chairman of the Russia Foundation thinktank, said he was concerned Russia and its energy allies were trying to carve up the market and further develop the use of energy as a political weapon.
"Despite the downward trend of oil and gas currently, the long-term supply-demand picture suggests that prices are going to rise and this is going to be a continuing problem," he said. "Britain and the European Union need to collectively pressure Russia to stand by its existing commitments to act as a responsible energy partner. But it also points up the need for countries such as Britain and North America to work together to find the kind of scientific fixes that will enable them to build a post-carbon future."
• Yuri Fedotov is the Russian ambassador to the UK