Tuesday, 12 August 2008

High price of plastics raises prospect of rubbish mining in dumps

Lewis Smith and Jill Sherman

The value of second-hand plastic has risen so rapidly that mining operations to dig it out of rubbish dumps are forecast to begin within the decade.
Waste suitable for recycling is already being dug out of landfill sites in the United States and it is thought that commodity prices are on the verge of making it a profitable option in Britain.
Rubbish dumps are regarded by the recycling industry as an untapped source of riches, with an estimated 200 million tonnes of plastic buried as landfill since the late 1980s. At today's prices of £200 a tonne the discarded plastic has a value of about £40 billion. Alongside it are smaller, but still sigificant, quantities of valuable metals, including copper and aluminium.
Peter Mills, of New Earth Solutions, a specialist in waste treatment and recovery technology, said that small-scale operations to retrieve discarded plastic from landfill were already being considered in Britain.

He said: “In the States they have gone back in and have been mining for plastic and metal. Within the UK we have an eye on it. Within the next decade, landfill mining in a controlled or limited basis is going to be viable. It reflects the commodities market and the way prices are going.”
Operations are likely to start as pilot schemes during remedial work on landfill sites, which are designed with linings to prevent waste leaking into the wider environment. So high have the price of commodities risen in the past two years, especially oil, that recycled materials are increasingly sought after. Plastics can be turned back into sheeting and packaging more cheaply than by using virgin materials and with fewer carbon emissions. They also have a high calorific value, so can be an attractive source of fuel.
Mr Mills suggested that the value of plastic would soon rise high enough that entrepeneurs would find it worthwhile to scoop out the estimated three million tonnes that was swirling around the Pacific Ocean.
A further benefit of landfill mining is that once material has been removed from the ground there will then be room to bury more waste. Local authorities face a growing shortage of landfill space.
Peter Jones, an independent waste consultant, said: “If we dig up all the landfill sites in the UK since the late Eighties we could lay our hands on around 200 million tonnes of plastics. If we were going to do landfill mining we would do it for the plastics.”
He said that most of the 1,500 landfill sites used in the past three decades had to be left for 20 to 30 years once they were closed to give time for organic material to decompose and gases to escape. Up to 70 per cent of methane emissions are syphoned off and used to provide renewable energy. Because of this, he was convinced that most, if not all, landfill mining in Britain would be delayed until after 2020.
Richard Woosnam, of Orchid Environmental, a waste consultancy, will join Mr Jones this year in London at Britain's first landfill mining conference, where they will outline its potential. “It has potential for the future,” Mr Woosnam said. “Plastics are a rich source of energy and in the right type of system they can be ... a valuable fuel.”
Landfill sites from the 1980s onwards would be the first to be considered for mining because there are good records of what is in them, including the location of hazardous materials such as asbestos, and because before then plastic was discarded in much lower quantities.
The forecast comes after The Times reported yesterday that the prices of recycled materials, including plastic, paper and metal cans, had increased greatly over the past six years. What was once considered to be mere rubbish is now providing recycling companies with a valuable source of income, but many local authorities have missed out on the green bonanza because they are locked into disposal contracts that run for between 20 and 30 years.

Old King Coal is a brave old soul, but he is talking utter nonsense

Arthur Scargill's nostalgia would punish the people he cares about. And as for his room-full-of-radiation challenge? I accept

