Sunday, 20 July 2008

Gas price hike 'should propel Government towards green power'

Published Date: 20 July 2008
By Lizzie Robinson and Amy Murphy

THE Government must raise its commitment to green power as gas prices look set to soar, according to the renewable energy industry's chief representative body.
Andrew Cooper, head of on-site renewables at the Renewable Energy Association, said more people would turn to renewable energy as an independent report warned that gas prices could rise by 70%. But he said the Government needed to help prepare the industry."What we need from the Government is a commitment to help the industry grow and move forward," said Cooper. "What we don't want to do is wait until prices are so high that everybody's clamouring for renewable energy when the industry has not been well-developed and supported to grow." Cooper said renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, heat pumps and wood pellets, could help people combat increasing living costs. "Renewable energy is going to become more cost effective compared to fossil fuels. The more people start producing their own heat and power, the more they will feel they have control over the problem. "However, Cooper said people needed help with the installation costs of renewable energy sources. He said putting in solar electricity panels cost in the region of £10,000, but suggested that Government grants to help spread this cost could help.He pointed to a scheme in the Kirklees district of West Yorkshire, where he is a councillor, in which householders do not have to pay for renewable energy products until they sell their property. And, in Germany, Cooper said, householders are paid for the energy they produce.The report, commissioned from analysts Eclipse Energy by Centrica, which owns British Gas, warned that gas prices would remain high for the foreseeable future. It predicted an annual domestic gas bill could cost more than £1,000 within a few years.Gas and electricity watchdog Energywatch called on the Government to act now to reduce the pressure on wholesale gas prices and force the industry to deliver affordable energy for Britain's poorest consumers.Chief executive Allan Asher said: "The Government is right to say that the link to oil is a cause of the problems but wrong to say there is nothing that can be done. Government can and should act in those areas where it can have an effect. Action to cut the price link between gas and oil, action to improve the working of the domestic market, action to help those who can least afford to keep warm."Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said predictions of a 70% rise in gas bills were "mere speculation", though he accepted bills were likely to rise.

Royal Dutch Shell sells wind stake to Eon and Dong Energy

THE oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to sell its stake in the £2.5 billion London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, to Eon and Dong Energy, its former partners.

Under a settlement reached last week, the utilities agreed to divide Shell’s one-third stake evenly between them. Eon and Dong will now own 50% each.
The accord was struck after some leading utilities - Centrica, Scottish Power, EDF, RWE Npower and Scottish & Southern - made first-round bids in an auction run by Dresdner Kleinwort.
The sale process provided reference points on price, but Eon and Dong’s familiarity with the project gave a critical advantage. They are expected to announce the deal this week.

The resolution of ownership will be a relief to the government, which has put wind at the heart of its renewable-energy agenda. When Shell announced its intention to quit the project in May, there were fears that Eon and Dong, a Nordic group, could scrap it altogether because of the soaring cost of building wind farms.
Paul Golby, chief executive of Eon UK, called the project’s economics “marginal at best” as prices for turbines, ships to install them and personnel have soared to record levels.
The decision by Eon and Dong to buy out Shell means the scheme, already seven years in development, will almost certainly go ahead.
Eon and Dong will now have to shoulder all the £2.5 billion development costs but some element of deferred compensation for Shell is thought to be included in the deal.

