Thursday, 24 July 2008

The salmon business: Can marine farming every be eco friendly?

Every day, a million Britons tuck into salmon, and demand is rising fast. Marine farming is the supermarkets' answer – but can it ever be eco-friendly? Martin Hickman reports
Thursday, 24 July 2008

Salmon is an easy fish to love. Simple and tasty, its pink flesh is pulled from supermarket shelves and transformed into an array of increasingly exotic dishes.
Fried with wasabi, baked with sea-salt, or served Thai-style on a bed of noodles, the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is an everyday stalwart of the nation's cookery shows, recipe books and domestic kitchens.
So common, in fact, that a species once an aristocratic delicacy has become the fish most commonly eaten in the UK – more popular than tuna, cod or haddock. One million people eat salmon every day.
Until now, though, little attention has been paid to its provenance. People know about the threat to cod posed by overfishing, or how tuna trawlers also scoop up dolphins. But salmon? Is it farmed or wild; kind or cruel; sustainable or environmentally damaging?
Salmon is actually one of the hidden problems in the meat and fish business, according to environmentalists and animal welfare campaigners.
Salmon are naturally programmed to swim hundreds of miles, moving downstream from their birthplaces in British rivers to the open ocean, and then back – leaping upstream in the rivers – to spawn.
In fish farms, their complex life cycle is artificially managed by man. Despite their extraordinary journey in the open sea, the fish are kept in 100-ft wide pens. Some escape and infect their wild cousins with lice.
To answer the critics, some British supermarkets have begun to insist on their salmon being produced to higher standards. This summer Marks & Spencer became the first retailer to switch its entire range of farmed salmon to the Freedom Food scheme run by the RSPCA. Sainsbury's has also introduced Freedom Food salmon as part of its pitch to middle-market gourmands.
Both companies are vaunting their newly accredited salmon as evidence that they take animal welfare seriously; that their fish is virtuous. Five million fish a year will have their lives improved as a result of the conversion to RSPCA standards.
But just how much better is fish with the Freedom Food label than ordinary salmon – and, in any case, should we be eating farmed salmon at all?
To start with, we need to look at the reality of Britain's most popular fish. The overwhelming likelihood is that unless your salmon was sold as "wild", it has been farmed, perhaps in Scotland, but quite possibly in Norway or Chile, both big players in the industry.
According to the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming, fish farmers have traditionally paid little attention to the welfare of their silvery charges.
Environmentalists have complained that salmon farming is denuding the sea of the smaller wild fish fed to the carnivorous salmon. By the time it is harvested from a Scottish loch or Norwegian fjord, a salmon will have consumed many times its final weight in sand eels or whiting.
Whatever the concerns, there is little prospect of a large-scale return to wild salmon. Fish farming is likely to be with us for the long-term, prospering from the failure of political leaders to stop over-fishing, which, according to one recent study, is likely to destroy wild populations as soon as 2048.
With the world's seven billion people demanding protein, aquaculture is filling the gap. In the past 35 years, the proportion of farmed fish has risen from 5 per cent to 40 per cent in 2005 of all fish consumed.
Aquaculture is scheduled to go on rising, eventually soaring way above the diminished annual wild harvest.
According to the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation, the UK salmon industry is now worth £1bn a year. Conventional fish is stocked in densities of 20kg per cubic metre of seawater. The most cramped fish can be identified by their withered dorsal fins; their flesh is flabbier, the white fat thicker. They don't taste as nice as salmon given more space and care.
So three years ago Marks & Spencer decided to look afresh at its salmon and devise a new system that would be better for the animals and kinder to the environment. It came up with the Lochmuir brand, now used in all its products from ready meals to smoked slices. The fish are farmed in the west of Scotland, where the jagged coastline shelters the sea coves and lochs.
Instead of being hauled to shore in nets, the salmon are slowly gathered by a £10m well-boat, which lowers their temperature to make them less sensible to their slaughter. As they swim gently round the large well around which the boat is constructed, John Rea, Scottish Sea Farm's production manager, says: "I'm impressed by those dorsal fins. They're not very typical on farmed fish. They're an expression of what M&S are trying to do. If you had these in an intensive farming situation you would find the fins were quite eroded. But the fin condition here is pretty good – they are pretty close to wild dorsal fins."
The creatures certainly look calm. "If there was a lot of thrashing around here, the fish would be very stressed," says Jim Gallagher, Scottish Sea Farms' managing director.
Andrew Mallison, M&S's fish buyer, specified that the wild fish used to feed the salmon should come from sustainable species and that the salmon should have 20 per cent more space. They grow 10 to 15 per cent slower than the industry standard. Fat levels are 15 per cent, rather than 22 per cent.
"Aquaculture can be done right, but there will always be horses for courses," says Mallison. "There will be people who don't want to pay a fair price for their salmon: they will always want it as cheap as possible. And you can make it cheaper than we do here. We have incurred costs by saying that we want better feed and we don't want to push so many fish into a cage, but all those things we believe are worth it because we think that's what our customer wants: they want fish grown well with a good eating quality.
"You can go to another farming operation and you will have two boys in boiler suits sitting in a Portakabin on the shore of a loch somewhere," Mallison adds, "and they will go out and look at a couple of cages and will throw a bit of feed in. And they will harvest when they are required to, but they won't really know how good that fish was. They will never hear anything more about it unless it was really bad."
Gallagher suggests the perception of the industry is now "historic" – that salmon farming has improved, with better sea-lice treatment and stronger cages. He points out this is an industry which has only been around for 30 years – 10 life cycles of a salmon.
"Remember, our livelihood is based on not having escapes. We want to grow the fish on the farm to harvest size and then we want to sell it someone who appreciates what we have done. The industry has invested heavily in the infrastructure."
So what does Compassion in World Farming think of Freedom Food salmon?
"On an ideal level, we just don't like the idea of fish being farmed, particularly salmon," says Peter Stevenson, the organisation's chief policy adviser.
"In natural conditions, they travel and swim very long distances. They roam the oceans and therefore to farm them in cages, even to an organic or better standards is something we are unhappy with.
"But if you are going to buy farmed salmon then please go for organic fish or the Freedom Food brand. The RSPCA scheme shows that it is commercially feasible to have higher standards for farmed salmon."
Dish of the day: salmon facts
* Like trout, salmon is unusual in being both a freshwater and seawater fish. Salmon swim out to the ocean and back to lay their eggs.
* There are six stages in the salmon life cycle, which takes several years to complete, from spawn to adult: eggs/spawn; alevin (babies feeding from a yolk sac); fry (small fish that adapt to freshwater); parr (quickly growing fish that turn silvery-blue); smolts (young salmon ready to migrate); adult fish.
* UK shop sales of salmon are worth £1bn a year.
* Salmon generates £400m a year for Scottish fish farms
* Every day, one million Britons eat salmon.

