Monday, 24 November 2008

Green-basher Boris relaunches himself as an eco-warrior

Mayor of London says he wants to make the city the most environmentally friendly in the world
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment EditorSunday, 23 November 2008

Boris Johnson is backing a cycle-hire scheme for the capital

Cripes! Boris Johnson, one of Britain's least environmentally friendly politicians, will this week relaunch himself as a green champion.
In his maiden green speech, which aides are billing as "extremely substantial" and "a milestone event", London's Mayor – who used to denounce "eco-moralists" for spouting "mumbo-jumbo"– is to announce his intention to make the city the eco-capital of the world.
The man who compared fear of global warming to a "Stone Age religion", and poured scorn on renewable energy, has decided that he wants to make the capital "the world's leading city in delivering carbon reductions and capturing the benefits of the new energy economy".
The speech – to be delivered on Tuesday to the annual conference of the official Environment Agency – will stress that the financial crisis provides a crucial opportunity for developing environmentally friendly businesses, one of the main arguments of those pressing governments to launch a "green new deal" to revive growth.
Industries will have the chance to develop "new technologies", the Mayor will add, and householders will be able to save money by conserving energy and reducing their carbon footprints.
Mr Johnson will also promise "substantially increased investment" in small-scale exploitation of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy in homes and communities, and "minimum-hassle, minimum-cost energy efficiency programmes" to insulate homes, offices and other buildings.
The speech will mark one of the most remarkable political Damascene conversions in years, for the Mayor was one of the few prominent Britons to welcome George W Bush's determination to kill off international attempts to combat climate change. He said that the President's "decision to scrumple up the Kyoto Protocol" was "right not just for America but for the world".
Mr Johnson then proclaimed that sharply reducing emissions would "exacerbate" climate change. He insisted that windfarms, "even when they are in motion, would barely pull the skin off a rice pudding" and denounced energy saving as a waste of effort. He became a hero to climate-change deniers worldwide.
He changed his tune during his election campaign earlier this year, describing global warming as "the biggest challenge of our generation", but his proposed policies were unconvincing and lagged far behind measures that his rival, Ken Livingstone, was already taking, which made London a world leader in combating global warming.
Jonathon Porritt, the Government's top environmental adviser, said that a Johnson victory would be "a massive setback" – and, once in office, the new Mayor seemed to justify the warning. He cancelled Mr Livingstone's plans to charge gas-guzzlers more to enter central London, put all his far-reaching climate-change measures under review, and sacked Allan Jones, the highly regarded head of the capital's Climate Change Agency. He also scrapped an order for 60 vehicles running on hydrogen – thought to be the world's biggest initiative of its kind.
However, the Mayor's office retorts: "Boris Johnson was elected on a firm commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2025 and to make London's environment cleaner and greener. Since being elected he has announced a range of measures to set London on the road to achieve this."
It points out that, among other promises, he has pledged to retain Mr Livingstone's Low-Emission Zone and has announced plans for a cycle-hire scheme and 10 low-carbon zones.

The eco machine that can magic water out of thin air

Ed Pilkington in New York
The Observer, Sunday November 23 2008

Water, Water, everywhere; nor any drop to drink. The plight of the Ancient Mariner is about to be alleviated thanks to a firm of eco-inventors from Canada who claim to have found the solution to the world's worsening water shortages by drawing the liquid of life from an unlimited and untapped source - the air.
The company, Element Four, has developed a machine that it hopes will become the first mainstream household appliance to have been invented since the microwave. Their creation, the WaterMill, uses the electricity of about three light bulbs to condense moisture from the air and purify it into clean drinking water.
The machine went on display this weekend in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, hosted by Wired magazine at its annual showcase of the latest gizmos its editors believe could change the world. From the outside, the mill looks like a giant golf ball that has been chopped in half: it is about 3ft in diameter, made of white plastic, and is attached to the wall.
It works by drawing air through filters to remove dust and particles, then cooling it to just below the temperature at which dew forms. The condensed water is passed through a self-sterilising chamber that uses microbe-busting UV light to eradicate any possibility of Legionnaires' disease or other infections. Finally, it is filtered and passed through a pipe to the owner's fridge or kitchen tap.
The obvious question to the proposition that household water demands can be met by drawing it from the air is: are you crazy? To which the machine's inventor and Element Four's founder, Jonathan Ritchey, replies: 'Just wait and see. The demand for water is off the chart. People are looking for freedom from water distribution systems that are shaky and increasingly unreliable.'
For the environmentally conscious consumer, the WaterMill has an obvious appeal. Bottled water is an ecological catastrophe. In the US alone, about 30bn litres of bottled water is consumed every year at a cost of about $11bn (£7.4bn).
According to the Earth Policy Institute, about 1.5m barrels of oil - enough to power 100,000 cars for a year - is used just to make the plastic. The process also uses twice as much water as fits inside the container, not to mention the 30m bottles that go into landfills every day in the US. But the mill also has downsides, not least its $1,200 cost when it goes on sale in America, the UK, Italy, Australia and Japan in the spring. In these credit crunch times that might dissuade many potential buyers, though Ritchey points out that at $0.3 per litre, it is much cheaper than bottled water and would pay for itself in a couple of years.
There is also the awkward fact that although there is eight times more atmospheric water than in all the rivers of the world combined, it is unevenly distributed. Those areas of the US that are most desperate for more water - such as the arid south-west where ground water levels are already dramatically depleted - have the lowest levels of moisture in the air.
The mill ceases to be effective below about 30 per cent relative humidity levels, which are common later in the day in states such as Arizona. To combat that problem, the machine has an intelligent computer built into it that increases its output at dawn when humidity is highest, and reduces it from mid-afternoon when a blazing sun dries the air.

A Ford scion quietly works for greener auto industry

By Bill Vlasic
Published: November 24, 2008

DEARBORN, Michigan: As the Detroit auto companies contend with their worst financial crisis in decades, the most famous American auto executive has stayed largely out of sight.
But William C. Ford Jr., the executive chairman and scion of the founding family of the Ford Motor Co., has been preparing for a bigger role in the industry's plan for survival.
While General Motors and Chrysler plead to Congress for a bailout, Ford has reached out to President-elect Barack Obama in hopes that his company can benefit from the administration's longer-term strategies for the auto industry.
Ford has been working behind the scenes, meeting one-on-one with Obama in August, conferring with his senior economic advisers, and teaming up with Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan to push a vision of a leaner, greener auto industry.
With Detroit on the brink of disaster, the great-grandson of Henry Ford could play a critical role in how the Obama administration decides to assist the companies financially and shape broader energy policies.

"One of the things that I feel very encouraged about is the president-elect and where he'd like to take this country in terms of energy, and I completely buy into his vision," Ford said in an interview, his first since the Big Three approached Washington lawmakers about a rescue plan.
He can afford to take a longer view because Ford, unlike GM and Chrysler, does not need an immediate infusion of government aid to stay in business.
While Ford's chief executive, Alan Mulally, joined his counterparts from GM and Chrysler in testifying before Congress last week, Ford is not asking for an immediate bailout from Washington for now.
The company has enough cash on hand — $18.9 billion, as well as a $10.7 billion line of credit with private lenders — that will keep it running through 2009 without cutting development of its next generation of more fuel-efficient cars.
While Ford cannot continue to burn cash indefinitely, it is also not on the verge of bankruptcy like GM and Chrysler. And the health of the company presents a unique opportunity for Ford, 51, who has been chairman of the company since 1999 and served five years as its chief executive.
"We have a plan that is high-tech, product-driven, which is a fuel economy plan," he said. "And we have kept that plan in place under these tough conditions."
In August, Ford shared those plans with Obama, then candidate for president, when he was in Lansing, Michigan, for a speech on energy policy.
"We talked about the electrification of our industry and other fuel-economy issues," Ford said. "He's a great listener and he asked all the right questions."
Ford said they focused on a few specific, industrywide issues. One was government help to put more electric cars on the road.
"One of the things we need to sort out as a country is batteries," Ford said. "We really don't want to trade one foreign dependency, oil, for another foreign dependency, batteries." The main producers of batteries are Asian manufacturers.
He does not profess to have Obama's ear yet on the how to save Detroit. But Ford is keeping close contact through Governor Granholm, a member of the president-elect's economic advisory team.
"I think he is a key player," she said of Ford. "He has tremendous credibility with respect to the serious issues related to renewable energy and energy security for this nation."
Ford has been Detroit's most vocal environmentalist since becoming the first family member to run Ford since his uncle, Henry Ford II.
Even when Ford was living off profits from its big sport utility vehicles, he was pushing to take the company in a greener direction. Ford was the first automaker to bring to market a hybrid version of an SUV, the Ford Escape, and it is introducing a new line of Ecoboost engines next year that will cut fuel consumption by up to 20 percent.
The Ford family controls the automaker by virtue of its 70.85 million shares of Class B stock, which carry 40 percent voting rights for the entire company.
But the family's wealth has taken a drastic hit as losses have mounted at Ford and its stock price has plunged.
The family's Class B shares were worth $101 million at Friday's closing price of $1.43 a share, down 81 percent from a year ago when the shares had a value of $532 million.
Ford also owns 5.2 million shares individually, which have dropped in value to $7.4 million from $39 million.
"The family clearly has taken an enormous financial beating," Ford said. "But the family still is here and standing behind the company."
The company is in better shape than GM and Chrysler, but just barely. Ford has lost $24 billion since 2006, and it reduced its cash cushion by $7.9 billion in the third quarter this year.
Two years ago, Ford was seen as the riskiest bet in the industry to survive when it mortgaged nearly all its assets, even its blue Ford oval trademark, to secure a huge line of credit.
Now, with the collapse of the credit market, GM and Chrysler cannot borrow money on their assets and could face insolvency by the end of the year without U.S. government assistance.
Ford said his company was interested in being able to access government loans only if the economy continues to deteriorate. "We're trying very hard not to need it," he said. "Our plan is to have our own liquidity and get through without it."
Ford has already undergone an extensive revamping at the direction of Mulally, who succeeded Ford as the automaker's chief executive in 2006.
Since then, the company has cut 40,000 jobs, sold off three of its brands and begun an effort to transform its truck-heavy vehicle fleet with an influx of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.
Ford remained in Detroit last week as Mulally endured two days of harsh criticism by lawmakers over Detroit's financial plight, along with GM's chairman, Rick Wagoner, and Chrysler's chairman, Robert Nardelli.
In the interview, Ford said that some of the skepticism from Congress about the industry's future was justified. "I completely understand the frustration that Americans feel and it came out loud and clear this week," he said. "I don't think we told our story terribly well."
After 15 years of relying on pickup trucks and SUV's for profit, Ford is putting the bulk of its capital investment into smaller cars.
Much of the debate in Washington has centered on the best source of government money for an emergency loan program for Detroit.
One is a $25 billion low-interest loan program already passed by Congress that provides money specifically for improvements in fuel efficiency.
Ford has applied for $7 billion of those loans, which are administered by the Department of Energy. Ford expects that any aid from the Obama administration in the future will be tied to improvements in fuel economy.
"We just submitted our application to the DOE and what's interesting is in the next two years, 75 percent of our vehicles will qualify for their definition of advanced vehicle technology," he said.
Ford said he was committed to helping Obama end America's dependence on foreign oil whether Detroit gets a bailout before the end of the year or not.
"It's all about fuel economy and energy independence," he said. "I passionately believe that Ford can and should be part of that solution."