Ministers are told to drop most eco-towns

By Vikki Miller
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 20/07/2008

The number of Gordon Brown's flagship eco-towns should be slashed by two thirds because most of the proposed schemes are not green enough, senior civil servants have warned.
They have advised ministers to cut the number from 10 to only two or three "exemplar" towns, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.
The civil servants from the Department of Communities and Local Government said that most of the proposals being considered by the Government were not sufficiently environmentally
-friendly and would be so damaging to the eco-town "brand" that they should not be allowed to go ahead.
One source close to the bidding process said: "You wonder why some of the bids were selected in the first place. Civil servants don't want to advise ministers to go ahead with projects that are going to be a catastrophe. There are two or three in there that could proceed but some of the bids are just suicidal."
However, the Prime Minister is understood to be applying pressure to push ahead with the policy in its entirety, setting the scene for a battle between Downing Street and Whitehall.
The source added that officials from the Department for Transport had expressed concerns about infrastructure issues, while civil servants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are alarmed that some proposed towns, including at Ford, West Sussex, would be built on flood plains.
A pet project of Gordon Brown, and one of the first new policy programmes he announced after taking over from Tony Blair a year ago, eco-towns are designed to be low-energy, carbon-neutral developments constructed from "eco-friendly" materials.
Each town will contain between 5,000 and 20,000 homes and will be the first new towns built in Britain since the Sixties. Five will be built by 2016, with another five completed by 2020.
A government announcement on the policy is expected this week. It will give an update on the remaining bids and show that three developers have now officially withdrawn their schemes and that a further proposal, for a town in the Leeds area, is still without a site or developer.
Last week, Tesco hinted that it would withdraw its plans for an 8,000-home eco-town at Hanley Grange, Cambridgeshire, after the medical charity The Wellcome Trust refused to sell it a crucial piece of land that was needed to proceed.
The likely withdrawal of the proposal by Jarrow Investments, which this newspaper revealed was a front for Britain's biggest retailer, would be the fourth in a series of departures from the original 15-strong shortlist. It has also emerged that at least one more developer does not yet own the land it wants to develop. The Coltishall Group, which wants to build a 5,000-home eco-town in Norfolk, has not yet been told if the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will sell the 625-acre site, which it bought off the Ministry of Defence. The MoJ plans to build a 500-place prison there.
Another source involved with the selection process said that civil servants were now going back to developers who originally submitted bids but did not make it on to the final shortlist, in order to boost numbers, in case Gordon Brown refuses to back down.
The source said: "That would be an insurance policy, to make sure there were ten. Some of those shortlisted are now clearly duds, so they have to have more up their sleeve that are not as obviously embarrassing."
Last night, Grant Shapps, the shadow housing minister, said: "Ministers have taken a good concept of building new green housing and have managed to destroy their own project by trampling over local democracy and systematically downgrading the green credentials of eco-towns to the point where they'll be less environmentally friendly than all other housing built at the same time."
The government believes the new towns will combat the growing housing crisis in an environmentally friendly way. But the policy has come up against many high profile critics, including Lord Rogers, the Labour peer and former government adviser on cities, who branded eco-towns as "one of the biggest mistakes government can make".
Gideon Amos, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said it was important to build as many eco-towns as was feasible. He said: "The credit crisis is leading to an even greater demand for affordable homes - we need as many eco-towns to go forward as can meet the very challenging standards we are calling for."
A spokesperson for the Communities and Local Government department said: "Our position throughout this process has been that we will shortlist up to ten potential sites for eco-towns - and we are making no change to our policy."
Bordon, Hants 5,500-home scheme considered a good option by the Government and environmental groups
Ford, West Sussex 5,000 homes planned for a former airfield. High-profile opponents include the television presenter Ben Fogle
Imerys site, Cornwall 5,000 homes on former clay pits. Only proposal in the South-West
Pennbury, Leics Three blueprints for an eco-town of up to 15,000 homes at Leicester airport
Rossington, South Yorks Scaled back from 15,000 homes to 5,000
Rushcliffe, Notts Recent proposal for 6,000 homes, backed by Crown Estates and Ministry of Defence
Weston Otmoor, Oxon Up to 15,000 homes opposed by Tony Henman, father of former tennis player Tim
Marston Vale, Beds Up to 15,000 homes planned despite withdrawal of second scheme
Middle Quinton, Warwicks Proposal for 6,000 homes. Opposed by the actors Helen Mirren and John Nettles
Hanley Grange, Cambs Facing the axe after the Wellcome Trust refused to sell 270 acres of land. Had recently increased from 8,000 homes to 13,000
Coltishall, Norfolk Government owns the site and is refusing to say whether it will release the land
Elsenham, Essex Under constant review and abandoning it is an option
Leeds city region Has no site or developer
Curborough, Staffs Formerly a 5,000-home development
Manby, Lincs 5,000 homes were originally planned
New Marston, Beds Up to 15,000 homes had been planned for same site as Marston Vale

