Monday, 15 December 2008

Meet Britain's new army of young eco warriors

While governments talk of climate change, a growing band of young, committed environmentalists is emerging in the UK. The storming of Stansted was just the beginning
Tracy McVeigh
The Observer, Sunday 14 December 2008

They are young, smart, organised, committed and, if they are allowed to have their way, they would like to save the world. No longer is an environmentalist a geeky elderly man in socks and sandals or a dreadlocked traveller in a rainbow jumper. Britain's new vanguard of eco-warriors are predominantly in their twenties, they are articulate and knowledgeable and techno-aware.
Monday's demonstration by 57 young protesters from the environmental group Plane Stupid at Stansted Airport in Essex took many by surprise, not least by the audacity of the direct action in getting through extremely tight security and managing to briefly close down a busy airport. Protesting against airport expansion in the UK, Plane Stupid later produced some very media-savvy representatives to put across their case.
For many people it was their first encounter with what has been an underground but growing phenomenon in Britain. Over the past two years a new social movement to rival any protests of the past has been steadily growing, young campaigners and activists who are dedicated to achieve what previous generations have not - stopping climate change. And it is not only in environmental activism that the UK is leading the world but also in the science, with a growing band of dedicated young scientists working against the clock to discover the truth behind climate change.
People like Ellen Fry, a 26-year-old working for the Institute for Climate Change, based at Imperial College. Described by her colleagues as 'brilliant, cutting edge and totally dedicated', she is working on the impact of rainfall on ecosystems and spends much of her time in a field. 'I've worn out three pairs of wellies this year so far!' she says.
'My work is in plant response to climate change, when eco-systems shut down. I was at school when I went to a lecture by an Exxon Mobil executive and I was terrified. I thought I have to do something useful with my life, so I moved into biology.'
She says had she more time she would even consider activism herself although 'perhaps universities wouldn't like their researchers getting arrested'.
Jasmin Karalis, 24, a climate campaigner who helped hijack a train carrying coal to the Drax power station in North Yorkshire in June, takes being arrested as a downside of the work she cares passionately about. She says she finds the political system deeply frustrating 'because everyone thinks we have to have either capitalism or socialism and that there's nothing in between - but there is.
'It's very frightening for people to hear us say that capitalism is the problem, people can't see that there might be anything else. But this system has failed us. Even now all they will speak about at political forums is how money can be made out of this [climate change crisis]. That's shocking. That's disgusting.'
Karalis, from an Iranian family, has only recently graduated from university where she first became environmentally aware. But she refutes the idea that everyone in the movement is a spoilt middle-class kid.
'That's complete nonsense. Of course the media is talking to the most articulate ones because they have the confidence to come forward. But this is a social movement with people from all classes and all walks of life. You don't need to be Oxbridge, you need to be brave.'
Most of the activists and campaigners The Observer spoke to see no divide between the political system, social justice and climate change.
Sophie Stephens, 25, holds down a nine-to-five office job in Leeds. She uses holidays and sabbaticals for her other work, protesting against the UK's carbon emissions and helping develop Climate Camp - the annual event for environmental activists which is in its third year.
'We respect science so much and the work being done in this country is remarkable. At Climate Camp we have lots of eminent experts along to talk about the latest research to keep people fully informed,' she says.
'We have a unique opportunity as a species to pre-empt this disaster. I'm no green goddess, I cycle to work and I recycle, but change needs to happen at a higher level. It terrifies me that we hand all vital decisions about climate change and energy policies to people who believe financial sense is common sense.'
She says taking part in direct action is 'really liberating'.
'That's why we are prepared to break the law. You are suddenly in the middle of the debate and that's empowerment.'
Paul Morozzo was involved in the anti-roads protests of the Nineties. Now aged 41 and living in Yorkshire, the father of two is still a dedicated environmental campaigner and he welcomes the resurgence of a social protest movement.
'It's both new and old. It's partly inspired by older movements like the anti-roads movement, but crucially it's also inspired by the unique circumstances we find ourselves in as the growth economy hits both the ecological limits of the planet and social limits of exploitation and greed. Also there is a real desire to create new stories, the biggest one being a just solution to climate change and averting planetary meltdown. That would be a good one for the grandchildren.
'Environmental struggles in the Nineties were often characterised by intense struggles, either in defence of place, e.g. against road builders, or for early Reclaim the Streets over the creation of place. Now the place is the entire planet and a clash between what people need and what the economy needs. This grand narrative will hopefully motivate a movement equal to the task.
'Given that the government is still planning to build new coal-fired power stations and expand its airports and roads, Ed Miliband's call for a public mobilisation on climate change is a clear attempt to co-opt this growing climate movement. But people aren't daft. They realise that the suffragettes and the civil rights movement didn't win by wearing rubber wrist bands, they won because they were both broad based and willing to take risks, if necessary breaking the law. They knocked directly on power's door, in fact they knocked it down.'
Jody Boehnert runs EcoLabs, a non-profit organisation encouraging ecological literacy through design. A graphic designer, she was drawn to environmentalism through her love of nature.
'I like to hike and I find it almost unbearable to believe that we could squander all this beauty.
'I grew up in Canada. My mother was a professor and active in the feminist movement. My father lectured on the arms race. I have been concerned about global warming since I was a teenager and an activist for over a decade. I feel that we might finally be able to make some progress now. The environmental crisis has hit the mainstream. We can now make the necessary changes if we move decisively.'
'Previous generations have left us an awful mess,' she says. 'The economic successes of the past will be felt by our generation as we learn to deal with degraded ecosystems less capable of supporting life as we know it.
'In a democracy, the government can only ever make changes that are supported by the people, so it is pointless to separate "society" from "government". The problem rests in a culture that refuses to confront environmental realities. We now need to deal with the consequences of this reckless behaviour - the actions of not only previous generations but of most of our contemporaries who only give lip service to change.
'Almost all advocates of change in the mainstream media recommend small steps. Even cumulatively these actions will not stop the climate system from reaching tipping points, now just a few years away. We need to design systemic change - and we need the media to help audiences understand the importance of this agenda above all other agendas.'
If any generation is going to take the brunt of climate change it will be those who are too young to be climbing up power stations or taking PhDs in ecological science.
Joanna Courtice is a schoolgirl campaigner. Aged just 16 she has already persuaded her Cambridgeshire teachers to create an 'eco-school' and is working at trying to encourage awareness and activism among other schools in her area.
'It's about small steps, one thing at a time,' she says. 'For me it's hard persuading other girls my age because they think they have to give things up that they like. It feels like I'm putting them on a diet no one wants to go on.
'But I am 16 and now I can fight back against what people have let happen to the planet. For me it's 16 years of no one fighting. I have to make up for that.'
A history of eco protest
Sizewell, 1980s
During the inquiry into the construction of Britain's last nuclear reactor at Sizewell, Suffolk, Friends of the Earth organised demonstrations against the plant's construction.
Anti-roads, 1990s
These direct action groups prevented work on the new A30 by setting up camp. Residents protested both above ground in tree houses and below it in tunnels. The camp's final resident 'Swampy' (Daniel Hooper) gained celebrity status.
Anti-GM, 1998-2004
Demonstrators, including environmentalist George Monbiot, were arrested in 2001 for criminal damage during a protest at Wales's only GM crop trial. The not guilty plea, based on acting in the public interest, brought the issue of GM crop safety into the public eye.
Anti-runway, 2007
Mass demonstrations against the expansion of Heathrow airport were held throughout the summer, with thousands of protesters camping on the site of the new runway.
Climate camps, 2008
In the wake of the success of previous ones, 'climate camps' for protesters at sites where airports and roads are due to be expanded or built have grown in number and popularity. Richard Rogers

