Saturday, 28 February 2009

New push on water scarcity accounting

By Jonathan Birchall in New York
Published: February 27 2009 18:18

Calpers, the California public employees pension fund, has called for US corporations to improve their reporting of the business risks posed by climate change-related water-scarcity.
Anne Stausboll, the recently-appointed chief executive of Calpers, on Thursday welcomed a new report that calls on companies to measure their water “footprint” in the way that some are now meauring their greenhouse gas impact, and to take steps to address and measure potential risks.
“Some companies are becoming transparent about reporting on water, but the marjority are not reporting on water risk,” she said. “We think this report is a really important step in highlighting” the issue.
The report, produced by the Pacific Institute and funded by Ceres, a group backed by investor and environmental groups, argues that many companies, from energy producers to clothing and computer brans, are failing to account for their dependence on raw materials whose costs can be affected by water shortages and political decisions.
It cites the example of Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which it says fail to acknowlege their exposure to water risk in regulatory filings, despite the heavy consumption of water in the manufacturing of semi-conductors.
In the garment industry, it argues that no companies are properly assessing the dependence of cotton production on heavy use of irrigation, and highlights the costto water suppliers posed by the recent boom in the exploitation of Canadian tar sands.
Several Wall Street research firms have also issued reports in recent months highlighting water risk, with a JP Morgan analyst saying in March last yeat that “these risks are difficult for investors to assess, due both to poor information about the underlying supply conditions and to fragmentary or inadequate reporting by individual companies.”
In an indication fo the growing mainstream acceptance of the need for companies to acknowlege the material risks posed by climate change, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners - which represents state regulators - will next month consider requiring insurance companies to assess and report climate change risk.
A group of investors convened by Ceres also petitioned the SEC 18 months ago to to require all publicly-traded companies to disclose their financial risks from climate change.
Mindy Lubber, head of Ceres, said the group was optimistic that the SEC, under the new Obama adimistration, would make climate risk reporting mandatory.
“These are real risks that the SEC ought to requiring companies to disclosee, and that’s the information investors should be requiiring when they make decisions.
Ms Stausboll at Calpers argued that the current financial crisis would not lead to an easing of pressure on companies on climate change risk.
“My view is that coming out of this global crisis, business and investors will be looking at risk in a new risk in a whole new way...I believe that sustainability issues and these global risk issues will be part of that discussion.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Portugal braves waves with wind farm

By Peter Wise in Lisbon
Published: February 27 2009 20:31

Portugal is set to become the first country to produce energy from floating offshore wind farms following an agreement between the country’s dominant power utility and a US technology company.
Energias de Portugal, the world’s fourth largest producer of wind energy, and Principle Power, a Seattle-based technology developer, plan to generate electricity on a commercial scale from wind turbines floating in deep waters 15km off the Portuguese coast.

The project is part of an ambitious plan by Portugal to become a world leader in clean energy, producing more than 60 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The equivalent European Union target is 20 per cent.
“Developing floating foundations for wind turbines is essential for the development of offshore wind farms worldwide,” said António Mexia, EdP’s chief executive. “Fixed structures are not feasible beyond 50m, but sites at lesser depths are scarce.”
Total offshore wind energy capacity installed across the world, currently using only structures fixed to the seabed, is estimated at just over 1 GW, with Denmark and the UK accounting for about 80 per cent.
Analysts expect this to grow to 50 GW by 2020 to compensate for the diminishing availability of onshore sites. World onshore wind capacity currently totals about 121 GW.
Portugal is already home to Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, but its steep continental shelf rules out fixed offshore turbines.
This, together with a densely populated coast that accounts for almost 90 per cent of the country’s power consumption, makes Portugal “an ideal country for floating wind farms,” according to Craig Andrus, a co-founder of Principle Power.
The technology licensed by Principle, originally developed for the offshore oil and gas industry, uses semi-submersible floating foundations to provide stable support for wind turbines at any depth.
EdP said a full-scale 5MW demonstration wind turbine could be in operation within 18 months and a commercial power plant within seven years. Maximum capacity will not go beyond 150 MW and turbines will not be installed within 12km of the coast.
The initial demonstration investment is estimated at €30m, but the utility said costs per megawatt installed would fall significantly as the project expanded. Offshore turbines, unobstructed by hills or buildings, can produce up to 50 per cent more energy than onshore equivalents.
An EdP executive said: “This is a combination of two technologies that have already proved their viability - wind turbines and floating foundations. The key to success is to bring down costs to a competitive level.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Eco-friendly data centre hopes to create jobs

By Andrew Bolger
Published: February 28 2009 03:07

Alchemy Plus, an information technology company, recently announced plans for a £20m ($26m) eco-friendly data centre in Inverness that could eventually create more than 400 jobs.
The group said it would utilise the advantages of the colder northern Scotland climate and the Highlands’ abundance of renewable energy from hydro-electric and wind power schemes.

It intends to transmit waste heat from the planned facility to neighbouring parts of the Inverness Harbour development, including retail units, offices and a large hotel – making it one of the most energy efficient to be built.
Under a “cloud computing” model, which involves IT resources being accessed via the internet, users are charged for the resources their business uses. Alchemy Plus says an expanded pilot project over the past 18 months delivered an average cost saving of 28 per cent to users, and ongoing development work is set to unlock even greater savings.
Peter Swanson, Alchemy Plus chairman, said: “All the major players see this as the future of IT delivery and I’m delighted that we in the Highlands are leading the way for the rest of the UK. We want to construct an iconic landmark building for the city that will act as a beacon for others.”
By offering high-performance computing resources on demand, with full disaster recovery facilities, Alchemy Plus believes its facility will become a hub that attracts other innovative companies.
The company plans to use the computing facility as a resource centre to underpin the delivery of outsourced services to businesses across the UK. By allowing workers from throughout the Highlands to access its system to perform outsourced shared services, the group said full- or part-time employment would be created for micro businesses and individuals across the region.
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said: “This project will really put the city on the map for developments in information technology.
“This is a field in which Inverness and the Highlands can excel and we need to take full advantage of the opportunities it offers.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Ministers go back on green pledge

Published Date: 28 February 2009

By Jenny Haworth, Environment Correspondent

EMISSIONS targets for new buildings have been watered down by the Scottish Government because of the financial pressures of the economic crisis.
Experts had advised Holyrood to bring in new standards for non-domestic buildings that would require carbon emissions to be slashed by 50 per cent from 2010.However, it was announced yesterday that greenhouse gas emission would only have to be cut by 30 per cent.Green groups criticised the decision. However, the Scottish Government said pressures on developers had to be considered because of the economic crisis.Stewart Stevenson, climate change minister, said: "The Sullivan report recommended a 50 per cent reduction in carbon for non-domestic buildings in 2010 and I recognise there will be a cost associated with these improvements. "In light of the economic situation, I have taken the view that a 30 per cent reduction is an appropriate level that strikes the right balance as we look to ensure our long-term climate change targets are met."He claimed Scottish buildings would still be among the most carbon efficient in Europe.An average office building built to 2010 standards would emit 31 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, compared with 105 tonnes when built to 1990 standards.He added that jobs would be created because of increased demand for small scale renewables, and money would be saved on fuel bills.However, Chas Booth from the Association for the Conservation of Energy, said: "It is very disappointing that the government have watered down their carbon emission standards for new buildings against the advice of their own experts. "To claim that we have the best energy standards in the UK, as the Scottish Government does, is like claiming to have the best bobsleigh team in the Caribbean: there's not much competition. "Scotland lags 30 years behind Sweden and we need more ambition than this if we're to catch up."Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said although any improvement in energy efficiency standards was positive, he was also concerned."We felt Sullivan wasn't being adequately ambitious and for the Scottish Government to fall short even of Sullivan's advice puts their quest to achieve zero carbon new buildings by 2016 in serious jeopardy," he said.He warned the creation of jobs in sectors such as home green energy devices and insulation would be hampered.He added that existing buildings need to be brought up to high energy efficiency standards.New homes will also have to produce 30 per cent fewer emissions from 2010, in line with the Sullivan report.David Stewart, policy and strategy manager at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, questioned how the improvements would be funded."If more energy efficient buildings are to be created, then the government needs to accept that grant levels must be sufficient for housing associations to deliver." There will be a consultation this summer on implementing the standards.

US toilet paper 'worse for planet' than gas guzzling cars

The US devotion to multi-ply toilet paper is worse for the planet than gas guzzling cars, environmentalists claim.

By Our Foreign Staff Last Updated: 2:49PM GMT 27 Feb 2009

More than 98 per cent of the toilet paper sold in the US is from virgin forests Photo: GETTY
The vast majority of the paper used by American consumers is produced from virgin forests, while Europeans are more open to using recycled lavatory paper.
Greenpeace this week launched a guide about the ecological impact of the use of toilet paper. Lindsey Allen, a forestry expert with the envirnmental campaign group, said: "We have this myth in the US that recycled is just so low quality, it's like cardboard."
More than 98 per cent of the toilet paper sold in the US is from virgin forests, with the figure just under 60 per cent in Europe.
US consumers consume significantly more of the paper than Europeans - reportedly three times as much. They are said to use 100 times paper per head of population than the Chinese.
Allen Hershkowitz, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council, said: "Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving [petrol-thirsty cars] in terms of global warming pollution."
American producers of the products maintain that there is ample choice for consumers, with recycled toilet paper - which involves less use of chemicals when manufactured - available widely in the US.