BAA invented ‘green’ jumbo to help win Heathrow case

Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Marie Woolf

BAA, the operator of Heathrow, used the low emissions figures of a non-existent green jumbo to help clinch the environmental case for a third runway.
The twin-engine 450-seat “virtual” jet was invented for the environmental modelling required in the government consultation after BAA realised it would otherwise exceed the limit for noise and pollution.
According to BAA submissions, the green jumbo will account for more flights out of Heathrow by 2030 than four-engined giants such as the double-decker A380, or the new generation of Boeing 747s. It promises to be the world’s quietest and cleanest jumbo.

BAA ‘interfering’ in break-up probe
Airports company caught trying to influence consultants advising inquiry that urged a break-up of the group

There is just one snag: Airbus and Boeing, the world’s biggest aircraft makers, have no intention of building it.
“Nothing like this is on the drawing board,” said one senior industry source. “I don’t think it’s feasible because the size of engines that would be required for this plane to safely take off don’t exist and aren’t under development.”
New evidence of the flawed consultation, to be shown on BBC’s Panorama tomorrow, will increase pressure on the government to review its plans for Heathrow’s expansion. Ministers have already delayed the decision after a backlash against proposals to permit an extra 220,000 flights a year.
The government has been accused of acting “like a subsidiary of BAA” over its plans for Heathrow. John Hutton, the business secretary, signalled last week that Heathrow growth was likely to be approved when he pledged the government was ready to take “difficult decisions on airport expansion”.
The Sunday Times revealed in March how BAA collaborated with the Department for Transport (DfT) on the official consultation and repeatedly altered the data to get the required result. It has now emerged that one of the big concerns was that four-engine jets would cause a disproportionate amount of noise and pollution if a third runway was built.
BAA initially predicted that 20% of planes taking off from Heathrow by 2030 would be four-engine jets. It subsequently cut that to 11% and then to 6%.
BAA’s “virtual” plane was quietly inserted into the evidence to reduce the number of long-haul four-engine aircraft. The research was used by Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary, to demonstrate how Heathrow could be expanded without causing more noise or pollution.
Documents obtained by The Sunday Times under freedom of information laws show DfT officials were sceptical. Last September, days before the results were to be signed off by ministers, e-mails show officials were alarmed that BAA’s predictions for a cleaner, quieter fleet might be too optimistic and would be challenged.
BAA responded that it could use “rules of thumb” for a quick fresh forecast, but there was not enough time to produce robust research for publication.
It appears officials were left with no option but to use the airport operator’s data and the green superjumbo.
BAA said last week its new jet was a realistic prediction. It said if such a plane was not built the number of flights using Heathrow could be reduced to ensure environmental limits were not breached.
Opponents of expansion say it is another example of how the consultation was fixed. “This is an invented plane that experts say won’t be built,” said Justine Greening, the Conservative MP who has campaigned against the airport’s expansion. “There is a point at which a biased process became a bogus process.”
The DfT said the green jumbo was intended only as an “illustrative example”.
BBC’s Panorama investigation, Friends in High Places, is broadcast tomorrow at 8.30pm

£100m green energy plant plan to power paper mill

Published Date: 19 July 2008
By Jenny Haworth

A £100 million green power plant is to be built at a paper mill in Fife.
The 45-megawatt biomass plant will cut the Tullis Russell paper mill's carbon emissions by about 250,000 tonnes a year. About two-thirds of its power is expected to go into the national grid.The combined heat and power plant will provide the paper mill in Markinch, near Glenrothes, with heat and electricity and will create 30 jobs. It currently uses a coal-fired plant to provide its steam and electricity.The new plant will be built by RWE Npower Cogen and Tullis Russell, with the aid of £8.1 million in funding from the Scottish Government.Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said: "The project complements the Scottish Government's work to make Scotland greener." Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace chief scientist, said: "Assuming the biomass comes from sustainable sources, this is exactly the kind of project needed to tackle climate change and increase energy security