BYD to Introduce China's First Electric Car

SHENZHEN, China -- A Chinese auto maker plans to unveil the country's first homegrown electric vehicle for the mass market, at least a year ahead of similar efforts around the world.
On Monday, BYD Co. plans to show reporters in Shenzhen the new F3DM, which runs off batteries that can be charged from a regular electrical outlet. BYD began marketing the F3DM this month to cab operators and other potential fleet customers, and plans to have it in showrooms by the end of this month, said Henry Li, a senior company executive. BYD plans to sell the car in the U.S. market as early as the second half of 2010.
Associated Press
The F3DM runs on batteries and is charged at a regular electrical outlet.
China's government intends to support the electric vehicle push through research-and-development subsidies for auto makers and tax breaks and other incentives for consumers, as well as with plans to build battery-charge stations and other public infrastructure. The government hasn't said how much it will spend.
Though essentially an electric car, the F3DM also has a small gasoline engine that is used to generate electricity if the battery runs dry. Some people question whether the leap to electric cars makes sense in China, in part because most of China's electricity comes from "dirty" coal-burning power plants.
BYD plans to sell as many as 10,000 F3DMs in 2009, according to Mr. Li. The car is to be priced at less than 150,000 yuan, or about $22,000, toward the low end of the price range for a typical midsize sedan in China.
General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. are both developing similar battery-powered cars. But Toyota won't launch its version until late 2009 and plans to sell it in the U.S. and Japan, not in China. GM is expected to launch its Chevy Volt in late 2010 in the U.S., but the company's financial struggles have left plans unclear. Nissan Motor Co., which is weighing the launch of an electric car in China as early as 2012, believes that battery-powered cars could account for as much as 30% of all automobile sales in China by 2020.
The city of Shenzhen, where BYD is headquartered, is expected to announce Monday that it is buying some 20 F3DMs.—Ellen Zhu in Shanghai and Gao Sen in Beijing contributed to this article.
Write to Norihiko Shirouzu at

Greek Power Plant to Use New Solar Technology

A technology that uses special mirrors and lenses to help generate electricity from sunlight may be a new bright spot for the solar industry.
Often called "concentrated photovoltaics," the technology was the focus of a $103 million deal in November to install 10 megawatts of generating capacity in southern Spain, enough to power a city of 40,000. SolFocus Inc., the Silicon Valley company that supplied technology in that transaction, on Monday is also announcing a deal to help build a 1.6-megawatt power plant in Greece that is based on the same approach.

SolFocus panels can be made from glass and aluminum, instead of silicon.

Concentrated photovoltaics use mirrors and lenses to direct an increased amount of energy on smaller solar panels, which can be made from low-cost materials such as glass and aluminum, thus avoiding the use of silicon, a commodity that can be subject to shortages that keep panel prices high.
The technology is on a trajectory to grow from less than 10 megawatts of generating capacity world-wide this year to as many as six gigawatts by 2020, according to a report issued earlier this year by Greentech Media and the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, research groups both in the Boston area. That would pale in comparison to the projected 300 gigawatts in overall solar production by then, but would still double the current overall capacity of nearly three gigawatts -- most of which is supplied by silicon-based solar panels.
SolFocus is expected to announce a transaction Monday with Samaras Group, a renewable-energy developer in Greece. Including the latest deal, SolFocus officials say they will have contracts to install up to 20 megawatts of capacity.
The start-up, based in Mountain View, Calif., has raised $96 million in venture capital since its inception in 2006, and expects to close another $60 million to $80 million in venture financing by the end of January, said Chief Executive Mark Crowley. He said that money is being used to help increase the company's manufacturing capacity.
In all, investors have poured almost $400 million in venture capital into the concentrated photovoltaic sector over the past three years, Greentech Media estimates.
One big limitation for the technology, analysts say, is that it is best suited for locations with ample direct sunlight, like southern Europe and the American Southwest.
Conventional solar panels, by contrast, are being deployed almost everywhere. The concentrated technology isn't seen as practical for many homes and businesses, because it requires more room to set up.
The technology also has a few bugs to work out, some industry officials say. Sharp Corp., for instance, is testing concentrated photovoltaics on three continents. But the Japanese company hasn't marketed anything yet because of issues including a tendency of the machinery to be impacted by dust and getting the concentrating equipment to point directly at the sun for best results.
"It's still a few years out, but there is a spot for this," said Ron Kenedi, vice president of Sharp Solar Energy Solutions Group, a Huntington Beach. Calif., unit of Sharp's U.S. subsidiary.
The technology is seen having the highest potential in supplanting conventional power sources in midsize applications, such as supplying power for a water treatment plant. "It will occupy the middle ground of 10 to 50 megawatts over time," said Eric Wesoff, a Greentech Media analyst based in Woodside, Calif.
Write to Jim Carlton at

Green activists find new ally in US unions

The Associated Press
Published: December 14, 2008

POZNAN, Poland: Some U.S. labor groups that have long feared environmental campaigns as a threat to American jobs are starting to see advantages in going green.
This evolution was clear at this week's U.N. climate talks in Poland, where several American labor groups and environmental activists made joint appeals for policies that would promote high-tech renewable energy as the answer to both climate change and job losses.
About 25 representatives of U.S. unions were in Poznan — about twice the number at last year's U.N. talks in Bali, Indonesia — representing workers from the electrical, transit, steel, service and other sectors.
"There is a very wide cross-section of American unions that reflects the growing engagement of American unions' support of climate change policies," said David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance. The group was founded by the United Steelworkers, North America's largest manufacturing union, and the Sierra Club, the United States' largest and oldest grass-roots environmental group.
"There's a power in the joint vision that we just don't have functioning on our own," added Foster, who was for 16 years a United Steelworkers regional director.