Opencast mining is vandalism

It is both environmentally destructive and a clear contributor to climate change. If the government won't act to stop it, we must
Kevin Bland, Sunday November 23 2008 00.07 GMT

Climate change is real and happening. Of course the Earth has natural cycles of heating and cooling but human activites - burning fossil fuels, livestock production, waste disposal and deforestation - accelerate the process. As a species we must take urgent and collective action to avert the disastrous consequences of the climate changing for the worse.
Coal has played a big part in the situation that we find ourselves in. Burning coal has in part led to the current climate crises and continues to do so. We continue to burn coal unabated to produce electricity and so we contribute to our own demise. Coal is the least efficient way of producing energy from a fossil fuel, and even with technology improving, there is no way currently of removing the CO2 from the process on a large enough scale, or soon enough to count.
There are currently 30 applications to extract coal in the UK. Fourteen of these are in the north east. All are for surface - or opencast - mines. All to feed coal fired power stations.
For me and many other folk opencast mining is vandalism. The scale of destruction of a modern opencast operation is obscene. How UK Coal, Miller Argent and the Banks Group can use phases such as "sustainable" and "environmentally sensitive" about opencast is beyond me. A look over an opencast site leaves no doubt as to the environmental destruction of such an operation.
Recently residents took us on a guided walk over a site that UK Coal plan to opencast. The guide that lead the walk - a local historian - was amazingly well informed and the son of a mining family. He explained the political and social aspects of mining over the last few 100 years - this site at Bradley/Billingside woods is part of the fabric of mining heritage in the North East.
We went on to look at the wildlife in the area: red kite nests, ponds where crested newts have their home, badger sets in ancient holly copses and the woodland that provides habitat for the nearly extinct red squirrels. UK coal has stated that the mining history and the unique wildlife is of no significance.
The supposedly democratic planning process is also being undermined. A recent planning application for a new Banks Group opencast close to Cramlington was correctly refused by Northumberland County Council as the proposed site is located within an opencast constraint area. The ironically named communities minister at the time, Hazel Blears, stepped in and overruled them.
As open cast mining expands across the UK, this is the experience of many more communities at many more sites.
We must not allow new coal-fired power stations to be built. The same goes for the new opencast mines planned to feed them. The government has failed to act, and the corporate interests continue to push for the wrong courses of action. In this situation, it is left to ordinary folk to act, and we have very little time.

The great green electricity con

In his first of his weekly Greenwash columns, Fred Pearce finds that "green" electricity tariffs are often far from what they seem
Fred Pearce, Thursday October 23 2008 00.01 BST

The offers are tempting for any self-respecting green. For a small premium, or sometimes no premium at all, you can make sure that only clean, green, renewable electricity comes down the grid into your home. But what do you get for your money? Does the planet really benefit? Is this greenwash?
Most of us are not foolish enough to suppose that our electricity supplier specially packages up "green energy" for us, and shoves it down the wires. We just get regular electricity, of course. But most of us would suppose that if we pay a green tariff, someone somewhere generates more renewable energy – and burns less fossil fuel - than they would if we hadn't done our bit for the environment.
But no. In fact, we are usually subsidising the power companies to do what they are required by law to do already. Worse, despite us paying through our green noses, they still can't meet their targets. Then they rub our noses in it by selling what "green electricity" they do produce over and over again. This is all within the law, of course. But that is because the government's green laws are a mess. In many cases, buying green electricity is not so much greenwash as a full-scale green con. Certainly, that's the view of Virginia Graham, who six years ago drew up the first set of guidelines on green tariffs, for the industry regulator Ofgem. She is now wiser and more cynical. "It suits the companies for people to think they are getting green electricity if they sign up to green tariffs," she says. "But in most cases they are not, and people are being misled."
Let me explain how the system works. Under government rules, electricity suppliers have to make sure that a certain percentage of their electricity is generated from renewable sources, like wind turbines, solar panels and burning wood or plants. This is called the renewables obligation.
The percentage rises each year. For the year ending March 2007, the most recent for which there are published stats on how the companies performed, the obligation was 6.7%. But the companies collectively only managed to generate 4.7% of their electricity from renewables.
Most of the big companies missed the target by a country mile. EDF managed 5%, E.On 3.6% and British Gas 4%.This may not all be the fault of the suppliers. It would take another article to explain what has gone wrong with rolling out British renewables. But the fact remains that the suppliers are selling green energy, often at premium prices, to green-minded customers as if this were on top of their existing commitments.
Npower's juice tariff offers "clean green energy at no extra cost to you or the planet". The company says it gets sufficient power from offshore windfarms to supply its juice customers. Maybe so. But according to its fuel-mix declaration, only 3% of its overall supplies were renewable last year – less than half its obligation.
To shed some light on this mess, Ofgem, the industry regulator, has been talking to suppliers for over a year now about setting up a mandatory system of labelling and an independent auditor for green tariffs.
But insiders say the industry has been watering down the proposals, and no amount of fussing over the detail is going to get round the central point. Power companies that do not meet their legal renewables obligations are telling porkies if they suggest that when you sign up for their green tariff, they will deliver more green electricity. It just isn't so.
To be fair, some tariffs do offer something a bit more certain. They promise to plant a tree for you, or put money into research into renewables. The EDF green tariff, which advertises that it "lets you choose renewable energy for your home", funds solar panels on school roofs and similar projects.
But until they meet their existing renewable obligations, and demonstrate that people buying green tariffs will push them beyond the legal minimum, they won't get an extra penny out of me.
The story doesn't end there, however. You see, green electricity is not just for greens. Not even mainly for greens. The biggest buyers are companies. When their electricity comes with a green label, they have taken to going around calling themselves "carbon neutral". Which is good PR. BT has made great play of having cut its carbon emissions by more than half by buying green electricity.
So levy payers have been very willing to pay premium prices to buy "green electricity". So keen, in fact, that they buy more green electricity than is being generated in the first place. It is hard to believe that this is possible within the law, but I am told it is. An electricity supplier that has access to, say, two gigawatt (GW) hours of renewable electricity, can sell 4GW-hours labelled as renewable, says Graham. "Renewable electricity is often being sold twice, perhaps more. Double counting is enormous."
The government may be starting to get a handle on all this. In August, the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, announced plans for a crackdown on companies making dodgy claims about their carbon neutrality.
At this point, you might shrug your shoulders and walk away from this green fantasy land. But not so fast. Because it turns out we have been paying for it all. All electricity customers, regardless of what tariff they are on, pay an average premium on their bills of £10 a year specifically to help pay the electricity suppliers meet their renewable obligations.
We know they don't fully meet those obligations. But surely every scrap of green energy that they do produce is ours, paid for with our £10. But instead they are selling it to others, several times over. In the end, the biggest con seems have been perpetrated not on the buyers of green electricity, but on the rest of us.
• How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? Please send your examples of greenwash to or add your comments below

Fuel from food? The feast is over

The Associated Press
Published: November 24, 2008

EDITOR'S NOTE — In a time of sky-high food prices, a hungrier world may have to curb its appetite for fuel made from corn. This is the fourth of five reports in a periodic series on the future of food.