George Monbiot
The Guardian,
Tuesday August 12 2008

Arthur Scargill is a brave man. He was brave to come to the climate camp at Kingsnorth last week. Though we disagreed with most of what he said, he earned our respect for his willingness to debate. He is brave to return to public life after suffering one of the nastiest vilification campaigns in British history, and is brave to be fighting for coal again. He is especially brave to offer to asphyxiate himself in the interests of science. Many people would be willing to help him perform this experiment at the earliest opportunity.
But he is also wrong. In his article last week demanding a return to coal and accusing me of selling out, Scargill suggested that radioactive discharges are more dangerous than carbon emissions. This, of course, is nonsense; but if he really believes it he should be campaigning against the burning of coal.
The odd and widely ignored truth is that routine radioactive discharges from coal-burning are greater than those produced by nuclear plants. Coal contains trace amounts of uranium and thorium. Though these are present at much lower levels than in nuclear fuel, a lot more coal is burned, which means that total emissions are greater. An article in Scientific American last year maintained that levels of ionising radiation in the bones of people living around coal plants are up to six times higher than the levels in people living around atomic power stations.
The people most at risk from the radioactivity associated with coal (not to mention far greater hazards such as dust, heavy metals and sulphur and nitrous oxide pollution) are the workers - both in the mines and in the power plants. Coal mining is associated with some of the most unpleasant industrial diseases ever recorded. Why would a trade unionist wish to expose working people to these dangers, when they could instead be employed, at minimal risk to their health, building and installing wind turbines, wave machines and solar power plants?
Scargill maintains that nuclear power is four times as expensive as coal-fired electricity. There's a standard model for estimating future costs, of which he should be aware, produced by the International Energy Agency. This shows that it's likely to be 10%-50% more expensive to save a tonne of carbon through coal burning with carbon capture and storage than by means of nuclear energy. (Wind power, incidentally, is much cheaper than either.) The agency's figures are not definitive - nothing in this field is - but the estimates it gives are for coal bought at anticipated market prices, not for the much more expensive fuel Arthur proposes: coal produced only from deep mines in the UK.
I feel I need to point out that I have not become an advocate for nuclear power. My position is that environmentalists should stop trying to pick technologies for electricity generation. Instead we should demand a maximum level for the carbon dioxide produced per megawatt-hour, impose a number of other public safety measures, then allow the energy companies to find the cheapest means of delivering it. Otherwise we are in danger of backing the solutions we find aesthetically appealing and delaying the massive carbon cuts that need to be made. If nuclear power meets the very tough conditions I proposed last week, we should no longer oppose it - though that remains a big if. This is too subtle a point for Arthur and other commentators, who are shrieking that Monbiot has gone nuclear.
Scargill claims that the closure of most of the UK's coal plants has not been accompanied by lower carbon emissions. In fact, carbon pollution has faithfully tracked coal burning for the past 18 years. In 1990, when consistent carbon data for the UK began, this country used 108 million tonnes of coal and produced 592m tonnes of carbon dioxide. In 1999, coal consumption fell to its lowest level since 1970 (56m) and the UK's emissions fell to their lowest level since 1990 (540m). Emissions rose in 2006 because coal burning increased when gas prices shot up. They fell back again in 2007 when the gas price dropped. In all cases, coal has been the key swing factor for CO2 production.
When Scargill suggests that, by mining and refining coal, "we can provide all the electricity, oil, gas and petrochemicals that people need, without causing harm to the environment", he shows that he is living in a world of make-believe. He rightly demands that we "end the import of shale oil, tar sands and other so-called unconventional oils" and calls them "the dirtiest fuels on the planet". But while the total carbon emissions from petrol made out of tar sands are 30%-70% higher than those from conventional petroleum, turning coal into transport fuel raises emissions by 85%. The process also requires 10 gallons of fresh water for every gallon of fuel produced. Coal, not tar sand, is the dirtiest fuel on the planet.
When he speaks of a resurgent coal industry, he pictures deep seams hacked out by grimy workers romantically dying of silicosis. But, with a few minor exceptions, this is no longer how coal is produced in the UK. New research I've commissioned, published for the first time here, shows that the industry is planning a great opencast revival. Since January last year, 22 new opencast coal mines or mine extensions have been approved by British planning authorities. Only two schemes - both of them quite small - have been rejected without appeal. My researcher, Ketty Dean, has discovered that mining companies have applied for planning permission for a further 22 schemes, while 11 more applications in England alone are about to be submitted.
Altogether, if the new proposals are accepted, 55 million tonnes of coal extraction is in the pipeline. If we accept the outer limit proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the carbon cut required to prevent more than 2C of warming (85% worldwide, which means 95.9% in the UK), the coal these pits will produce equates to the sustainable annual emissions of 280 million people.
This digging can happen only at the expense of the communities Scargill claims to support. The Coal Forum is a government-funded lobby group in which coal companies and civil servants plot against the public interest. Its latest minutes reveal that if - as the Welsh assembly now proposes - there is a minimum distance of 500 metres between opencast pits and the nearest homes, this would "sterilise" all the useful coal reserves in Wales. This means that they could no longer be dug. The pits are viable only if they are allowed to wreck the lives of local people. Even before a lump of clean coal is burned, its extraction trashes the environment.
Arthur Scargill ends his column with a final appeal to reason - by challenging me to a duel. "I am prepared to go into a room full of CO2 for two minutes, if he is prepared to go into a room full of radiation for two minutes." I accept his challenge, as long as I can choose my source of radiation. I invite Arthur to propose a date and send me the name of his second. I hope he can hold his breath.