Los Angeles County approves commercial ethanol plant

The Associated Press
Published: July 24, 2008

LOS ANGELES: A proposal to build the nation's first commercial ethanol production plant using yard trimmings, paper, wheat straws and other green wastes was approved Wednesday by Los Angeles County officials.
Members of the county's regional planning commission unanimously agreed to issue a zoning permit to BlueFire Ethanol to build a $30 million facility in Lancaster, a desert community north of Los Angeles. BlueFire is based in Irvine, California.
Construction of the plant, to be built next to a landfill, could start in the fall if no one opposes the project. The public has until Aug. 6 to appeal the commission's decision.
"This is a significant milestone, it's history-making in many respects," said BlueFire's president and CEO, Arnold R. Klann.
Ethanol is an alcohol added to gasoline to make it burn cleaner and to make engines run more smoothly. Most gasoline sold in the United States is now mixed with up to 10 percent ethanol.

The majority of the 161 ethanol plants in the country produce ethanol from grains such as corn and wheat, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, a trade association for the ethanol industry.
Advocates promote ethanol as a homegrown fuel that reduces the country's dependence on foreign oil, though critics have blamed biofuel production for diverting edible grain and causing a surge in corn prices in the last year.
The BlueFire plant, which is the first to use green wastes, is the next step beyond using grains to produce ethanol, said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the association.
"Think about the potential of turning garbage in huge cities like L.A. (Los Angeles), New York and Chicago into a renewable fuel," Hartwig said. "The environmental, economic and energy benefits are tremendous."
California currently has four ethanol plants, two of them use corn as the primary fuel source, one uses beverage waste and one uses cheese whey, said Susanne Garfield, a spokeswoman with the California Energy Commission. The plants produce 81 million gallons (306 million liters) of ethanol per year, and the state, which uses 950 million gallons (3,596 million liters) of ethanol annually, imports the rest from Midwestern states, she said.
BlueFire, which uses a patented technology that extracts sugar from straws, paper and other sources of cellulose to produce ethanol, expects to process roughly 170 tons (154 metric tons) of green wastes per day to make 3.2 million gallons (12 million liters) of ethanol a year, Klann said.
Plans for two other California plants are in the works, including one in the town of Mecca, southeast of Palm Springs, he said. The other location has not been announced.
Klann said his company wants to build 20 plants across the country in the next seven years, which would altogether produce more than 1 billion gallons (3.8 billion liters) of ethanol per year.

