Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Anger as wind farm gets the green light

Published Date: 23 December 2008

CAMPAIGNERS have attacked a decision to approve a scaled-down wind farm in the Highlands, which they claim will harm wildlife and tourism.
Jim Mather, the energy minister, yesterday announced the go-ahead for the 17-turbine, 51MW development at Lochluichart, near Garve in Ross-shire, which is capable of supplying electricity for 23,000 homes.The developer, LZN, applied in 2005 to build 43 turbines. This was later reduced to 22 and then 17 turbines and Highland Council decided not to object to the plan in 2007. During a consultation, 9,097 people sent representations with 3,170 objections and 5,927 in support.Mr Mather said: "The Loch-luichart wind farm is a significant step in our drive to make Scotland the green energy capital of Europe."There will be economic benefits, with around 100 construction jobs and full-time jobs when the scheme is operational."But the Stop Lochluichart Wind farm campaign group expressed concern that the turbines could harm tourism and disturb endangered species including eagles, peregrine falcons and red-throated divers.A spokesman for the group said: "I find it astonishing that, at a time when money is scarce, this government should approve projects which can only increase our electricity bills and cause suffering to many pensioners and people on low incomes, especially since the alleged benefits of wind farms are becoming more and more doubtful."

Climate change committee should take its own advice

Two years could make a big difference in stopping world temperature from rising above 2C, writes Duncan Clark

A couple of weeks ago I posted my first thoughts on the much-anticipated report from the Committee on Climate Change. My point was the clash between the report's stated aim of limiting this century's temperature rise to 2C. But what the reports recommends to achieve this – a peak in global emissions within 10 years followed by a 3% cut per year – has nearly a 70% likelihood of exceeding the 2C target.
Why, I wondered, didn't Adair Turner tell us what we'd need to do to avoid crossing the dangerous 2C threshold? Why didn't they include a more ambitious emissions scenario?
Looking at the report's technical appendices the authors have examined just such a scenario – with global emissions peaking in 2014, followed by an annual 3% cut. This, the figures show, would probably stop us overshooting a 2C rise this century.
Well, almost: the most likely outcome in this situation would be a 2.01C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels by 2099, compared with more than 2.2C if the recommendations were acted upon.
Which raises an obvious question: why on Earth was this scenario not given any real space in the main report, rather than just a passing mention about supporting research? And why, given that the committee had found a scenario that met their original criteria, did they not recommend it as Plan A?
Apologies if all this sounds overly geeky, but when it comes to possible planetary meltdown, I figure it's worth worrying about the small print. With that in mind, I asked the Committee on Climate Change what had happened.
The reply said that the committee hadn't made a big deal of the "missing" scenario as it allowed the same emissions in 2050 as the others. The reply also went into detail about computer modelling and cross-checking figures. It partly went with a 2016 peak, for example, because it allowed them to compare results with those from other bodies.
That's almost a satisfying answer, but not quite. Ultimately, if they worked out that a global peak two years earlier would take the most likely temperature change from 2.2C down to 2C, then we should be told that as loudly as possible.
And why had the committee opted for a peak "within 10 years", rather than by their already insufficient 2016? This, it turns out, was just "loose drafting" – the intention, apparently, was to suggest an emissions peak in 2016 after all.
All told, then, the committee's official message is that we need a global emissions peak by 2016. What the committee's numbers tell us is that we need a peak by 2014. Global leaders please take note.

Bold intentions for parliament that went up in smoke

• Project curtailed by cost and impact on building• Eco-targets being missed, warn government advisers
Robert Booth
The Guardian, Tuesday 23 December 2008