US nuclear power is making a comeback

The Associated Press
Published: August 12, 2008

DENVER: Cattleman George Glasier sees the next nuclear era amid the blood-orange mesas of the Paradox Valley, the same western range lands that hold a darker legacy from the last rush to pull uranium from the ground.
Residents of this valley near the Four Corners region are getting an unimpeded view of the second uranium rush. Many are worried.
Glasier, the one-time mining executive-turned-rancher, wants to build a uranium mill on cattle grazing land near his spread. It would be the United States' first in decades.
The land is not far from the toxic uranium mines, now mostly abandoned, that serve as a reminder of an industry born of the Cold War.
As the third global energy shock begins to drastically alter national economies, a potential shift in U.S. energy policy has moved to the forefront of the upcoming presidential election.

Barack Obama and John McCain crossed the country recently, with Obama blasting Republican energy policies and McCain advocating a large expansion of nuclear power.
McCain last week became the first presidential candidate in recent memory to tour a nuclear plant. His energy proposals include building 45 nuclear power plants by 2030.
Glasier also believes the time to return to nuclear power is now and he believes Paradox Valley, 230 miles (370 kilometers) southwest of Denver, is well placed to reap the rewards.
But the United States' turn toward nuclear energy is worrisome to many, and in particular in Paradox Valley, it is the plan drafted by Glasier's Energy Fuels Inc.
The company has two mines that are close to being fully permitted, five parcels with existing but closed mines, about 45,000 acres (18,000 hectares) yet to be explored plus the 1,000-acre (400-hectare) Paradox Valley mill site. All of its properties are in Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
The proposed uranium mill would cost as much as $150 million to build, money that Glasier is still trying to raise. The company hopes to begin construction by 2010.
A Web site has sprung up in opposition to the plan, and some residents are forming groups.
Anna Cotter, 72, moved to the area in 1955 when the uranium industry was booming. Her husband sold mining machinery and her relatives worked the mines.
But the valley has changed since then, she said.
"I personally don't want that going on again," Cotter said.
Glasier's mill would process uranium ore into yellowcake and ship it to a conversion plant in Metropolis, Illinois.
Industry officials say new technology such as enclosed radioactive waste containers has made processing safer than in the past.
But the plan drafted by Glasier's Energy Fuels Inc. has not convinced everyone. The people of Paradox Valley have seen nearby communities saddled for years with radioactive contamination. Uranium miners have suffered from lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis and pneumoconiosis, a lung disease from inhaling dust.
The same fight is brewing across the country as residents and environmental groups try to block new mines and processing facilities for the nuclear industry.
From the 1940s through the Cold War, miners using Geiger counters staked out claims in areas with large uranium reserves, such as Uravan, Colorado; Ticaboo, Utah; and Grants, New Mexico.
There was little to no government oversight of mines or mills, said Glasier, who spent 14 years working for a large U.S. uranium producer.
Miners in the 1900s would toss aside uranium, which had no value next to the steel-hardening vanadium that they sought.
"They didn't have regulations on how you dispose of waste and all these things in those days," Glasier said. "So they didn't build these mills with any of the environmental protections. Regulations today are tighter on uranium mills than probably any other chemical plant in world."
When the Berlin Wall fell, uranium from weapons stockpiles flooded the market and prices plummeted from $40 a pound (nearly 1/2 kilogram) in the late 1970s to less than $10 a pound in 2002.
The Three Mile Island reactor accident in 1979 and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster brought the nuclear industry to a standstill.
Only one conventional uranium mill remains in operation today, near Blanding, Utah.
There has since been a resurgence of support for nuclear power. There has been a 15 percent increase in the world's known recoverable uranium resources, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Australia has the biggest supply of known recoverable uranium resources, about 23 percent. Russia has 10 percent and the United States has 6 percent.
About 90 percent of the uranium needed for U.S. power plants is imported, much of it from Russia, Glasier said. "The U.S. needs to have at least some degree of production to have security of supply."
The first application since 1988 for a uranium processing facility was filed in October with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Since then, the NRC has received 27 applications for facilities in Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico. Utah, Colorado and Texas have their own oversight agencies.
Conventional uranium mining removes ore that is transported to a mill, much like Glasier's proposed operation. In the other form of mining workers inject a mixture such as oxygen blended with sodium carbonate into the ore body. The uranium is dissolved into the mixture which is pumped to the surface.
Steve Carlton, who heads the Colorado health department's radiation management unit, said uranium processing regulations have become much more stringent.
"These are complex facilities, and they require a lot of analysis on our part," he said. "But they also require a lot of design and preparation by the companies."
Glasier, 62, arrived in the Paradox Valley about 15 years ago and began raising cattle on a 120,000-acre (48,000-hectare) spread. Three years ago, he began acquiring land in Colorado eastern Utah and then formed Energy Fuels Inc.
In meetings to sell his plan, residents have vented their fears and sometimes their anger on Glasier.
"If they take a look at technical protections built into this mill, they'll realize virtually this thing is benign when it comes to environment," he said.
As momentum builds in the nuclear industry, so does the pushback.
In New Mexico on Navajo Nation land, there are some 500 uranium mines that were abandoned virtually overnight when the industry went bust. The Navajos say they have their own health issues related to the mines.
There are fears in South Dakota that uranium in the water has led to incidences of cancer on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The Energy Department in Utah has said it would transport 16 million tons of uranium tailings, leftovers from a former milling facility about three miles (5 kilometers) northwest of Moab, to a disposal site in the eastern portion of the state. It is part of a $1 billion plan to clear tailings along the Colorado River.
Groups are fighting plans to expand uranium mining and environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that a program clearing the way for uranium mines in western Colorado is illegal.
Marie Moore, 54, an organic farmer, has joined with neighbors to look into Glasier's proposed mill.
"The fact is, people make mistakes. Accidents happen no matter how good they're trying to do it," Moore said. "We'd really like to see renewable energy be the focus rather than nuclear energy."