Electric 4x4 company to create 250 jobs

By Alan Jones, Press Association
Friday, 27 February 2009

About 250 jobs are to be created by a firm planning to build the world's first zero emission, electric 4x4 vehicle, it was announced today.
Liberty Electric Cars said it would begin manufacturing the vehicles at Cramlington, Northumberland later this year.
The Oxford-based company said it would invest £30 million into the venture and was now in discussions with major suppliers in the region.
Production volume for the first vehicle, a plug-in electric Range Rover, is likely to top 1,000 annually, creating 250 new jobs and contributing more than £120 million a year into the local economy, said the firm.
Barry Shrier, chief executive of Liberty, said: "The Liberty Electric Range Rover takes electric vehicle technology into a new sector, to large luxury cars that people aspire to drive, particularly in cities and urban environments where environmental controls are becoming increasingly tighter.
"North-east England, through the stewardship of One North East, is fast becoming a world leader in clean energy, infrastructure development and electric vehicle manufacturing, which is why we feel that our business will prosper here. We have also been greatly encouraged by the region's strong academic links."
Alan Clarke, chief executive of One North East, which promotes industry and business, said: "This investment is excellent news for the region and places North East England at the forefront of electric vehicle manufacture and infrastructure development.
Nick Brown MP, minister for the North East, said: "The North East is home to a number of exciting projects in the renewable energy sector which can make a real impact on the region's employment base.
"The creation of 250 jobs from the Liberty Electric Cars project demonstrates this."

Duke Energy CEO: Cap-and-Trade Plan Would Raise Electric Rates 40%

WASHINGTON -- The chief executive of Duke Energy Corp., one of the nation's biggest power companies and a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, said Friday that a proposal by President Obama to place a price on carbon emissions would drive up electricity rates in some areas of the U.S. by 40% and warned that it could also lead to "a redistribution of wealth" from Midwestern industrial states to coastal states.
Duke Energy CEO James Rogers said he was also concerned that some of the roughly $646 billion that Mr. Obama hopes to raise by making companies pay for the right to pollute would be diverted to causes unrelated to fighting climate change.
"My view is they'll try to use the money from Ohio and Indiana to subsidize the West coast and the Northeast and to use it for purposes that are different from addressing the climate issue," Mr. Rogers said Friday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Rogers was referring to a provision in Mr. Obama's budget proposal that calls for the adoption of a cap-and-trade system in which the government would set limits on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that industries can emit. Under such a system, companies would have to buy and sell rights to emit those gases.
Mr. Obama's proposal, which was released Thursday, projects that the U.S. government could raise roughly $645 billion from auctioning off emissions credits between 2012, when the system would kick in, and 2019. Mr. Obama's proposal calls for using about $120 billion of that revenue to pay for new spending on various low-carbon technologies. His proposal calls for returning the rest of the money "to the people, especially vulnerable families, communities and businesses to help the transition to a clean energy economy."
Mr. Obama's aides say his plan would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for working individuals and $800 for working families, with credits phasing out between $150,000 and $200,000 for a married couple, and between $75,000 and $100,000 for an individual.
The cap-and-trade system is a key part of Mr. Obama's broader strategy to reduce U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide by roughly 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. His proposal assumes a starting price of $20 per ton for carbon emissions, an amount that his aides says is conservative and would likely rise.
Mr. Rogers, whose North Carolina-based company is the third-largest coal user in the country and the third largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, said that even at $20 per ton, electric rates in Indiana would rise 40 percent, and in Ohio by as much as 25 percent. In contrast to California, which relies on coal for just 1% of its electricity supply, Indiana and Ohio states rely on coal for more than 80% of their electricity supply.
Mr. Rogers suggested that rather than return money to consumers on a per-capita basis, the government should give the vast majority of auction revenue back to the states through public utility regulators.
"Let the local regulator, who understands the system and who approves our prices -- let them make the determination" on how the money should be returned to customers, Mr. Rogers said. "I know how Washington works -- when the money comes in, at the end of the day, there will be a fight over that money. And it won't be used to reduce emission in this country."
Write to Stephen Power at

Friday, 27 February 2009

Toyota Prius tops Consumer Reports best value list

The Associated Press
Published: February 26, 2009

DETROIT: Consumer Reports magazine said the 2009 Toyota Prius Touring edition offers the best value for a new car.
The magazine's April edition, which goes on sale Tuesday, released results Thursday of its best cars of 2009.
Typically, the magazine offers a list of "top picks" in various car and light truck category, but given sagging consumer confidence during a recession, it added a "best car value" rating.
The ranking takes into account the total cost of ownership over five years, and weighs fuel costs, maintenance and repairs, insurance costs, depreciation, financing rates and taxes against the price and reliability of the vehicle.
"We're in a time where people are not buying the latest gizmo, they're looking for a more practical car," said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' auto test division. "Buyers are much more savvy. They're forgoing what they want for what they need."

Foreign automakers filled out all five best value categories — small car, family car, hatchbacks and wagons, small SUVs and midsize SUVs.
Champion said some Detroit automakers, such as Ford Motor Co. are making gains toward greater reliability, but are weighed down by older truck models.
"GM has done a lot on making some excellent vehicles, but unfortunately their reliability is very inconsistent, and that makes them much less desirable," he said. "Chrysler is in very sad shape, it missed the mark with a number of its new vehicles in terms of how they perform."
Consumer Reports still listed their "top picks" for 2009, which focus on reliability and road and crash test results. The Chevrolet Avalanche, the only domestic vehicle to make that list, was named the top pickup truck. The Hyundai Elantra SE, was the best small sedan, and the Honda Accord, the best family sedan.
The issue will also focus on used cars and offer maintenance tips as consumers opt to put off a new car purchase.
Reliability rankings are based on a survey of Consumer Reports subscribers who are asked if they have had serious problems with their vehicles in the past 12 months. Subscribers rated their experience on a total of 1.4 million vehicles.

Water 'more important than oil' businesses told

Looming water crisis could unravel world economy without radical action, investors told

Juliette Jowit, Thursday 26 February 2009 18.34 GMT
Water shortage will cause greater ruin than peak oil.

Dwindling water supplies are a greater risk to businesses than oil running out, a report for investors has warned.
Among the industries most at risk are high-tech companies, especially those using huge quantities of water to manufacture silicon chips; electricity suppliers who use vast amounts of water for cooling; and agriculture, which uses 70% of global freshwater, , says the study, commissioned by the powerful CERES group, whose members have $7tn under management. Other high-risk sectors are beverages, clothing, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, forest products, and metals and mining, it says.
"Water is one of our most critical resources – even more important than oil," says the report, published today . "The impact of water scarcity and declining water on businesses will be far-reaching. We've already seen decreases in companies' water allotments, more stringent regulations [and] higher costs for water."
Droughts "attributable in significant part to climate change" are already causing "acute water shortages" around the world, and pressure on supplies will increase with further global warming and a growing world population, says the report written by the US-based Pacific Institute.
"It is increasingly clear that the era of cheap and easy access to water is ending, posing a potentially greater threat to businesses than the loss of any other natural resource, including fossil fuel resources," it adds. "This is because there are various alternatives for oil, but for many industrial processes, and for human survival itself, there is no substitute for water."
In a joint statement, CERES' president Mindy Lubber and Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, urged more companies and investors to work out their dependence on water and future supplies, and make plans to cope with increased shortages and prices.
"Few companies and investors are thinking strategically about the profound business risks that will exist in a world where climate change is likely to exacerbate already diminishing water supplies," they say.
"Companies that treat pressing water risks as a strategic challenge will be far better positioned in future," they add.
The CERES report adds to growing concern about a looming water crisis. In the Economist's report, The World in 2009 , Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of food giant Nestlé, wrote: "under present conditions… we will run out of water long before we run out of fuel". And at its annual meeting this year the World Economic Forum issued what it itself called a "stark warning" that "the world simply cannot manage water in the future in the same way as in the past or the economic web will collapse".
CERES, which has members in the US and Europe, made recommendations, including that companies should measure their water footprints from suppliers through to product use, and integrate water into strategic planning, and that investors should independently assess companies' water risk and "demand" better disclosure from boards.

Why 'clean coal' is the ultimate climate change oxymoron

The people who told us for years that climate change was a myth now say it's all true – but something called 'clean coal' can fix it. This is pure and utter greenwash, says Fred Pearce

Fred Pearce, Thursday 26 February 2009 12.13 GMT

No clean-coal plant that buries carbon has yet been built.