As a statement of political determination to turn Britain green it could not have been clearer. In 2006, Palace of Westminster officials commissioned plans that would see the Houses of Parliament powered by a giant 35-metre wind turbine in Victoria Gardens, solar panels on the roof and devices to use energy from the flow of the Thames. The intention was to make "a bold statement to the nation on government commitment to renewable energy".
But now the plans are being scaled back and none of the carbon-saving ideas will be included in the forthcoming overhaul of the complex's energy systems. Even an apparently simple proposal to install double glazing in the building's draughty windows looks in doubt.
The high cost of greening the buildings, the lack of wind and sun and concerns that the historic importance of the buildings could be compromised by the alterations all contributed to the decision to take more modest measures, which will include taking parliament partly "off-grid" with a biomass power station in the cellar and a borehole to supply fresh water to avoid the need for carbon-thirsty bottled water.
It is a strategy that exemplifies the public sector's struggle to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its vast estate, which, according to figures revealed yesterday, has a bigger carbon footprint than the whole of Kenya. It is estimated the public sector spends £4bn a year on energy, yet even the government's own advisers admit officials are not doing enough to reduce the environmental impact that represents. "The majority of government departments are still failing to make their new buildings and refurbishments sustainable, and many of those using and operating public buildings have little idea of their energy efficiency or how to improve it," the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment said in a statement earlier this year.
Government targets set in 2006 state that carbon emissions from government offices must be cut by 30% by 2020, relative to 1999-2000 levels. On 1 December this year, Lord Turner's climate change committee, which acts as an independent adviser to the government on climate change targets, announced that greenhouse gas emissions across the UK economy must be slashed by 34% by 2020. In addition, all new public buildings should be zero-carbon by 2018.
"Emissions reductions from buildings, and public buildings in particular, will be essential to meeting those targets," said John Alker, director of public affairs at the UK Green Building Council, which is lobbying the government to slash the carbon footprint of the public estate. He added that the public sector was responsible for more than a third of new buildings and large-scale refurbishments.
The Palace of Westminster is one of the most polluting public buildings in the country. It pumps out 11,983 tonnes of CO2 a year, and has been awarded a G rating - the worst possible under a system that became mandatory for public buildings on 1 October.
Even the office of Ed Miliband's Department for Energy and Climate Change on Whitehall Place in central London was given a G rating. "DECC's energy efficiency is limited by the fact that the department's building is a grade II listed heritage building, circa 1900," said a spokeswoman. "Its age and design makes it inherently difficult to match the energy efficiency standards of modern buildings."
Even new buildings perform badly. The Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, which was designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind and opened in 2002, scored a G, the same as the museum's 91-year-old London headquarters. London's City Hall scored E despite opening just six years ago, when its architect, Foster & Partners, claimed it would be a "virtually non-polluting public building".
The director of estates at the Palace of Westminster, Mel Barlex, said some of the more ambitious proposals for cutting the complex's carbon footprint had been dropped because they would not pay back quickly enough on the investment. He said a new policy on carbon footprint reduction would be drawn up in the new year, and options included acquiring "green" energy from the national grid and experiments with tidal turbines.

Government buildings emit more CO2 than all of Kenya

• Government slammed over carbon footprint• Poor energy efficiency blamed for 'lamentable' carbon footprint
Robert Booth
The Guardian, Tuesday 23 December 2008

The Houses of Parliament and the Bank of England together consumed enough electricity and gas to emit 21,356 tonnes of CO2 a year. Photograph: Russell Boyce/Reuters
Public buildings in England and Wales are pumping out 11m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, more than Kenya's entire carbon footprint, the Guardian can reveal.
Unpublished findings of an energy efficiency audit of 18,000 buildings including ministerial offices, police stations, museums and art galleries reveal that the 9,000 buildings audited so far produce 5.6m tonnes of CO2, with one in six receiving the lowest possible energy efficiency rating.
The carbon dioxide they produce is the equivalent of all the greenhouse gas emissions saved by the UK's wind power industry.
Ignorance among officials, inefficient equipment and poor energy management have been cited as reasons for the result, which was described as "lamentable" by environmental campaigners. It comes despite ministerial pledges to slash the carbon footprint of government offices by 30% over the next 12 years compared with 1999-2000 levels.
Officials expect the carbon footprint to double when the audit is completed. Almost half of those tested so far have received an energy efficiency rating of E, F or G, the lowest possible and the equivalent of a gas guzzling car.
Embarrassingly for Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, his department's head office in Whitehall Place is one of the worst offenders. It pumps out 1,336 tonnes of CO2 a year and received a G rating. The Houses of Parliament and the Bank of England together consumed enough electricity and gas to emit 21,356 tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent of more than 14,000 people flying from London to New York.
Almost 70% of public offices had a larger carbon footprint than a typical office, as defined by the government, and while only 55 of the 8,849 buildings examined so far received an A ranking, 1,514 scored a G. The data was released following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
In response, environmental campaigners and opposition parties called on the government to invest in an urgent programme of refurbishment to reduce the carbon footprint of the public estate, and cut energy bills for the public sector which currently add up to around £4bn a year.
"This confirms that the leadership society needs from government on reducing carbon emissions from buildings isn't there," said Tony Juniper, an independent sustainability campaigner and former director of Friends of the Earth. "For the UK to have any chance of meeting the 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, which is now enshrined in law, there has to be radical change in this area."
Earlier this year, the government's own architecture adviser, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, said the majority of government departments were "failing to make their new buildings and refurbishments sustainable" and that those operating them had little idea how to improve their efficiency.
"These figures show there is a desperate need to sort out the public building stock," said Steve Webb, spokesman on energy and climate change for the Lib Dems. "If business and householders see the public sector is not taking energy efficiency seriously, they will wonder why they should do so themselves. Instead of making a £12bn VAT cut, the government should have spent some of that money making public buildings energy efficient, saving money and carbon in the long term."
Buildings consume close to half of the electricity and heat produced by the power sector, according to Sir Nicholas Stern's review of the economics of climate change. On current trends, Stern predicted CO2 emissions from buildings will rise 140% by 2050.
John Alker, public affairs manager of the UK Green Building Council, said: "Many of our public sector offices, schools and hospitals are the building equivalent of gas-guzzling cars.
The government has set a target to cut CO2 by 30% from its own buildings by 2020. Frankly, they should do more because their track record leaves a lot to be desired. We need a comprehensive programme of green refurbishment in the public sector, which is responsible for about a third of all non-domestic buildings."
But plans to "green" the Palace of Westminster as an example to the rest of the public sector, have been scaled back, the Guardian has learned. Designs for wind and tidal turbines and solar panels to produce electricity are now unlikely to come to fruition after calculations that the investment needed would not result in quick-enough savings on energy bills.
A spokesman for the Office of Government Commerce, which has responsibility for the energy performance of public buildings, said it had set up a centre of expertise to help the public sector improve energy efficiency and meet government targets. "A comprehensive delivery plan has been produced detailing departmental activities to achieve the targets for sustainable operations across Whitehall, and real progress continues to be made," he said.