Iberdrola Renovables first-half profit up fourfold

Published: July 23, 2008

MADRID: The world's largest onshore wind farm owner, Iberdrola Renovables , posted first-half net profit up more than fourfold on Wednesday thanks to the incorporation of wind energy assets from Scottish Power.
Net profit was 194.2 million euros (153 million pounds) on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of 587.4 million euros at the renewable energy arm of Spain's biggest power company Iberdrola .
Renovables, which listed on the Spanish stock exchange in December, reiterated guidance of net profit for the full year of around 400 million euros and EBITDA of around 1.3 billion.
Renovables said in June it expected net profit to reach 1 billion euros in 2012 as it invests 18.8 billion euros from 2008 to 2012.
The company forecast that its gearing, which gauges how much a firm's activities are funded by equity versus debt, would remain below 50 percent over the five-year period, despite the hefty investment programme.

Renovables said on Wednesday net debt stood at 1.95 billion euros at the end of the first half, up from 803.2 at the end of 2007.
(Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by David Cowell)

Drivers 'unaware of emission levels'

PA Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are 380 parts per million (ppm), about 100ppm higher than before the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago
Nearly three in four drivers do not know how much carbon dioxide their car emits, it was revealed today.
Yet when buying a new vehicle, 89% of consumers want environmental features brought to their attention, a survey by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) found. Nearly half (48%) are considering replacing their car in the next year, the poll of 1,511 UK drivers showed. Half said they would drive more efficiently if they had more "green" information, while 51% of those shows a list of popular cars had no idea which was the least polluting.
Fuel efficiency came third behind price and style/look as the thing that grabbed consumers' attention in car advertisements. The poll also revealed that 51% take their car on journeys of less than one mile and 71% for trips of less than 1.5 miles.
EST said that if everyone who bought a new car chose the greenest car in its class, a typical motorist could save £375 a year in fuel costs, or nearly £1 billion for all UK motorists. The survey backed up a report of the car market for the last four decades by EST which found that car buyers were making poor choices both economically and environmentally when it came to purchasing new vehicles.
The report pointed to "a market failure" in which more-desirable cars within vehicle model ranges tend to have higher CO2 emissions and where there was a "lack of awareness and advice" about emission-saving. The EST said car companies and dealers must do more to publicise the CO2 emissions of cars they sell.
EST chief executive Philip Sellwood said: "The bottom line is that, at the moment, the car market is failing: there is no good reason why at a time of rising fuel prices and higher vehicle excise duties for higher CO2 vehicles, people are continuing to buy inefficient cars. It's not good for the environment or the pockets of customers. While car manufacturers are starting to place CO2 information more prominently in their advertising, this is only helpful up to a certain point."

Phil Woolas attends Australia environment conference - from London

By Paul Eccleston
Last Updated: 6:01pm BST 23/07/2008

Environment Minister Phil Woolas made his presence felt at a conference in Australia - even though he stayed in London.

Phil Woolas takes questions in London from the Climate Change Summit in Sydney, Australia via Easynet's virtual meeting system
Mr Woolas was able to take part in a live debate on climate change through high performance telepresence technology.
A life-size high-definition image of the Minister appeared 10,500 miles away at the 2nd Annual Climate Change Summit in Sydney where he was able to make a keynote speech and answer questions in real-time.
The state-of-the-art technology has been designed to make it feel that the person is in the room rather than just an image on a video screen.
The Easynet's Managed Virtual Meeting telepresence system saved Mr Woolas a round the world trip - about 60 hours of travel time - as well as 6.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions on his air flight alone.
David Rowe, Easynet's CEO, said: "The time has come for businesses to take responsibility and change the way they work: there is now a real alternative to hopping on a plane thousands of miles away for a meeting. "
A company spokesman said: "The MVM system is similar to the sort of thing you see in '24'. Images are life size and everything has been designed to make it feel as much as possible that you're actually sitting across a board room table from your fellow meeting attendees, rather than on a video screen.
"The attention to detail to achieve this end goes as far as the design of the room, quality of sound equipment, position of the mic, even the decor.
"The system is high-def so it is possible to see the tiniest level of detail on the screen."