Biofuels: the sweet smell of power

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 12/08/2008

Gabrielle Walker argues that Brazil's success with sugar cane points the way to a sustainable biofuels future
Now that oil prices have dipped to a seven-week low (of less than $120 a barrel), motorists might be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. But this is likely to be little more than a lull.

A report published last Friday by the think tank Chatham House predicts that an impending oil supply crunch will drive the price up to $200. In other words, economics is now reinforcing what climate campaigners have been saying for years: petrol is just too expensive, both for the pocket and the planet.
But is there an alternative if we want to keep driving our cars? Last year's transport panacea - biofuel - has become this year's pariah. Fuels that were previously touted as green have been accused of producing almost as many emissions as they save and in the process driving the price of food so high that even First-World economies are starting to feel the inflationary heat.
And yet, not all biofuels are bad. To see how to get them right, you need to look across the Atlantic; not at America, but Brazil. After the 1970s oil price shock, Brazil decided to find a new way to travel. It has been using biofuels ever since, and the results are impressive.
In the petrol stations around Rio sleek diplomatic cars queue up with battered jalopies at the pumps marked "A" for "alcool". Ninety per cent of all new cars in Brazil use a flexible technology which means they can use either petrol or alcohol.
Even the regular petrol pumps deliver a mix containing 25 per cent alcohol. And this year, for the first time, alcohol outsold petrol in Brazil's service stations.
But doesn't producing all that alcohol divert food crops, driving up prices? No, says Roberto Schaeffer, associate professor in the Energy Planning Programme at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The alcohol in Brazil's cars comes from the same source as the rum in its caipirinha cocktails: sugar cane.
This, says Schaeffer, is vastly more efficient than corn. Whereas one hectare (2.47 acres) produces three or four tons of corn, the same area will yield 100 tons of sugar cane. Thus, to provide Brazil's light vehicle fleet with half its energy takes barely 5 per cent of the country's available agricultural land, which he says is not nearly enough to affect food prices.
Then there's the issue of just how much carbon dioxide biofuels really save. Once again, corn is the villain of the story and sugar cane the hero. A report by the International Energy Agency last year found that biofuel based on corn typically produced emissions 15-25 per cent lower than petrol; sugar cane alcohol, on the other hand, reduced CO2 by up to 90 per cent.
Producing the alcohol costs the equivalent of $30 a barrel - a number that's now a distant dream for oil. By allowing pump prices to shadow petrol, producers enjoy a comfortable margin, but they leave just enough of a discount to give motorists an incentive to buy.
Alcohol isn't the only biofuel in the reckoning - there's also biodiesel. In principle, biodiesel can be made from most things that contain oil. In practice, much of the biodiesel flooding into the European Union comes from Indonesian palm plantations, for which massive areas of rainforest have been destroyed. EU leaders are now considering ways to ensure that sources of biodiesel are sustainable.
In Rio, Schaeffer and his team are experimenting with their own alternatives. In a lab next to his office sit neat, multi-coloured jars of oil labelled with their provenance. There's a deep red biodiesel from cooking oil, a straw-coloured one from white cow fat, and a beautiful rich golden oil that came from the undigested fat in sewage - perhaps the ultimate form of recycling.
Whatever the eventual sources of commercial biodiesel, Brazil's farsightedness has made it a world leader in technologies that everybody wants to adopt. Brazil's motorists consider biofuels to be an utterly normal fact of life. They provide a salutary lesson to the rest us, not only in how to get biofuels right, but also in just how painless switching to a low-carbon lifestyle can be.
• 'The Hot Topic: How to tackle climate change and still keep the lights on' by Gabrielle Walker and David King (Bloomsbury) is available from Telegraph Books for £9.99 + £1.25 p&p. Call 0870 428 4112 or go to books.telegraph.co.uk.