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — In future years we may look back at the Great Mexican Tortilla Crisis of 2006 as the time when ethanol lost its vroom.
Right or wrong, that was when blame firmly settled on biofuels for the surge in food prices. The diversion of American corn from flour to fuel put the flat corn bread out of reach for Mexico's poorest.
Two years later, the search is on for ways to keep corn on the table rather than in the gas tank. Moving away from food crops, the biofuel of the future may come from the tall grass growing wild by the roadside, from grain stalks left behind by the harvest, and from garbage dumps and dinner table scraps.
Carlo Bakker's tiny biofuel operation, World Mobile Plants, avoids edibles. He says his mini-refinery, loaded into a shipping container on a flatbed truck, roams South Africa making biodiesel fuel from used cooking oil, or from sunflower seeds or the jatropha shrub, which grows in poor soil with little water. He says he plans eventually to use organic household waste as well.
Bakker says one mobile unit can make 1 million liters (260,000 gallons) per year, which he sells for $1 (€0.80) per liter, or $3.79 (€3) per gallon,on a par with regular diesel prices.
"We don't compete with the food chain," Bakker said during a biofuels conference in Amsterdam. "We see opportunities not only to make money but to help people."
Governments encouraged the switch to alternative fuels in recent years to lessen dependence on imported oil. But producers are taking a hard look at the food crops used as raw material for these so-called first-generation biofuels. After all, they too had to pay more as prices spiked.
"They got burned. They don't want to go through that problem again," said Vicky Sharpe, director of Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which administers a US$1 billion Canadian government fund to invest in clean technologies.
Universities, corporate research laboratories and startup companies are pouring millions of dollars into finding ways to break down woody or grassy biomass for cellulosic ethanol — or second-generation biofuel — that would unshackle ethanol from the volatile food market.
"You will see a movement from first- to second-generation biofuels, because the second generation uses waste streams. They don't enter the food-versus-fuel debate," said Sharpe. "This is just stuff that would be wasted otherwise."
But second-generation technology is still young, and Sharpe believes commercial plants are still several years away.
Food prices rose steadily for the past three years until they peaked last June. Before they retreated, the World Bank said corn prices had tripled since January 2005. Rice and wheat weren't far behind.
Around the world, the poor — U.N. figures say the number of undernourished is approaching 1 billion — protested that they were hungrier than ever. Food riots erupted in 18 countries, from Bangladesh to Haiti. Some 75,000 Mexicans marched in their capital, accusing the government of "stealing tortillas." Some countries imposed export bans to hoard their grain stocks.
World grain harvests had soared, reaching a record 2.3 billion tons last year. But demand continued to grow, not only for biofuel but for animal feed to satisfy an increasingly meaty diet for the growing middle class in India and China.
Just how much influence biofuels had on food prices is debatable. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said biofuel production was responsible for just 3 percent of the global price increases. It said the real culprits were oil prices, which pushed up fertilizer and transportation costs, and the sharp drop in the dollar's value.
On the high end, a World Bank report in June calculated that 70-75 percent of the price rise was due to biofuels and the cascading effect they had on grain stocks, export bans and investor speculation.
"The moderation of global prices over the last few months is scant consolation to the millions who are still facing high domestic prices and have cut back on eating nutritious food and investing in their child's schooling," a World Bank report said in October.
Energy policies played a role. The European Union last year mandated a 10 percent biofuel mix in transport fuels by 2020, and the U.S. set a production target of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022 — compared with 6.5 billion last year, which already consumed almost one-quarter of the U.S. corn crop.
The EU mandate is being reconsidered, and calls are being heard in Washington to rethink the U.S. goal.
Some producers say critics unfairly lump all biofuels together.
"You should look at biofuels as separate kinds of fuel," says Uwe Jurgensen, head of the Association of Dutch Biofuels Producers.
Brazil's massive ethanol industry, based on sugarcane grown on just 1 percent of its arable land, has little impact on edible sugar.
Biodiesel, the biofuel of choice in Europe, is made largely from rapeseed grown on disused land, Jurgensen said. Only 40 percent of the crushed rapeseed is refined into biodiesel, while the rest is processed into the food chain as animal feed.
Blaming biofuels for exploding food prices "was an easy argument. Either you eat or you drive. If you look at it a bit further, you see that is not the case," Jurgensen said, speaking at a gleaming, soon-to-be-open US$110 million biodiesel factory at Rotterdam port.
Peter van der Gaag agrees. The head of BER-Rotterdam, building a plant in the port city to convert 350,000 tons of wheat a year into ethanol and gas, said just 2 to 3 percent of the world's wheat goes toward ethanol. How much impact can it have on the price of bread? he asked.
"Biofuels are certainly not to blame for poverty, but it is easy for environmentalists to give a bad name to biofuels," he said.
In fact, environmentalists are skeptical of even nonfood biofuels, which consume scarce water and are sometimes cultivated on fertile cropland.
"If biofuels were grown on degraded land, that could be a good thing. But it has to be seen with a lot of caution," said Frauke Thies, a Greenpeace campaigner for renewable energy. "We are not opposed to biofuels in principle, but the practices of today are not sustainable."
Even as scientists work on second-generation answers, foodstuffs are likely to remain in the fuel chain for years to come because of government subsidies. In the United States, biofuels have been getting tax credits since 1978. Globally, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates governments supported biodiesel and ethanol with up to US$12 billion in 2006.
Last year, 139 U.S. ethanol plants produced fuel equal to 5 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption. As of July, however, just 33 cellulosic ethanol plants were in the pilot or demonstration phase.
Corn ethanol costs US$1 a gallon to make, but cellulosic fuel from stalks, leaves and straw costs US$5 to US$6. It requires the injection of enzymes to convert plant matter into sugars that are then fermented into ethanol.
Michigan State University's Mariam Sticklen is one scientist trying to reduce that cost, to about US$2 a gallon, by genetically engineering crops to produce their own enzymes.
"It's still early days," she said, "but the world needs a no-food-for-fuel policy."

Power in the desert: solar towers will harness sunshine of southern Spain

• Andalucia project will power 11,000 homes• Technology exported to Morocco, Algeria and US
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent
The Guardian, Monday November 24 2008

In the desert of southern Spain, 20 miles outside Seville, more than 1,000 mirrors are being carefully positioned. Each is about half the size of a tennis court, so the adjustments will take time. But when they are complete in a few weeks, it will mark a major moment in the quest for renewable energy.
The mirrors are part of the world's biggest solar tower plant, a technology that reflects sunlight to superheat water at a central tower. Once this €80m (£67m) plant is inaugurated in January, it will generate 20MW of electricity, enough to power 11,000 Spanish homes.
Concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, as it is known, is seen by many as a simpler, cheaper and more efficient way to harness the sun's energy than other methods such as photovoltaic (PV) panels. But CSP only works in places with clear skies and strong sunshine.
The Andalucian deserts are an ideal location, and Spain hopes the PS20 plant will enable it to take advantage of its huge solar resource and lead the field in CSP technology.
"The radiation hitting the earth is 10,000 times the consumption of energy," said José Domíngues Abascal, chief technology officer at Abengoa, the Spanish energy company behind the plant. "There is great potential in solar energy."
Abengoa has already built a smaller version of the tower technology to test that the idea works. The 11MW PS10 system has been generating electricity for almost two years. Its new design uses an area larger than 100 football pitches, with 1,255 mirrors, called heliostats, each with a collecting area of 120 sq m. These track the sun as it moves through the day and reflect the energy to the top of a 160-metre tower at the centre of the field. Here, the concentrated light is used to heat water to more than 1000C, producing steam that can turn an electricity generating turbine.
When switched on, the new plant will be the world's largest commercial CSP plant feeding electricity into a national grid. It will be also be a significant step for tower technology, seen as a candidate for the large-scale solar plants of the future.
Spanish firms are charging ahead with CSP: more than 50 solar projects around Spain have been approved for construction by the government and, by 2015, the country will generate more than 2GW of power from CSP, comfortably exceeding current national targets. The companies are also exporting their technology to Morocco, Algeria and the US.
"CSP is at the very beginning of a big boom," said José Luis García, at Greenpeace in Spain. "Spain is in a good position to develop and implement the technology. We have the sun so we are in the best position to lead in this field."
The country's clean energy targets are in line with the EU's plan to source 20% of primary energy from renewables by 2020, which means that 30% of electricity would have to come from carbon-free sources. A new EU renewables directive would increase that electricity target to 40%, but García said Spain could easily reach for more, up to 50%.
John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Council, said that Abenoga's tower approach at the new plant was relatively efficient "because what you're doing is concentrating a very large area of sunlight on top of a very small area so you can get very high temperatures".
He added that, given the right environment, solar towers were a credible way to make clean power. "But can you make them cheap enough, will they be reliable enough, will they have the right lifetime?"
Another difficulty for potential developers is cost. In Spain, the generation costs of electricity from CSP are double those from more traditional methods. But Abascal said the price was falling as solar projects got bigger and it would match that of fossil fuel power within a decade.
For now, CSP projects across Spain are built with the promise that the government will pay a premium, known as a feed-in tariff, for any CSP electricity sent into the grid. The PS20 is part of a €1.2bn series of solar power plants based on CSP technologies including tower plants and trough-style collectors - where water is passed in tubes directly in front of parabolic mirrors that collect sunlight - and a few PV panels planned by Abengoa. The solar farm will eventually generate up to 300MW of power, enough for the 700,000 people of Seville, by 2013.
The 20MW solar tower is also a forerunner for an even more ambitious idea, one that Abascal hopes will become a standard for CSP plants in future - a 50MW version that could generate electricity around the clock. "During the day, you'd use 50% of your electricity to produce electricity and 50% to heat molten salt. During the night you use the molten salt to produce electricity."
Molten salt technology is in its early stages but Abengoa is testing the idea at a power plant in Granada. So far the company has demonstrated that it is possible to store up to eight hours of solar energy by heating tanks containing 28,000 tonnes of salt to more than 220C. "This will make it possible to have almost constant production or at least it will be able to produce energy for most of the day," said Abascal.
The European commission has identified CSP as part of its future clean energy technology plan. Earlier this year a representative from its joint research centre argued that CSP could even form a major part of a proposed EU supergrid that would transport electricity, generated in solar plants in southern Europe and northern Africa, across Europe.
The supergrid has received political support from Gordon Brown and France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has commissioned a feasibility study on the project.
Graveyard generation
The Spanish town of Santa Coloma de Gramenet has placed more than 450 solar panels on top of mausoleums at its cemetery to generate power, it emerged yesterday. The crowded, working-class town outside Barcelona decided that flat, open, sun-drenched land was so scarce that the graveyard was the only viable spot to site the panels, which provide enough electricity to power 60 homes. They rest on mausoleums holding five layers of coffins. The idea was a tough sell, said Antoni Fogue, a city council member. But town hall and cemetery officials waged a campaign to explain the project and the panels were erected at a low angle, to be as unobtrusive as possible."This installation is compatible with respect for the deceased and for the families of the deceased," Fogue said.