Cement plant builds up list of 292 emission limit violations

A CEMENT works in East Lothian exceeded emission limits 292 times last year, according to environment watchdog Sepa.
A new report shows how the LaFarge plant near Dunbar failed to pass Sepa's operator assessment for large industrial sites. The terms of the plant's environmental licence means there are daily limits on the amount of dust it can emit, to protect human health. However, the breaches were all just over the limits and the company has recently invested in new equipment which has significantly reduced its emissions. A Sepa spokeswoman said: "Air quality standards which are set to protect the environment and human health are not believed to have been exceeded "The limits for dust, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide were only marginally exceeded and the contribution of emissions from Lafarge to ambient air quality, for these pollutants, under normal operating conditions is well below the air quality standards."Sepa chose not to take formal enforcement action because the limits were only marginally exceeded and Lafarge, was already taking satisfactory action to resolve the problems."

Government risks 'losing the plot' over eco-towns, warns top architect

By Stephen Adams, Arts Correspondent
Last Updated: 12:01pm BST 18/07/2008

One of Britain's most high profile architects has warned the Government it risks "losing the plot" over its plans for up to 10 new eco-towns.
Sunand Prasad, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), warned ministers must not view the controversial developments purely as a way of meeting housing demand.
He told The Daily Telegraph that once eco-towns were seen as a way of meeting housing targets, then "you've lost the plot".
Ministers are to pick up to 10 locations for eco-towns from an original shortlist of 15 sites across the country. Each will contain thousands of homes. But opposition to the developments - many of which are planned for greenfield sites in rural areas such as west Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire - has been vociferous, with critics claiming the proposals are little more than an attempt to "greenwash" plans for a massive expansion of housebuilding.
John Nettles, the actor, has accused Gordon Brown of damaging England's heritage over plans for an eco-town near his country home near Stratford-upon-Avon, claiming they would turn the area into a "Milton Keynes II" and "suffocate" the home of Shakespeare. Dame Judi Dench is also opposed to the plans.
Mr Prasad made his comments at the launch of a landmark exhibition on the life and work of the controversial architect Le Corbusier. The Swiss-born Modernist architect was instrumental in shaping British post-war urban planning, even though he never designed a permanent building here.
The architect, who said homes should be "machines for living", has been accused of giving birth to an inhuman physical landscape of lofty tower blocks and dark stairwells which many blame for fostering the social decline of the inner city.
Mr Prasad defended Le Corbusier's legacy but said politicians risked repeating the mistakes of the past if they focused on meeting targets to the detriment of architectural excellence.
He explained: "I think there's always a problem of poor imitation. It seems completely unfair to me to blame the genius Le Corbusier for the poverty of imitation. "We are about to embark on the same thing - it's the targets and numbers culture, which is what politicians do."
Turning to the Government's next big planning project, he said: "If you think of eco-towns as the solution to the numbers game, you've lost the plot.
"They will only account for four per cent of projected housing demand." Rather, eco-towns should be smaller-scale "test-beds" for green living, he said.
"They are, or should be, a potential solution to future low-carbon living. They should be seen as trials and test beds for the future.
"I'm in favour of three of four - with local support - and I'm optimistic that we will have that."
His comments came as eco-towns received a fresh blow, with the medical charity The Wellcome Trust pulling out of a plan to develop one of the remaining 13 shortlisted sites. It had planned to sell 270 acres at Hanley Grange in Cambridgeshire, where up to 11,000 homes were planned for a total site of 927 acres.
The Wellcome Trust said it had decided not to proceed after giving "very careful consideration to the approach".
Developers for eco-towns in Marston Vale in Bedfordshire, Curborough in Staffordshire, Selby in North Yorkshire, and Manby in Lincolnshire, have also withdrawn their bids. A further two of the 15 proposed sites are also in doubt as developers are reviewing their plans.
Mr Prasad added he was "optimistic" about the direction ministers were now taking on eco-towns, having sat on a panel to discuss their development. He said: "They started off on the wrong foot, but the signs are optimistic."