Ecotowns plan may be illegal, say local government lawyers

Allegra Stratton, political correspondent
The Guardian,
Thursday July 24, 2008

The government's housing strategy came under renewed pressure yesterday when it was warned separately that rising rural property prices were destroying village life, its ecotowns building programme may be illegal, and that there was a nationwide shortage of housing planners.
Lawyers acting for the Local Government Association said yesterday that the government's desire to deliver 10 ecotowns outside the normal planning process may be open to judicial review, and that there was no obvious reason why the government sought to do so other than "to avoid the system due to the proper need for scrutiny, which takes time."
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We absolutely disagree with the LGA's claims and believe this legal advice can only have been obtained on the basis of a misrepresentation of our policy."
In a separate development, a report by the select committee monitoring the DCLG found a shortage of planners could delay housebuilding programmes. Government insiders pointed to 500 bursaries already allocated to students to train as planners and a further 300 to follow.
The housing minister, Caroline Flint, will publish the next stages of the controversial ecotowns programme today.
She will seek to bolster the green credentials of the towns after they were criticised in May by the Campaign to Protect Rural England for potentially increasing car dependency through increased commuting distance.
Flint will say: "We need to build more homes in this country, but given housing contributes 27% of our carbon emissions, we must also take this opportunity to trial new ways of tackling climate change."
The legal challenge to ecotowns emerged the same day as the MP appointed by Gordon Brown to investigate affordable housing in the countryside, Liberal Democrat Matthew Taylor, reported a marked lack of such properties.
Taylor found countryside communities risked being destroyed by the huge gulf between house prices and local incomes. He said villages would become "exclusive enclaves of the elderly and wealthy" unless planning restrictions were eased to allow more affordable housing.

A recession will give ecological development a new life

The economic downturn could benefit communities and the environment by offering an opportunity to rethink development
Paul Evans
The Guardian,
Wednesday July 23, 2008

