Sunday, 14 September 2008

Maitland Mackie to launch windpower firm

The ice-cream business leader is proposing plans for a natural-energy company that would benefit rural communities

One of Scotland’s best-known business leaders is expected to unveil a proposal tomorrow for a massive windpower company that would be owned by farmers and landowners across the UK.
Maitland Mackie, the chairman of the Aberdeenshire ice-cream maker Mackie’s, is understood to be keen to ensure rural communities benefit more widely from wind generation.
Mackie has refused to comment ahead of the announcement, although he floated the general idea at a farming conference earlier this year.
The full extent of the scale is being kept under wraps, but it is understood that it would need millions of pounds of investment in its early stages. Mackie has brought a well-known business figure on board to advise on the financial make-up of the proposed company.
Mackie’s already produces its own electricity from three wind turbines located on its farm.
Meanwhile, Vattenfall, the Swedish power company, is thought to be looking at UK power companies, including Scottish and Southern Energy, after Lars Josefsson, the chief executive, said the UK was a “target market” with lots of opportunities.

Staffing crisis 'will hit green energy targets'

Published Date: 14 September 2008
By Nathalie Thomas

SCOTLAND's renewables sector is facing a severe staffing crisis which will throw Government targets on green energy into disarray, industry experts are warning.
Renewable energy companies have raised the alarm over a chronic shortage of engineers and other staff with enough training to man Scotland's growing army of wind farms, hydroelectric power stations and biomass plants. Industry experts say up to 40% of jobs at some renewables firms are currently unfilled and Scotland will not meet its target of generating half its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 if the Government does not urgently address the problem.With the industry expected to mushroom over the next 12 years, a report from the British Wind Energy Association next month is expected to warn of a grave threat to the future of the industry. Sector specialists are calling on the Government to invest in more specialised training programmes or risk missing its 2020 ambition.Henning von Barsewisch, managing director of RePower UK, an Edinburgh-based firm which manufactures wind turbines, said recruitment is currently acting as a bottleneck in the industry, and in some cases it has taken up to year to recruit people even for sales roles. He warned the problem is only likely to get worse in the run-up to 2020 as the renewables workforce balloons. "We won't be able to achieve the targets because we can't find the people," he said.David Cameron, chief technical officer at the Scottish Renewables Forum, the trade body for the renewables industry north of the border, said a recent survey of members had highlighted recruitment as one of the biggest barriers to the sector's development, along with Scotland's grid and planning constraints.He pointed out that many training schemes will be too late for the 2020 target. Careers Scotland's 'The Path is Green' course raises awareness of green energy jobs among schools but it can take 12 years before the students are ready to enter the workplace, he argued. "It's a shame we didn't start this 10 years ago," he added.The warning over recruitment follows a sharp wake-up call from Robert Armour, of British Energy, who said the Government will need to built a new generation of conventional power stations before 2025 if it wants to avoid importing electricity.At a conference on Scotland's energy future last Tuesday, fears were also raised over the "woeful" state of the Scottish grid system, which industry experts say will need to be "turned on its head" if electricity generated at remote wind and tidal facilities is to be transported to the rest of the country.

Wind farms fail to deliver value for money, report claims

Wind farms are failing to deliver value for money and distorting the development of other renewable energy sources, a report claims.