Blackouts could hit Britain by 2015, says National Grid chief

Blackouts could become a regular occurrence unless the Government ensures more power stations are built, the head of National Grid has said.

By Jon Swaine Last Updated: 9:04AM GMT 22 Dec 2008

Steve Holliday, the company's chief executive, said that Britain faces a severe shortage in power generation due to crumbling coal and nuclear plants being taken out of service.
He said that unless the Government intervenes to ensure £100 billion investment in new stations, there will not be enough generation to meet demand by 2015, meaning power outages would result.
"We are OK for a period of time ... but when you go out to the medium term you can begin to see there is not enough collective generation being built in the UK," Mr Holliday told The Times. "We will need to watch that very carefully over the next 18 months to ensure that window gets shut."
He added that the Government must offer better incentives for companies to build stations. "What is happening that people are not wanting to build enough power stations?" he said. "The Government has an obligation to make sure that the markets are delivering. You can't afford for it to fail."
While Mr Holliday believes Government needs to persuade them to build more plants, power companies face opposition to their intention to expand in Britain.
Climate activists have launched protests against plans to build new coal-fired power stations.
In August 1,000 protesters targetted the coal- and oil-fired Kingsnorth power station in Kent to protest at plans by the German-based company E.On to demolish the building and construct Britain's first new coal power station for 34 years.
Last week a lone activist broke in and crashed a giant turbine at Kingsnorth, causing all power from the station to be lost for four hours.
Another barrier to the expansion of traditional power production is the fact that Britain has committed itself to ambitious European Union targets to have 20 per cent of all energy generated from renewable sources - such as wind and solar power - by 2020.
Ofgem, the energy industry watchdog, said last week it would consider new incentives for the development of renewable energy schemes, including offering better returns for companies that build grid connections serving remote areas and anticipating future rises in demand.
Later on Monday, the European Commission is expected to report on whether the French company EDF should be allowed to buy up Britain's nuclear industry for £12.4 billion.
The company intends to take over British Energy and use its resources as a launchpad from which to build a new generation of nuclear plants in Britain.

Activists ejected after presenting greenwash award to BP

Activists have been thrown out of a major oil company's headquarters after trying to present a new award for "greenwash".

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 7:34PM GMT 22 Dec 2008
The Emerald Paintbrush was launched by Greenpeace to highlight the companies they claim are using green issues to advertise while doing little for the environment.
The first award was given to BP, the oil and gas company, which regularly refers to their investment in renewable energy in adverts.
Greenpeace claim the firm is guilty of "greenwash" because the majority of the company's investment is still in fossil fuels.
According to the environmental group, BP allocated 93 per cent, or $20 billion (£13 billion), of its total investment fund for 2008 in fossil fuels compared to 1.39 per cent, or $300m (£200m), in solar technology.
Activists wearing black tie attempted to present the award at the BP head office in London but were ejected.
James Turner, one of the activists, said: "You wouldn't know it from their adverts, but BP bosses are pumping billions into their oil and gas business and investing peanuts in renewables."
A spokesman for BP said the company will invest $8 billion (£5.3 billion) in renewables between 2005 and 2015.