The show homes at the end of a winding, unfinished road feel isolated, stuck in a corner of what remains of Telford's fragmented countryside. The rain is pouring down and there are few builders working. The infrastructure of a major housing development is uncannily silent, and so too is the building site further up the road - and the ones after that. It's not the weather that's holding up work, it's the slump.
This story is being repeated on hundreds of development sites around the country. The economic climate may be as dampening to spirits as Britain's rainy season, but it might not be all bad if you're a lapwing or a bee orchid. It could be an opportunity for people, too.
"This is an opportunity to think strategically about development," says environmental adviser Chris Baines. "Sites where biodiversity is being lost may have a reprieve, and this breathing space is the opportunity to think about establishing a green infrastructure ahead of a restart in building and to analyse the social implications to families of such high-density housing without significant green space. There are opportunities for tree-planting, wetlands for flood management, energy crops, adventure playgrounds."
John Handley, director of the Centre for Urban Regional Ecology at Manchester University, says: "A green infrastructure provides a flow of essential services that are as important as energy, transport and information flows. We are only just beginning to understand the functionality of the green infrastructure in terms of climate change: its effect on urban heat islands, rainfall, surface-water flooding."
Within the fences of building sites in limbo will be fragments of urban grassland or land that will quickly revert to habitats that support a rich diversity of plants, breeding populations of ground-nesting birds such as skylark, grey partridge and lapwing, and hold large numbers of invertebrates, noticeably butterflies.
Landscape ecologists are interested in land that acts as corridors - such as those around roads and railways - linking a matrix of green patches, which can be parks, gardens, industrial or clearance sites. Brownfield sites are very varied, providing opportunities for animals and plants, particularly the invertebrates essential to ecological communities, and often in far greater numbers than on agriculturally improved farmland. "We can think of these brownfield sites like lights in the city, blinking on and off, constantly changing," Handley says.
John Everitt, conservation director for the Wildlife Trusts, says: "It's important to keep a critical mass of brownfield land to maintain the connections between nodes of conservation importance within a wider network. There is an opportunity ... in a recession, to rethink the economic model and do some forward thinking about housing development, rather than be stuck with the stack 'em high approach."
Baines adds: "There is a mismatch between the government's aspirations for new homes and the actuality, and there should be a conversation about new opportunities to invest in green infrastructure and reduce housing density in brownfield sites. Without the ecological management of open space, we are creating unliveable communities. But the problem is that there's no one to have this conversation with. The house builders are downsizing, and government and government agencies are not showing leadership."
Temporary reprieve
Wildlife may be getting a temporary reprieve on some brownfield building sites, and conservationists are daring to hope for some rural sites, too. The plan to build houses on a traditional wildflower-rich hay meadow teeming with wildlife in Crossgates, Radnorshire, may be in question. "Fields such as these, outside nature reserves, are as rare as hen's teeth," says Julian Jones, manager of Radnorshire Wildlife Trust. "It's a tragedy that Powys planning committee could not see the value of it ... I was told by a Welsh assembly civil servant: 'There are only two things that will stop this field being turned into houses - plague or total economic collapse.' While none of us would want either of these things, we hope the downturn may save one of Radnorshire's last remaining hay meadows."
There are bigger projects showing signs of faltering. Julian Branscombe, chief executive of Gwent Wildlife Trust, hopes the new M4 project across the Gwent Levels site of special scientific interest, near Newport, may be a victim of recession, and that the levels gets a reprieve. He says: "The scheme - predicated on a car and lorry-led economy, with stable, low oil prices and no priority on reducing carbon emissions - fails to realise the economic benefits that would stem from marketing south Wales for its high-quality environment."
Stephen Joseph, director of Transport 2000, says: "If we get a recession with high oil prices, the Department for Transport may have to go back to the 90s, and a lot of schemes won't happen. The parent company of BAA [which owns Heathrow airport] has had to borrow heavily and may be less keen to build runways. The downside is that will not make Heathrow airport more bearable. The campaign for 'better not bigger' may get neither. The problem at the moment is institutional inertia."
High oil prices may also benefit the marine environment. Richard Harrington, of the Marine Conservation Society, says, "Marine diesel and heavy fuel oils used in shipping contain bad contaminants. If high fuel costs mean consumers can't afford the products, a reduction in shipping will reduce marine pollution." He adds that "the economic downturn may also mean people take British beach holidays instead of going abroad. Although this might result in more rubbish, it means local authorities and tourist boards have more money to clean up and improve local beaches."
A benefit of not travelling so much could be a new-found appreciation of the local patch. "This is an opportunity for people to take a second look at what's on their doorstep and see how remarkable it is," says Tony Burton, director of strategy and external affairs for the National Trust. "Instead of visiting wild lands in national parks, people can celebrate the wildlife and archaeology of their local patch. But they need support, and the National Trust is looking at ways to become more relevant to the local experience. The obvious example is the purchase of Seaton Delaval, near Newcastle, which apart from being an architectural gem is a cultural hub and will only succeed because Northumbrians and Geordies love it. To champion local importance, the trust is working with partner organisations to secure green space and public access in Plymouth, Birmingham, London and Sheffield."
Handley says: "If the National Trust gets the best bits of Britain to protect and provide access to, then the Land Restoration Trust [which restores brownfield sites] gets the worst bits to do the same. There is the potential for very positive opportunities to restore landscapes ancillary to development to ecological health and manage them as community assets."
The hand-wringing about the economic downturn, it seems, could be turned into a very important, and overdue, conversation about opportunities for communities and the environment.