By Patrick SawyerLast Updated: 9:24AM BST 14 Sep 2008

Excessive subsidies make them an expensive and inefficient way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a study by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) think-tank says.
The report comes amid mounting disquiet over the number of wind farms planned for Britain.
Energy companies want to erect more than 3,000 turbines over the next five years, leading to fears that hundreds of acres of rural landscape will be blighted.
Critics insist that wind energy is too inefficient to replace the creaking network of fossil fuel power stations. Even with modern turbines, wind farms are unable to operate at full capacity because of the unreliable nature of Britain's wind.
The industry admits that for up to 30 per cent of the time, turbines are idle because wind speeds are either too low to turn the blades, or too high, risking damage to the machines.
Without any suitable method of storing the excess power produced when winds are blowing but electricity use is low, many turbines also have to be turned off for fear of overloading the grid.
The report says that wind farms are unprofitable and rely on hefty subsidies that ultimately come from consumers in the form of rising energy prices. This cost comes on top of increases in gas and electricity prices caused by the high price of oil. They risk leaving the poorest members of society struggling to heat their homes.
The report, written by John Constable, of REF, and Robert Barfoot, the chairman of the North Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, says that the subsidy scheme is encouraging energy firms to build as many wind farms as possible because it is more profitable than investing in other more expensive forms of renewable technology, such as wave power.
They say: "The market for renewable energy is an artificial one created and maintained by government legislation. The question is whether this consumer-derived money is well spent. It is worth noting that the excessive subsidy offered to onshore wind development has drawn developers even to sites where the wind resource is very weak and the environmental impact severe."
Backed by large subsidies, companies have put in planning applications for 235 wind farms. The plans would see 3,189 turbines, many more than 400ft tall, installed by 2013. At present, there are 176 wind farms operating 2,033 turbines onshore and at sea, providing power for the equivalent of 1.42 million homes.
In 2006-07 more than £217 million was paid to energy firms under the subsidy scheme, known as the Renewables Obligation. Under the scheme, energy companies must obtain a proportion of their power from renewable sources, 6.7 per cent at present rising to 15 per cent by 2015. Those that fail to meet these targets pay a fine that is then shared between all the companies that have obtained energy from "green" sources. For every megawatt of green energy they sell, a company receives about £50 at present.
The Renewable Energy Foundation says that consumers ultimately end up funding the subsidies because energy firms that pay fines pass the costs on to customers.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England, which campaigns against the building of wind farms, attacked the rapid growth in the number being constructed.
A CPRE spokesman said: "There is a role for wind energy in providing electricity in the UK, but its intermittency and major visual impact limit the potential contribution of onshore turbines."
Other critics claim that wind farms pose a risk to wildlife such as birds and bats.
A spokesman for the British Wind Energy Association, which represents the wind power industry, defended the Renewable Obligation payments, claiming that they were necessary to help provide energy security. He said: "The question is whether we want to pay moderately higher prices to secure a secure and clean domestic energy source, or do we want to be dependent on imported fossil fuels?"
Critics have estimated that by 2020 the cost of the Renewables Obligation could rise to more than £3 billion.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is reassessing the Renewables Obligation scheme. Proposed changes could mean that bands are introduced for different sources of renewable energy.

Community power plays backed

Heather Connon
The Observer,
Sunday September 14 2008

A hydroelectric scheme based on mining works and a plan to sell solar power generated from panels on industrial estates are among the 10 projects to receive £20,000 funding in a scheme designed to encourage community generation schemes.
Three Green Valleys in the Brecon Beacons and the Community Sustainability Trust in Oxford are two of the finalists in the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts' (Nesta) Big Green Challenge. They will use their funding to pilot the projects as they vie for the £1m prize, to be awarded next year. Helen Christie of Nesta said schemes like Gordon Brown's new energy package focused on big business and promoting renewables or green technologies. 'What is overlooked is the role that communities can play in power generation.'
Three Green Valleys aims to build a plant that would provide power for 60 people for 20 years at the same cost as they now spend in one year. In Oxford, the Community Sustainability Trust aims to generate 750,000 kWh of renewable energy a year through solar, water and wind projects.

Energy firms to boost efficiency subsidies to households

Published Date: 14 September 2008

By Lucy Christie

HOUSEHOLDERS are to get an increased share of energy company help in reducing fuel bills under a new deal struck with suppliers.
Scotland's main energy firms have pledged to boost their investment in household efficiency measures after discussions with the communities minister. Stewart Maxwell made the announcement last week.On the agenda was Scotland's share of the £3.36 bn fund created to achieve the nationwide Carbon Emissions Reductions Target (CERT), which asks suppliers to subsidise efficient appliances, loft insulation and low-energy light bulbs.The Government said data collected under the first phase of the scheme from 2002-5 showed that spending in Scotland was around 22% below its proportionate share, a shortfall equal to around £18m in the current programme.Maxwell said Scotland was in line to achieve its fair share of the budget over the next three years, estimated at £321m. "I was encouraged by the energy companies' commitment to work with us to help reduce fuel bills, and specifically to provide insulation measures to help Scotland's fuel-poor households. The energy companies also agreed to provide information on CERT activity in Scotland, which is currently only reported on a GB-wide basis, and ensure that Scotland secures at least a pro-rata share of the measures. "Gordon Brown unveiled a £1bn package to help struggling households cope with energy prices on Thursday.Maxwell said: "As well as energy-efficiency measures, the UK Government should have provided direct support ... by recouping windfall gains made by the energy companies."