Alt energy results mixed: solar shines, fuels flop

, Tuesday August 12 2008

(Wraps earnings from LDK Solar, Pacific Ethanol, Rentech and Metabolix)
*LDK Solar profit beats estimates, stock up 19 percent
*Pacific Ethanol loss wider than expected, shares slide
*Rentech, Metabolix losses widen on development costs
By Nichola Groom
LOS ANGELES, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Alternative energy companies posted mixed results on Monday as LDK Solar Co Ltd's quarterly earnings tripled on soaring demand for solar power, while Pacific Ethanol Inc reported a wider-than-expected loss on surging corn prices.
LDK shares soared 19 percent in extended trade as its profit and revenue blew past estimates as a manufacturing capacity expansion allowed the company to meet surging demand in Spain, where key government subsidies will be rolled back later this year. The Chinese solar wafer maker also raised its 2008 sales and shipment forecasts.
Pacific Ethanol, meanwhile, said a 67 percent jump in corn prices and surge in the cost of natural gas more than offset a 74 percent rise in the Sacramento, California company's sales. Its shares slid 13.5 percent to close at $2.05 on Nasdaq.
LDK and other solar power companies have enjoyed rapid growth as rising fossil fuel prices and concerns about global warming have spurred demand for renewable energy sources.
Ethanol makers, however, have struggled this year as higher corn prices have squeezed margins for the fuel, offsetting the growing demand from U.S. government mandates that require gasoline marketers to increase their use of ethanol.
Also on Monday, alternative fuel and plastics companies Rentech Inc and Metabolix Inc recorded wider net losses due to higher costs for developing their products.
LDK's second-quarter net income rose to $149.5 million, or $1.29 per American Depositary Share, from $49.8 million, or 45 cents per ADS, a year ago.
Excluding the change in fair value of prepaid forward contracts, the company earned 82 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates. Wall Street analysts had been expecting earnings of about 40 cents a share.
In recent months, investors have shunned solar stocks due to fears that an expected pullback in Spain's generous solar subsidies could hamper demand.
ThinkPanmure analyst Peter Peng said much of the second-quarter demand for LDK's solar wafers likely came from Spanish solar system installers who are scrambling to finish projects before a cap on subsidies goes into effect.
"There is a pull for the Spanish integrators to get projects in by September, but even beyond that most of these solar companies are seeing very, very strong demand for 2009," Peng said. "There is a possibility that Germany, Italy and potentially France and other smaller markets could offset the loss of market size in Spain."
LDK's second-quarter revenue was $441.7 million, well above the company's May forecast of $278 million to $288 million.
LDK shares rose to $40 in extended trade after closing up 9 cents at $33.58 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Pacific Ethanol had a net loss of $10.5 million, or 23 cents a share, compared with a profit of $1.1 million, or 3 cents a share, a year ago.
Net sales climbed to $198 million from $113.8 million.
Analysts had expected the company to lose 13 cents a share on sales of $206 million, according to Reuters Estimates.
Rentech, a Los Angeles-based maker of clean fuels, waxes and chemicals, reported a quarterly loss of $7.8 million, or 5 cents a share, compared with a loss of $6.9 million, or 4 cents a share, a year ago.
Revenue rose 20 percent to $60.4 million, helped by strong demand and higher prices for nitrogen fertilizer products, but research and development costs soared.
Rentech shares rose 8 cents, or 3.4 percent, to close at $2.43 on the American Stock Exchange.
Metabolix, which is developing and commercializing biodegradable plastics made from switchgrass and other crops, also reported a wider loss due to higher product development and operating costs. The company's product, Mirel, is a joint venture with Archer Daniels Midland Co.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts company reported a net loss of $8.9 million, or 39 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $7.7 million, or 35 cents a share, a year ago.
Total revenue was $401,000, mostly from government grants. Last year, the company recorded revenue of $187,000.
Metabolix shares rose 17 cents, or 1.4 percent, to close at $12.26 on Nasdaq. (Additional reporting by Matt Daily in New York and Abhishek Chanda in Bangalore, editing by Richard Chang)