Green futures

The Guardian, Tuesday 23 December 2008

Seeking light in the coming darkness, it has become commonplace for politicians to hope for a green revolution that could rescue jobs and the economy as well as the planet. Gordon Brown was at it last Friday in his final press conference of the year, promising to "build tomorrow's world today" by making Britain "a world leader in cutting edge technology". Barack Obama, of course, wants the same thing and has unveiled a committed team of scientific advisers in order to achieve it. "Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation," he said at the weekend.
The Obama lineup is heartwarming for anyone who feared that his message of change might turn out to be hype - on climate change, at least there is substance. His team is informed, outspoken and determined to break with the murky legacy left by George Bush. Jane Lubchenco, for instance, an environmental scientist and marine ecologist who has been picked to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a conservationist of the sort kept far from power by the oil-soaked Texans who have run America for the past eight years.
The catch, as energy secretary Ed Miliband pointed out yesterday, is that the benefits of new environmental technologies remain some way off, but the need for them is getting stronger by the day. He is caught between the immediate need for energy, and the equally pressing need for carbon emission reductions. Yesterday the head of the national grid warned that lights in Britain will start going off within seven years, without massive investment in the country's antique power generating infrastructure. Logic suggests that the £100bn he suggests the grid needs should be spent on clean technologies. But, other than wind power, which cannot in itself meet demand, the technology - carbon capture and storage for instance - is not ready. Even new nuclear power cannot be brought online so quickly, which is why Mr Miliband finds himself pressed to allow new coal plants in Britain even though, environmentally, that is obviously the wrong thing to do.
On top of that, the new technology is also supposed to provide jobs. As the energy secretary admitted yesterday, Britain has been better at rhetoric than reality. "The great irony of this [is] that America, which is a very laissez-faire country, does a huge amount to support some of these new industries." The lure of a green new deal does not make getting one underway easy. It will take massive investment and cross-European coordination, and not everything that it produces will work. But it is also something that only government can organise. In America, the Obama team is already starting to discuss specific projects that could be funded with some of the $700bn stimulus plan he plans to put in place - investment in solar and wind technology, and a new grid to carry power to where it is needed. Britain can not compete on this broad scale, which makes it all the more important that the government is clear about which technologies it does want to back. Sweeping talk of change will come to nothing if it is not pegged down with specifics. As today's Guardian story on emissions from public buildings shows, the state's failings begin at home. Grand plans to green the Palace of Westminster have faltered.
In the search for British technologies with export potential, the government should prioritise tidal energy - the Pentland Firth alone has the potential to power the equivalent of London, and UK firms lead the way. Tidal power could fuel electric vehicles - where again skills here are more advanced than many think. So rescue Jaguar and Land Rover, if necessary. But if the green revolution is to mean anything, the cars they produce must no longer be gas guzzlers. That is not a daydream. Together, Europe and America could make it happen.

PG&E to take power from new Nevada solar plant

Reuters, Monday December 22 2008

By Braden Reddall

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - PG&E Corp said on Monday it would buy the first 10 megawatts to be generated by Sempra at a First Solar-built thin-film plant in Nevada, which is already North America's largest but should quickly expand.
Driven by local politics and anticipated government requirements for renewable energy, many U.S. utilities are considering such installations because thin film modules need only 1 percent of the silicon used in crystalline solar cells.
"The size and scope of this new solar generation facility clearly demonstrates that we can build projects on a scale that helps utilities meet their renewable energy goals," said Michael Allman, chief executive of Sempra Generation, the unit of Sempra Energy that owns the new project.
The El Dorado Energy Solar project, started in July and due to fire up next week, was built on 80 acres (32 hectares) next to Sempra's 480-MW natural gas-fired plant near Boulder City, about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Las Vegas.
Sempra has enough land to build another 50 MW of capacity at the site, and planned to have that completed by some time next year, Allman told Reuters in a phone interview, as part of a drive for the company to produce 500 MW eventually.
Shares of First Solar Inc, after falling 5.5 percent to $133.01 in regular trade in a broadly weaker U.S. stock market, edged up to $133.58 in after-hours trade.
Solar power has not yet taken off in the United States as it has in Europe, though experts believe the country has the potential to become the world's largest solar power market.
El Dorado's 167,000 modules will pump out enough juice at their peak to power 6,400 homes, Sempra said. PG&E said the 23.2 gigawatt-hours produced every year is enough for 3,360 homes.
By either measure, that is just a tiny fraction of the 15 million Californians who get power from Pacific Gas and Electric Company, though San Francisco-based parent PG&E has contracts for more than a fifth of its future power to come from renewable sources.
The contract with San Diego-based Sempra for the 10 MW of solar power runs for 20 years.
First Solar, based in Tempe, Arizona, was the main contractor for the El Dorado solar plant and will provide maintenance over its lifetime. (Reporting by Braden Reddall)