Next week, Americans are being invited to take part in what could become the largest act of civil disobedience against global warming in the country's history. People are protesting at the coal-fired power plant that powers legislators on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.
Cynics may say it's about time Americans joined the action. The fact is that too many Americans have been bamboozled for too long by a campaign of disinformation about the science of climate change. Many still think the whole question of mankind's role in global warming is disputed in scientific circles (I expect the comments beneath this blog will soon demonstrate this point).
Hopefully, that science battle is slowly being won. But now the big greenwash is coming from another direction. Now, we have a technology battle. The people who told us for years how climate change was a myth now say it is all true – but something called "clean coal" can fix it.
It's hard to keep track of the differing organisations behind this. First there was Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. Last year that merged with the Center for Energy and Economic Development to create the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). That body is now headlining as something called America's Power. The one thing they have got is money. Money to try and persuade us that coal is good, coal is green and coal is the solution to America's energy needs.
The ACCCE spent $38m last year buying TV, newspaper and magazine space to persuade Americans that coal can be clean and carbon-free. The money mostly came from its members in the coal mining, transportation and burning industries.
You don't see much coal in these ads, though in December its website did feature some singing lumps of coal called the "clean coal carollers". Sadly they went shy about that and the carollers now seem to be on indeterminate holiday leave.
The money doesn't all go into airtime and column inches, of course. According to SourceWatch, almost $1m goes to pay the salary of its president and chief executive officer Stephen L Miller.
But the big PR question, the one that must earn Miller his remuneration, is how to rationalise this oxymoron "clean coal". How to square this carefully created image with inconvenient facts about the fuel's huge carbon footprint – greater than other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas.
The genius is that they don't really try. Blink and you might miss it. That word "clean" is highly flexible. It can mean what you want it to mean. So for instance, ACCCE claims that modern coal power plants are "70% cleaner".
It sounds good. It sounds like coal really is cleaning up. Perhaps the greenies are behind the times. Call off the demo. But check more closely and you'll notice that the ACCCE doesn't mention which gases are covered by this claim. In fact, the industry has cut emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides under acid-rain legislation enacted years ago. That's what the 70% refers to. But it has not cut planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.
Its other key strategy is to promote carbon capture and storage (CCS). That is, the idea of catching carbon dioxide before it goes up the stack of a power plant, and burying it out of harm's way underground – forever. It promotes the idea and not the technology, because there is currently no such technology.
But ACCCE has faith. It doesn't argue that CCS can solve coal's environment problems. If it did, it might have to defend its case. Instead, it says "we believe that American can continue to make great progress in improving environmental quality while at the same time enjoying the benefits from using domestic energy sources like coal … In a word: we believe in technology." Good for them, but technologists generally rely on more than faith.
As I have reported here before, this technology is scientifically conjectural, especially at the storage end. And even on an optimistic view of its feasibility, it is at least two decades and several tens of billions of research and development dollars away from actual commercial operation on any scale. Don't take my word for it. Check out the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's study on the matter. Or this study by the International Energy Agency. Bear in mind these reports were written before the US government last year pulled out of FutureGen, its only large-scale R&D programme for carbon-capture technology.
An industry confident of the technology's future might have been expected to plug the funding gap and keep right on going. But not so far. An analysis of ACCCE's members in December by the Center for American Progress found that their total investment in R&D for carbon capture and storage in recent years added up to a total of $3.5bn, compared with profits for one year of $57bn. Sorry, but belief isn't enough. Put up or shut up.
They should be laughed out of court. But what is most worrying is the political traction the clean-coal story is gaining. Sadly, President Obama may be part of the faith brigade. During the election campaign last year, he was quoted telling the people of Michigan that "you can't tell me we can't figure out how to burn coal that we mine right here in the USA and make it work."
It's not a great quote, but it's the best the ACCCE could come up with, and they have run ads with it.
The trouble with CCS right now is that it is being sold as an imminent fix when it is very far from that. And it is being sold as a reason to carry on supporting the coal industry. After all, the argument runs, if we pull the plug on new coal-fired power plants now, then how will they fund the R&D that could deliver clean coal one day?
That is a very dangerous argument indeed. It is the reason why Nasa climate scientist James Hansen is supporting the demonstration in DC, and insists that no new coal-fired power stations should be built unless and until all their carbon dioxide can be captured and buried forever.
Sadly, for too many policy-makers, the idea that we can have coal and tackle climate change at the same time is too good to miss. Sadly, it is too good to be true.
• How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? Please email your examples of greenwash to or add your comments below

Double Dutch for energy firm

Published Date: 26 February 2009

SCOTTISH and Southern Energy has won approval to construct an offshore wind farm in the Dutch part of the North Sea.
The company, which owns Scottish Hydro Electric, has obtained consent from the Dutch Government for it to move ahead with the 'Breeveertieen II' windfarm. It follows a similar consent for 'West Rijn' last month.The new consent means the company can now push ahead with securing financial support, which will see the creation of the largest Dutch wind farm.Paul Dowling, chief executive of Airtricity, Scottish and Southern's renewables division, said: "The Dutch market is an important new area for SSE's renewable development team and the 'West Rijn' and 'Breeveertien II' sites will give us the potential to become the leading offshore wind developer in Holland."

Support for concept of reducing the number of car trips

Published Date: 27 February 2009
By Alastair Dalton

THREE in four people plan to reduce car journeys because of concerns over climate change, according to a UK government survey.
The news coincided with Glasgow Airport's announcement that improved bus links are planned to cut the large number of "kiss and fly" journeys, where passengers are dropped off and picked up in cars.In the survey, those who said they were likely to reduce their car journeys planned to walk instead on short trips or to make fewer non-essential journeys.However, the respondents backed efforts to encourage people to make fewer car trips through public transport improvements, rather than by increasing motoring taxes. Nearly half of those polled also said air travel should be curbed to protect the environment.Officials at BAA Scotland, which runs Glasgow Airport, say "kiss and fly" trips posed a "significant challenge" to reducing emissions as they accounted for nearly a third of journeys to and from the airport.A statement said: "This is considered to be the most environmentally damaging form of accessing the airport, because it involves four car journeys."Officials plan to investigate why this practice is so popular before targets are set to reduce it prior to the planned opening of the airport's rail link scheduled for 2013. Overall the airport hopes to increase the proportion of airport journeys by public transport from 11 per cent to 15 per cent within three years, with solution such as new bus routes and bus and taxi lanes.

Green by nature

Leading article:Thursday, 26 February 2009

There is a cynical view of human nature which says that, while people might profess to be concerned about the state of the environment, they are not prepared to change their lifestyle in any serious way to preserve it.

The news that 3.5 billion fewer plastic bags were handed out by British shops last year is a powerful rebuttal of that argument. What lies behind this trend is a noisy public campaign calling for people to re-use their old bags rather than acquire new ones every time they go shopping.
The vast number of plastic bags in circulation has become a serious blight on the natural world, polluting the seas and choking wildlife. The public have been presented with the scientific evidence. They have accepted the link between their plastic bag use and environmental degradation. And a great many have altered their behaviour accordingly.
It's enough to make a cynic despair.

Scientists to stop global warming with 100,000 square mile sun shade

Scientists claim they can fight global warming by firing trillions of mirrors into space to deflect the sun's rays forming a 100,000 square mile "sun shade".

Last Updated: 7:33PM GMT 26 Feb 2009

Scientists say they can fight global warming by firing mirrors into space
According to astronomer Dr Roger Angel, at the University of Arizona, the trillions of mirrors would have to be fired one million miles above the earth using a huge cannon with a barrel of 0.6 miles across.
The gun would pack 100 times the power of conventional weapons and need an exclusion zone of several miles before being fired.
Despite the obvious obstacles - including an estimated $350 trillion (£244trn) price tag for the project - Dr Angel is confident of getting the project off the ground.
He said: "What we have developed is certainly effective and a method guaranteed to work.
"Tests are ongoing but we expect to be ready to launch within 20 or 30 years time. Things that take a few decades are not that futuristic."
Dr Angel has already secured NASA funding for a pilot project and British inventor Tod Todeschini, 38, was commissioned to build a scaled-down version of the gun.
He constructed the four-metre long cannon in his workshop in Sandlake, Oxfordshire, for a TV documentary investigating the sun shield theory.
He said: "The gun was horrendously dangerous. This was the first gun I'd ever built.
"I knew I could put it together safely but at the end of it all I didn't know what I was going to get.
"It was immensely dangerous. I was attempting to build a gun to produce 1,500G of force but it ended up creating about 10,000G and we had to turn the power down.
"Most weapons used by the army produce 100Gs of force so our gun was about 100 times more powerful.
"The main danger was electrocution because it used enough power to boil 44,000 kettles.
"If you were working with normal levels of electricity you could get a shock and be fine, but if you got a shock off this you would be dead - no question.
"We've proved it's possible to build a scaled-down version of the gun needed to get these lenses into the air so it's just a matter of scaling up the designs for the real thing."
If Dr Angel's sun shield is successful he says the mirrors will last 50 years before needing to be replaced.
"What you are talking about is a project which will stop global warming for centuries to come," he said.
"At the moment the sums involved sound huge but in the greater scheme of things it's a price worth paying.
"Over 50 years the mirrors will become damaged and therefore fresh lenses will need to be fired into space to ensure the shield is constant."
Dr Angel, who pioneers solar energy, is developing cheaper methods of making the lenses to bring the cost of the project down.
In the meantime researchers at the University of Victoria, Canada, are testing the sun shield theory by using computer simulations of the project.
Dr Angel's sun shield theory will feature on Ways to Save the Planet on the Discovery Channel at 7pm on Sunday.

Challenge for agencies getting U.S. funds for energy efficiency: Spend wisely - and fast

By Kate Galbraith
Published: February 26, 2009

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee: To the casual eye, the basement of Firehouse 9 in this city looks like a jumble of old hydrants, Dr Pepper soft drink cartons, rakes and random gear. To specialists in energy efficiency, the 1960s-era building is a mess of a different sort: wasteful hot-water heaters for the firefighters' showers, ancient refrigerators and outdated lights.
Wrapping up an elaborate energy audit, Knoxville is about to find out which of 99 city buildings are wasting the most energy. It hopes to begin repairs this summer, just in time to catch a tsunami of U.S. government stimulus money earmarked for unglamorous tasks like replacing light bulbs and fixing leaky insulation.
Knoxville's timing is excellent. It began the arduous work of cataloguing deficiencies before the stimulus bill passed, and it is well along in planning its next steps. But experts worry that other beneficiaries, especially cities, are not ready to oversee the huge sums of energy-efficiency money that are about to come their way.
The money in the bill is enough to pay for a tremendous expansion of efficiency efforts across the United States. But as with other parts of the stimulus package, the efficiency plan is creating tension between spending the money quickly, to get rapid economic stimulus, and spending it well, to do the most good over the long run.
"There's enormous opportunity here for expansion of energy efficiency in this country," said Lowell Ungar, the policy director for the Alliance to Save Energy, an advocacy group. "But there is certainly the potential for waste."