Obama's green start

Hope of early action on climate change as US president-elect prepares two bills to cut pollution and kick-start a clean energy revolution
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment EditorSunday, 23 November 2008

Barack Obama and congressional leaders are preparing rapid legislation to cut US emissions that cause global warming and to kick-start a clean energy revolution.
Two bills are to be introduced as soon as the President-elect takes office in January. One will provide $15bn (£10.1bn) a year to encourage innovation in renewable energies as part of a thorough overhaul of the highly polluting US energy system. The other will pave the way to setting up a system of tradable emissions permits to combat global warming. The moves, to be taken quicker than expected, will galvanise top-level international negotiations on a new climate treaty that reopens in Poznan, Poland, next week, and will greatly boost attempts to bring in a "green new deal" as the best way out of the financial crisis.
Yesterday – as exclusively predicted in The Independent on Sunday three weeks ago – Mr Obama took the first steps towards creating green jobs, a crucial element of the proposed deal, as a top priority for his forthcoming administration. In his weekly radio address, he announced that he has ordered his advisers to produce an economic recovery plan that will create 2.5 million new jobs in two years by building windfarms, making solar panels and fuel-efficient cars, as well as in modernising schools and re-building crumbling infrastructure.
Senior Democratic sources added that the President-elect had picked Timothy Geithner, head of the New york Federal Reserve Bank to be his Treasury Secretary. "We are facing a sea change," said Barbara Boxer, the Democratic head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, of the two new bills. "Instead of denial we will have resolve; instead of procrastination we will have action. The time to start is now."
The energy bill is expected to pass rapidly through the houses of Congress – in both of which the Democrats will have increased majorities – with some experts expecting it to become law by the summer. Sources close to the rapidly forming Obama administration say that it will include tax breaks to encourage wind, solar and other renewable energies, and the creation of a grid to deliver their electricity effectively. There will also be incentives for consumers to buy fuel-efficient cars, and for householders and businesses to conserve energy.
There will be massive investment in developing carbon capture and storage, which removes carbon dioxide from power station emissions. And the bill may include a bid to set a nationwide target for the amount of energy to be obtained from renewable energy. Most controversially, there is likely to be an increase in drilling for oil more than 25 miles offshore, not least to provide revenues to finance the energy revolution.
The climate bill will instruct the US Environmental Protection Agency to introduce a national "cap and trade" system for regulating emissions of carbon dioxide. This gives the polluters limits on what they are allowed to emit, but leaves them able to trade them; so those that clean up fastest will be able to sell unwanted permits to pollute to laggards.
Mr Obama wants to return US emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by 2020, and cut them by a further 80 per cent by 2050. Last week in a video address to a global warming summit he promised to set "strong annual targets" to achieve this. He added: "My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process."
Despite his commitment, some leading congressmen and even some environmentalists believe that a climate bill is unlikely to make it into law this year. Senator Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the upper house's Energy Committee, said last week that it might have to wait until 2010, adding: "The reality is that it may take more than the first year to get it all done." This would imperil the international effort to agree a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which is scheduled to culminate in a massive conference in Copenhagen in a year's time.
But hopes of early action rose dramatically last week when Democratic congressmen overturned their hallowed seniority system and replaced John Dingell, the 82-year-old chairman of the House of Representatives' crucial Energy and Commerce Committee, with a so-called "young Turk" in the shape of 69-year-old Henry Waxman. Rep Dingell has long been an old-school supporter of car-makers and other big industries and has obstructed tough anti-pollution legislation. By contrast, Mr Waxman is an ardent environmentalist who represents Hollywood and Beverly Hills and promises to make passing climate change legislation a top priority.

Green scheme scrapped as household recycling is sent to landfill

It could be the end of the green dream for Britons who do their bit for the environment by recycling household rubbish.

By Jasper Copping Last Updated: 8:59AM GMT 23 Nov 2008

After years of rapid growth in the amount of waste recycled, signs have emerged that the world financial crisis could halt the trend.
One council has scrapped a recycling scheme due to a global collapse in the market for waste materials, and is diverting recyclable waste to landfill sties instead.
Hertfordshire county council has withdrawn a scheme that allowed residents to recycle everyday items like yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and other types of plastic packaging, because it has become uneconomical to do so.
The items will now go into landfill sites and the council has asked residents to avoid buying products with too much plastic packaging.
It is thought to be the first case of a local authority scrapping a recycling scheme in response to the recent collapse of the market, as global demand for recyclable materials slumps and prices fall so low that councils and their contractors cannot shift their waste, which is now worthless.
However, industry experts fear more could follow suit and the Local Government Association (LGA) is writing to all councils urging them to resist the temptation to divert recyclable rubbish into landfill.
The Association is already in talks with the Ministry of Defence about using former military bases to stockpile material that cannot be recycled.
The LGA has held emergency talks with Defra, the Environment Agency (EA) and the government's waste quango, Wrap, about the crisis, after which the EA announced it would relax its rules to make it easier for councils to store waste that they could not sell to recycling firms.
The decision by Hertfordshire means that it will no longer accept so-called "mixed plastics" for recycling at its 19 waste collection sites.
However, it will still recycle "rigid" plastics, including bottles and items like garden furniture, and kerbside collection schemes in the county will not be affected.
Councillor Derrick Ashley said: "We're disappointed by this news, as we're sure residents will also be. However, we do appreciate that due to the global financial crisis, there simply isn't the market for some recycled plastics at the moment."
The decision follows a collapse in the price of mixed plastic from about £200 a tonne to almost nothing, as demand from China dried up.
Other prices have seen similar falls, including scrap metal, steel and aluminium, cardboard and mixed low-grade paper and cardboard. Only glass and top quality paper prices have remained steady.
Mountains of plastic bottles, paper and steel cans are expected to build up over the coming weeks and experts predict the problem will be exacerbated by the Christmas festivities, which traditionally sees a surge of packaging materials and drinks containers filling recycling bins.
Dozens of councils and their contractors are understood to have already started storing waste, although few have publicly admitted it, fearing it could undermine public support for recycling schemes.
In Oxfordshire, plastic bottles and card are piling up in depots. Wayne Lewis, spokesman for the Oxfordshire Waste Partnership, said: "At present, despite lower prices, we are managing to recycle material. We are still finding a market for it. But, yes, small amounts are now going into storage at our contractors' depots."
Community Waste, in Milton Keynes, works as a contractor for a number of councils. Its director, Richard Cutts said: "The situation is extremely serious. Few realise just how serious.
"We are continuing to recycle rather than store 2,000 tonnes of waste a week – and that is costing us £70 a tonne. Obviously, we cannot continue to do that forever. At all costs I want to avoid material going to landfill and I am sure that by working closely with customers a solution can be found."
Bristol City Council has also said it is considering starting to stockpile.
The collapse in recycling could strengthen arguments for incinerators to burn waste.
Staffordshire county council is currently one authority trying to construct an incinerator, against strong opposition from environmentalists and local residents.
A spokesman for the LGA said: "We're surveying councils to find out what is going on. A lot of councils have fixed term contracts with companies to deal with the waste, so are not yet feeling the effects.
"Other councils are having problems and are not able to get rid of their waste. There have been measures to help to store waste at their sites. In the longer term, we are looking at ex-military bases. We want them to avoid using landfill."

