Sunday, 31 August 2008

Throwaway razors and nappies should be taxed as luxuries, says Defra

By Sadie Gray Sunday, 31 August 2008

Disposable razors and nappies could be taxed as luxury goods in order to cut the amount of waste going to landfill, a Government-funded report to ministers has suggested.
In the same way as taxes were applied to discourage the purchase of cigarettes and alcohol, they should apply to disposable goods that cannot be reused or recycled in order to prevent people from buying them as cheap and convenient alternatives to reusable items, the report said. Taxes would also encourage manufacturers to focus on the development of more durable products. If disposable razors were taxed at the same rate as cigarettes – about 80 per cent of the price goes to the Treasury – a single Gillette Mach 3 would leap from £1 to £5.
The report, commissioned from Eunomia Research & Consulting by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), says: "Some products considered 'luxury', such as alcohol and tobacco, have heavy duties on them. If disposable products were categorised in a similar way, they could be subjected to similar duties." The report also advocates new taxes on household rubbish, claiming they could halve the amount of waste each person throws away from 800lbs to 400lbs a year.
It also suggests imposing taxes on disposable items such as paper plates and nappies. Some three billion disposable nappies are thrown away every year in the UK, accounting for 4 per cent of all household waste.
Matthew Sinclair, policy analyst for the TaxPayers' Alliance, told the Sunday Express: "Politicians must stop using environmental concerns as a smokescreen for raising taxes."
The TaxPayers' Alliance recently released a report claiming that families were paying an average of £783 a year in environmental taxes.

People will die of cold because of energy firms' greed, say Greens

By Jonathan OwenSunday, 31 August 2008

A deadly combination of rising fuel prices and corporate greed will result in people freezing to death this winter, Britain's foremost Green politician has warned.
Caroline Lucas MEP, who is expected to be elected as the Green Party's first leader later this week, said: "People will be literally dying from cold this winter while companies like Shell and BP are making record profits – that outrages ordinary people and we need a party that is prepared to stand up about that ... rather than having a Labour government that is cowering in a cave and scared of actually speaking out against people in the City."
She is calling for energy companies to be forced to plough some of their profits back into "ensuring that some of the poorest people are able to keep warm", and attacked Labour for presiding "over a period where we now have Victorian levels of social inequality".
The outburst comes as Ms Lucas is set to be confirmed as the first female leader of a political party in Britain since Margaret Thatcher. She will make a rallying call to activists at the party's annual conference this Saturday, calling on them to focus on getting their first Member of Parliament. The party needs to "seize this opportunity to recognise that with two elections in the next two years, we really are poised for this electoral breakthrough", she said.
The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats have tried to hijack the green vote, according to Ms Lucas. "They might be speaking the green speak but they're certainly not delivering green action," she said.
She said she was clear about what is needed for the Greens to become Britain's fourth political party and said the focus must be on social justice as well as environmental issues.

The wind of change is slow to blow through Britain's energy policy

In Europe, only Malta and Luxembourg make less use of renewables than the UK. So why do ministers still believe they can meet environmental targets? asks Mark Leftly