Study shows US hybrid car owners are most loyal

The Associated Press
Published: August 11, 2008

DETROIT: Hybrid car owners are some of the most loyal in the U.S. market, with nearly half purchasing a vehicle of the same make when they buy another car, according to a study released Monday by an automotive data company.
Forty-seven percent of hybrid buyers buy a vehicle of the same make, compared with 35 percent of buyers overall, according to Experian Automotive, a division of global information provider Experian, whose North American headquarters are in Costa Mesa, California. Eighteen percent of hybrid car buyers even buy the same model, compared with 12 percent overall.
Scott Waldron, president of Experian Automotive, said the results show hybrid manufacturers have a clear advantage in attracting and maintaining customers. That's critical, since overall loyalty to car companies has been steadily slipping over the last decade. One percentage point in loyalty can transfer to thousands of sales, he said.
Toyota Prius owners were the most loyal to the vehicle model among hybrid buyers, with 25 percent returning to buy another Prius. Toyota Motor Corp.'s hybrid owners also were the most loyal when it came to staying with the Toyota make. Fifty-one percent chose another Toyota, compared with the Toyota make's overall loyalty rate of 44 percent.
Full-size pickup truck buyers remained the most loyal in terms of choosing a new vehicle from the same segment, even if it wasn't from the same manufacturer, according to the study. Thirty-three percent of pickup buyers chose another full-size pickup, while 25 percent of hybrid car buyers bought another hybrid. The average loyalty rate within a segment was 21 percent.
Today in Business with Reuters

Experian examined U.S. vehicle sales from January 2007 to March 2008 for the study. The company said hybrids are the fastest-growing segment on the market, up 130 percent from 2005 through the first six months of this year.

By George, there must be another expert ...

Is the environmental campaigner and fierce critic of capitalism George Monbiot the most feted columnist in Britain?

Last Tuesday, the decks were cleared at BBC2's Newsnight so that The Guardian's colossus could totter down Mount Olympus and inform us he had had a change of heart. It was the first item, and we were all agog.
In fact, George's announcement was not obviously earth-shattering. It seemed he had withdrawn his opposition to nuclear power stations. He did not love them, but he was no longer cut up about them. This shift in his views was nonetheless hailed by presenter Gavin Esler as a major development in contemporary thought.
The next morning George was given star-billing by Radio 4's Today programme, as he defended the green movement against the charge (pretty fair, I would have thought) made by Julie Burchill that it is predominantly middle-class, and lacks working-class support.
What is it about George? In a recent interview in this paper, Mark Damazer, controller of Radio 4, referred to the "Radio 4 rep company" – the usual suspects who crop up as guests across the schedule. Perhaps George has a sleeping bag at the BBC, and they keep the fridges stuffed with yoghurts and pulses lest he go hungry.
That reminds me of an experience I once had with George on the train back to Oxford. Or was it a dream? I can see him removing his socks, and putting his splendidly bony feet on the opposite seat. He laboriously reaches for various food containers full of rice and yoghurt, and munches his way through Slough and Reading.
I am perfectly willing to concede that George is a national treasure whose views deserve airing. But I wonder whether there aren't other environmentalists – or antis – who might occasionally be given a shot.

Giant U.S. retailers look to sun for energy savings

By Stephanie Rosenbloom
Published: August 11, 2008

Retailers are typically obsessed with what to put under their roofs, not on them. Yet the biggest store chains in the United States are coming to see their immense, flat roofs as an untapped resource.
In recent months, chains including Wal-Mart Stores, Kohl's, Safeway and Whole Foods Market have installed solar panels on roofs of their stores to generate electricity on a large scale. One reason they are racing is to beat a Dec. 31 deadline to gain tax advantages for these projects.
So far, most chains have outfitted fewer than 10 percent of their stores. Over the long run, assuming Congress renews a favorable tax provision and more states offer incentives, the chains promise a solar construction program that would ultimately put panels atop almost every big store in the country.
The trend, while not entirely new, is accelerating as the chains seize a chance to bolster their environmental credentials by cutting back on their use of electricity from coal.
"It's very clear that green energy is now front and center in the minds of the business sector," said Daniel Kammen, an energy expert at the University of California, Berkeley. "Not only will you see panels on the roofs of your local stores, but I suspect very soon retailers will have stickers in their windows saying, 'This is a green energy store.' "