Cheaper coal demand fires up Welsh mines

By Rebecca Bream
Published: July 19 2008 03:00

With world coal prices reaching records this year, the slow decline of the UK coal industry has halted and there are even signs of a renaissance. This has benefited Energybuild, the owner of the Aberpergwm and Nant y Mynydd coalmines in south Wales, which listed on Aim last August. The Aberpergwm mine was closed by British Coal after the miners' strike in 1985, but was reopened by entrepreneurs in the late 1990s and taken over by Energybuild in 2003. The company produces between 100,000 and 150,000 tonnes of coal a year and sells most of it to the nearby Aberthaw power station on a contract linked to world coal prices. Energybuild aims to increase its output to 440,000 tonnes a year within three years and reach 770,000 tonnes by 2013. The stock was listed at 20p and peaked at 30p last month. Energybuild's results in September are expected to be strong and should give the shares some upward momentum.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Money talks on climate change

Al Gore's call for carbon-free electricity changes the terms of the global warming debate by focusing on investment

Dayo Olopade,
Friday July 18, 2008

On Thursday in Washington, former vice-president Al Gore asked the American people to join him in an ambitious plan to source 100% of American electricity from "clean and truly renewable" sources in 10 years. It was fitting that the speech, held in a hall named for the Daughters of the American Revolution, took place at a safe remove from the Capitol. In one chamber, an embattled, unpopular Congress debated fixes to the newly-distraught American economy. In another, stewards of America's energy action movement continued a trend in which greens rally around pocketbook woes facing ordinary Americans. It's this unconventional environmental frame, in this hard-hit financial climate, that has the best chance of giving Gore his wish in 10 years' time.
In the address, sponsored by the newly-formed non-profit Alliance for Climate Protection, Gore ticked off the inconvenient litany of environmental horrors facing the planet, from droughts to wildfires to freakish storm patterns. He continually came back to the same bogeyman: carbon based fuels. Their villainy, however, is not purely ozone related. In his call to action, Gore shifted the emphasis, making a pitch to the audience that focused less on tree-hugging than on matters of economic and national security.
The energy crisis facing America, Gore chided, is catholic. "We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet," he said. "Every bit of that has got to change." The major impediment to such change, he continued, is familiar factions fighting for "old solutions to each crisis separately".
This argument, which is gaining currency in environmental circles, suggests that a "green economy" that encourages a diverse portfolio of energy sources cuts through the old political order and provides a way to cushion the blow of rising energy costs and the market impact of any eventual cap-and-trade legislation. This "post-carbon economy", as congressman Jay Inslee of Washington put it to me afterward, is latent and vital - and is entirely a matter of dollars and cents.
Whereas environmentalists have sometimes seemed long on righteousness and short on numbers, Gore backed his case for renewable electricity with logical case studies. Electricity production is responsible for one-third of US global warming emissions. He explained the math of clean alternatives like solar and wind energy in easy terms: 40 minutes of sun on the surface of the planet could power one year of electricity in the US; one day of plains-state wind could do the same. And - quite the inverse of coal or oil-based power - as the demand for these technologies increases, their price drops.
While Gore is certainly part of the cap-and-trade brigade, tellingly, the focus of his speech was on neither regulation nor conservation, but on investment. This says much, perhaps, about the ACP's bipartisan "We Campaign", which has been running ads featuring Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson, Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich. An appeal for investment in clean technology appeals to both market-savvy conservatives and save-the-whales liberals. Ultimately, the kind of investments called for by Gore and other groups, like the interdisciplinary Apollo Alliance - named for the historic mission set by president John Kennedy in 1960 - will stop the haemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs; repair America's leaking, creaky infrastructure; and place the US on a more independent course while taking new energy technologies to scale.
Of course, political hurdles are real and galling - the lack of congressional will to renew subsidies for young industries like wind and solar are a twig in the craw of climate enthusiasts. But as the price of oil soars ever higher and the likelihood of a price on carbon sinks in, markets are responding, and billions of dollars are flowing into research and development for renewables - even at the largest oil companies.
From attendees Bob Barr, libertarian candidate for president, to, court composer for the Democratic party, the oohs and aaahs in Constitution Hall underscored the radically new line of conversation Gore has opened. He was correct in stating that "the common thread is deeply ironic in its simplicity." Because frankly, money talks, and a phased retreat from a grey economy could be a winning argument with Americans paying closer attention to their own bottom lines.