President Barack Obama signed the stimulus package into law on Feb. 17, hailing it as a shot of money big enough to help shake the economy from its lethargy while advancing many of his campaign priorities.
Accelerating the country's energy transition is at the top of his list. Many experts in the field agree with him that carefully chosen investments in efficiency will ultimately save more than they cost, by cutting energy bills.
At least $20 billion in the stimulus package is earmarked for programs like improving the efficiency of government buildings and the homes of poor people, and trying to find better ways to save energy.
That is far more, advocates say, than any stimulus package in history. Within a few months, the money is likely to start landing in the bank accounts of thinly staffed state and city agencies that are accustomed to scraping for a dime here, a dollar there.
Utah expects that its state energy office will receive $40 million for energy efficiency, renewable energy and related programs - a sum 123 times the size of the office's current budget, said Jason Berry, who manages the four-person unit. He is about to go on a hiring spree.
The package contains $5 billion to weatherize low-income homes through the U.S. Energy Department, enough to give the state programs that manage that work 10 to 30 times the money they received last year, said Christina Kielich, a department spokeswoman.
For advocates of this relatively obscure program, "it's like they finally got to the other side of the desert and it's pouring rain," said Seth Kaplan, a vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group.
The stimulus package also contains $4.5 billion to modernize U.S. government buildings and $2.5 billion for research into energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The biggest chunk, $6.3 billion, will be distributed by the Energy Department in grants to state and local governments, which can spend the money on things as diverse as thicker window panes for state legislatures and rebates for homeowners who change their light bulbs.
Homes and commercial buildings account for 39 percent of national energy consumption. Experts say that improving their efficiency will not only be cost-effective, but also will be a good way to reduce the emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
But figuring out how to spend the money effectively - learning which university buildings need their doors caulked, for example, or which firehouse walls have insulation that is too thin - can involve time-consuming, tricky analysis by skilled technicians.
"People are very conservative about their buildings," said Donald Gilligan, the president of the National Association of Energy Service Companies, a trade group. "Nobody wants to put a failed technology into the school buildings or have the lights not work."
In Knoxville, a team of auditors hired by the city is spending six months peering into the grimy nooks of fire and police stations and even a convention center, where one employee referred to the downstairs boiler area as a "money-eating room."
Knoxville - which says the stimulus money may help accelerate or expand its program - hopes to reduce the city's energy bills as much as 25 percent, and the city is "definitely on the front end of the wave as far as efficiency and municipalities addressing efficiency," said John Plack Jr., a director of project development for Ameresco, which is conducting the Knoxville energy audit.
In the southeastern region of the United States, where Plack works, low electricity prices have often made saving energy an afterthought, unlike the situation in California and much of the Northeast. For example, Nashville, nearly 200 miles, or 320 kilometers, west of Knoxville, has not conducted an energy audit of its city buildings, though it hopes to use stimulus money to look through its fire stations and libraries.
"There's a lot of municipalities out there who are completely unaware this is moving forward," Kaplan said, referring especially to smaller cities. "They just don't have the infrastructure in place to deal with this."
The Energy Department, which is doling out most of the grants, has been assailed on Capitol Hill for delays in disbursing other types of assistance for clean energy.
Kielich said in an e-mail message that the department hoped efficiency grants would begin flowing to city and state energy offices within 120 days, and that it planned to begin disbursing weatherization money "expeditiously and responsibly."
On the receiving end, absorbing the huge increase in money for weatherization could be particularly challenging, said Ian Bowles, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts.
Though he says he believes it can be done, "the weatherization folks are going to have to quintuple their effort in order to put that money out," he said.
In some cases, the managers of efficiency programs may not need to look far to find ways to spend the money.
In Knoxville, the Community Action Committee, whose operations include helping poor people weatherize their homes, works from a building with a $14,000 utility bill each month - some of it because of an enormous skylight that lets in too much blistering Tennessee sunshine in the summer.
"It's embarrassing," said Barbara Kelly, executive director of the committee. "We do better for our clients than we do for us."

Silencing the Lambs: Scientists Target Sheep Belching to Cut Methane

Reducing Gas in Livestock Could Help World Breathe Sigh of Relief Over Global Warming

PALMERSTON NORTH, New Zealand -- On a typical day, researchers in this college town coax hungry sheep into metal carts. They wheel the fluffy beasts into sealed chambers and feed them grass, then wait for them to burp.
The exercise is part of a global effort to keep sheep, deer, cows and other livestock from belching methane when they eat and regurgitate grass. Methane is among the most potent greenhouse gases, and researchers now believe livestock industries are a major contributor to climate change, responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than cars are, according to the United Nations.

Animal biologists in New Zealand are leading one of the most sophisticated efforts in livestock stomach research. Their goal? To reduce global warming by producing less gassy sheep. WSJ's Patrick Barta reports.
Plenty of people, including farmers, think the problem of sheep burps is so much hot air. But governments are coming under pressure to put a cork in it, and many farmers fear that new livestock regulations could follow. They worry that environmentalists will someday persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to seek to tax bovine belches. Some activists are urging consumers to stop buying meat and thus slow climate change.
All of which is breathing new life into the study of sheep stomachs. Researchers have tried just about everything, from changing the animals' diets to breeding new sheep they hope will be less gassy. They've concocted cocktails of clover, garlic and cottonseed oil to try to curb methane. They have even tried feeding the animals chloroform, which can stymie the production of gas if it doesn't kill the animal.
But sure as grass grows, livestock keep producing methane.
"We're at a very theoretical stage," says Simone Hoskin, a livestock expert from Massey University, an institution involved in the research going on in this grassy New Zealand town. "A lot of people think we are insane."
There was an earlier golden age of sheep stomach research -- in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. In those days, governments were looking for ways to improve animal digestion so livestock could produce more food for a hungry planet.
But as worries over food supplies waned, research tailed off. Scientists, as it happened, weren't all that thrilled about fishing around in animals' stomachs, which can contain up to 150 pounds of mushy meadow grass. "The stuff smells in a way you can't imagine," Ms. Hoskin says. "It really stays on you."
The root of the problem is that sheep, cows, goats and other so-called ruminants are unique in the way they digest their food. While that allows them to convert more energy from grasses, the process also generates hydrogen as a byproduct. Microbes known as methanogens convert the hydrogen to methane, which then leaves the animal through belching -- and to a lesser extent, flatulence -- and then floats into the atmosphere, where it helps to trap heat and potentially accelerate global warming. Humans emit methane, too, but not so much.
As awareness of the issue has grown, the U.S., U.K. and other countries have stepped up their research. But "there is no question that New Zealanders lead the world," says John Wallace, a scientist at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
That's partly because New Zealand prides itself on its environmental conscience. It is also, Kiwis say, from necessity: Their otherwise clean island is home to about 35 million sheep -- nearly 10 times the human population -- and millions of cows, deer and goats.

Patrick Barta/WSJ
Top to bottom, researchers rustle up sheep behind the lab in Palmerston North, New Zealand, then place them in a cart to be wheeled into sealed chambers to measure levels of the greenhouse gas methane the animals burp up.
As a result, roughly 48% of New Zealand's greenhouse gases come from agriculture, compared with less than 10% in such large, developed economies as the U.S. Agricultural leaders fear their livestock-heavy economy could be at risk if there's an international move to tighten rules on animal emissions.
Kiwis tried to get a leg up on the problem in 2003, when politicians proposed an emissions tax on livestock. Farmers thought they were getting fleeced and attacked what they called a "fart tax." The idea was tabled.
But livestock owners and scientists knew the issue wasn't going away. With the help of industry groups such as Meat & Wool New Zealand, they put up millions of dollars to finance a war on sheep emissions.
The group, the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, helped assemble eminent animal-stomach experts from around the world. They included Ms. Hoskin, who had spent much of her career working on such topics as the role of leafy turnips in deer grazing. It also included itinerant ruminant researchers from the U.K., Germany, Peru and Sri Lanka.
Much of the work occurs here in Palmerston North, a town north of Wellington surrounded by rolling hills and filled with some of the most sophisticated animal-emissions gizmos in the world. Chief among them: 10 "respiration chambers," which scientists use to measure burps under different experimental conditions.
Pumps circulate fresh air into the chambers. Researchers rustle up an animal -- often a sheep -- from behind a laboratory, and then wheel it into the chamber, where the bleating creature munches on grass. The concentration of methane in the air then usually increases. The cud chewer is oblivious.
"They love it here," says Cesar Pinares-Patino, a Peruvian scientist who helps run the chambers. The animals "can look at each other and be comfortable." Sometimes they stay in the chambers for days, he says.
The boxes help show what strategies are working. But scientists haven't achieved a breakthrough. Many of the dietary additives known to reduce methane -- cottonseed oil, for instance -- don't work well in the long run; sometimes they cost too much or the animals don't digest them well. Chloroform additives worked for a while, but the animals' stomachs adapted and started emitting again.
Researchers are particularly proud of one achievement, though: Using genome sequencing to draw a genetic map of one of the leading methanogens. Team members passed around a single-malt whisky when they finished that work in June. They say the breakthrough should make it easier to identify compounds that can attack the methanogens so methane isn't made in the first place.
"We now know our enemy," says Peter Janssen, a scientist who worked in Germany and Australia before returning to his native New Zealand two years ago to do livestock emissions research.
Some farmers elsewhere in the world are bemused. "I applaud them" for trying, says Eric Davis, a cattleman whose operation in Bruneau, Idaho, has more than a thousand head of cattle, and hence plenty of gas. But "I'm skeptical they'll come up with anything we can practically use," he says. Besides, "I still have a problem with whether methane is a problem."
Mr. Janssen admits his work would probably be "fringe science" if it weren't for all the interest in climate change. But he still thinks it will generate something useful.
"It could be two years, or it could be 20" before a solution to animal burps is found, he says. But someday, "it will suddenly show up. And then you will have it."
Write to Patrick Barta at

Climate-Change Research Gets Big Boost in Budget

Climate-change research would get a boost in funding under the budget as a result of a refocusing of resources at several agencies.