Japan firms team up to develop carbon fibre cars

Thursday July 24 2008

TOKYO, July 24 (Reuters) - Japan's Toray Industries Mitsubishi Rayon and others will work together to develop a new carbon fibre material for cars in an effort to lighten vehicles for better fuel efficiency.
Shares in Toray rose over 5 percent on the news, while Mitsubishi Rayon jumped more than 6 percent.
The Nikkei business daily reported on Thursday that Nissan Motor Co and Honda Motor Co are also participating in the programme, being led by the government, which is providing 2 billion yen ($18.53 million) over five years.
Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), as well Honda and Nissan, denied the automakers were part of the project.
The paper said the companies, along with Toyobo Takagi Seiko Corp and researchers from the University of Tokyo, aim to be able to mass produce the material by the mid-2010s and to make vehicles 40 percent lighter than steel-use cars.
Spokeswomen at both Honda and Nissan said they were exploring various new materials to use on vehicles but denied they were developing a new carbon fibre material with Toray and others.
Nissan said Toray currently supplies it with carbon fibre material, which it uses in high-end models such as the GT-R and 350Z sports cars and the Infiniti G35/G37 coupe in components such as the propeller shaft.
The Nikkei daily said the use of carbon fibre will likely improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent.
One of the issues is the high price of carbon fibre, but the cost gap with steel is expected to narrow over time as steel prices continue to rise, it said.
The NEDO spokeswoman said the government is also researching the further use of aluminium and other metals to replace some steel use on vehicles. Some cars already have an aluminium body to reduce weight but the cost is still prohibitive.
The companies also plan to develop technology to recycle carbon fibre to reduce production cost, the paper said.
Toray ended the morning session at 591 yen, up 29 yen. Mitsubishi Rayon was at 360 yen.
Nissan gained 0.1 percent to 833 yen, while Honda rose 2.7 percent to 3,800 yen. The Nikkei average was up 1.3 percent. ($1=107.93 Yen) (Reporting by Sachi Izumi and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Michael Watson)

Britain tries to block green energy laws

UK accused of rewriting rules despite Brown vow to back clean technology
David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian,
Thursday July 24, 2008

Britain is trying to water down tough new European legislation to boost the uptake of renewable energy, despite a pledge by Gordon Brown last month to launch a "green revolution" based on clean technology.
Documents obtained by the Guardian show the UK wants to block attempts to give renewable electricity sources such as wind farms priority access to the national grid. The European official who drafted the legislation accused Britain of "obstructing" EU efforts on renewables and said UK officials wanted to protect traditional energy suppliers and their coal, gas and nuclear power stations.
Claude Turmes, a Luxembourg MEP and architect of the EU renewables directive, said: "This would take us backwards and would weaken the possibilities of connecting renewable energy to the grid. A government that says it wants to promote renewables cannot go for other policies behind the scenes."
The renewables directive is intended to support an EU target to generate 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
On access to the electricity grid, the draft directive said: "Member states shall also provide for priority access to the grid system of electricity produced from renewable energy sources".
However, documents seen by the Guardian show Britain wants to change "shall" to "may" - which experts say would seriously undermine the directive. Turmes said the original wording was based on a similar policy used successfully to boost renewables in Germany, Spain and Denmark, and was meant to help countries "kick dirty energy sources like coal off the grid".
A lack of connections to the national grid, which was not designed to channel power from the scattered and remote locations that suit renewables, has stalled the uptake of alternative energy in Britain and led to completed wind farms across Scotland standing idle. A recent report from the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills said 9.3GW of wind power projects were currently waiting to be connected - the equivalent of a new generation of nuclear power stations.
Last month, ministers launched a renewables strategy on how to meet the UK's share of the EU 2020 target, which requires Britain to generate 15% of its energy from clean sources.
The strategy included steps on "removing grid access as a barrier to renewables deployment". Gordon Brown said it would remove "without delay the barriers that currently prevent renewable generators connecting to the national grid".
But the strategy also noted that the draft EU directive obliged member states to give priority grid access to renewables, and said the government was working to "clarify this obligation".
At a meeting of the EU energy working group this week, leaked documents show British officials tabled several amendments to the draft directive, including changing "member states shall also provide priority access to the grid ..." to "member states may also provide access ...".
Oliver Schäfer, policy director of the European Renewable Energy Council, said: "It might look like a minor thing to change the word "shall" to "may", but in terms of policy it's a major change. The word "may" means nothing when it comes to legislation."
Britain's justification for the change, included in the document, was that it was concerned about relying too heavily on intermittent renewablewable sources of electricity. It said: "The use of 'shall' could have substantial implications on network balancing and security of energy supply." It said "thermal sources" of electricity were needed as back-up, and "over time this essential back-up generation might not be available if new renewable generation projects must be given access to the grid". It said the UK wanted the "discretion to prioritise renewable generation".
Turmes said other countries including Spain, Germany and Denmark had experienced no problems giving priority to clean energy, and that large scale renewables such as offshore wind were no more intermittent than existing energy sources.
He said: "This is not a technical problem. Britain just does not want to make the choice to promote renewables, and that means it is lining up with the worst countries in Europe on this issue." He said he was concerned Britain's lead could be followed by France and that the directive would be weakened.
Turmes claimed the UK position was influenced by energy companies. "The incumbent operators want to make life difficult for newcomers."
A spokesman for the DBERR said: "Priority access for renewables is not necessary for us to meet our fair share of the EU renewables target. What renewable generators want is quicker access to the grid, not priority access. The UK is already taking significant steps to remove grid access barriers for renewables."
John Sauven, of Greenpeace, said: "We've always said there was a danger that going for nuclear power would squeeze out renewables. The government has been caught red handed undermining clean energy, and all because of Brown's ideological obsession with atomic power."