Brazil lends neighboring Uruguay hydroelectric power for Southern Hemisphere winter

The Associated Press
Published: July 18, 2008

BRASILIA, Brazil: Brazil is vowing to supply Uruguay with hydroelectric power throughout the winter when demand for energy to heat and light homes there climbs.
Brazil's Mining and Energy Ministry said in a statement Friday that Brazil will send up to 72 megawatts of free electricity a day starting this weekend. The initiative will last through July and August, the peak of the Southern Hemisphere winter.
Uruguay will return an equal amount of energy when winter demand eases.
Brazil also says it is negotiating to build a 350 megawatt, coal-fueled thermoelectric plant in its southern Rio Grande do Sul state in cooperation with Uruguay.
Brazil has been supplying Uruguay with coal-based power for the past four winters.

RWE to build biomass plant

By Andrew Bolger
Published: July 19 2008 03:00

RWE npower Cogen, the electricity supplier, is to spend more than £100m on a 45MW combined heat and power biomass plant that will provide steam and electricity for the Tullis Russell Papermakers mill at Markinch in Fife.
The paper mill currently uses a coal-fired plant that will replaced by the new facility, reducing Tullis Russell's annual carbon emissions by 250,000 tonnes.
The biomass plant will use both "virgin" wood, such as trees, as well as "recycled" wood such as old furniture, doors and cabinets that would otherwise end up in landfill.
The new facility, which should be operational by 2011, will generate 6 per cent of Scotland's renewable generation targets. RWE npower Cogen already owns 11 CHP plants in the UK, but this will be its first to use biomass.
The Scottish government will give up to £8.1m in regional selective assistance for the plant, which will create 30 new jobs and safeguard a further 540.
Alex Salmond, first minister, said this announcement pointed the way to the future and showed the resilience of the Scottish economy in the face of international financial pressure.
"We have seen a paradigm shift in energy costs," he said. "Scotland is in a great position because our natural resources mean we have a commanding share of just about every one of these emerging renewable technologies."
The Scottish National party leader said he was certain his devolved government would meet early, and exceed, its target of producing 31 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2011.
Tullis Russell was founded in 1809. Chris Parr, chief executive, said the move to biomass would make the employee-owned company a genuine low carbon producer for the cards, covers and premium packaging markets it served. Andrew Bolger
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

First to complete green scheme

FIRSTGROUP, the Aberdeen-based transport giant, has been accredited under the Energy Efficiency Accreditation Scheme (EEAS) for its work in emission reduction in its fleet.
First, which owns UK Rail (including First ScotRail), is the first transport company to complete the transport emissions accreditation scheme.In 2007, First unveiled its climate change strategy, aiming to reduce carbon, emissions by 25 per cent in its bus operations and 20 per cent in its rail division, both by 2020.