The public are ahead of the game on climate change

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Thursday, Ben Stewart feared, would be the day he started a prison term. But instead of being banged up, he found himself "in the green room of The Jeremy Vine Show, next to Cliff Richard".
Uncharitable comparisons with frying pans and fires are not for him, however. Greenpeace's communications director – newly cleared, with five colleagues, of causing criminal damage to Kingsnorth power station in Kent – was "quite excited", though at the implications of the verdict rather than at meeting the man who recorded both "Congratulations" and "Jailhouse Rock".
He hopes it will be a "gamechanger", and he might conceivably be right. For the jury that acquitted the six activists may have done more to frustrate the Government's plans to build coal-fired powered stations than the pressure group has achieved in years. And it revealed a public concern about climate change that the main political parties – all lambasted in a report published the same day for backsliding on green concerns – have yet to understand.
The protesters scaled a 656ft chimney at Kingsnorth last October, painting the name "Gordon" down it, before being told to stop. They had aimed to add "bin it", appealing to the Prime Minister to junk plans for a new power station, which would emit three times as much carbon dioxide as the whole of Rwanda.
It cost energy colossus E.ON – which owns the power station and wants to build the new one – £30,000 to clean off the giant graffiti, and the activists were duly charged: Stewart faced up to 10 years in jail because he had already been arrested for a protest at Didcot two years ago.
They mounted a so-called "lawful excuse defence", which allows damage to be done to protect other property, bringing in top experts – including Professor James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists – to explain the dangers of global warming.
The ploy has worked for Greenpeace before, most famously clearing its then leader, Peter Melchett, and 27 others who trashed a field of GM maize in Norfolk.
That was a turning point. The Crown Prosecution Service stopped charging people who destroyed modified crops with criminal damage, and other activists were encouraged to take similar "direct action". Last week's decision could well have the same effect – leading to a rash of protests at power stations, airports and other major greenhouse gases emitters – though Greenpeace is anxious to play this down.
More important, perhaps, is what it says about public attitudes to climate change. Ann Widdecombe, the local MP, last week angrily called the verdict "ludicrous", but the jury was no doubt at least partly drawn from her own constituents.
The jury in effect sat through a six-and-a-half-day seminar on global warming, in a forum where lying was illegal, and every statement could be challenged by top barristers. And, at the end, they decided that the danger was so immediate and serious that it justified taking extreme – and normally illegal – action against it.
"That is something the Government and the utilities need to take extremely seriously," says Professor Tom Burke, an aide to three environment secretaries. "It shows how seriously the public takes climate change."
Yet a report last week by the Green Alliance and seven top pressure groups concluded that, over the past year, the Government's approach to the crisis had been "contradictory and incoherent", the Tories' had been "more presentation than substance", while the traditionally green Lib Dems had been "markedly quieter" on the issues.
It's time for them to raise, and change, their game. For, in the end, the public, while on the same side, is likely to be less forgiving than the turbulent jurors of Kent.

Phase out coal and burn trees instead, urges leading scientist

Current targets on emissions are 'a recipe for global disaster, not salvation'
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment EditorSunday, 14 September 2008

Humanity must urgently embark on a massive programme to power civilisation from wood to stave off catastrophic climate change, one of the world's top scientists has told The Independent on Sunday.
Twenty years ago, Professor James Hansen was the first leading scientist to announce that global warming was taking place. Now he has issued a warning that a back-to-the-future return to one of the oldest fuels is imperative because the world has exceeded the danger level for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Growing trees, which absorb the gas from the air as they grow, burning them instead of fossil fuels to generate electricity, and capturing and storing the carbon produced in the process is needed to get the greenhouse effect down to safe levels, he says.
Professor Hansen's assertion that there is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will alarm governments and environmentalists, who are concentrating on the already daunting task of limiting its build-up, while allowing it to rise well above present levels. However, his views will command respect because, as director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies for the past 27 years, he has been one of the few climate scientists ready to risk his reputation by openly stating what many suspect to be true.
In 1988 Professor Hansen put global warming on the political agenda by telling the US Congress that he was "99 per cent certain" that human activities were warming up the planet. It took the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change until last year to catch up, by which time nearly two vital decades had been lost.
In the UK last week, his evidence helped to secure the acquittal of six Greenpeace activists charged with causing criminal damage to the Kingsnorth power station in Kent.
The level of carbon dioxide stands at 385 parts per million (ppm), about 100ppm above what it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. It is rising by about 2ppm a year. The most ambitious international efforts focus on stabilising it at 450 ppm, though few see this as achievable.
But Professor Hansen says this goal "is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation" and that present levels have already "brought us to the precipice of a planetary tipping point". He adds: "If we go over the edge we will transition to an environment far outside the range that has been experienced by humanity, and there will be no return within any foreseeable future generation."
He is convinced that 350 ppm is the absolute maximum that will avoid the loss of the polar ice sheets and other disasters. He says that all coal power stations must be phased out by 2030, unless they are equipped with special "carbon capture and storage" equipment that stops the gas escaping into the atmosphere. If that was done, the level could be stabilised at 400 ppm. After that, a vigorous programme of planting trees to suck up carbon dioxide – coupled with the use of carbon capture equipment when the trees are burnt, and improvements in agricultural practices – could get levels down to 350 ppm "within a century".