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $1.3 billion for new weather satellites and climate sensors, as well as research into climate and ocean research.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would refocus its efforts on global climate research, a major change from the Bush years, when next-generation space flight programs were a priority. NASA's budget calls for a $1.5 billion increase over the next two years, with its fiscal 2010 budget totaling $18.7 billion, and it will be charged with developing new space-based sensors to "deploy a global climate research and monitoring system."
Research funding also would increase for the National Science Foundation, a change from years of flat budgets. The agency will be tasked with developing a climate-change education program for environmental scientists and engineers. The administration calls for doubling the NSF's basic research budget over the next decade, starting with $800 million more in 2009. That doesn't figure in the $3 billion it received from the recently passed $787 billion economic-stimulus package.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration proposes increasing the Commerce Department's budget by $4 billion in 2010 to pay for costs involved in conducting the 2010 census, including the hiring of half-a-million temporary workers. Congress already has approved $1 billion to fund the census in the stimulus package.
Write to Amy Schatz at

Carbon capture won't work until 2030, says energy boss

Tim Webb, Thursday 26 February 2009 10.16 GMT

Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, has warned that coal plants fitted with carbon capture storage (CCS) equipment are unlikely to be ready to make big cuts in Britain's emissions before 2030.
The country's geology is not suited to the technology, which is expensive and unproven, he said. This meant it would take "at least 15 years and probably closer to 20 years" before companies were in a position to deploy the technology on a large scale.
This week, energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband confirmed reports in the Guardian that the government wanted to fund more than one CCS demonstration project to accelerate development of the technology. The government favours "post-combustion" technology which could be retrofitted to clean up existing coal plants to capture their emissions.
Centrica had been developing "pre-combustion" technology which can only be attached to new plants. Laidlaw said there was a risk that CCS technology is never retrofitted to a new generation of highly-polluting coal plants. "The risk is that it will never be technically feasible because the coal plants are too far from spent aquifiers [in the North Sea where the carbon can be stored], the costs are probably high and the technology can't be retrofitted," he said. "If you start from scratch it's a better solution."
The comments came as Centrica announced it was creating 1,500 mostly "green-collar" jobs to build wind farms and low-carbon power plants such as nuclear reactors and also to install energy-saving boilers and solar panels in homes.
Laidlaw said the jobs will be created over the next year as it gears up to invest £15bn by 2020 to build the equipment, as well as investing in new sources of gas supply and gas storage facilities.
The owner of British Gas, which announced it was cutting gas bills last month by 10%, did not commit to further price cuts. Last year British Gas increased gas bills by half, blaming soaring oil and wholesale energy prices. Since last summer's peak, energy prices have slumped by more than half.
Laidlaw said: "If we see wholesale gas prices continue to fall I would hope that by the end of the year we might be able to do further price reductions."
Laidlaw said negotiations were continuing with French-owned EDF Energy over buying a stake in nuclear generator British Energy. EDF signed an agreement in principle to sell a 25% stake in the company to Centrica when the French group bought British Energy last autumn. Since then power and share prices have slumped and some Centrica shareholders are understood to be urging Laidlaw to pull out of the deal.
Centrica announced that group profits for last year fell by a fifth to £904m because of higher taxes. It announced £1.4bn of writedowns on the value of forward contracts it had signed to purchase gas and electricity in the market. A slide in energy prices has left these costing more than current market rates.
Profits fell at the British Gas supply business because the company did not pass on the full increase in the wholesale cost of energy when prices were at their peak. This was offset by a rise in profits at Centrica's gas production arm, which benefited from higher gas prices.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Greenwash fails to cover ethical cracks for Britain's consumers

The Times
February 26, 2009

Marcus Leroux
The ethical and environmental reputations of leading DIY, furniture and garden retailers has fallen across the board, according to a Populus poll for The Times — despite a veritable blitz of green initiatives.
Every home or gardens retailer featured in the poll suffered a fall in how ethically aware consumers rated their behaviour.
The findings come amid fears of a “greenwash” in companies' marketing of their environmental credentials. The Times recently reported that the Advertising Standards Authority, the advertising watchdog, was cracking down on spurious green claims regarding, for example, carbon neutrality.
David Lourie, an analyst for Good Business, the ethical consultancy, said that the decline in ratings by concerned consumers of their social and environmental conduct is a symptom of the economic climate. He said: “Consumers are more nervous and less trusting of companies. People are withholding their belief until they have sorted out what is greenwash and what isn't.”

He added that the desperation of retailers to be on-message on environmental and social concerns, such as the use of child labour, meant that they were saying what “sounded right”, even if it was some way from the truth, and the cloud of mistrust obscures even the activities of well-meaning companies. “As customers become more suspicious, companies need to be more careful about how they talk about their environmental or social standards,” he said.
Industry “kitemarks”, such as the Forest Standards Council, which guarantees that timber comes from a sustainable source, can help to restore trust — yet the survey found that awareness of the FSC had stalled. Slightly less than a third of consumers had heard of it, the same figure as last year.
Mr Lourie said: “A universal standard that is recognised by the industry is a good way to go, as it informs consumers and forces the laggards to buck up their ideas, while allowing the market leaders to push the whole area forward.”
Information is also a critical factor. Nearly 80 per cent of concerned consumers do not believe that they have sufficient information on the environmental and social impacts of goods to make an informed choice. More than 90 per cent would find it useful to have more information on recycling — a demand that may be difficult to meet because of the variance in rules on what can be recycled between different councils.
Mr Lourie said: “Customers lack information that would help them to make an informed decision. Lots of environmental measures have been taken already, but are not communicated well.
“Value is the No 1 factor for consumers at the moment, but at the same time, if you can deliver value, your differentiator can be the environmental and social factors that are already inherent. That will help you to stand out.”
About 80 per cent of concerned consumers believe that companies have some responsibility for the disposal of old furniture. Homebase provides such a service, but, after the imposition of European regulations, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, there is likely to be growing pressure for others to follow. The directive obliges producers to finance the collection, treatment and recovery of products.
Among the top concerns for consumers was the use of child labour — even though the home and garden category, unlike the clothing trade, has not been struck by controversy on the subject.
Mr Lourie said: “This shows that issues that are affecting other sectors or industries, like the fashion industry or whoever else has been tarred with that brush, are of concern to consumers, even if they have not arisen. It means that if an issue does crop up, it could do extraordinarily serious damage.”
In 2007, home and garden centres were at the centre of the controversy over outdoor heaters, which were attacked for their energy use. This year, B&Q stopped selling wind turbines, which allow homes to generate their own energy, thanks to concerns they did not work well enough.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, installed one. B&Q had hoped that the law would be changed to allow the windmills to be installed without planning permission.
B&Q recently opened what it said was its greenest store in New Malden, southwest London, which features Britain's largest building-mounted wind turbine and ground-source heating. Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q, said that it hoped its features would reduce the store's emissions by half.
It sells loft insulation for £1 a roll, a fraction of the normal price, which is subsidised by British Gas under the Government's carbon emissions reduction target scheme.
Separately, nearly 75 per cent of concerned consumers said that packaging on an Easter egg was one of the main factors in a purchasing decision. In recognition of this trend, Nestlé said last week it had reduced packaging on its Easter eggs by 30 per cent, saving 700 tonnes of waste.
Make the most of what you have Giles Gibbons: Viewpoint
When times are tough, make the most of what you have. Companies must extract every iota of value from existing assets, rather than investing in the acquisition or creation of new ones. It is the corporate equivalent of finding forgotten goodies in the attic — particularly pertinent to many of the home-and-garden companies that are the focus of our survey this month.
B&Q is a case in point. It has a significant untapped asset. Here is a company that has been investing seriously in its social and environmental performance for years. It spearheaded the move towards sustainable timber use that has become widespread. Initiatives such as B&Q's One Planet Home moves it closer to the attic door, but for many it is still in the attic.
It is about time that stories such as these saw the light of day. Of course, when times are tough, consumers' primary focus is on value, but this does not mean that they immediately cease to care about anything else. As they consider each purchase decision more carefully, it becomes ever more important for the retailer to remove any factors that could tip the balance into a decision not to buy.
And this includes ethical qualms and doubts. In the survey this month 80 per cent of consumers said that they were concerned about the use of child labour in the production of home-and-garden products.
It would not take much. These times do not lend themselves to the loudspeaker approach, even if the marketing budgets were there to fund it. Much more appropriate, and eminently cost-effective, would be for companies that have values to start making them evident to consumers at the time and place of the purchase decision. This means making the most of in-store space and existing brochures and mailouts, thus providing added reassurance to consumers that not only are they getting value, but they are also getting values to which they adhere.
In these frugal times, every asset should be made to count.