The Blue Green Alliance was founded in 2006 and expanded this autumn to include three more unions and another green group.
Environmental protection and labor rights have intersected before, especially in past battles to eliminate toxins and other pollutants from the workplace.
But the two sides have also found themselves at odds. Unions have often seen nature lovers as idealists willing to sacrifice American jobs for the sake of endangered species. Some coal industry workers remain hostile to efforts that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by closing down coal-fired plants.
But both groups also have felt growing pressure over the past decade because of manufacturing job losses in the American heartland and what they see as an erosion of workers' rights and weakening environmental protection.
Environmentalists want clean energy — such as wind and solar power — to reduce gases that degrade the environment. It is in their interest that new jobs in the sector offer good pay and benefits, to win labor's support for their agenda.
David Hawkins, director of climate programs with the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, attributes the deepening cooperation to the need to fight opponents who say you cannot protect the environment and preserve jobs at the same time.
"They keep on shouting that scare campaign at every opportunity they get," Hawkins said. "An alliance is a powerful way of sending the message that you can have both."
Margrete Strand Rangnes, a Sierra Club representative, says environmentalists are also fighting for workers to have stronger protections as a way of protecting whistleblowers who speak out against environmental and other violations.
Some unions see jobs in the renewable energy sector as a way to create a new wave of well-paid jobs that will replace the nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs that have disappeared over the past decade.
Robert Baugh, chairman of AFL-CIO's energy task force, said his federation still has "some differences" with environmental groups, but that "we also have a lot of common interests."
As environmentalists push for clean energy policies, he said it's vital that labor get involved to ensure that as those policies are put in place, workers' interests are not ignored.
"The climate crisis and a new energy policy is an opportunity for our country to actually have a strategy about the environment, about manufacturing," Baugh said. "We think that by addressing the environmental crisis, we actually can have the opportunity to create good, green jobs."
Baugh noted, for instance, that there are about 8,000 parts in a windmill — and that his group wants to ensure that American workers will be making them.
The labor leaders who are going green like to cite examples of where green policies have led to job creation.
Pennsylvania, for example, passed renewable energy standards several years ago that persuaded the Spanish wind energy company Gamesa to open up four plants in Pennsylvania, creating 1,400 new jobs making wind turbines.
And last year, about 500 laid-off steel workers were called back to work in two steel plate mills Gary, Indiana, to produce steel for wind turbines.
Foster said unions and green groups have waged joint lobbying efforts nationwide for laws increasing energy efficiency and promoting renewable energies, and they have teamed up for numerous court battles against companies that violate workers' rights and environmental standards.
For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club have endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act, a union-backed bill that would protect workers' rights to join unions. The Sierra Club has mobilized members to write to their Congress members to support the bill.

Abraham Breehey, a senior union official, said workers are starting to shake off their belief that green energy spells doom rather than opportunity.
Breehey pointed to the case of a group of Indiana blacksmiths who recently struck a multimillion dollar deal to produce a new hammer for heavy-duty work in building wind turbines.
That "was a light bulb moment, and we realized that there must be more examples where job opportunities on their face might not seem like green jobs but end up being part of the green economy," said Breehey, of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers.

California to Curb Truck Emissions

New regulations in California for heavy-duty diesel trucks could force a sweeping overhaul of the state's trucking industry and pave the way for similar changes elsewhere.
The California Air Resources Board voted Friday to require trucks after 2011 to gradually reduce emissions of soot and, eventually, nitrous oxides implicated in smog formation. Remedies range from installing diesel exhaust filters at a cost of $10,000 and higher, to buying new engines or replacing trucks altogether.
Nearly all vehicles must be upgraded by 2014, and engines older than 2010 models will have to be replaced between 2012 and 2022. The goal: Reduce soot pollution 85% by 2022.
The rule caps an eight-year campaign by the board to curb diesel emissions, starting with the smallest sources and working up to the roughly one million heavy-duty diesel vehicles that operate in the state. An additional rule approved Friday requires low-friction tires and aerodynamic modifications to improve fuel economy.
The air board's actions are followed closely by experts outside California. Other states often piggyback off California's detailed regulatory process, and once manufacturers make changes for the state, it's easier to do the same elsewhere. Many technologies required by California later became standard nationwide, such as catalytic converters, which the state required in the 1970s.
Trucking groups argued that the cost of the rules approved Friday, about $5.4 billion, amounts to an excessive burden when the economy is mired in recession and truck revenues have dropped. The California Trucking Association, which represents 3,600 trucking firms operating 350,000 vehicles, urged the board to give truckers more time to comply.
But the board concluded that the state's air districts wouldn't meet federal air-quality standards without action now. Heavy-duty trucks are responsible for 32% of smog-forming emissions and 40% of diesel emissions from mobile sources, the air board found.
"This accelerates the cleanup of equipment on the road today," said Tom Cackette, the board's executive officer. The board estimates that 350,000 trucks will be replaced faster than normal because of the rule and that thousands of lives will be spared the health consequences of polluted air.
Even though newer trucks are cleaner, "waiting for the turnover to occur naturally just isn't fast enough," said Kathryn Phillips, head of the transportation and clean-air program for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group. Other states could follow California's lead in restricting diesel emissions, Ms. Phillips said, including those with big pollution problems and large ports that are magnets for trucking activity. New York, Massachusetts and Texas have shown a particular interest in the California rules, she said.
Some truckers will be able to simply add equipment in the early years of the rule but ultimately will have to scrap trucks for cleaner and costlier ones that are newer. About $1 billion in state money is available to defray costs, and those who act ahead of deadlines are entitled to larger payouts.
Some truckers broke ranks with the trucking industry and urged the air board to impose the new restrictions.
Wayne McCully, 64 years old, who has hauled heavy loads for four decades, signed a petition favoring action. He says he believes research showing that microscopic particles in soot contribute to cancer, heart attacks and lung disease. "I'm no tree hugger, but I am concerned about the environment," Mr. McCully said.
He intends to buy an aerodynamic Kenworth truck for $114,000 -- less than he would have expected to pay if the economy wasn't in recession. Its fuel economy is rated at seven to nine miles per gallon, a 25% to 30% improvement over what he's getting with his 10-year-old rig.
Write to Rebecca Smith at