Nuclear clean-up industry in chaos

· Ministers admit 'inherent risks' in NDA finances · At least £15m shifted from renewable energy projects
Terry Macalister
The Guardian,
Thursday July 24, 2008

Chaos at the heart of Britain's nuclear clean-up industry has been laid bare by an internal government audit after embarrassing cost overruns and bureaucratic bungling.
The Department for Business admits there are "inherent risks" associated with the financial affairs of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) that forced the department to find £400m from other budgets to balance the books.
It also admits that budgetary problems were exacerbated by misunderstandings, unminuted meetings and lack of sufficiently trained staff.
In response to a critical report by MPs about its handling of the NDA, the department (BERR) reveals that 42% of its budget is already being pumped into the NDA, which admitted last week its total future clean-up cost estimates were now £10bn higher than 12 months ago at £73bn.
The job of overseeing the NDA has been moved from BERR's energy group to its shareholder executive in an attempt to tighten up accounting while the NDA has sent its finance staff for retraining at the National School of Government run by the civil service, the report reveals.
The operational failures of the Thorp and Mox fuel recycling plants at Sellafield in Cumbria are known to be largely responsible for wiping millions of pounds of expected income off the NDA's budget, leaving it to seek more cash from government.
"The fact that the funding gap anticipated was met in part by using all of BERR's end year flexibility illustrates the extent to which the department is vulnerable to movements in the NDA's budget caused in large part by the reliance on volatile commercial income," says BERR in its report - "NDA budgeting shortfall 2007-8 lessons learned" - which was quietly slipped out through a parliamentary website this week.
The document, a response to a business and enterprise committee inquiry, reveals that the NDA and the Treasury were at cross-purposes over some aspects of the clean-up agency's budget and decisions taken at a vital meeting as far back as February 2006 were misunderstood. These problems were exacerbated by the lack of proper procedures at those talks.
"There is no formal record of that meeting, nor was there subsequently any correspondence that confirmed what those present believed to have been agreed," the BERR report says. "To minimise the risk of misunderstandings in the future, all parties have acknowledged the importance of a written record of all material decisions and future actions."
The report also says that the government is looking at whether changes are needed to help the NDA manage its budget more effectively. It admits the "commercial income [from Thorp and Mox] is volatile and over time will decline as sites progressively close and move into the decommissioning phase".
Greenpeace was scathing about the latest revelations. "Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse we find out that the people in charge of dealing with Britain's radioactive waste have adopted chaos theory as a business model," said Ben Ayliffe, senior nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
"The NDA's failure is as much a failure of government, who set up the authority knowing it would have to rely for half of its income on failing nuclear plants. The same government that brought us this shambolic funding system is now telling us it can deliver new nuclear without subsidy. No one can take this claim seriously on the basis of this latest nuclear farce we're witnessing."
The government has switched money meant for low-carbon and renewable technologies to clean up the waste from nuclear power stations. Figures released by BERR in February showed that at least £15m that was meant to be used on "sustainable energy capital grants" had been switched to the NDA. Ministers also plundered the defence budget as well as cash that should have been used for "regional selective assistance" to bolster the NDA.
BERR said some money had been switched in the spring supplementary estimates for 2007-08 but insisted this was a technical matter to balance the books on paper.
The NDA's budget problems have also caused conflict with the Environment Agency, which argued that insufficient funds had been made available by ministers for the clean-up of certain sites.
The NDA was accused of making things worse by deciding to concentrate on especially toxic waste at sites such as Sellafield.This prioritisation will delay clean-up elsewhere, the Environment Agency argued.