Boris Johnson could introduce London electric car hire scheme

Mayor considers initiative as part of attempts to make city 'electric capital of Europe'
Hélène Mulholland, Wednesday 25 February 2009 17.41 GMT

Boris Johnson is considering the introduction of an electric car hire scheme in London as part of his attempts to make it the "electric capital of Europe".
The London mayor today told the London assembly that the working group he has set up to look at electric vehicles was considering the autolib scheme being planned for Paris for 2010.
The plan is based on the French capital's Velib bike hire scheme, which is already in place, and will see cars available for hire from bays around Paris.
Asked whether he would consider a similar scheme, Johnson confirmed his working group was already examining it.
The mayor – who has already set plans for a bike hire version of the scheme for London in motion – said he wanted the city to spearhead the revolution in electric cars.
He told the London assembly his environment chief was already "on the case", and that the issue was also being considered by the electric vehicle working group.
"I think this [electric vehicle technology] is something we should be really leading on," he said.
"I think we should be making London the electric capital of Europe, and that's why we are going to be greatly expanding our support for charging points around London.
"We have been talking to manufacturers about the possibility about switching to, or indeed creating, electric vehicles in this city."
Johnson said he was hoping to to persuade the transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, to give London at least a "sizeable chunk" of the £250m government money put in place to support electric initiatives.
Johnson said he wanted to see at least half the 8,000 vehicle fleet owned by the Greater London Authority replaced by electric vehicles as soon as possible.
However, he warned that considerable sums were necessary in order to invest in a technology that is "almost there ... but not quite".
"I want to see real progress towards us identifying London as the electric capital by June, but we have to be clear this is something we can't do without government assistance and we have to do it jointly with central government, " he said.
"It would be very sad if central government decided London wasn't suitable or wasn't the prime area for support."
While backing electric cars to reduce emissions, Johnson defended his decision, announced earlier this month, to drop the third phase of London's low emission zone, which would have penalised the highest polluting vans entering London through a £100 daily charge.
The Conservative mayor said it was "not right" to ask van drivers to spend £2,000 on making their vehicles compliant or £15,000 on replacing them with fuel efficient engines during a recession because the costs involved could tip many small businesses into closure.

China builds a green dream machine

The Asian country is known more for its pollution than environmental credentials – but a hybrid carmaker is winning the global eco-race

Helena Iveson
The Guardian, Thursday 26 February 2009

The Chinese government supports the production of hybrid cars such as those built at the BYD plant in Xi’an.

China's horrific air pollution is hardly a state secret, causing about 656,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organisation. But what is more of a surprise is the arrival of a new, local car manufacturer with breathtaking ambitions, supported by a government seeking to become a world leader when it comes to green technology.
BYD Auto – short for Build Your Dreams – was only founded in 2003, yet it has pulled off a global coup by mass-­producing the world's first plug-in, petrol-­electric hybrid, the nifty-looking BYD F3DM ( Under the bonnet, the car is more of a purely electric car than any similar hybrids on the road today, and has made its debut at least a year ahead of similar models from the US and Japan.
This year's model
The car, which does not need a specialised electric charging station and can be charged using a normal household supply, is now on sale in China, where it costs just under 150,000 yuan (£15,000), a similar price to a mid-range petrol-powered sedan and a bit more than half the 250,000 yuan it costs to buy a Toyota Prius. BYD has come from nowhere to sell 24,107 vehicles in January alone, an increase of nearly 80% from the previous year, and aims to sell 400,000 models in China this year.
BYD aims to tap into the world's fastest-growing auto market as China's emerging middle class – now estimated to number between 100 million and 150 million people – swap their bicycles for four wheels. While the economic crisis has sent vehicle sales tumbling around the world, Beijing alone is still adding more than 1,500 new cars to its gridlock every day. "The use of alternative types of cars could really make a contribution to the reduction of pollution in large Chinese cities," says Karl-Thomas Neumann, chairman of the carparts manufacturer Continental.
A survey by Continental shows that Chinese consumers are much more interested in hybrids than their European counterparts, with 53.7% of those surveyed happy to buy a hybrid and 73.4% who would consider an electric car – decidedly more green than the UK's respective 30.2% and 37.1%. Chinese drivers are more open to hybrids as "more than 90% drive in urban centres and travel less than 60 miles a day", says Paul Lin, BYD Auto's marketing manager. Hybrids come into their own in cities because of their limited range and top speeds. In queues, the car's electric engine shuts down before restarting when the car moves again.
While the auto company is a newcomer, its parent company, BYD – which itself has only been around since 1995 – is the world's biggest supplier of rechargeable batteries, giving them a huge jumpstart when it comes to the production of hybrid and electric cars. And the company has audacious ambitions – it aims to be China's No 1 car firm by 2015, and world No 1 in 2025. BYD vehicles will be launched in Europe – provisionally Denmark, because of its friendly tax policies towards green technology – in 2011.
"We respect our competitors abroad," says Lin, "but we are aiming to show that we can not only compete on the world stage, but dominate."
Environmentalists and Chinese commuters frustrated at the rising price of fuel aren't the only ones with their fingers crossed that the car takes off. The US investment guru Warren Buffet has bought a 10% stake in the firm for $232m.
In China, electricity is cheap, though this is produced by burning coal. The company decided to avoid building expensive charging stations. "Most Chinese live in apartments and don't have their own garages, so instead, drivers unplug the battery and charge it in their homes overnight," says Lin. The car has a range of 62 miles on a fully charged battery, and once the battery runs out, the car switches into hybrid mode. Lin claims the batteries will not degrade until they have been fully charged 2,000 times, which should take seven years, and even then, the battery's capacity only drops to 80%.
Communist revolution
Of course, one company alone won't change China's dirty habits, let alone those of the world, says Bradley Berman, editor of "BYD deserves credit for producing plug-in hybrids. But to make a real dent in auto pollution, these plug-in cars will need to scale up to hundreds of thousands per year. So, it's not who's first with the first models. Environmental and economic success will come with high-volume production sustained over many years," he says.
An analyst with IHS Global Insight Auto, Duan Chengwu, says China's advances in green technology have come about because of backing from its most dominant power source – its Communist government. "The government firmly supports these companies producing hybrids and electric cars," says Duan. Measures to stimulate the ailing car industry include the halving of sales tax on certain cars, subsidies for owners of high-emission vehicles who exchange them for more fuel-efficient vehicles and a 10bn yuan fund to promote new technology. Thirteen cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, offer subsidies to hybrid buyers.
While combating pollution problems is one incentive, the Chinese government has another reason to push green technology: pride. "The government wants to leapfrog western countries and become a global leader in the field," Duan says. "The country is years behind its competitors in the auto industry as a whole, but when it comes to green technology, everyone is starting from scratch. In this scenario, China has a great opportunity."
Four wheels good
The most famous hybrid car of choice is still the Toyota Prius, the first mass-produced model. The car is essentially petrol-fuelled but has an electric engine that propels the car at low speeds and assists the main engine when accelerating. First launched in Japan in 1997 before going worldwide in 2001, more than 1m Prius hybrids have been sold. There will be a plug-in version of the Prius for fleet customers by the end of the year, and the company also recently announced they will produce a commuter battery-electric vehicle by 2012.
General Motors won't be joining the electric car fray until 2011, when it says it will launch the Chevy Volt in the US. The car will have a lithium-ion battery with a petrol-powered engine that drives a generator to provide electricity when you drive beyond its 40-mile battery range. The Volt is expected to cost around $40,000 (£27,500).
Here in the UK, the independent car company Lightning wins the award for the most stylish option – their swish-looking fully electric Lightning model looks like something an eco-friendly James Bond would drive, and should be available from late 2010. The catch? An estimated asking price of £120,000.

Windfarm approval can't lift SSE shares

Published Date: 26 February 2009

SCOTTISH & Southern Energy eased almost 2 per cent yesterday despite having another offshore wind farm approved in the Dutch area of the North Sea. Perth-based SSE said Breeveertieen II, the second Dutch wind farm it has been given permission for
, will have the capacity to produce some 350Mw from 97 turbines situated about 60 kilometres off the coast of Ijmuiden. But despite high values being placed on consented wind farm assets, SSE's shares dropped 19p or 1.7 per cent to 1,108p.Oil shares rose on the back of a rise in crude prices, with Dana Petroleum extending gains made on Tuesday when it announced another significant discovery in the North Sea. Its shares jumped 69p to 1,025p, while, elsewhere in the sector, Venture Production climbed 2.9 per cent to 496p and Melrose Resources rose 4.5 per cent at 189.75p.FTSE-100 explorer Cairn Energy climbed 45p to 1,916p despite reports that it had surrendered some exploration rights in Bangladesh.On Aim, Clyde Process Solutions was unchanged at 21.5p, after it warned in a trading statement covering the year to 28 February that economic conditions had been "challenging" but it had continued to pick up orders.

Canada brushes off oil sands article

The Associated Press
Published: February 26, 2009

TORONTO: Canada's Conservative government and the country's main opposition party defended Alberta's massive oil sands operations on Wednesday following the release of a 20-page critical photo-essay in this month's National Geographic magazine.
The article details the environmental and social problems around the oil sands.
The magazine has glossy photographs of sludge-filled toxic ponds and the grey, muddy moonscapes of the massive open pit mines around Fort McMurray, Alberta.
"In northern Alberta the question of how to strike that balance (between economics and the environment) has been left to the free market, and its answer has been to forget about tomorrow. Tomorrow is not its job," says the article.
The spread is the latest in a series of public-relations challenges for the Canadian and Alberta governments as they struggle to deal with the enormous carbon footprint of the oil sands. Environmentalists have mounted a campaign in the U.S. portraying the oil sands as an environmental catastrophe.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice dismissed the feature as "just one article." He emphasized the work Canada and the U.S. agreed to do on carbon reduction technologies for the coal and oil industries in North America.
President Barack Obama's remarks on Canada's polluting oil sands industry and an agreement to begin a clean-energy dialogue between the countries last week reassured Canadians worried the new U.S. president would restrict oil imports.
"The answer to all of this is technology, investments in technology, and that's why we'll be working together with the United States to that end," said Prentice, who heads to Washington next week to meet environmental advisers.
Opposition Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who recently positioned himself as a supporter of the oil sands, was emphatic in his disdain for the National Geographic story.
"National Geographic is not going to teach me any lessons about the oil sands," he said.
"This is a huge industry. It employs Canadians from coast to coast. We have oil reserves that are going to last for the whole of the 21st century. We are where we are. We've got to clean it up, and we've got make it a sustainable place to work and live."
Industry officials estimate the oil sands in northern Alberta could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil, making Canada second only to Saudi Arabia in crude oil reserves. But the extraction process produces a high amount of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.