Highlights of Australia's climate-change policy

Reuters, Monday December 15 2008
CANBERRA, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Australia, the fourth-largest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases, unveiled its long-awaited climate-change policy on Monday. Following are the key points:
* Long-term goal of 5-15 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2000 levels by 2020, equating to per capita cuts of 27-34 percent.
* The 15 percent target is contingent on a global agreement to make a similar reduction.
* National emission caps set in early 2010, covered by emission permits. For example, if there is an annual cap of 500 million tonnes of carbon, only 500 million tonnes worth of carbon permits will be issued in that year.
* Scheme applies to 1,000 firms covering 75 percent of total emissions.
* Broad coverage, including power generators, transport and oil and gas production, though agriculture to be excluded until at least 2015.
* Government to compensate for any rise in fuel prices arising from new policy. Airline industry will have to pay higher price, though could be eligible for other forms of compensation.
* First carbon permits to be auctioned in the first half of 2010.
* Carbon permits to be freely traded, subject to an interim price cap of A$40 per tonne to prevent price shocks and unstable market.
* Estimated starting market price to be around A$23 per tonne if 5 percent long-term target adopted, or around A$32 if 15 percent goal adopted.
* Unlimited access to offshore carbon credits approved under Kyoto protocol but initially no exports of Australian permits.
* Annual growth in gross national product to be trimmed to 1.1 percent under new policy, from 1.2 percent if nothing is done.
* One-off rise in consumer prices of around 1.1 percent, based on a carbon price of A$25 per tonne.
* Energy-intensive, exporting industries to receive free permits equal to between 60 and 90 percent of requirements, depending on a sensitivity ratio. Ninety percent assistance applies to those emitting 2,000 tonnes of carbon for every million Australian dollars of revenue; 60 percent to those emitting 1,000-1,999 tonnes for every million dollars.
* Industries likely to receive 90 percent free permits include makers of aluminium, cement, iron and steel, lime and silicon; those to receive 60 percent free permits include makers of alumina, petroleum and liquefied natural gas.
* Coal-fired power stations to receive direct assistance worth A$3.9 billion in free permits over five years, subject to a review aimed at preventing generators from making any windfall profits from any sale of permits.
* Government sets up fund to develop clean-coal technologies. (Reporting by Mark Bendeich; editing by Michael Perry)

Australia commits to July 2010 for carbon trade

Reuters, Monday December 15 2008
(Adds detail)
By James Grubel

CANBERRA, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Australia committed on Monday to adopting the most sweeping carbon trade scheme outside Europe in 2010, resisting industry calls for a delay, but its plan to cut greenhouse gases fell well short of demands by green groups.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong set a target range to cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by between 5 and 15 percent by 2020, based on year 2000 levels, to give Australia flexibility in global talks for emission cuts beyond 2012.
"These are hard targets for Australia," Wong told reporters, adding that the policy was designed to ease the economic impact of the scheme in light of the global financial crisis.
"Our economy, including food production, agriculture and water supplies, is under threat. If we don't act now, we will be hit hard and fast. We will lose key industries and Australian jobs."
Scientists and green groups wanted cuts of at least 25 percent but the carbon scheme comes at a politically sensitive time for the government, with the mid-2010 start date set only months before it is due to hold elections to seek a second term.
"It's a total and utter failure," Greenpeace climate campaigner John Hepburn said.
While the emissions targets are lower than the European Union's target of 20 percent by 2020, and incoming U.S. President Barack Obama's proposed cuts of 25 percent, Wong said the targets were stronger on a per-capita basis.
Wong said carbon trading would cover 75 percent of Australia's carbon emissions and involve 1,000 of the nation's biggest firms, although big-polluting exporters would receive up to 90 percent of carbon permits for free.
The price of carbon will be set by the market, with the first permits to be auctioned in the first half of 2010. The government expects a price of about A$25 ($16.70) a tonne, and will impose an interim price cap of A$40 a tonne.
Participating firms will need to surrender a permit for every tonne of carbon emitted.
The auction of permits is expected to raise A$11.5 billion in 2010/11, which will all be used to compensate business and households for higher costs for electricity and transport.
The government said the scheme would trim about 0.1 percent off annual growth in gross national product from 2010 to 2050, with a one-off increase in inflation of around 1.1 percent.
Australian farmers, who have suffered more than seven years of severe drought, will be spared from taking part in carbon trading for at least five years. Agriculture accounts for about 16 percent of Australian emissions.
But transport and fuel will be included in the scheme.
The government will introduce carbon-trading laws into parliament in 2009, where it needs the support of the Greens and two independent senators, or the conservative opposition, which want the scheme delayed due to the global economic downturn.
Australia's greenhouse emissions are one of the highest per-capita levels in the developed world and five times more per person than China, due to its reliance on coal for electricity.
(Reporting by James Grubel, Editing by Mark Bendeich)
(; =612 6273 2730; Reuters Messaging:

Australian Gas Industry Welcomes Govt Carbon Scheme

SYDNEY (Dow Jones)-- The industry association representing Australia's oil and gas producers Monday welcomed the federal government's move to provide liquefied natural gas, or LNG producers, assistance under its proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme.
Under the plan outlined earlier Monday, firms producing 1,000-1,999 tons of carbon dioxide per A$1 million in revenue, such as LNG producers and alumina and petroleum refiners would be liable for just 40% of emissions.
In the government's July Green Paper, LNG producers received no such assistance.
Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said the LNG industry acknowledges the "positive and responsible steps" taken by Australia's center-left Labor government.
"There is no doubt that the cost to LNG industry as outlined in the White Paper is less than what it would have been under the Green Paper," Robinson said in a statement.
Still, Robinson said that Australians still "have a long way to go" in accepting that Australia's gas reserves "represent a major strategic asset" for supplying the Asia Pacific region with a substantially cleaner source of energy.
-By Ross Kelly, Dow Jones Newswires; 61-2-8235-2957;