Coal's return raises pollution threat

Rising prices are spurring plans for a big increase in mining despite a threat to climate change goals
John Vidal, environment editor

The Observer, Sunday November 23 2008

Britain is poised to expand its coal mining industry, despite fears that the move will lead to a rise in climate change emissions and harm communities and the environment.
Freedom of information requests and council records show that in the past 18 months 14 companies have applied to dig nearly 60 million tonnes of coal from 58 new or enlarged opencast mines. At least six coal-fired power stations are planned. If all the applications are approved, the fastest expansion of UK coal mining in 40 years could see southern Scotland and Northumberland become two of the most heavily mined regions in Europe.
The demand for new mines is being driven by dramatic increases in the price of coal. This has quadrupled in two years and has risen by 45 per cent since the start of this year. Opencast, or surface, mines are much cheaper than deep mines, but those living nearby can suffer years of pollution.
The increase in mining will embarrass the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, who is arguing that Britain must reduce carbon emissions. Ministers must soon decide whether to approve a controversial new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, the first in 30 years. 'Attention has been focused on the decision at Kingsnorth, but over the past 18 months local authorities have approved more than 24 new opencast mines and 16 expansions of existing mines,' said Richard Hawkins, of the Public Interest Research Centre (Pirc), which conducted the study.
'There is a clear contradiction between the government's 80 per cent target for climate change emissions cuts and investment in new coal. With industry and government saying carbon capture and storage is at least 20 years away, this shows that the 160m tonnes of carbon dioxide released by burning this coal would not be captured,' he said.
Research shows that Scotland will bear the brunt of the expansion. Currently 11 mines produce about 5m tonnes of coal a year. A further 27 mines could extract a total of 22m tonnes of coal over just a few years. Thirteen of the 27 have already been approved and the rest are awaiting planning decisions.
Northumberland is likely to become the centre of coal mining in England with plans to extract more than 20m tonnes of coal from some of the largest opencast mines in Europe. Wales, which has one of the biggest surface mines in Europe at Ffos-y-Fran, could have five large new mines. The research also suggests that power companies would like to build six new coal-fired power stations. These would replace existing power stations if given the go-ahead but could lock Britain into coal for the next 50 years at a time when it is trying to lead the world on reducing climate change emissions.
According to the research, based on information provided by energy companies, Scottish and Southern, Scottish Power, Eon and RWE npower all have plans at different stages of development. Feasibility studies have been carried out on new plants at Cockenzie and Longannet in Scotland, as well as new stations at Tilbury in Essex, Blyth in Northumberland and Ferrybridge in Yorkshire. Only one application to build, at Kingsnorth in Kent, has so far been put forward.
In the past six months 12 groups, made up of climate change activists and residents, have been set up to object to the plans. There have been big protests in Wales, Derbyshire and Yorkshire and a coal train heading for Britain's biggest power station at Drax in North Yorkshire was hijacked by protesters in June.
Nearly half of all British coal is mined using opencast methods against just 12 per cent 10 years ago, but this is expected to increase significantly. In 2005, total UK production was 20m tonnes, with 9.6m tonnes coming from deep-mined production and opencast accounting for 10.4m tonnes. Nearly 70 per cent of all the coal burnt in UK power stations is imported from Russia, South Africa, Colombia and Australia.
But coal prices have risen far above official projections. 'Part [of the increase in applications] is certainly due to the increase in the world coal price, which follows oil and gas,' said a spokesman for the Coal Authority, the body which regulates the licensing of UK coal mines.

Tidal plant seeks cash

ONE of the UK’s leading tidal-energy companies, Marine Current Turbines, is seeking a fresh investor to help finance a bid to build a new plant at Pentland Firth in Scotland.
MCT, whose existing shareholders include EDF Energy and ESB International, has hired Cavendish, the corporate-finance firm, to find the new investment.
The company already has leases from the Crown Estate to run tidal-power facilities in Devon and Northern Ireland.

It chucked out chintz, now for carbon. Here come Ikea's flatpack solar panels

The Swedish giant wants to bring clean power to the masses, but can it get over the cost barrier? Stephen Pritchard reports
Sunday, 23 November 2008

Cross the bridge from Copenhagen to Skane in southern Sweden and you can see why people in this part of Europe might be attracted to wind energy.
The bridge is 7.8km long and traverses the Oresund, the stretch of sea between Denmark and Sweden. Even on a calm November day, the white peaks on the waves contrast with the leaden grey skies, and there is plenty of wind around to power turbines.
There is even enough sun to power solar energy. Solar advocates estimate that households can generate about half of their hot-water needs from the sun's power, even on a gloomy day. Indeed, using solar panels for electricity – photovoltaics – can reduce a typical household's CO2 emissions by 1.2 tons, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
That's what Anna Josefsson of Ikea is betting on, as the Swedish company gears up to break into the green market. Josefsson, deputy managing director for Ikea GreenTech, the nascent environmental products arm of the home furnishings giant, has a bud-get of Skr500m (£41m) and is serious about the market. So is Ikea.
But the venture is a departure for the company. Renewable energy systems such as solar panels, which are Ikea's immediate focus, are "big-ticket" investments for householders. With installation, a simple solar array for water heating starts at around £3,500 in the UK. Larger systems can easily cost 10 times as much.
Yet Ikea – which has built its reputation on good design but also on low costs – sells only a small proportion of products costing more than a few hundred pounds. Few, aside from the company's kitchen range, cost the kind of amounts customers might have to pay for a domestic photovoltaic system. Many cost much, much less.
Ikea executives have suggested that the company's skills in designing low-cost products, along with its economies of scale, could halve the cost of solar electricity from its current rate of around €2 (£1.70) per kilowatt hour of generating power to about €1/kWh. Josefsson, however, declines to give exact figures, not least because Ikea GreenTech has only been fully operational for about six months.
"We want to be there with the cheapest and best solar panels," she says. "That will mean co-operation with good solar panel developers who we can work with. We will contribute with our product development skills and design. That is our capital. That is where we come in."
Anyone who has struggled home with an Ikea flatpack on a Bank Holiday weekend might dispute this is an advantage. But it is a criticism Josefsson takes in her stride.
On the wall of the meeting room at Ikea GreenTech's offices, in Lund, southern Sweden, Josefsson has an illustration from an Ikea instruction set. This shows line-drawn figures assembling an Ikea solar panel using the company's often-infuriating Allen key.
But the illustration is not of an actual – or even a planned – Ikea product. Instead, it was drawn by an artist for Ny Teknik (New Technology), a weekly Swedish newspaper covering science and technology. Josefsson liked the drawing so much that she asked the paper for a copy.
Ikea plans to tackle the issue of how the panels will be installed in two ways. Initially, it is likely to offer a professional service, either using its own technicians or local subcontractors.
The company already has teams of kitchen fitters in markets such as the UK, so much of the infrastructure is already there. This is also the business model of competitors such as B&Q, which has sold solar-heating systems and small wind turbines in its stores and via its website for two years now.
Josefsson, though, has every intention of developing a flatpack photovoltaic kit, and it could be in Ikea stores within four years. "It will be the same as when you buy a kitchen. You either do it yourself, or take a service sold by the local store." She concedes that most shoppers will need to hire an electrician, at the very least, to connect a solar panel to their electricity supply.
It is the need for professional installation, as well as restrictive planning laws, that has largely hampered the market for green energy technology in the UK. Only 100,000 homes in Britain have micro-generation equipment. This compares less than favourably with Germany, where more than one million homes have their own green generation equipment. Just 270 photovoltaic systems were sold in the UK last year as against 130,000 in Germany, according to a report from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
The Government hopes that one in three homes will install some form of renewable energy equipment in the next 12 years. If the target is met, micro-generation could produce the equivalent of five nuclear power stations.
But for that to happen, much needs to change. The Conservative Party leader David Cameron, for example, famously fell foul of planning laws when he tried to install a wind turbine last year. The Government, however, is easing restrictions so homeowners will be able to install solar panels and small turbines without planning permission.
Higher prices for selling surplus electricity to the grid will also help. In Germany, energy companies buy electricity from micro-generators at a much higher rate. This makes it far easier for householders to justify the investment. In the UK, B&Q is supporting an Energy Saving Trust study that the company believes will make it easier for homeowners to calculate the payback period for equipment such as solar panels or small wind generators.
But the fundamental barrier remains cost, especially in an environment where energy prices are falling and where households are wary of spending on home improvements. That does not seem to deter Ikea, however, not least because Josefsson is confident that her company's investment in green technologies will drive down costs dramatically. So, too, will the huge distribution potential of Ikea's network of more than 250 stores.
But the greatest savings will come from separating the cost of the solar panels from that of installation and delivery, just as Ikea has already done with kitchens and home furnishings.
"Today you buy your LCD panel through an installation company, so you don't actually see the cost of the solar panel on its own," says Josefsson. "In some markets, the installers' margins are quite high. So we see an opportunity to reduce that dramatically."
And, she hints, you might not even need an Allen key.

Environment Agency to build up to 80 wind farms

The controversy surrounding wind farms will be reignited this week when the government agency charged with protecting the environment reveals plans to build up to 80 wind turbines along some of the nation's most picturesque rivers.