RWE Npower secures land at Sellfield

By Rebecca Bream, Utilities Correspondent
Published: February 25 2009 23:25

Energy group RWE Npower has stepped up its campaign to be a leading developer of new nuclear reactors in the UK with the securing of farmland near the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria.
The company has secured the right to buy land at two locations near Sellafield, as well as potential connections to the national grid for up to 3,600 MW of new power generation capacity.
Sellafield is best known as the location for most of the UK’s nuclear waste, but it is also home to the Calder Hall reactor, the world’s first commercial nuclear power station, which started generating electricity in 1956 and closed down in 2003.
Local politicians and unions are keen to see Sellafield revived as a site for nuclear power generation. So far RWE has focused most of its nuclear efforts on Anglesey in Wales, where it has also secured options to buy farmland and install grid connections. Last month it formed an alliance with rival power supplier Eon to look at jointly building new reactors at Wylfa and at Oldbury in Gloucestershire, both locations of ageing reactors owned by the government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
The NDA is in the process of auctioning its sites at Wylfa and Oldbury, as well as Bradwell in Essex, with the successful bidders to be announced by the end of March.
The NDA’s land at Sellafield is expected to come up for sale at a later stage, and RWE’s decision to secure land there indicates that it would be interested in bidding, potentially in partnership with Eon.
RWE and Eon plan to jointly build around 6,000 MW of nuclear generation capacity in the UK, which represents between four and six reactors depending on which technology is chosen. They hope to have the first new reactor completed between 2018 and 2020.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

The truth about recycling

With stories of old TVs ending up in Nigerian landfill sites, the collapse in demand for recycled materials, and claims that incineration is a better way to dispose of waste, there's a growing backlash against recycling. So should we still be washing up those baked beans cans? Leo Hickman finds out