Eco home projects get the green light

The Sunday Times

December 14, 2008
Sustainability is the new buzz word for builders

Peter Conradi

One of the solutions to Dubai’s problematic carbon footprint may be glaringly obvious. The sun shines here all year round, so why not make use of it to help the environment?
The Dubai company Solar Technologies FZE announced plans in October to build the first solar panel plant in the Middle East. Measuring 61.4 sq ft, the panels will be the largest in the world, their makers claim.
New green building regulations, meanwhile, are due be submitted to Dubai’s ruling executive council, which will decide the timetable for implementation, starting next year. “Solar energy will feature strongly on the ratings and minimum standards that buildings should adhere to,” Eisa al-Maidour, assistant director-general of Dubai’s municipality for planning and building affairs and chairman of the green building committee, said recently, predicting that all buildings in the emirate would be environmentally friendly and energy-efficient in five to 10 years.
Since the beginning of this year, all new buildings in Dubai have had to meet global benchmarks on sustainability, while Nakheel, one of the country’s largest developers, is backing a campaign to encourage people to replace traditional incandescent light bulbs with low-energy ones.
The need for Dubai to improve its environmental record is clear as you sit in a frustrating traffic jam of 4x4s on Sheikh Zayed Road, surrounded by evidence of the relentless building boom that has transformed the emirate over the past decade. Stung by studies portraying it as one of the world’s worst polluters, the emirate’s rulers have begun looking at ways of creating a more sustainable future.
Green ideas are finding their way into the design of new homes: with searing temperatures the main challenge, buildings are sited to take advantage of prevailing sun and wind conditions; ideally, small towers will be built in the shadow of larger ones, enough to reduce temperatures by a precious few degrees.
Conserving water – most of which comes from energy-intensive desalination plants – is also a challenge. Nakheel, which set up its own environmental department in 2004, says treated water on the man-made Palm Jumeirah island is reused for landscaping, cooling and fire-fighting. At its Shoreline Apartments on the palm’s trunk, solar panels are used to heat water.
Rival developer Damac is also going green and is proud of its flagship Damac Heights development at Dubai Marina, which it hopes will be granted gold status under the US-designed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system being adopted in the United Arab Emirates.
Sustainability is an important selling feature for some residential projects now going on sale. Take the Atrium, a £1.1 billion mixed-use scheme being built by Australia’s Sunland Group in Madinat Al Arab, in the city’s Water-front precinct. The 68-storey skyscraper, expected to be completed by 2013, will be formed of two arching towers that blend together at the 47th level to form a single sculpted gateway, framing and maximising views to the Arabian Gulf and the city.
The complex will feature 1,045 luxury flats, from 60 sq m studios, priced at £442,000, up to a 1,318 sq m £13m penthouse. Although the emphasis will be on luxury, the Atrium will produce 1.725m kWh of renewable energy each year from solar hot water and photo-voltaic panels and wind turbines. Other features include a “smart” air-conditioning system that slightly increases the temperature inside the building when it hits 35C outside. To conserve water, air-conditioning condensate will be used to help irrigate green spaces. There will also be a centralised recycling system, car pooling services and specially designated parking slots for hybrids – a rarity on the streets of Dubai.
Sustainability has guided thinking behind the masterplan for the entire Waterfront-Canal District, a mini-city on a 500-acre site, where 60,000-70,000 people will eventually live and work. In an attempt to lure people out of their cars, the complex will have its own light rail system linking into the Dubai metro, which is due to be completed next year; there will be stops in each of the eight subdistricts into which it is divided. In a novelty for a city in which people don’t often walk, there will also be parks and pedestrian boulevards. The buildings will be designed to minimise energy and water use, with a network of canals providing a further cooling effect. The first phase should be completed in the middle of the next decade.
“Environmental consciousness in Dubai is at a much higher level than it was even five years ago,” says Sudhir Jambhekar, a senior partner at FxFowle, New York-based architects, which drew up the master plan for the development. “Everyone is talking about sustainability but it’s all incremental. Yes, there are contradictions, but we are optimistic that we can overcome them.”

Corus: 'We will quit EU to avoid carbon regime'

By Tricia Holly Davis in Poznan
Sunday, 14 December 2008

Philippe Varin, the chief executive of Corus, is threatening to shift the steelmaker's European operations to China unless regulations governing carbon emissions are overhauled.
Mr Varin warned that politicians had to help fund new clean-energy technologies or face the prospect of Corus quitting the UK and Europe.
Corus employs around 25,000 workers in the UK and is in negotiations with unions over pay in an effort to curb large redundancies.
"If we are forced to buy CO2 credits on the market without a system to improve our production process, then we will not produce steel in Europe," said Mr Varin, who is also chairman of the World Steel Association's Climate Change Policy Group. "To cut carbon emissions of steel production, we need breakthrough technology, but this is extremely expensive, costing €200m to €300m to upgrade a one million ton production plant."
Varin, who spoke exclusively to the 'IoS' at the UN Climate Change conference in Poznan, said: "There is no way for us to fund this and pay penalties for our CO2 emissions. This would wipe out all of our profits and put us at a competitive disadvantage with manufacturers in nations which are not subject to carbon caps.
"The only way forward is through improved technology, but this costs money and a carbon tax is not the answer, because manufacturers will just move the growth to other countries. Not only will that kill European industry, but we will produce twice as much CO2."
Estimates suggest that every ton of steel produced in China, where factories are older and less efficient, creates twice as many emissions as in Europe. "Our customers will still need steel, so they will have to import from China or another developing nation and then you have the added CO2 associated with shipping," Mr Varin said.
The steel industry, which accounts for 4 per cent of global emissions, was seeking to replace current carbon abatement schemes established under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, with a "sectoral agreement", he said. Such a system would give manufacturers free carbon allowances up to an industry-set benchmark and encourage technology transfer between East and West.
Steelmakers also want emissions reduction credits for deploying new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which is currently excluded from the Carbon Development Mechanism.
Mr Varin's suggestion of a sectoral agreement process for carbon credits was criticised by environmental campaigners. A Greenpeace spokesman said: "Replacing emissions caps with a sectoral approach would mean the end of the Kyoto principles and would be disastrous for the price of carbon."
EU leaders meeting in Poznan agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.
In a statement issued by Corus on Sunday a spokesman said: "It is not the case that European carbon regulations are leading Corus to consider physically transferring any of its European production plants assets to locations outside Europe."