Sunday, 31 August 2008

In two years' time, the UK seems certain to miss one of the core environmental targets of the Blair-Brown years. The Government pledged that 10 per cent of the country's electricity would be generated from renewable sources, principally from wind farms, but also including tidal and solar power.
Press releases from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Berr) still boast of the target, which was first promised in 2000 and enshrined three years later in the energy White Paper. And in a statement to The Independent on Sunday, a spokesman for Berr insists that all is well and that: "Estimates show there's more than enough renewables developments either up and running or in the pipeline to potentially meet the 10 per cent goal."
But the energy industry does not agree. Senior figures point out that less than 5 per cent of electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2007, up from just over 4 per cent the previous year. This is not, they argue, a sign of rapid progress from a country that that has a far less buoyant renewables industry than Germany and Denmark, although it is far windier.
Despite the impending failure, the Government is pushing for still-tougher targets. The Secretary of State at Berr, John Hutton, is currently consulting with energy companies on plans to generate 15 per cent of all energy – that is, transport fuel and heat as well as electricity – from renewables by 2020 in line with EU ambitions. Responses are due next month, and seem set to recommend that one-third of electricity should come from renewables, to make up for shortfalls in heat and transport. The cost of this is £100bn.
James Vaccaro, managing director of the renewables fund at Triodos, a pioneer in ethical banking, offers one of the gloomier predictions for 2010: that the UK will hit around 6 per cent rather than 10. He recalls a civil servant from the then Trade and Industry Department visiting Triodos's Bristol offices in 2000.
"The official said, imagine the 2010 target as being part of a pie," recounts Mr Vacarro. "He said small commercial projects were a small part of the pie, but it would be big renewables schemes that took up the major share."
Mr Vaccaro countered that there were simply not the available resources in the UK energy market to build the massive wind farms needed to provide the 10 to 15GW to generate 10 per cent of all electricity. Instead, the industry had to be built from the bottom up, with a series of small wind farms of around 10MW that would cost in the region of £12m to £14m. He added that the UK had to get used to the idea of the necessity of these smaller schemes.
It's a view he still holds. As an example, he points to a British Energy/Amec joint venture to build a 650MW scheme off the coast of Scotland on the Isle of Lewis, rejected in April on the grounds that it threatened the island's bird population.
Planning is one of the big problems for these wind farms. Although there are hopes that recent changes to the planning process, such as fast-tracking major infrastructure proposals and revamping the appeals procedure, will enable schemes to be approved faster, there is a huge backlog of wind-farm applications that councils have to go through.
Gaynor Hartnell, deputy director at the Renewable Energy Association, says there are "reams of projects" in the pipeline, perhaps as much as 14GW, mainly in Scotland. This would correlate with the Government's claims that there are "potentially" enough developments to meet the 2010 deadline. However, Ms Hartnell says that delays in granting planning permission – there is also a shortage of qualified planners working for local authorities – means that the UK will not hit the 10 per cent target until 2012.
Juliet Davenport, chief executive of Good Energy, a renewables firm that last week announced interim results showing an 18 per cent increase in turnover to £6.3m, is equally critical of the planning system. And while she remains optimistic that the Government can reach 8 per cent renewables in two years, Ms Davenport has a real planning horror story.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has opposed Good Energy's application to construct a 10MW wind farm, arguing that it could harm its communications ports. However, Good Energy is unable to respond, as the MoD will not provide information on its concerns. Officials say that the relevant documents are classified. "They said that they would not hand them over to us because of the threat of terrorism," sighs Ms Davenport. "You end up going round and round in circles."
It is this type of problem, she adds, that has led to the UK having the lowest renewables use as a percentage of all its energy in Europe, bar Malta and Luxembourg. "We've got the engineers to build the wind farms, but it's a difficult market because of the regulatory regime," she says.
Richard Ford is the UK grid connections manager at Renewable Energy Systems, a company that has developed wind farms for 20 years. What is delaying renewables' progress, he says, is the difficulty of linking the farms to the National Grid. Faced with a huge volume of applications, the grid will not allow power stations to connect until it has developed the extra capacity required to take the additional power.
Mr Ford would like the grid to manage demand, rather than wait until there is space, since a slot might not be available for 10 years. Planning permission lasts five years in England and Wales, and three in Scotland. As a result, a company can build a wind farm and leave it idle for five or seven years, or it can secure a slot and wait to apply for planning permission, which it might not secure.
"We and others are making applications to the grid before we are certain the developments can be built," explains Mr Ford. "We would prefer a 'connect and manage' approach."
The Association of Energy Producers believes some progress has been made. Its chief executive, David Porter, points out that just five years ago, renewables projects accounted for only 2 per cent of the UK's electricity.
Mr Porter's great worry is that this new target of 15 per cent of all energy coming from renewables by 2020, set by the UK in agreement with other EU states, is much tougher. As wind power is by far the UK's most advanced technology, with the Scottish government looking into the possibility of a £5bn off-shore grid to connect turbines, it will be the electricity providers that will have the biggest role to play in meeting this target.
He talks of the need to "minimise the cost impact on consumers", and says a radical overhaul of planning and grid connection is vital "to stand a chance of meeting 2020 targets".
Already, then, the energy industry is playing down its chances of success at this next stage. Berr can talk up its achievements all it likes, but few in the know appear to believe the department will be able to back this up when the first renewables deadline is reached it in just two years.