Golf carts switch course from green to road

Oliver Burkeman in Washington,
Friday July 18, 2008

A Missouri police chief, Rickey Jones, this week surprised a drug dealer in the middle of a deal. The really surprising part was how Jones arrived at the scene: rather than screeching to a halt in a squad car, he approached, almost silently, in an electric golf cart. "There's no engine, no loud motor, so he didn't hear us coming," he recalled.
When the suspect sped away in a car, Jones couldn't give chase: the cart struggled to go faster than 20mph. Instead, he radioed a colleague in a more traditional police vehicle, who intercepted the fleeing car some distance away.
Before long, the canvas-covered, open-sided carts may be less of a surprise on the streets, such as those of Pine Lawn, Missouri, a working-class suburb of St Louis. Under pressure from rising fuel prices, towns across the United States are passing bylaws to permit the use of golf carts on their streets as an alternative to cars, not just as a crime-fighting tool but for ordinary citizens.
"You can definitely save on gas - my cart's electric, but even the ones that run on gas hardly use any of it," said Paul Heideman, mayor of Ashkum, a town in rural Illinois.
Numerous other towns in Illinois, Indiana and North Carolina have implemented similar regulations or are considering them. And in several places where the carts are an increasingly common sight, another benefit is becoming clear: with no windows or doors to separate drivers from each other, or from pedestrians, the texture of daily life is changing. "It leads to a friendlier atmosphere," Heideman said.
A few hours away in the small town of Cerro Gordo, golf carts will become lawful street vehicles from tomorrow, thanks in part to the campaigning efforts of Shamarie Allen and her husband, who run a golf-cart customisation business. Golf carts have a serious image problem, however: many people associate them with old age and pensioners .
But with the help of Allen's company, LG Custom Carts, carts can be kitted out with chrome wheels, leather seats and high-end gadgetry - an effect slightly marred by the legal requirement to display a sign declaring that the cart is a slow-moving vehicle.
Despite the potential for savings on fuel, the carts may not be an ideal solution for those worst hit by the current economic downturn: a basic vehicle costs around $2,000. And the danger of injury or death, especially in the event of a collision with a car or truck, is high.
Despite its limitations, though, Jones said they had transformed the job of policing Pine Lawn. "Now people can talk to them [officers] more easily," he said.

Nissan X-Trail that runs on zero shame

After an inauspicious start, Helen Nugent found that the hydrogen-powered Nissan offered an eerily smooth drive
Helen Nugent

To the casual observer, it looked like any other petrol-guzzling Chelsea tractor driven by a mother clogging the streets on the school run. This, though, was a 4x4 with a difference, one that even the most committed tree-hugger would be proud to drive.
It emits water from its exhaust fit for drinking and glides along in near silence. It is one of the world’s first hydrogen cars and, according to its makers, the future of motoring. It also costs half a million pounds.
“We started working on fuel-cell technology in 1996,” said Brian Johnston, the senior project engineer for electric and fuel-cell vehicles at Nissan. “In this prototype, there is a hydrogen tank under the back seat, a fuel cell under the driver’s seat and it takes 3-5 minutes to fill up. It is a reasonable fuel choice for the future.”
At present, the company’s hydrogen cars number fewer than 20 and depend on complex technology to make them roadworthy. Put simply, the Nissan X-Trail relies on hydrogen being fed through the fuel cell to produce electricity. That electricity powers a motor that drives the wheels, with the surplus charging a heavy bank of batteries used to provide extra acceleration when needed.
During testing the X-Trail reached 93mph (150km/h) and travelled for about 250 miles before needing a refill. But car manufacturers admit that much development work has to be done before fuel-cell vehicles are a common sight on the streets. Apart from the challenges of the fuel cell’s durability, radical cost reductions are crucial before mass production.
If all goes to plan, motorists seeking an emission-friendly car (which is exempt from congestion charges) will be able to buy a Nissan fuel-cell vehicle by about 2015, provided, of course, that there is somewhere to fill it up.
Very few hydrogen centres exist in Britain – there is a station in Birmingham and one in Wales – but officials insist that oil giants such as BP and Shell have the design experience and safety expertise to install hydrogen pumps on forecourts.
Nigel Brandon, energy senior research Fellow at Imperial College, London, said: “It is a matter of deciding where and when to build such an infra-structure. There is no demand in the UK at the moment because we do not have an extensive network of hydrogen vehicles. But it could be done.”
When The Times put the fuel-cell technology to the test in Kensington, West London, yesterday, Nissan ensured that the tank was full. Even the company’s highly qualified engineers, waiting nervously on the kerb, however, could not prevent a minor mishap.
Unused to an automatic vehicle, The Times got off to an inauspicious start. Once the passengers had adjusted to their whiplash, the drive was eerily smooth. With no engine to rev, the journey was unusually quiet. Casting aside unhelpful comments about the vehicle’s potential combustibility, the test drive passed off without incident and the car handled beautifully. Reassurances were given later on the robustness of the safety features.
It is estimated that filling a tank with hydrogen could cost drivers about two thirds the price of petrol. However, unless the technology is improved, some motorists may be reluctant to switch to a fuel that still, at the outset, involves the production of CO2. The current primary source of hydrogen is natural gas and renewable energy sources are expensive.
Fuelling the argument
Biodiesel This was one of the first automotive vehicle fuels and has become the fastest-growing alternative transportation fuel. It is used in conventional diesel engines
Electric Electric vehicles are compact, designed to travel at low speeds and operate with electricity that is stored in a battery that must be recharged
Hybrid electric An increasing number of passenger vehicles are available as hybrids. They do not need to be plugged in. Instead, the battery is charged by the engine while the vehicle is in use
Natural gas This is used in two forms to fuel vehicles: compressed or liquefied
Hydrogen Fuel-cell vehicles powered with hydrogen are at present prohibitively expensive but are expected to go on sale by 2015