EU accused of subsidising climate change after 'watered-down' deal

Emissions target agreed, but only after concessions granted to 'dirty' industries
By Andrew Grice, Political Editor in Brussels
Saturday, 13 December 2008

Green groups accused the European Union of watering down its trail-blazing pledge to tackle climate change last night, after EU leaders made concessions to "dirty" industries in Germany and eastern Europe.
The compromise allowed the EU to agree on its commitment to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 20 per cent by 2020. Its leaders said the deal, and the election of Barack Obama, will boost the prospects of a historic global agreement on climate change in talks in Copenhagen in a year's time.
Without a common EU front, the UN-led global negotiations would have collapsed. If there is an agreement in Copenhagen, the EU will raise its emissions cut target to 30 per cent.
A two-day EU summit scaled down its original plans, bowing to Germany, which wanted to protect its big manufacturing sector in the recession, and Poland and Hungary, which depend on coal. Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister, greeted cameras with a victory sign as he left the meeting.
Instead of being required to buy 100 per cent of their "carbon emission permits" in 2020, as proposed by the European Commission, heavy industries including cement, chemicals and steel will have to buy only 70 per cent.
Robin Webster, Friends of the Earth's climate campaigner, said: "This could have been one of the EU's finest moments, but once again short-sighted national self-interest has been put ahead of the long-term safety of the planet. Huge loopholes allow big energy users to carry on polluting."
Joris Den Blanken, a spokesman for Greenpeace EU, added: "At the time that the US is finally re-engaging with the international community on climate, the EU's leadership is dropping away. Instead of acting to stop climate change, EU leaders are subsidising it."
Lower emissions from cars and renewable energy would be crucial, EU leaders said. Gordon Brown hailed the agreement as "ambitious", saying: "Europe and America acting together on climate change can persuade the rest of the world that we can reach a global agreement in Copenhagen next year. Europe's claim to be the leader on climate change will be not only upheld but advanced by what we agree today."
British officials said Mr Brown won a last-minute concession under which the EU will spend £9bn on carbon capture and storage, paving the way for "clean coal" plants if it works on a commercial basis. Britain hopes to win two of 12 demonstration projects. Britain also helped defeat attempts to delay power companies paying for 100 per cent of their carbon credits by auction from 2013 instead of getting them free.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, admitted that the concessions risked handing windfall profits to some of Europe's biggest polluters and that the original plans had been scaled down. "We would have preferred our initial proposals. But the suggestion that this is a watered-down ambition is nonsense, to put it mildly," he said. "We had to accept changes. That's the price to pay for unity in the end and it's a fair price."
Mr Barroso urged President-elect Obama to respond positively to the EU's move. "Our message to our global partners is: 'Yes, you can ... ' especially to our American partners," he said.
Climate deal: Key elements
*20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared with 1990 levels.
*20 per cent increase in use of renewable energy by 2020.
*20 per cent cut in energy consumption via improved efficiency by 2020.
*Allocation of "carbon permits" under EU emissions trading scheme to be cut by a fifth from 2005 levels.
*Power companies will have to buy their permits at auction from 2013.
*Auctioning for other industrial sectors and aviation phased in by 2020.

Dubai feels the heat in climate of change

The Sunday Times
December 14, 2008

Concern for the environment may slow growth
Holly Groom and Jonathan Leake

The United Nations climate negotiations, whose latest stage ended in Poland last week, are designed to prevent global temperatures rising above 2C by making it harder to keep emitting greenhouse gases. If they are to work, energy from fossil fuels must undergo a rise in price that will last decades, driving up the cost of aviation, air conditioning and all the other power-hungry conveniences to which we have become accustomed. Under such a regime, Dubai would become an impossibly luxurious destination for all but the wealthiest of tourists.
Dubai and countries like it are between a rock and a hard place. In the long term, controlling the global temperature rise is even more vital for their survival than for northern Europe’s. Scientists predict that if we fail to reverse the surge in greenhouse gas emissions, then the average global temperature could rise by up to 5C by 2100. Such a rise could see Dubai becoming waterless and virtually uninhabitable.
In the shorter term, however, slashing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions could also be a disaster for Dubai. This is a country that has staked its future on conspicuous consumption, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, its ruler, announcing plans to turn it into a “world capital for the 21st century”. So far he has drawn up plans to attract 15m tourists to the city-state each year and has created a network of tax incentives and property concessions to prompt the world’s mega-corporations to set up shop there. Last year, 800,000 British tourists visited the emirate. The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing in Dubai wants that figure to double over the next three years.
What Sheikh Mohammed is depending on to maintain all this is energy from fossil fuels – lots of it, at very low prices – plus cheap air travel and nobody to count the carbon emissions. Until recently, that is just what he has had, but that is beginning to change.
“In the United Arab Emirates, climate change has never been much of a concern,” says Khaled Awad, director of property development for Masdar, the world’s first carbon-neutral city, currently under construction in the deserts of Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s neighbour in the UAE. “We are a long way behind Europe but people are finally beginning to see how the consequences of climate change could affect the Middle East. That is why, alongside the conventional construction boom, we are also seeing a growing interest in sustainable development.”
Nobody would argue that Dubai and its neighbours are anywhere near an environmental revolution, but Awad is convinced some green shoots are emerging. Perhaps the most important of these is Sheikh Mohammed’s own blueprint for development, the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015, in which he commits the city-state to sustainable development principles. Last year, he set up the Middle East Centre for Sustainable Development. One of its main tasks is to oversee a green building directive under which all new buildings must conform to high environmental standards designed to cut water use and carbon emissions.
Business is beginning to respond. Earlier this year, entrepreneurs Wadah Abusin and Karim Aly set up Ecobility Energy Solutions in Dubai to promote investment in renewable energy, resource conservation and sustainable buildings. So far, they have built funds of £3.5 billion. “Ecobility was born out of our belief that there exists a critical need to reduce resource consumption as well as diversify our energy mix by tapping ignored energy sources,” Abusin says.
Increasingly, hotel chains are trying to incorporate sustainability into their business plans. Last May, Ecos Dubailand, an environmentally friendly budget brand, announced it would open 234 rooms in the new Dubailand complex. At the other end of the scale, AC Towers, five 100-floor supertowers (three in Dubai) will be clad almost entirely in solar panels. In theory, they should be able to generate more power than they consume – aided by a radical form of natural ventilation, using the sun’s energy to pull cool air down through the towers to reduce the need for air conditioning. Since air conditioning accounts for about 60% of Dubai’s energy use, this could mark a huge saving.
It all sounds impressive – but how serious is Dubai about this green agenda? Perhaps part of the answer lies in the deserts on which Dubai is built, whose sands are derived largely from seashells, coral and sediments. Dubai was once covered by sea.
Dubai’s average elevation is just 52ft above sea level, and much of the land is substantially lower. That’s a rather uncomfortable fact when scientists are predicting a rise in sea levels that could reach several feet over the next century.
Energy is another emerging problem. Dubai began exploiting its then-plentiful reserves in the 1960s and built its economy and lifestyle on the back of those revenues. Nowadays, annual aver-emissions per person in Dubai are a staggering 44 tonnes comparedage CO2 with 10-11 tonnes in Britain and more than 20 tonnes in America. Aviation is excluded from such figures, but if it were added, then the 8m tourists visiting the city-state each year would more than double Dubai’s average per capita emission level.
Now the wells are running dry and oil and natural gas account for less than 6% of the emirate’s revenue. Dubai still produces 240,000 barrels of oil a day, plus gas from offshore fields, but its reserves are expected to run out within two decades. Like Britain, it would benefit from finding sources of sustainable energy.
The Emirates Environmental Group was set up in 1991 to improve the environment through education and community involvement, and initially faced great resistance and scepticism. It has recently experienced a surge in membership and now has 2,500 individual and corporate members, including government agencies and educational institutions.
Such enthusiasm shows just how seriously green branding is being taken. Recently Dubai Properties, part of the state-owned conglomerate Dubai Holding, announced the emirate’s biggest ecological project yet, the £37 billion Mohammed bin Rashid Gardens.
This development, to be designed by architect Eric Kuhne of London-based CivicArts, will spread over 20,250 acres, including educational, financial and commercial facilities, iconic civic buildings and more than 90 miles of water-front and wetlands, all linked by a network of canals, pools and waterways.
The project’s core design feature is the “Grand Canal” that will wind its way from Dubai Creek and Business Bay into the Mohammed bin Rashid Gardens.
Kuhne says: “The parks, canals and ponds will create habitats and attract migratory birds, enhancing local and global biodiversity. Green spaces will release oxygen and capture carbon dioxide, improving local air quality and offsetting the city’s carbon footprint.”
Stuart Bond, head of research at the UK branch of the conservation charity WWF, welcomes the fact that Dubai is talking about environmental issues but worries that most of its efforts so far may be little more than a branding exercise. “They’ve made some moves towards green building design, but the benefits are going to be outweighed by the extra energy use and air travel involved. The whole conspicuous consumption lifestyle that is encouraged in Dubai can never be considered green. They’ve moved forwards – it’s good for Dubai – but there’s a long way to go.”
Dubai’s burgeoning golf industry perhaps epitomises this view, with the emirate announcing plans to establish itself as one of the world’s leading golfing destinations. The state already has seven championship golf courses but plans 11 more over the next three years, designed by leading golfers such as Tiger Woods. Each, however, will require nearly 90m gallons of water per acre each year, mostly extracted from the sea via desalination plants, one of the most carbon-intensive industries on the planet.
There are some countermeasures. The 18-hole championship course at the Four Seasons Golf Club in Dubai Festival City is one of several that make use of the salt-tolerant Paspalum grass, which enables partially desalinated water to be used for fairway maintenance. Ian Scott, the UK and Ireland director of Dubai’s tourism department, says sustainable golf courses are a key priority for the region: “The government is working closely with golf developers to ensure that indigenous flora and fauna are protected, as well as minimising water consumption at courses.”
Dubai’s Emirates airline also sees no contradiction between its plans to expand and the environmental consequences. Emirates was launched in 1985, flies to more than 100 destinations on six continents and plans to increase its fleet of 113 aircraft to more than 200 within the next five years.
However, each person ferried from London to Dubai and back generates . Andrew Parker, the air1.5 tonnes of CO2 line’s senior vice-president of public and environmental affairs, maintains that there is such a thing as “good growth” for air carriers. “You only get that through having new, state-of-the art aircraft,” he says. “Old, inefficient aircraft are more damaging to the environment. We are proud of being the biggest underwriter and buyer of the world’s newest and most eco-efficient aircraft.”
Such views – suggesting it is possible to reconcile surging economic growth with a green agenda – are going to be an increasing source of tension for countries like Dubai. If the world ever agrees on a global regime for cutting carbon emissions, how will Dubai respond? Will it risk becoming a pariah by defiantly churning out CO2 by the millions of tonnes? Or might it have to rewrite its vision of the future?