Wind turbines generate bonus for homeowners

Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Roger Waite

Homeowners who splash out on wind turbines and solar panels are being paid for the electricity they generate, even when they use it all themselves.
The perk can be worth several hundred pounds a year and is being subsidised by other customers through their electricity bills. It is part of a government package to encourage alternative energy sources – but the generous payouts have surprised some homeowners.
“It’s staggering,” said Harry Metcalfe, publisher of the supercars magazine Evo, who has installed a 30ft wind turbine in the grounds of his large farmhouse near Burford in the Cotswolds. “I thought I’d just get paid for the surplus, but not the electricity that I use myself.”
His turbine provides power for his house and for underfloor heating in his garage, where he has a small fleet of sports cars. “I got the turbine because I love technology and am naturally mean when it comes to paying bills,” he said.
Under his agreement with his energy company, Ecotricity, Metcalfe is paid for 9p for every unit of electricity his turbine generates – whether or not it is exported to the national grid. It works out at more than £700 a year and he calculates that the payback period on his £13,000 investment will now be only about seven years.
Dale Vince, managing director of Ecotricity, said that householders facing higher energy bills might balk at the payouts but they were an important incentive to encourage microgeneration, or domestic green power. “The current rate is actually probably too low to bring about the change the government wants to see,” he said.
The payouts are made under the Renewables Obligation Certificate scheme, which rewards power generators, companies and householders who create green power. The scheme costs up to £870m a year and adds about £10 to the average electricity bill.
Homeowners in urban areas are unlikely to benefit, though. Energy advisers say that the type of turbine the Conservative leader David Cameron has installed at his west London home does not generate enough power.
The cash can also be claimed if homeowners install solar panels. Nick and Fiona Mills, both 50, who live in Stroud, Gloucestershire, had 14 panels fitted in April 2007. Their electricity company, Good Energy, pays them 9p per unit of electricity. The panels meet almost all their power needs, and in the first year, they were paid £83 by Good Energy.
The Department for Business and Enterprise said the subsidies were justified because home generators did not produce carbon emissions from fossil fuels. The government wanted 10% of the UK’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2010, and to double that by 2020.

It takes an impending recession to turn drivers into eco-warriors

One of the ways of telling whether a recession is coming is simply to time your journey to work (that is if you drive and if you still have work to go to). I can well recall the early stages of the last recession, in around 1990, and how mysteriously thinner the traffic seemed to become. It is happening again. According to the RAC Foundation, congestion on Britain's motorways and major trunk roads fell by 12 per cent in the first six months of this year compared with the first half of 2007. The northern section of the M25 and the M6 are particular beneficiaries, apparently.
Part of that, of course, is down to the large increase in the cost of fuel, and the switch to public transport is confirmed by the boom in business at Stagecoach and other bus and train companies. Suddenly, one of New Labour's forgotten promises – to get people out of their cars and on to public transport – is being fulfilled, though not, of course, in the way that ministers would have intended. Cycling, too, is obviously enjoying a continuing vogue, no doubt encouraged by the success of Team GB's Olympic cyclists. Recession is good for the planet.
So does all this prove the Greens right? Sadly, I think it does, though I don't think they'll ever win the argument. Restraining economic growth is obviously the surest way of reducing congestion, carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. I feel quite confident that the "planetary crisis" that Al Gore referred to again at the Obama coronation last week will be considerably defused when – not if – the Chinese economy stumbles. Even in the US, where "gas" has reached the "shocking" price of about £2 a gallon, drivers are moving away from their SUVs and into more sensible sedans. This week, by the way, Honda will announce a new petrol-electric hybrid to challenge the Toyota Prius, a small but important example of how capitalist competition can push the boundaries of technology forward for the good of all. Though misguided, the switch to biofuels – a policy endorsed by Obama – also symbolises a change in mentality. Green things are happening, spurred on by the harder economic times.
However, we all know, don't we, that as soon as the economy picks up again, and the price of fuel subsides (as it is already at the wholesale end), we will be back to our old tricks. The urge to become more prosperous – and enjoy the fruits of hard work, such as a nice car – is an irrepressible part of the human condition, as has most recently been pointed out by Richard Parry-Jones. Mr Parry-Jones is a former Ford Motor executive and one of the brightest minds in the auto industry. He has been appointed an adviser to the Government, and has warned ministers off attempts to "unfairly demonise" motorists. He is right about that. But – short of recession – how exactly do we stop the roads getting clogged up?