In the coming months, 85 Kohl's stores will get solar panels; 43 already have them. "We want to keep pushing as many as we possibly can," said Ken Bonning, executive vice president for logistics at Kohl's.
Macy's, which has solar panels atop 18 stores, plans to install them on another 40 by the end of this year. Safeway is aiming to put panels atop 23 stores. And other chains, including Whole Foods Market, BJ's Wholesale Club and REI, the purveyor of outdoor goods, are planning projects of their own.
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, has 17 stores and distribution centers with solar panels in operation or in the testing phase. It plans to add them soon to five more stores. People at the chain are considering a far larger program that would put panels and other renewable technologies at hundreds of stores.
"It's going to be the Wal-Marts of the world that will buy these things over acres and make a difference," said Roger Little, chairman and chief executive of the Spire Corporation, a Boston company that provides solar equipment.
Analysts are not sure how much power the rooftop projects could ultimately produce, but they say it could be enough to help shave total electricity demand. In many communities, stores are among the biggest energy users. Depending on location and weather, the solar panels generate 10 to 40 percent of the power a store needs.
If Wal-Mart eventually covered the roofs of all its Sam's Club and Wal-Mart locations with solar panels, figures from the company show that the resulting solar acreage would roughly equal the size of Manhattan, an island of 23 square miles.
Booming demand in recent years has driven up the price of solar panels, and analysts say it costs far more to generate electricity from solar energy than from coal.
Coal generation costs about 6 cents for a kilowatt hour, which is enough electricity to run a hair dryer for an hour. Natural gas generation costs about 9 cents a kilowatt hour, said Reese Tisdale, a senior analyst with the consulting firm Emerging Energy Research. In comparison, "best case" for power from solar panels is about 25 to 30 cents a kilowatt hour, he said.
But retailers believe that they can achieve economies of scale. With coal and electricity prices rising, they are also betting that solar power will become more competitive, especially if new policies addressing global warming limit the emissions from coal plants.
Retailers, hoping to create a bigger market and positioning themselves at the forefront of a national shift toward renewable energy, are encouraging one another to join the bandwagon.
"We're hoping that our purchases along with some other retailers will help bring the technology costs down," said Kathy Loftus, who is in charge of energy and other initiatives at Whole Foods Market.
Most of the efforts so far are in California, New Jersey and Connecticut, states that offer generous incentives. Executives say they would like to convert many more. How quickly they can do so depends on government policy because retailers rely on tax incentives to offset the cost.
Corporate officials describe a U.S. tax credit for renewable energy, one that Congress has let expire and then renewed several times, as particularly important. A congressional deadlock over offshore oil drilling has held up legislation that would renew the credit for next year.
"Every project that starts development has to be finished by Dec. 31 or you lose tax equity advantage, and nobody's willing to take that risk," said George Waidelich, vice president for energy operations at Safeway. "You're talking about millions of dollars."
Retailers are fast becoming energy experts. They are experimenting with traditional solar panels, a new type of thin solar panel and ground-mounted tracking systems that move with the sun.
They are also combining those systems with other rooftop technologies like skylights and solar water heaters.
"Solar has become part of the kit that we think about when we open a store," said Sharon Im-Lee, REI's energy manager.
American retailers are following the lead of stores in Europe, which are much further along. Store-roof projects are so numerous in parts of Germany that they can be spotted in satellite photos. Government subsidies there, however, have lasted for years.
"In Germany, there are none of the concerns you find in the United States about whether support will be around next year," said Jenny Chase, an energy analyst in London.
Retailers in the United States tend to buy their own solar-power systems, at $4 million to $6 million for a store the size of a Wal-Mart, or enter into an agreement with a utility company that pays the up-front costs and then gives the store a break on power bills — an approach that appeals to big chains.
"It really helps make it economical for the retailer," said Kim Saylors-Laster, Wal-Mart's vice president for energy.
Retailers are also looking at other ways to extend their use of renewable energy by testing technologies like wind turbines and reflective white roofs, which keep buildings cooler in warm weather.
Bernard Sosnick, an analyst with Gilford Securities who has examined Wal-Mart's plans, said the day might come when people can pull their electric cars up to a store and recharge them with power from the roof or even from wind turbines in the parking lot.
"It's not as over the horizon as it might seem," he said.
James Kanter contributed reporting.