Red tape strangles Whitehall's plans to boost green energy

'Dire' bureaucratic delays and foot-dragging dog the PM's aims for more renewable power in the UK
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Sunday, 14 December 2008

Penny-pinching and red tape are suffocating government plans for a rapid increase in the amount of renewable energy used in Britain.
The plans – a cornerstone of ministers' strategy to combat climate change – set out to multiply the proportion of the country's energy provided by renewables by an ambitious five times in just 12 years. But they have yet to make headway because of official foot-dragging.
A government fund set up three years ago to encourage the development of wave and tide power has yet to provide a single penny to any device designed to tap the sea's energy. Civil service obstruction is holding up the deployment of rooftop wind turbines, despite a personal assurance from the Prime Minister that the problem had been solved. And grants for solar power have been cut back.
Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Environment Secretary, is planning to announce this week that he will introduce a Private Member's Bill to clear these obstructions, after coming high in the annual ballot for such Bills last week.
He said yesterday: "The situation is dire. A whole series of bureaucratic blockages are imperilling the rapid development of renewables in Britain."
The revelations come at the end of the most important two weeks for tackling climate change this year, both in Britain and globally. In the early hours of yesterday, the latest round of international negotiations on a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol ended after making little progress.
The talks, in the Polish town of Poznan, were not expected to achieve much – largely because of the hiatus in US policymaking caused by the post-election transition – and amply lived down to expectations. They decided on little more than to set up a fund (which has almost no money in it) to help poor countries adapt to climate change, and to lay out a programme for negotiations next year, leading to a make-or-break December session in Copenhagen, billed as the last chance to take serious measures to limit global warming before it runs out of control.
If a treaty is to be agreed there, enormous progress will have to be made from last week's talks, with rich countries agreeing to cut emissions of greenhouses gases by some 40 per cent by 2020 and poor ones undertaking at least to limit the growth of their pollution. In one of the few breakthroughs at Poznan, Mexico pledged to halve its emissions by 2050, and delegates are hoping that the US president-elect, Barack Obama, will live up to his promise to breathe new life into the negotiations when he takes office.
As the talks were ending European leaders confirmed that EU countries, as a whole, would increase the proportion of energy provided by renewables to 20 per cent by 2020. Britain's share of this commitment is to get 15 per cent of its energy in this way.
Ministers accept this is an "extremely challenging" task since the country now achieves only 3 per cent – the third lowest in Europe after Luxembourg and Malta – despite having the best resources. But Gordon Brown has repeatedly reaffirmed his intention to achieve it, fighting off resistance from John Hutton, the minister previously responsible for energy, and replacing him with the more progressive Ed Miliband.
Still, official obstruction continues (see panel). The delay on rooftop wind is particularly puzzling because Mr Brown wrote a letter on 27 August to David Gordon, the head of one of the main firms producing the turbines, to say the issue was resolved.
Mr Gordon says his firm, Windsave, has 6,500 orders and 25,000 inquiries awaiting the official go-ahead. And a survey of local authorities by the Micropower Council has found only three upheld noise complaints from the several thousand turbines already installed.
The reduction in solar grants has had a similarly chilling effect. Sharp, the country's only manufacturer of the panels, says that only one 50th of its year's production is installed in Britain; the rest is exported to countries with more encouraging policies.
Power play: Water, wind, sun... and hot air
Wave and tide The Government's £50m Marine Renewables Deployment Fund has not given any money to support any device since being set up in 2005. It requires three months of operating experience before it releases funds, whereas the help is needed to get schemes to that point.
Rooftop windmills These do not need planning permission, subject to noise limits agreed months ago by ministers and industry, to make them half as quiet as a gas boiler. Officials have resisted, saying they should be almost four times quieter still. The industry says it cannot achieve this.
Solar power Government grants to encourage householders to install solar electric panels on roofs were rationed, then reduced by two-thirds just as they were taking off. So, only 270 were installed in Britain last year, compared with 130,000 in Germany.