Electric shock: green Prius fails to pay its way

The Times
December 23, 2008

Leo Lewis: Commentary

Apple has the iPod. Nintendo has the Wii. This year’s must-have item was supposed to have been Toyota’s Prius: the hybrid petrol and electric car bristling with gadgetry and sophistication, and built for a world of $120-a-barrel crude oil.
The early signs were excellent. Before Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers and the global system of credit had taken their tumble, Americans – particularly Californians – were buying the low-emission, high-efficiency Prius at lightning pace. In May Toyota proudly announced that it had sold its one millionth Prius since the hybrid concept leapt from conceptual drawing boards to real-life traffic jams in 1997.
With Toyota’s hybrid sales charging along nicely at 450,000 for the year, the company’s president was even able to set himself a bullish sales target of one million annually by about 2010.
These figures were not pulled out of the air. As oil prices flew into the stratosphere, and Middle America began to swoon at the price of petrol the mathematics of fuel efficiency started to look compelling, and Toyota was ready with the natty solution and the advertisement campaign with Leonardo DiCaprio.

The great problem with the Prius – and it is the same problem that dogs the development of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and other magical-sounding car technologies – is that the companies need to be building and selling an awful lot of them before the cost comes down to the point where anyone and everyone can imagine paying the higher price of going “green”.
Without the credit crunch, the sudden onset of global downturn and the loss of confidence among US consumers, Toyota might have reached that critical point this year.
The company was certainly well prepared for that moment and fondly believed that it was coming. Toyota had designated factories in Mississippi where the Prius would be built by Americans on American soil – a critical shift that would have hastened a descent in the price of the car and very possibly ensured its future dominance of the roads.
It was not to be, at least this year. In its attempt to cut costs, Toyota has scaled back production of many of its vehicle lines, including the Prius, and postponed the new factory investment in Mississippi. Also, even Toyota, which has strived relentlessly to establish its image as an environmentally conscious carmaker, can see that with crude prices back in double digits, the consumers are cheerfully postponing their need to go green.
All eyes will be on the unveiling of the mark III model of the Prius at the Detroit car show next month. Although the new version is rumoured to be larger than previous models, it has been suggested that improved efficiency will mark a drop in fuel consumption. There are also suggestions that Mark III will throw out more carbon dioxide than its predecessors, although with such a heavy emphasis on its green credentials such a development would be surprising to many.

U.S. Offers Biofuel Refinery Grants

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Energy on Monday said it is making available as much as $200 million for advanced biofuel pilot refineries and expects to make awards to between five and 12 projects over the next six years.
The department said that if deployed on a large scale, the commercial facilities could produce volumes that would contribute significantly to the new national renewable-fuels mandate.
"This funding opportunity will look for the most promising technologies that can advance the potential of renewable biomass as a resource for second-generation transportation biofuels," said John Mizroch, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
"The Department of Energy will select breakthrough integrated biorefinery projects that have technical and economic performance data at the bench or pilot scale to prove they are ready to move a step closer toward commercial readiness," he said.
The Energy Department intends for the projects to come online within three to four years of each funding award. The biofuels project is part of the effort to reduce emissions while increasing security of the energy supply and weaning the U.S. off its dependence on energy imports.
Last week, the Energy Information Administration said it believed the country would fall short of being able to produce the 36 billion gallons of biofuels required by 2022 under the mandate. Of that, 21 billion gallons are required to come from advanced fuels such as cellulosic ethanols, bio-butanol and "green gasoline."
The EIA expressed doubt that the technological advancements necessary to meet the more than tripling of current output would come online soon enough to meet the required expansion schedules.
Ethanol stocks have recently been hit hard by a storm of negative factors, including overproduction, restrictions in blending infrastructure and financial woes.
In the wake of a credit crisis that has all but dried up lending liquidity and the current ethanol challenges, many venture projects have found funding more difficult, and the Energy Department awards are likely to be warmly received by the industry.
Government support of advanced biofuels is expected to accelerate under President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for energy secretary, Steven Chu, who is a strong proponent of cellulosic ethanol.
Write to Ian Talley at ian.talley@dowjones.com