Green light given to eco-driving test

Published Date: 31 August 2008
By Jeremy Watson

IT'S AN unforgettable rite of passage for anyone seeking the legal right to sit behind the wheel of a car. The dreaded driving test sets pulses racing and stomachs churning in even the most confident of would-be motorists.
But it is no longer enough to be a safe driver. You will now also have to be an eco-safe driver.From next week, everyone who sits the nerve-shredding test will also be assessed on whether they drive their vehicles in a manner that will conserve fuel, help the environment and save money.Although learner drivers will not be passed or failed on the assessment, they will receive the results from their examiner and be given a leaflet on how to adopt eco-driving techniques in their future driving careers.Examination chiefs have not ruled out the possibility the eco-test being made a failure issue in future, however.The new practical assessment has been introduced by the Driving Standards Agency to comply with European Union legislation. The assessment, aimed at creating a new generation of drivers with fuel saving and economy in mind, has already been introduced in Germany.The European Climate Change Programme has calculated that if all drivers across the EU adopted eco-driving, they would save 25 billion litres of fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, blamed for global warming, by at least 50 million tonnes annually. With fuel prices soaring in recent months, the assessment should appeal to increasingly cost-conscious motorists. The DSA estimates that an average driver travelling 12,000 miles a year will save around £150 a year at the pumps if they adopt eco-driving principles. The DSA said there were no plans at present to make eco-safe driving a pass or fail issue.But environmental groups, while welcoming the measure, said it might need to be made a compulsory requirement if motorists failed to heed the lessons.Last year, the DSA administered more than 1.7 million driving tests in the UK with a 44% pass rate. Learners will now be faced with two new boxes on the examiners's test form relating to control of the vehicle and planning for road conditions ahead.They will be assessed by an examiner on how smoothly they drive when starting off, accelerating and braking, and making gear changes.They will be marked down on the assessment for excessive revving, labouring the engine and failing to identify hazards early enough to allow smooth braking time. It will also be noted if they fail to react to hazards ahead, causing them to decrease speed sharply rather than gradually. Whether they pass or fail, candidates will be told of the eco-driving results.The DSA leaflet tells drivers: "Eco-safe driving is a style of driving that has been proven to reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and contribute to road safety. Reducing those emissions, helping to keep yourself safe and saving yourself money, is easier than you think." A spokesman for the DSA said: "The introduction of eco-safe driving techniques into the practical test means we can encourage greener driving habits for learners. "Driving in an eco-safe manner not only means safer driving but can also reduce air pollution. We want learner drivers to understand that the way they drive can improve their safety, help them tackle carbon emissions and save them money."Key tips for eco-friendly driving include: try to avoid excessive revving when starting the engine and moving away; use the accelerator smoothly and progressively and avoid pumping, as this uses more fuel; identify hazards early to avoid sudden braking and acceleration; use engine-braking; switch off the engine when stuck in traffic or waiting for a passenger; and remove roof boxes and racks when not in use.