Sahara sun 'could power all of Europe'

By Laura Clout
Last Updated: 12:01pm BST 23/07/2008

A series of huge solar farms in the Sahara could supply the whole of Europe with clean electricity, EU scientists claimed yesterday.

Through harnessing the power of the desert sun and feeding it into a European electricity supergrid, CO2 emissions could be slashed, they say.

The Sahara desert sun could produce enough energy to meet all of Europe's electricity needs, scientists say
Speaking at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona, Arnulf Jaeger-Walden of the European commission's Institute for Energy said all of Europe's energy needs could be met by capturing just 0.3 per cent of the sunlight falling on the Sahara and Middle East deserts.The solar farms would produce electricity either through photovoltaic cells, or by concentrating the intense desert heat to boil water and drive turbines.
This, along with power from other renewable sources, such as wind or geothermal, would be fed into a 5,000-mile electricity supergrid, stretching from Siberia to Morocco and Egypt to Iceland.
The grid proposal, which has won the backing of Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy, answers the most frequent criticism levelled at renewable power - that it is uneconomic because of the unpredictability of the weather.
Supporters argue that by drawing power from wind and solar farms across a large swathe of Europe, there will always be power generated somewhere.

Forming the main arteries of the supergrid would be high voltage direct current (DC) lines. These leak less energy over long distances than traditional alternating current (AC) lines and are three times as efficient.
Scientists argue that because north African sunlight is more intense, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in the Sahara could generate up to three times the electricity produced by similar panels in northern Europe.
Mr Jaeger-Walden said that the cost of energy could be bought down for consumers by building large solar farms.
"The biggest PV system at the moment is installed in Leipzig and the price of the installation is €3.25 per watt," he said.
"If we could realise that in the Mediterranean, for example in southern Italy, this would correspond to electricity prices in the range of 15 cents per kWh, something below what the average consumer is paying."
However, before the plan could help the EU meet its target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, much time and investment is needed, the scientists working on the project say.
But they estimate that with an investment of around €450bn (£356bn) it could produce 100 GW by 2050, more than the combined electricity output from all sources in Britain.

Spain Dims Solar-Power Sun

By GEOFFREY ROGOW July 23, 2008;

Solar companies aren't waiting for a worst case-scenario in Spain; they're betting on it.

Solar companies have quickly jumped into that country in the past several years, lured by subsidies from the Spanish government directed at making solar economically viable. But a proposed cap on the program could cut total solar installations by a quarter next year, and even with a decision weeks away, solar companies are already looking to bolt.
In 2008, solar companies will install roughly 1,100 megawatts of power in Spain, thanks to the subsidies that propelled companies across the world to enter the market. The Spanish government expected some gains in solar installations, but when megawatts nearly doubled from 600 in 2007, the subsidies bill became larger than the government would like.
Starting Oct. 1, Spain could put an annual cap of 300 megawatts on the feed-in tariffs that first pushed growth in solar. The executive branch is expected to decide on the cap by the end of August.
"Everybody targeted Spain because of the tariffs. Now, everybody is doing an aboutface," said Brion Tanous, clean-technology analyst for Merriman Curhan Ford.
With the move away from Spain, several countries are likely to pick up the slack, including Greece, Italy, France and South Korea. Several companies are making plans to enter those markets.
Canadian Solar Inc. is one company stung by Spain's potential policy change. From June 18 to July 1, as rumors of the subsidies reductions surfaced, Canadian Solar lost 29% of its value on the Nasdaq without reporting any major news of its own.
Already this month, the company has signed solar sales agreements in Italy, the Czech Republic and the United States.
While executives say the subsidy caps in Spain are unlikely to be imposed at rumored levels, the new contracts reflect an enhanced outward focus.
Canadian Solar "has already positioned itself by diversifying our geographic footprint," said Alex Taylor, the company's director of investor relations and special projects. "We will continue to look at new European markets."
But the best-positioned companies may be the ones that didn't jump in headfirst into Spain.
Suntech Power Holdings Co., listed in the U.S. but with headquarters in China, maintained significant operations throughout Europe, particularly Germany, even if that meant missing some revenue in Spain.The company kept a strong foothold in Germany, with the largest solar market in the world expected to add about 1,600 megawatts of modules this year.
Write to Geoffrey Rogow at