Winds of change at RWE

The Sunday Times
December 14, 2008
Danny Fortson

RWE NPOWER has launched a review of its entire £3.5 billion portfolio of wind farms amid soaring building and financing costs.
It has asked banks, including Royal Bank of Scotland, Citigroup and Dresdner Kleinwort, to pitch for a mandate to find partners to buy into new projects to defray costs.
These include its £2.2 billion Gwint y Mor wind farm off the Welsh coast. The 750MW project, the world’s second- largest proposed offshore farm after the 1GW London Array, was given planning approval this month. The company could sell up to a 49% stake, a spokesman said. Industry sources said Scottish & Southern was the most likely partner after the latter sold a 50% stake in its £1.5 billion Greater Gabbard project to RWE last month.
RWE is not alone in rethinking its approach to wind power due to the soaring cost of capital to finance the projects.

Centrica has hired Credit Suisse to find partners for its £3 billion wind-development plans, but that process has been delayed by the difficult credit markets.
Royal Dutch Shell has quit the UK altogether after pulling out of its two remaining projects –London Array being one of them – in recent months.
James Smith, chairman of Shell’s UK business, told The Sunday Times: “When we think about renewables in the UK, it is going to be biofuels rather than wind.”
For RWE a sale would mark the second time it has divested a stake in a UK offshore project, said Will Ainger, of energy news service SparkSpread.
In 2003 it sold a 66% stake in the North Hoyle wind project to Englefield Capital and Arcapita.

Maitland Mackie powers ahead with windfarm project

The Sunday Times
December 14, 2008
The ice-cream firm owner is generating support and investment for a plan to build 30,000 wind turbines across the UK
John Penman

When it came to inspiration for his idea to set up a wind-farm company that could plough billions into the rural economy, Maitland Mackie didn’t have to look far.
On a hill on the Rothienorman estate that hosts the dairy where his famous ice cream is made, three wind turbines hum gently in the Aberdeenshire breeze. The towering machines — Vesta V52s dubbed Margaret, Matilda and Mirabel — power the dairy and produce so much energy that Mackie’s has a positive carbon footprint.
“We have one of the best carbon footprints in the world for a business of our size,” said Mackie proudly.
But using wind to make ice cream is one thing; making large amounts of money is quite another.
Since September, when Mackie announced plans to create a company that would install a network of wind generators throughout the country, he has signed up more than 500 interested parties and raised £2.5m towards a target of £10m needed to get the idea off the ground. If successful, the company would be part-owned by thousands of people in the rural community.
Mackie plans a total of 30,000 three-megawatt wind turbines across the UK that would have the potential to deliver more than a third of Britain’s current generating capacity.
His plan comes at time when the UK and Scottish governments have set ambitious targets for generating power through renewables, despite some major wind-power projects being cancelled because the figures didn’t add up. A week ago, Shell, Danish firm Dong Energy and Scottish Power cancelled the £800m Cirrus Array project off the northwest of England after five years and millions of pounds’ worth of investment.
Ambition is obviously not an issue for Mackie. He believes the project has the potential to generate £15 billion for the rural economy — the equivalent of its total output today. In terms of each site, he estimates that as much as £500,000 a year in profits would go to the owner.
“The numbers are big but we have actually been quite conservative in terms of what we think can be generated,” he said.
If his enthusiasm for the plan could be harnessed, Mackie could generate most of the power Britain needs on his own. The 71-year-old chairman of Mackie’s is now embarking on a countrywide roadshow to convince farmers, landowners and politicians of the merits before his self-appointed deadline at the end of January — if he doesn’t reach the £10m target by then, then the idea will fall.
“I am prepared to devote the rest of my life to make it work but not the rest of my life trying to get it off the ground,” he said.
Last week Mackie and his small team of advisers met the Scottish government’s environment and rural affairs directorate, before heading to the Scottish parliament to talk to MSPs. He has a potential chief executive and board in place for early next year and has put an upper limit on the amount an individual can invest to ensure nobody has too much control over how the company is run.
“This is a plan that delivers to stakeholders of the rural community the chance to take substantial initial ownership of the wind-generating potential of its own land and vistas,” said Mackie.
“Why should the big power companies have it all their own way? Instead of getting just £20,000 in rent, landowners could get as much as £500,000 a year. Think of the difference that would make to the rural economy.”
He has ruffled a few feathers and claims some of the big energy players are trying to buy up land to thwart his ambitions. “I understand why people will want to take up those offers but I would urge them to wait to see what we can achieve,” he said.
If he reaches the £10m needed, the hard work will really begin. The project needs hundreds of millions of pounds to be successful. A lot of money is needed up front for the capital costs — an average of £3m per site. Mackie remains unfazed.
“Demand for energy is going up not down and prices are going to remain high,” he said.
“Investors are looking for a safe place to put their money. I have already had people from the City who are keen to invest.”
The biggest hurdle he faces is planning committees. The same rules will apply for each of the turbines planned, and persuading planners of the merits may prove very difficult.
“Changing the planning system is probably the biggest challenge,” he admits. “Wind turbines are a bit like Marmite — you love them or hate them. I think they look beautiful.
“This country faces an energy crisis and our proposal would help tackle that and improve the rural economy at the same time. It would also boost our manufacturing industry at a time when it is facing real problems. All that is surely worth support.”
His arguments sound compelling but he has a short timescale to convince thousands of people of their merits. By the end of next month Mackie will discover whether his plans have a chance of success or are simply blown away in the wind.