Alternative Energy

Promises made on the campaign trail aren't always kept. This time around, though, there seems to be bipartisan support for one particular vow: weaning the U.S. off its dependency on foreign oil.
No doubt part of the solution to that problem is alternative-energy sources. Indeed, President-elect Barack Obama said during the campaign that he would create five million jobs by heavily investing in this sector. Some of that spending could come in the form of a massive stimulus program expected to cost around $850 billion. The prospects for the sector, though, don't rest solely on a new administration. Alternative energy is growing both in the U.S. and overseas as products become more sophisticated and more affordable.
Alternative energy is a burgeoning class of mutual funds. In fact, it's so new it doesn't have its own classification in our Lipper database. That means we had to perform our fund screen this week using slightly different methods. We pulled a select group from other categories and then looked for those that had decent fees, performance track records and manager reputations. We allowed load funds. Four funds made our list. They are included below in order of return over the trailing 12-month period.
The alternative-energy industry encompasses the obvious, like solar-panel makers and wind-farm operators, but it also includes software designers working on "smart" power grids and even utilities with hydro or geothermal assets.
There are some caveats we should mention. Alternative-energy stocks tend to fall in and out of favor depending on the price of crude. When the per-barrel price approached $150 midsummer -- and gasoline crossed $4 a gallon -- alternative energy benefited because Americans quickly realized they couldn't afford to burn so much money at the pump. But when oil and gas are more affordable, Americans seem to forget about energy efficiency.
That said, whenever we encounter an investing area that seems to be on the cutting edge, we think it's wise to pay up for a good actively managed mutual fund. The alternative-energy space is one of those areas. But a word of warning: These funds have been trounced this year in the pullback in the broader energy sector. Building a position means you're looking toward the future.

EDF takeover of British Energy cleared

David Gow in Brussels
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 December 2008 11.05 GMT

The European commission today cleared the £12.5bn takeover of Britain's main nuclear power operator British Energy by French state-owned group EDF.
The commission said the deal could go ahead after EDF agreed to sell two power stations and make a site available to a competitor to build one of the UK's planned new third-generation atomic power stations.
Its decision, removing any threat of a prolonged investigation into the deal on competition grounds, clears the way for the government to accelerate the country's planned nuclear renaissance.
Under the revised terms imposed by Brussels, EDF has agreed to sell its own generating plant at Sutton Bridge and BE's only coal-fired plant at Eggborough. It has also committed to selling minimum volumes of electricity in the UK wholesale market.
The French group, which has embarked on an aggressive expansion strategy in the US, Italy and South Africa as well, has also pledged to dispose of a site for building a new nuclear plant at either Dungeness, Kent, or Heysham in Lancashire.
The choice of this site will be left to the purchaser, possibly Centrica, owners of British Gas, or one of the two big German utilities, E.ON or RWE. All operate in the UK energy market and are keen to join the nuclear expansion programme.
EDF has also agreed to end one of the merged group's three connection agreements to the grid at Hinkley Point as the commission found that the group's capacity expansion plans rendered this unnecessary – and could have unduly delayed rivals' own generation projects.
Overall, the commission said that the merger, as initially notified, would have raised serious competition concerns even though the merged group would not have had extremely high market shares in generation, distribution and supply.
It cautioned that the combination of the two companies' activities could have made it easier for the group to withdraw power supplies in order to increase prices. The merged group could have used power internally rather than have sold it to the overall market, thereby reducing liquidity.
With a limited number of sites available for new nuclear power plants, most of them owned by BE, the group would have enjoyed a "high concentration" of ownership of suitable sites.
Today's decision is also a substantial boost to EDF's expansion plans, including its takeover of US nuclear operator Constellation after outbidding Warren Buffett. Pierre Gadonneix, chief executive, has indicated that EDF now wants to increase its presence in Italy and South Africa.
The French company, of which the state owns almost 80%, is building the first new-generation nuclear plant, the EPR, at Flamanville on the Normandy coast and was chosen by the government as the preferred bidder for its 35% stake in BE because of this expertise. It owns 58 nuclear plants in France.