By Richard Gray and Patrick Sawer Last Updated: 10:03AM GMT 23 Nov 2008

Among the stretches of water which the Environment Agency is considering for wind farm development are part of the River Thames; the River Medway in the North Downs; and parts of the Fens which rank among the best bird watching locations in Britain.
Campaigners have also warned that one of Britain's most beautiful landscapes will be "destroyed" by a series of wind farm developments being proposed by companies close to Exmoor National Park.
Both sets of plans will stimulate new debate over the spread of wind farms, which critics say is threatening to spoil thousands of acres of countryside while having minimal impact on the fight against climate change.
According to one researcher, Professor David MacKay, a physicist at Cambridge University, an area the size of Wales would need to be turned over to wind farms to generate just a sixth of Britain's energy demands.
Wind farm detractors also insist that wind energy is too unreliable to replace the creaking network of fossil fuel power stations and would require an extensive network of back up power stations to provide energy on calm days.
Wind farms have also faced intense opposition from rural campaigners who say the huge turbines, which can be up to 400 feet tall, are spoiling the countryside and pose a risk to wildlife.
The Environment Agency, which took ownership of many of the nation's rivers from the National Rivers Authority, will tomorrow announce plans to generate its own renewable energy by building wind turbines on its land.
It is aiming to build 80 turbines to generate 200 megawatts of energy, enough to power 90,000 households or a city the size of York.
Although some of the turbines will be built on land surrounding the agency's offices and pumping stations in different parts of the country, officials have admitted that turbines will also be erected on land it owns alongside rivers and surrounding flood defences.
The plans have alarmed rural campaigners who say that wind turbines would ruin the picturesque river landscape. They insist that rivers also provide a key habitat for birds that could be threatened by the construction of wind turbines.
Paul Miner, senior planning campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "While we welcome in principal the Environment Agency developing renewable energy on its land, we hope that it will take landscape factors into account.
"Wind turbines can have a serious impact on the appearance of a landscape and certainly should not be located in areas of natural beauty or national parks."
In total the Environment Agency owns more than 15,400 hectares of land around the country. A spokesman insisted the turbines would only be constructed following planning approval and consultation with the public.
The turbines will be used to provide energy for Environment Agency buildings where possible, and the rest of the energy produced will be supplied to the National Grid, generating up to £2.4 million of revenue a year for the Agency.
Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: "By developing these renewable energy projects we are helping to limit and adapt to the effects of climate change, reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and help develop a low-carbon economy. We are identifying the main contributors to our own carbon footprint – such as major pumping stations – and looking at how we can generate renewable energy to power them."
The Environment Agency is due to announce the proposals, which were made following a study of the Agency's land deemed suitable for wind energy production by consultants Partnerships for Renewables, at its Environmental Futures 08 conference tomorrow.
Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, welcomed the announcement. He said: "We want even more homes, communities, businesses and public sector organisations to join in this national effort to play their part in defeating climate change."
Meanwhile, power companies have applied to build 24 turbines – each 100 metres high – close to the southern boundary of Exmoor National Park, sparking an angry campaign by local residents.
Kate Ashbrook, of the Open Spaces Society, said: "This tranquil, unspoilt area of north Devon cannot accommodate such an intrusion. Its intimate character will be destroyed. This development is bound to have an adverse effect on the tourist industry, on which the area depends."
Four power companies have appealed for permission to build one wind farm each. Devon Light & Power has applied to build two turbines at Cross Moor, while npower has applied to erect nine near Batsworthy Cross. Both sites are near Knowstone, South Molton, in North Devon.
Now two more applications have been lodged, one by Airtricity Developments for nine turbines at Three Moors, near Knowstone, and one by Coronation Power for four turbines at Bickham Moor, near Oakford, mid-Devon.
Bob Barfoot, chairman of the Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "They would have a massive effect on the surrounding landscape and the wider setting of the National Park. The impact on residents and the tourist economy would offset any benefits from renewable energy."
But supporters of the wind farms say they will make a valuable contribution towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions. A spokesman for Coronation Power said: "The four-turbine Bickham Moor wind farm would provide enough green electricity to supply up to 25 per cent of the area's annual electricity needs."
An Airtricity spokesman said: "The consequences of ignoring climate change could cause significant and lasting damage."
Two of the proposals are set to be heard at a public inquiry, while district council decisions on the other two are expected by the end of the year.

Portugal sees mass use of electric cars in 2011

Reuters, Saturday November 22 2008
By Shrikesh Laxmidas and Andrei Khalip

LISBON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Portugal will build 1,300 charging stations for electric cars by the end of 2011 as part of a deal with Renault and Nissan to promote zero-emission vehicles, the government and the auto makers said on Saturday.
As part of the agreement with France's Renault and its Japanese partner Nissan, Portugal will also decree that one-fifth of all its public fleet vehicle purchases be zero-emission starting in 2011.
Renault-Nissan will start deliveries to Portugal of its electric cars in early 2011, making Portugal the first European country to be supplied with electric vehicles from the alliance. In 2012, Nissan and Renault will mass-market electric vehicles globally.
The financing and operation terms for the charging network are still being negotiated with the government and the private sector, officials said, without providing any cost estimates.
Prime Minister Jose Socrates said Portugal would offer tax incentives to make electric cars more attractive to buyers.
"The two main obstacles until now for people to choose electric cars were the price and autonomy. What the government decided to do is to create a framework in order to exclude these two inconveniences for buyers," he said.
The state will provide an income tax benefit for private buyers of about 800 euros ($1,000) and also tax incentives for companies that convert to electric-powered vehicles. These benefits will start in late 2010 and will last at least five years.
Additional measures, such as reduced parking rates, preferential access and financing subsidies are being studied.
Carlos Tavares, executive vice president of Nissan Motor Co, said the design of the electric car was concluded in September. He said the car would be able to run 160 km on one charge, "sufficient for most people's daily needs".
"It is too early to announce a price, but we can say that taking into account the total cost of buying, maintaining and running the electric car, the cost will be the same or lower compared to a conventional car." Renault-Nissan is preparing a range of cars fitting different market segments.
Tavares said the electric car project remained attractive despite the recent steep fall in oil prices.
The alliance has announced similar electric car partnerships with Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, the U.S. states of Tennessee and Oregon, Sonoma County in northern California, as well as with French utility company EDF. (Editing by Matthew Jones)

Controversial food scraps bin scheme for all households

Every household in the country could soon be required to keep a separate bin for food scraps as a new scheme to reduce landfill is rolled out across the country.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 3:13PM GMT 22 Nov 2008

It is predicted the average household will dispose of around 2kg of food waste each week Photo: TONY BUCKINGHAM
Councils claim it will enable them to recycle millions of tonnes of biodegradable rubbish, but critics say it is a costly waste of time which will be used as an excuse to end weekly bin collections once and for all.
Some residents taking part in the schemes have complained about unpleasant odours from food waste, which they say attracts flies and other pests.
According to figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph, almost one in four councils in the UK have now introduced separate collections of food waste. Others are about to follow.
Householders will be required to keep a brown plastic "caddy" to put food scraps in, which is collected weekly. It is predicted the average household will dispose of around 2kg of food waste each week.
Critics warn however, that the scheme means the vast majority of waste is likely only to be collected once a fortnight. They pointed out that some of the most unpleasant waste items, including dirty nappies, would therefore go two weeks without being collected.
Some 113 councils are now collecting food waste separately out of 434 councils in the UK that deal with rubbish disposal, according to the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
Fifty-nine collect food waste in separate containers and a further 54 collect food waste mixed in with garden waste. As well as providing "caddies", councils have to adapt dust carts so they can carry perishable waste separately, and invest in composting works to dispose of the food.
The Local Government Association (LGA) called for more funds to be made available for rolling out the scheme, while consumers expressed concern council tax payers would be left footing the bill.
A spokesman said: "Many councils are already collecting food waste separately and are keen to expand these services, but this is not something that comes without a price tag. Specialist equipment is required to collect and dispose of it, which can be very expensive."
Mark Wallace, campaign director at the Taxpayer's Alliance, added: "With council tax bills putting such a heavy burden on families already suffering from the recession, councils must be extremely careful about the potential cost of this scheme.
"There are much more affordable alternatives which include encouraging home composting."
Eric Pickles, the Tory local government spokesman, said another bin tax would not help the environment.
"Food waste collections have a role to play in increasing recycling, but the sheer proliferation of different boxes collected at different times in different ways by councils makes it very confusing for households, " he said.
"The Government should be making it easier for families to go green and increase recycling by working with households, not punishing them with heavy-handed bin taxes, bin cuts and bin fines."
Already half of the local authorities in the UK collect black bag rubbish and recyclable rubbish on alternate weeks. However this has proved extremely unpopular with households concerned about perishables attracting rats, flies and even disease. It has also been blamed for an increase in fly-tipping.
In some areas, householders will now have six different bins - for food scraps, green waste, paper, glass, plastic and general waste - which opponents say is too confusing, particularly for the elderly.
Doretta Cocks, from Eastleigh, Hampshire, who set up the Weekly Waste Campaign four years ago to lobby for a return to weekly collections, said she welcomed weekly food waste collections when they were first introduced in her area, but problems soon began to emerge.
She said there are now so many different bins left outside houses that food waste is often missed and left for more than a week.
"While councils are trying to embrace this and think it is a way to stop some complaints about the fortnightly collections, they are not very popular," she said. "There are still the same problems and it is very costly."
Mrs Cocks added that angry householders were still signing up for a return to weekly collections, even in areas where food waste collections had been introduced.
Food waste accounts for about a fifth of the waste currently sent to landfill, creating thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases. Around a third of the food bought in the UK is thrown away, even though most of it could have been eaten.
The LGA said it was up to individual councils to decide how to collect waste how to deal with householders who refuse to separate out food scraps, though it said there were no plans yet to fine people who opt out. Many councils that had brought in separate food collections only used the system in areas where it was practical, it added, with tower blocks exempt from the scheme in some areas.
The LGA insisted however, that the scheme was "popular" as well as being a vital way of meeting EU requirements on reducing landfill.
Phillip Ward, of WRAP, added: "Collecting food waste separately is a very effective way of reducing the amount that gets sent to landfill and the environmental damage this causes."
He confirmed that more councils are planning on introducing food waste collections and that it is hoped most households will eventually dispose of food scraps separately.