Recyclers are cashing in on the fortune in your bin

Jill Sherman and Lewis Smith

Householders are missing a chance to share in the results of huge profits generated by the soaring value of recyclable domestic rubbish, The Times has learnt.
The price of recyclable plastic, newspaper and cardboard has doubled in 18 months, giving councils a source of “green gold” that could be spent on improving local services. Many are locked into 20 to 30-year contracts with recycling companies and are unable to cash in on the higher cost of plastic and copper.
As the cost of commodities rises it increasingly makes sense for manufacturers to retrieve materials from rubbish instead of buying them new. Town hall leaders have toldThe Times that the sector is missing out on millions of pounds that would come from trading commodities themselves or negotiating better contracts. They said that such profits could go to improving local services and even cutting bills.
Such is the concern over the complicated waste contracts that the Audit Commission is looking at the length and cost of the deals as well as the financial risks. The value of raw materials and the inequity of council returns are being examined as part of the inquiry. It reports next month.

Local authorities such as Kent County Council admit that they could make up to £1 million a year by selling recyclable materials if the 25-year deal could be renegotiated. Westminster council, which has a seven-year contract to share profits as prices rise, believes that town halls are sitting on a fortune. “Where there’s muck there’s brass,” Mark Banks, Westminster’s waste strategy manager, said. Any profit made will be ploughed back into services or to lower council tax rises, he said.
This year alone the rising cost of oil – used to make plastic – has pushed prices of domestic rubbish even higher. The sale price of mixed plastic bottles has nearly tripled to £230 a tonne in the past six months. Six years ago it was £10 per tonne.
With plastic processing advances in coming months, yoghurt pots, bags, food packaging and any plastic containers will be even more sought after as manufacturers recycle plastic to avoid buying oil. Newspapers and cardboard now sell for £100 a tonne, double what they were fetching early last year. Metal from cans was £80 a tonne at the start of 2007 and has risen to £200. A tonne of copper now sells for more than £3,000, compared with a tenth of that in 2002.
The sharply rising prices give councils an added incentive to boost recycling – apart from having to meet EU landfill targets – and many are keen to cash in. But the fixed-term deals negotiated by many authorities, set at the prices of recyclable materials several years ago, allow the contractor to reap the reward.
Paul Bettison, the chairman of the Local Government Association’s environment board, said that councils had tightly judged decisions: “Do you lock the contractor into what appears to be a reasonable price and lock them in as long as possible or do you secure a shorter contract and risk seeing the price dive? Recyclates go down as well as up – a bit like investments.”
He admitted that in a few years, recycled goods could be traded on the futures market like other commodities. “The markets will be making money out of the sale of recyclables and some councils will too. Not all are negotiating long-term deals.”
Mr Bettinson wants the Government to make plain that councils are sitting on a goldmine. “We need to get the message to our authorities and say, ‘Let’s see what we can get out of this without taking silly risks.’ ” Mr Banks said: “Many councils locked into fixed-price contracts may be missing out on tens of thousands of pounds of revenue from rising prices of recyclable materials. Westminster takes a commercial approach to contracts so that we benefit in rising market situations but with a safety net in place when markets inevitably turn.”
CASE STUDY: ‘We could be making £1m a year profit’
A waste disposal deal that a decade ago looked like good business is now regarded by Kent County Council as a costly mistake.
Prices of recycled materials have risen so sharply that less than halfway into the 25-year deal the council is attempting to renegotiate with the contractor.
“At the time it looked a good deal – ten years later I would say never again,” said Keith Ferrin, the council’s cabinet member for environmental and waste services. “If I could get out of the long-term contract I have inherited I would do that.”
Under the agreement the private company was to incinerate 320,000 tonnes of waste annually, using a facility that has yet to be opened, but much of the rubbish is now too valuable to burn. Mr Ferrin said that recycling had changed so dramatically that plastic that the council formerly paid to have removed now has businesses clamouring to buy it. Mr Ferrin added that the most serious price increases have been in metals. Copper is 15 times more valuable than it was six years ago. As a consequence, recycling is now regarded as a much better bet than incineration.
“Over the course of a year we could make just under £1 million profit.”