Attack on Australian carbon trading scheme

By Elizabeth Fry in Sydney
Published: July 19 2008 02:25

The fight to set the terms of Australia’s emissions trading system has begun with a claim that nearly A$60bn ($58bn) of new liquefied natural gas projects have been put at risk because the sector is not enough of a polluter to qualify for free carbon permits.
Woodside Petroleum, Australia’s second-largest oil and gas producer, says the scheme, outlined this week and to be introduced in 2010, would unfairly put the burden of cost on low greenhouse gas emitters – such as Woodside, which exports clean LNG to energy-hungry Asia – rather than heavy emitters such as coal-burning power stations.

Woodside, which is 34 per cent owned by Royal Dutch Shell, said the A$15bn (US$14.6bn, £7.3bn, €9.2bn) LNG export industry was unlikely to qualify for free permits under a scheme that proposes two levels of assistance for heavy emitters. The heaviest polluters would be initially eligible for free permits for 90 per cent of their output, while the next tier – companies with 1,500-2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per A$1m of revenue – could get 50 per cent of required credits free.
Although the discussion paper anticipates that the oil and gas industry would qualify for 50 per cent free permits, Woodside says it emits less than the required level.
“This emissions trading scheme is going to get the wrong answer. It’s going to hit our returns and stop our new projects going forward, when we are part of the global answer,” said Don Voelte, Woodside’s chief executive.
Wayne Swan, the federal treasurer, who is holding talks on climate change with Michael Cullen, his New Zealand counterpart, said it was too early to say what impact the 2010 emissions regime would have on companies and for Mr Voelte to be drawing conclusions.
He said he empathised with the LNG industry and that he would meet Woodside next week to discuss whether it qualified for free permits. “It is not entirely clear, nor do we have the latest data, on the energy intensity of the operations that Mr Voelte is talking about,” said Mr Swan.
“We will sit down with the industry and talk with them about the propositions that they have. But at the end of the day, there is no free lunch. The whole point of this scheme is to protect our national interest.”
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association is lobbying the government on the basis that the LNG industry helps Asia address climate change by exporting a clean energy source and should not be punished through higher costs. Foreign oil companies investing in the Australian LNG sector, including Inpex and Chevron , also raised concerns about the proposed system on Friday in statements to Bloomberg News.
Kevin Rudd, prime minister, shrugged off criticisms, saying he never expected the introduction of the scheme to be easy. “This is not a cost-free, pain-free solution for the future. It involves some hard decisions.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008