Soil erosion threatens land of 100m Chinese, survey finds

Crops and water supplies are suffering serious damage as earth is washed and blown away
Tania Branigan in Beijing, Friday November 21 2008 12.36 GMT

Almost 100 million people in south-west China will lose the land they live on within 35 years if soil erosion continues at its current rate, a nationwide survey has found.
Crops and water supplies are suffering serious damage as earth is washed and blown away across a third of the country, according to the largest-scale study for 60 years.
Harvests in the north-east, known as China's breadbasket, will fall 40% within half a century on current trends, even as the 1.3 billion population continues to grow.
While experts cited farming and forestry as the main causes, contributing to over a third of the area affected, the research team said erosion was damaging industrial areas and cities as well as remote rural land. About 4.5bn tonnes of soil are scoured away each year, at an estimated cost of 200bn yuan (£20bn) in this decade alone.
The poor will be worst hit, warns the report from China's bio-environment security research team, which worked on the survey for three years. Almost three-quarters of them already live in erosion-hit areas.
The country's 80,000 reservoirs are also affected, with sand and mud reducing their storage capacity each year. Like soil deposits along rivers, that increases the risk of flooding.
"If we don't conduct effective measures, erosion will cause major damage to social and economic development," Chen Lei, the director of the Ministry of Water Resources, told the official People's Daily newspaper.
The state news agency Xinhua said more than 3.5m square kilometres were affected in total, with 1.6m square kilometres scoured by water and 2m square kilometres by wind.
Professor Mu Xingming of the Institute of Soil and Water Conservation told the Guardian that overpopulation was largely to blame. He said his analysis of north-east China over the last century showed the effects of increasing population density.
New roads and railways were also contributing to the problem and people were less aware of the need for environmental protection than in other countries, he added.
Mu cited the Yellow River as one of the areas worst hit. "Historically, it got its name because of its colour - because the water contains more mud and sand than other rivers. But now it's yellower because of human activities," he said.
Beijing has been concerned about the desertification of China's northern grasslands for many years, and scaled back logging after deforestation contributed to flooding along the Yangtze in the late 1990s. Mu said more work was needed to restore forests and grasslands and suggested humans would have to leave some areas entirely if they were to recover.

Renewable Power & Light

RPL, the owner of two biofuel power stations in America, rose 5¾p to 16¾p after it said it had received a bid approach. The offer may have been triggered by the settlement ten days ago of a costly year-long legal battle with its sacked former chief executive David Lewis and fellow director Dominic Colvin. RPL was suing the pair for breach of contract and negligence after its palm oil supplier stopped delivery in July 2007.
RPL has been unable to find alternative supply and has been loss-making ever since.

Brazil president calls for end to ethanol tariffs

The Associated Press
Published: November 22, 2008

SAO PAULO, Brazil: Brazil's president is calling for an end to tariffs on ethanol.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says it's hypocritical for countries to insist on slashing greenhouse gases while keeping tariffs on oil low and tariffs on ethanol high.
Brazil is the world's top ethanol exporter, and second-largest producer after the U.S.
Silva says several recent offshore oil finds won't slow Brazil's ethanol output.
Silva's remarks Friday at an international conference on biofuels were posted on the presidency's Web site.

San Francisco Bay to be electric car capital

• Plan predicts 1m petrol vehicles replaced by 2015 • Charging points to be on offer throughout cities
Bobbie Johnson in San Francisco and Alok Jha
The Guardian, Saturday November 22 2008

Officials in California have unveiled ambitious plans to turn the San Francisco Bay area - home to 7.6 million people - into one of the world's leading centres for electric vehicles.
If it succeeds, the strategy will see billions of dollars poured into a power infrastructure that will turn the region away from fossil fuels and persuade millions of people to switch to green transport technology.
The plan, which will see the bay area become the first region of California to switch its transport systems entirely away from traditional fuels, is being supported by local government as well as the state's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"California is already a world leader in fighting global warming and promoting renewable energy," he said. "This partnership is proof that by working together we can achieve our goals of creating a healthier planet while boosting our economy."
Globally, cars generate about 20% of the world's output of carbon dioxide and California's cars account for 40% of the state's greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing around 1m petrol cars with electric cars by 2015, as is proposed under the new plans, will make a big difference.
At least $1bn is expected to be spent on improving green transport infrastructure to make the bay area - encompassing the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, as well as Silicon Valley - the leading centre for electric vehicles in America, and potentially around the world.
The electric transportation company Better Place will build a network of kerbside charging points across cities in the area and create the equivalent of filling stations, where electric car owners will be able to replace their flat batteries for fully charged ones. With a full charge on one of Better Place's batteries, a typical car will be able to travel 100 miles, ideal for commuting around urban areas.
The local government will also work to harmonise standards across the region so that drivers of electric vehicles can travel the length and breadth of the bay area without worrying about finding the right kind of charging station.
Most users of the Better Place system would pay a monthly subscription for unlimited access to the company's services. Visitors with electric cars could also use the charging points for a one-off fee.
"You can plug in any car," said Jason Wolf, the California business manager at Better Place. "In California, everyone who's bought Teslas, everyone who has bought plug-in hybrids or electric cars that are not in tight relationship with us, will be able to plug into our network."
Speaking at the launch yesterday, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, said: "If we're going to get serious about advancing climate-action plans, we've got to get serious about getting into the business of alternative transportation."
California, the world's eighth largest economy, has some of the most progressive climate-change legislation. The state aims to reduce greenhouse gas levels to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
The plans will put California on a footing with other countries leading the attempt to introduce electric cars, including Israel, Denmark and Australia. Last month, the Britain pledged £100m to speed the commercial introduction of electric and low-carbon road transport to the country.
Wolf said the first cars in the California scheme would be deployed in 2010.

German govt says cannot confirm CO2 cars deal

Published: November 21, 2008

BERLIN: A German government spokesman said on Friday he could not confirm that Europe's big four auto making nations had reached an agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
"I believe there has been a narrowing of differences but there is not yet a complete agreement," Thomas Steg told a regular news conference. "I cannot confirm the report that there has been an agreement. The talks are continuing."
On Thursday, Reuters quoted government sources in Berlin and Brussels saying the four countries had reached an agreement after Italy joined a deal between Britain, France and Germany, government sources in Rome and Berlin said.
The European Union executive had proposed cutting carbon dioxide from cars by an average of 18 percent to 130 grams per km by 2012, mindful of U.N. warnings that climate change will bring more droughts, extreme weather and rising sea levels.
It hoped a further 10 grams could be cut by introducing better tyres, fuels and air-conditioning.

Any binding deal must be approved by the European Parliament, and three-way talks between parliament, member states and the Commission are scheduled for November 24.

Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply

• States and companies target developing nations • Small farmers at risk from industrial-scale deals
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
The Guardian, Saturday November 22 2008

Rich governments and corporations are triggering alarm for the poor as they buy up the rights to millions of hectares of agricultural land in developing countries in an effort to secure their own long-term food supplies.
The head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, has warned that the controversial rise in land deals could create a form of "neo-colonialism", with poor states producing food for the rich at the expense of their own hungry people.
Rising food prices have already set off a second "scramble for Africa". This week, the South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics announced plans to buy a 99-year lease on a million hectares in Madagascar. Its aim is to grow 5m tonnes of corn a year by 2023, and produce palm oil from a further lease of 120,000 hectares (296,000 acres), relying on a largely South African workforce. Production would be mainly earmarked for South Korea, which wants to lessen dependence on imports.
"These deals can be purely commercial ventures on one level, but sitting behind it is often a food security imperative backed by a government," said Carl Atkin, a consultant at Bidwells Agribusiness, a Cambridge firm helping to arrange some of the big international land deals.
Madagascar's government said that an environmental impact assessment would have to be carried out before the Daewoo deal could be approved, but it welcomed the investment. The massive lease is the largest so far in an accelerating number of land deals that have been arranged since the surge in food prices late last year.
"In the context of arable land sales, this is unprecedented," Atkin said. "We're used to seeing 100,000-hectare sales. This is more than 10 times as much."
At a food security summit in Rome, in June, there was agreement to channel more investment and development aid to African farmers to help them respond to higher prices by producing more. But governments and corporations in some cash-rich but land-poor states, mostly in the Middle East, have opted not to wait for world markets to respond and are trying to guarantee their own long-term access to food by buying up land in poorer countries.
According to diplomats, the Saudi Binladin Group is planning an investment in Indonesia to grow basmati rice, while tens of thousands of hectares in Pakistan have been sold to Abu Dhabi investors.
Arab investors, including the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, have also bought direct stakes in Sudanese agriculture. The president of the UEA, Khalifa bin Zayed, has said his country was considering large-scale agricultural projects in Kazakhstan to ensure a stable food supply.
Even China, which has plenty of land but is now getting short of water as it pursues breakneck industrialisation, has begun to explore land deals in south-east Asia. Laos, meanwhile, has signed away between 2m-3m hectares, or 15% of its viable farmland. Libya has secured 250,000 hectares of Ukrainian farmland, and Egypt is believed to want similar access. Kuwait and Qatar have been chasing deals for prime tracts of Cambodia rice fields.
Eager buyers generally have been welcomed by sellers in developing world governments desperate for capital in a recession. Madagascar's land reform minister said revenue would go to infrastructure and development in flood-prone areas.
Sudan is trying to attract investors for almost 900,000 hectares of its land, and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has been courting would-be Saudi investors.
"If this was a negotiation between equals, it could be a good thing. It could bring investment, stable prices and predictability to the market," said Duncan Green, Oxfam's head of research. "But the problem is, [in] this scramble for soil I don't see any place for the small farmers."
Alex Evans, at the Centre on International Cooperation, at New York University, said: "The small farmers are losing out already. People without solid title are likely to be turfed off the land."
Details of land deals have been kept secret so it is unknown whether they have built-in safeguards for local populations.
Steve Wiggins, a rural development expert at the Overseas Development Institute, said: "There are very few economies of scale in most agriculture above the level of family farm because managing [the] labour is extremely difficult." Investors might also have to contend with hostility. "If I was a political-risk adviser to [investors] I'd say 'you are taking a very big risk'. Land is an extremely sensitive thing. This could go horribly wrong if you don't learn the lessons of history."

Presidential decree protects Brazil rain forest

The Associated Press
Published: November 21, 2008

BRASILIA, Brazil: Brazil's president has signed a decree aimed at recovering and protecting devastate rain forest along Brazil's Atlantic coast.
Environment Minister Carlos Minc says the government hopes to restore 20 percent of the forest's original cover.
Only about 7 percent of Brazil's coastal rain forest remains standing. It once covered more than 500,000 square miles (1.3 million square kms).
The decree signed by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Friday provides financial incentives for local residents to protect and recover forest through green businesses.

National Intelligence Council report: sun setting on the American century

The Times
November 21, 2008

The report said that global warming will aggravate the scarcity of water, food and energy
Tim Reid in Washington
The next two decades will see a world living with the daily threat of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe and the decline of America as the dominant global power, according to a frighteningly bleak assessment by the US intelligence community.
“The world of the near future will be subject to an increased likelihood of conflict over resources, including food and water, and will be haunted by the persistence of rogue states and terrorist groups with greater access to nuclear weapons,” said the report by the National Intelligence Council, a body of analysts from across the US intelligence community.
The analysts said that the report had been prepared in time for Barack Obama’s entry into the Oval office on January 20, where he will be faced with some of the greatest challenges of any newly elected US president.

“The likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used will increase with expanded access to technology and a widening range of options for limited strikes,” the 121-page assessment said.
The analysts draw attention to an already escalating nuclear arms race in the Middle East and anticipate that a growing number of rogue states will be prepared to share their destructive technology with terror groups. “Over the next 15-20 years reactions to the decisions Iran makes about its nuclear programme could cause a number of regional states to intensify these efforts and consider actively pursuing nuclear weapons,” the report Global Trends 2025 said. “This will add a new and more dangerous dimension to what is likely to be increasing competition for influence within the region,” it said.
The spread of nuclear capabilities will raise questions about the ability of weak states to safeguard them, it added. “If the number of nuclear-capable states increases, so will the number of countries potentially willing to provide nuclear assistance to other countries or to terrorists.”
The report said that global warming will aggravate the scarcity of water, food and energy resources. Citing a British study, it said that climate change could force up to 200 million people to migrate to more temperate zones. “Widening gaps in birth rates and wealth-to-poverty ratios, and the impact of climate change, could further exacerbate tensions,” it said.
“The international system will be almost unrecognisable by 2025, owing to the rise of emerging powers, a globalising economy, a transfer of wealth from West to East, and the growing influence of nonstate actors. Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States’ relative strength – even in the military realm – will decline and US leverage will become more strained.”
Global power will be multipolar with the rise of India and China, and the Korean peninsula will be unified in some form. Turning to the current financial situation, the analysts say that the financial crisis on Wall Street is the beginning of a global economic rebalancing.
The US dollar’s role as the major world currency will weaken to the point where it becomes a “first among equals”.
“Strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, investments and technological innovation, but we cannot rule out a 19th-century-like scenario of arms races, territorial expansion and military rivalries.” The report, based on a global survey of experts and trends, was more pessimistic about America’s global status than previous outlooks prepared every four years. It said that outcomes will depend in part on the actions of political leaders. “The next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks,” it said.
The analysts also give warning that the kind of organised crime plaguing Russia could eventually take over the government of an Eastern or Central European country, and that countries in Africa and South Asia may find themselves ungoverned, as states wither away under pressure from security threats and diminishing resources..
The US intelligence community expects that terrorism would survive until 2025, but in slightly different form, suggesting that alQaeda’s “terrorist wave” might be breaking up. “AlQaeda’s inability to attract broad-based support might cause it to decay sooner than people think,” it said.
On a positive note it added that an alternative to oil might be in place by 2025.

Greenwash: BP and the myth of a world 'Beyond Petroleum'

BP is keen to play up its investment in alternative energy with images of wind turbines and plants. But no amount of clever advertising can hide the fact that its billions of pounds of profit and investment is still all about fossil fuels
Fred Pearce, Thursday November 20 2008 10.54 GMT

"We can't put all our energy in one barrel," says the BP billboard poster. The slogan is accompanied by fetching images of green plants, wind turbines and the sun. And BP's own logo, with its green tagline: Beyond Petroleum.
But this is confection. Until 2004, BP was called British Petroleum. And in the real world of business, the giant energy company continues to plunder most of its profits from - and sink the great bulk of its investment into - barrels of oil. Who is it kidding?
Well us, it hopes. You may have seen another of its posters. "There's energy security in energy diversity," it says. "BP provides oil, natural gas, wind, biofuels, solar and options." Or, reading its recent print adverts, you may have puzzled at what it means by the headline "Hydrocarbons and low carbons living in harmony."
Let's get real. BP likes to say that it is investing $1.5bn (£980,000) a year in "alternative energy". True, I am sure. But that word "alternative" is clever. Delve a little further and it turns out that BP's alternative energy division includes not just wind and solar and biofuels but also natural gas-fired power stations. Natural gas may be less polluting than coal and oil, but at the end of the day it's a fossil fuel filling the atmosphere with CO2. Alternative? Not by my definition.
Also sheltering in the alternative energy division is BP's "emissions assets business", which makes money out of carbon trading, and a venture capital unit. But even if we lump all this "alternative" activity together, it still only makes up 7% of the company's planned $21bn (£13.85bn) investment this year. The remaining 93% is oil, spiced up with some coal.
Now if BP were new kids on the alternative scene, we might regard 7% as good progress. But the sad thing is that BP was making waves in renewables a decade and more ago. Back then, it was a pioneer among oil companies. In 1997, the year the Kyoto protocol was agreed, environmentalists applauded the green initiatives of then-chief executive Sir John Browne. For a while they looked like deeds rather than just words. Soon, Sir John was Lord Browne. But some of BP's investors got cold feet. Browne was ousted and the oilmen returned to centre stage.
Take one example of the difference this has made. Back in 1999, Browne pulled BP out of its involvement with developing Canadian tar sands – an energy-intensive process with a carbon footprint several times that of conventional oil. Last year, BP bought its way back into Canadian tar sands.
The current bout of BP greenwash is especially questionable for its British customers and shareholders. Earlier this month, BP pulled out of wind power in Britain. And, after years justifying its continued involvement in coal by extolling the potential for capturing and burying carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired powers, it withdrew from a British government competition to come up with a viable technology.
Yes, BP is continuing with a clean-coal project in Australia; and yes, it is investing in wind power in the US, in anticipation of a renewables push from president-elect, Barack Obama. But this niche activity is small fry for a company that just announced profits for just three months of $10bn (£6.59bn). BP claimed that those profits paid for investment in alternative forms of energy. Maybe. But those 13 weeks' profits also exceeded its anticipated investment in renewables for the next six years.
Is this a company that has stopped putting most of its investment "in one barrel"? Is this a company seriously trying to create a world "beyond petroleum"? Sadly it is not. Worst of all, it is a company that appears to be retreating from deeds to words.
• How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? Please send your examples of greenwash to or add your comments below