Leo Hickman
The Guardian, Thursday 26 February 2009

Several times a year, without forewarning or invitation, inspectors representing the Chinese government make their way to the Black Country, the geographical and, some would argue, industrial heart of England, to rummage through the recycling collected from the region's streets. They pass through Walsall and on to neighbouring Aldridge where they visit a former foundry that was recently converted - "recycled", according to its owners - into the country's largest "materials recovery facility"(MRF, pronounced "merf").
"We had them here again just a few weeks ago," says Mick Davis, the business development director at Greenstar, the site's owners. From a gantry high up above the loud confusion of conveyor belts, thrashing bag splitters and giant spinning magnets below, he points to a towering pile of bales being stacked by a forklift truck in the corner of the hangar-like building. The sweet, acidic stench of rotting refuse attacks the nostrils.
"The inspectors reserve the right to split open any of those bales containing plastic bottles and check for quality and contamination," says Davis. "They are very fussy about standards. They will also closely inspect our 'soft mix' paper bales, too. We now have to take a photograph of every bale before it gets shipped to China. It's all about traceability and quality control. But it's their right to be fussy: they pay us good money for these materials. We're getting about £50 for a 300kg PET [polyethylene terephthalate, a thermoplastic polymer resin] bail at the moment."
This is the vision of recycling we all want to hold dear in our heads as we wash up baked bean cans and sort wine bottles from plastic milk cartons ready for collection: confirmation that as much of our waste as possible is collected, sorted and sold on for a profit.
But the reality - somewhat at odds with the evidence to be found in Aldridge - is that recycling is undergoing a crisis of confidence. Amid stories of old televisions being sent for recycling but instead heading for Nigerian landfill sites, and popular revolts against "bin taxes" and fortnightly collections, many householders say they are beginning to lose confidence in a system that has only been in existence for the last decade. (It's easy to forget that as recently as 2000, as much as 90% of waste in England was still being sent to landfill: in 2008, it stood at 59.9% of household waste.) Compounding this sense of anxiety is the news that the international market for recyclable commodities has taken a dive alongside the rest of the global economy, sparking headlines about piles of unsold recycled materials across the country.
And hovering over this are longer-term questions about the direction our waste management strategy is headed, with an increasing push towards incineration as landfill is slowly squeezed out of the equation by ever-tightening environmental directives, regulations and taxes. Would it, in fact, make more sense both environmentally and economically, as one government waste adviser controversially suggested recently, to be burning some of our recycling to generate both electricity and heat instead of, say, exporting it?
Inside the warmth of the boardroom, away from the noise and hurry of the machinery, Ian Wakelin, Greenstar's CEO, offers up a passionate defence of recycling: "Yes, there is a backlash against recycling at the moment, but there is also a real lack of balance in the debate. Is recycling being landfilled, as some are claiming? Beyond the contaminated matter that we have to extract from the recyclate we receive [about 5-10% of the total weight], I think this is nonsense. I haven't talked to anyone in the recycling industry who has landfilled anything that is recyclable. The economics just don't stack up. Why would they when landfill gate fees are so high? [Currently, about £50-60 a tonne.] They can give it to me and I will readily take it off them."
Wakelin feels that the UK still has a long way to go before it feels at ease about how it deals with its waste. "We are such a nimby culture here in the UK," he says. "Would you rather have a landfill or an incinerator on your doorstep? Look at Vienna, where they've built an incinerator right in the centre of the city that is so beautiful that it now attracts tourists. The danger is that public perception is bloody difficult to change. We need more positive education programmes about what we do with our waste. For example, it's immoral not to ship our recycling back to India and China if it's helping them to grow their economies and develop. Who are we to deny them this resource?"
Wakelin believes that one of the tricks to winning over a sceptical public is to make recycling far easier for the average householder. "I always get asked the same questions at dinner parties," he says. "Why do I have to have so many bins at home? And why can't I recycle more plastic?"
The solution, says Wakelin, is to "leave it to the machines", rather than have "Mr and Mrs Average sorting it all at home". His company's philosophy for waste is that "co-mingled" collections (where all dry recyclables are placed by householders into just one bag ready for collection) are the way forward, as opposed to kerbside collections (where householders are expected to separate their recycling at home for refuse workers working "kerbside" to then put these sorted materials by hand into separate containers on their vehicle) which, he says, are less efficient, both environmentally and economically. The MRF at Aldridge processes 500-600 tonnes of municipal recycling (collected from households, restaurants, small businesses etc) a day, serving 15 local authorities, some as far away as London and North Wales. This represents 3-4% of the UK's dry recyclate.
"The traditional argument against co-mingled is that it gets more contaminated than kerbside," he says. "That was the case five to 10 years ago, but the technology is much better now. The industry is going through a revolution right now, from the rag-and-bone man through to the machine. We are seeing a rush by councils towards co-mingling. Nine out of the 10 best-performing local authorities, when it comes to recycling rates, use co-mingled collections. When they switch over, they typically see a 20% leap in recycling rates overnight."
Back out on the shop floor, Davis edges past the 40-strong team of "pickers", who are all intently scanning the recycling as it flashes past them on the conveyor for any contamination missed by the machines. "We see all this as a commodity, not waste," he says. "We then process it into soft-mix paper, glass, aluminium, metal cans and soft plastics by polymer type and colour. About 10-15% of our materials go to China, but the majority stays in the UK. All our newsprint, for example, goes to a processing site in Aylesbury.
"Steel cans used to go to the steel firm Corus, but they have currently abandoned this due to the downturn in the car industry. Last year we were getting £60 a tonne for steel, but that's down to £30-£50. Yes, this has hurt us. But we are tied to the global economy and we think the sharpest shocks are over. People had been running down their stocks of recycled materials, especially in China, but now that they've exhausted those supplies they are coming back into the market and prices have strengthened again. It's a total myth that we can't sell this stuff. The main problem is that there's a real shortage of processing facilities like this around the country."
Chris Allen is one of the reprocessors waiting keenly "downstream" for these materials to turn them back into "useful stuff". As CEO of Smurfit Kappa Paper UK, he oversees a firm that produces 450,000 tonnes of 100% recycled brown paper at two paper mills, in Kent and Birmingham, for use by corrugated box manufacturers across the UK and Ireland. "We turn things such as newspaper, old cardboard boxes and cornflake packets into quality brown paper," he says. "The UK produces 2m tonnes of cardboard boxes a year. We should do our level best to produce these with locally recycled materials. At the moment, I'm paying £50-55 a tonne for mixed waste paper and card, whereas I'm selling it as brown paper for £280 a tonne. This is a viable business, believe me. The fibres from those trees that get cut down have a bloody good life."
Allen has strong views about media reports that some local authorities and collection companies have been stockpiling paper, and other sorts of recycling, as market prices have collapsed: "The Chinese buy paper in huge volume and have been outbidding us. They had been buying like hell and paying incredible sums for it. But the downturn caught up with China at the end of last year and they suddenly stopped buying the expensive stuff from far-off Europe. But they are now coming back into the market and we are seeing prices rise again. There's always been ups and downs in the market, but it was the collection companies who had been exclusively selling to the Chinese that were bleating at the end of last year that the market had collapsed. I hate to say, 'I told you so,' but if they had had a balanced supply portfolio they wouldn't have been in that pickle. The quiet, sensible ones just got on with selling to buyers like me. Look at Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in the country. They didn't have one single problem, because they sell paper that is well sorted and of a high quality. It's the shit-quality paper that you saw being stockpiled on the TV."
Tom Freyberg, editor of Recycling and Waste World magazine, agrees there are signs the market is recovering from its trough in December 2008. "Problems started in October when the prices of materials such as paper and plastics fell dramatically," he says. "However, prices are now climbing. For people to lose faith now in recycling would be disastrous."
But it's not just the availability of buyers that has helped to depress prices, say some prominent voices within the industry. There is a problem with quality, too. The Campaign for Real Recycling, which is made up of some of the UK's largest materials reprocessors, in addition to community recycling representatives and Friends of the Earth, argues that the overall quality of recycled materials in the UK just isn't as high as it should and could be, and that this is largely down to the trend for co-mingled collections.
Earlier this year, the campaign group sent an open letter to Jane Kennedy MP, the minister for farming and environment at Defra, urging the government to reverse this trend. It lamented the fact that the recycling system in the UK was producing "extremely low-grade mixed materials masquerading as paper, aluminium, glass" and, as a result, many reprocessors were having to import materials from abroad unnecessarily.
Caught in the middle of this debate is the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), the not-for-profit company set up as part of the government's waste strategy published back in 2000. Phillip Ward, as director for local government services, has the task of advising local authorities on what types of collection systems they should opt for.
"We are going through a large transitionary period," he says. "As recently as 2000 we were largely putting all our stuff in the ground. But we're now at 35% recycling rates. Local authorities had to invent a new system but no one knew the best way to do it. That's why we now have a patchwork solution across the country. It's not a finished system yet."
Yes, he says, we must all aim to produce cleaner, better quality recyclate, as well as aim to "narrow the variations between the local authorities", but he adds that a patchwork of collection and sorting methods will always be necessary to some degree due to the rural/suburban/urban split across the country. Co-mingling better suits the often cramped "internal logistics" of people living in built-up city centres, whereas kerbside collection suits those out in the leafy suburbs with enough space to sort everything into neat, tidy piles.
Psychology plays an important role in public engagement, says Ward. "Surveys have shown that most people have fairly mundane criticisms of recycling: 'Nobody explains to me what happens next to my waste', or 'Nobody says thank you for my efforts'. People do respond to this, rather than a punitive atmosphere."
Ward accepts that the media backlash ("propaganda by papers with an agenda," as he describes it) against "pay-as-you-throw" schemes, which aimed to impose an extra charge on householders who produced excessive waste, means that these are now politically untenable. Give people the right signals, as well as the right collections, he says, and most people are only too happy to "do their bit". "Our research has shown that giving people two 55-litre boxes for recycling, collected once a week, is the ideal combination. We have also found that if you get plastic recycling right it triggers further engagement. This is now a key area for us, alongside increasing food waste collections. [According to Wrap, we still throw out about one-third of the food we buy.] The next frontier is getting plastic items such as yoghurt pots and margarine lids collected. It has to be shown to be viable. For example, a new plant called Closed Loop has recently opened in Dagenham, Essex, processing plastic milk cartons and clear drinks bottles into food-grade packaging."
But Ward also wants us all to ask some broader, deeper questions about our whole "cradle-to-grave" waste economy. The waste industry has been talking about the so-called "waste hierarchy" for decades - the mantra that places waste prevention as the first goal followed, in descending order, by minimisation, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and, finally, disposal - but it has still not yet fully met these words with deeds. After all, it is now almost 50 years since the US social critic Vance Packard wrote about the excessive waste produced by western consumerism (principally, how we are all encouraged to buy things we don't need) in his landmark bestseller The Waste Makers - the Silent Spring of the waste world - and still we have yet to fundamentally heed his warnings.
"We need a manufacturing system that uses far more recycled materials," says Ward. "We need to tackle planned obsolescence. At the moment it's still hard to make the economic case to mend something, but, as we have already seen in places such as Japan and Taiwan, the labour pool in China will become less and less cheap as their standard of living rises. This should lead to the return of the repair man for items such as broken dishwashers, kettles and washing machines. We can do this by getting the manufacturers together. That's how we tackled standby power. Ten years ago, standby used 25-30 watts; now that's down to 1-2 watts."
Ask most householders what their No1 irritant is when it comes to waste and the response is immediate: excessive packaging. Why is the onus placed on householders and consumers to dispose of it dutifully and correctly, they ask, when the problem could be more readily tackled upstream? The Local Government Authority also recently weighed into the debate saying that supermarkets should contribute towards the costs of recycling, adding that almost 40% of the packaging used by supermarkets still cannot be easily recycled.
Ward shares this frustration, but he doesn't have a word of comfort for those who express concern about the slow creep towards incineration as opposed to, say, waste minimisation or greatly increased recycling. "Incineration is going to be inevitable," says Ward. "[But the] cleaner we can get our waste, the less of it we'll need to burn. That's why we always plead for people to keep their recycling as clean and well sorted as possible. Curry sauce all over your recycling will render it useless."
There are those, though, who believe that recovering energy by incinerating waste is better, by and large, than recycling it. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers, for example, has recently urged the government to invest in heating and energy projects with local waste being used as the fuel resource, much like the schemes found in countries such as Germany and Austria. "The government should abandon its focus on recycling as the only way to rid us of landfills," it says, "as this is quite unachievable and is clearly deceiving the public about what is really happening to their waste. Recycling should only be for waste products that cannot be more sustainably converted into electricity, heat and/or transport fuels."
Adam Read, a former professor of waste management at Northampton University, believes that the industry is still in the foothills when it comes to understanding the full environmental implications of each form of waste treatment. "We certainly need to understand our waste-flow better," he says. "We need a better grasp of the calorific values, water content, market values and the like of each waste source before pushing ahead. Yes, it sometimes will be more economical to burn waste, but the environmental impact is always going to be less when recycling. However, incineration will always be better environmentally than landfill because of the methane generated when organic waste rots underground."
On the site of a former quarry at Allington in Kent sits a facility that is squarely at the heart of the debate about whether we should be burning more of our waste, especially the portions of our waste that some argue could and should be recovered for recycling. The Enviropower energy from waste (EFW) facility, with its 80m-tall chimney, is the country's newest and largest incinerator. It also operates a MRF and, as a result, can now claim to be Kent's one-stop-shop for waste. The Waste Recycling Group, the Spanish-owned company that built the site, says the UK can expect to see more and more combined "waste management facilities" such as Allington Quarry being built in the coming years.
"We burn 1,500 tonnes of waste a day - 24/7, 365 days a year - at temperatures of 600-650C," says Paul Andrews, Enviropower's managing director, as a huge mechanical claw swoops down, grabs several tonnes of black bin bags from a concrete bunker below, and lifts them up into a shredder in preparation for entering the combustion chambers. "Doing so provides us with 43 megawatts of electricity - easily enough to power the whole of Maidstone."
As much of the recyclable material as possible, he explains, is recovered from the black bins as they pass through the shredders, but this only amounts realistically to any ferrous metals that manage to be caught by magnets. The vast majority of what Kent now puts into its black bin bags - chicken bones, bottle tops, cling film, nappies - ends up being burned inside Allington Quarry's fluidised-bed combustion chambers (ovens with 120 tonnes of sand at the bottom that is blasted with air to help increase the "burn efficiency" of the materials that pass over it). It's a one-way ticket, but Enviropower says by burning this waste it helps to divert almost half a million tonnes of Kent's waste from going to landfill each year. For every black bag that passes into the system, 85% of the weight will be vapourised and the remaining 15% will be extracted, either as an anaerobic sludge or a dry ash. The sludge is sent to landfill, whereas the ash is either landfilled or used as aggregate for roads.
But what most of the surrounding residents want to know is what is coming out of that tall chimney. When the site was going through planning, for example, local campaigners opposing its construction said they were fearful of being exposed to soot, heavy metals, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) and cancerous dioxins. Paul Andrews makes a pretty remarkable defence when probed on this matter: "It would take 25 years for this facility to produce as much pollution as is emitted by vehicles on the M25 in just three days. The legal limit for dust particles from a coal-fired power station is 160mg per cubic metre, where as for us the limit is 10mg per cubic metre. Proportionally, fireworks throw up far more in the way of dioxins. So does cooking bacon. We have even reached the limit of detection with some of the gases, but we could still go further with nitrogen oxides. The regulations on emissions are incredibly stringent now and, to be honest, we would welcome even tighter rules."
Andrews says that when most people think of incinerators now they think of the ones dating back to the postwar period. But today's incinerators, he says, are many orders of magnitude cleaner because they go to "extraordinary lengths" to clean up the gases as they leave the combustion chamber, including passing them through a lime and carbon bath to remove the acidic gases and through filter bags to remove dust particles.
"We have this Englishman-and-his-castle attitude here in the UK," he says. "Zero waste is just not possible. We live in a society where some waste streams just don't have a home other than disposal. As a country, we need to work out where we are ultimately heading with waste. The government needs to set out clearly what our waste vision is."
Recycling as much of our waste as possible is still the goal, says Andrews, but we must accept that some of it will need to be either incinerated or landfilled. But the wider, as yet unanswered, question is what happens when incinerating waste is seen to be more convenient than going to the cost and bother of recycling it? Do we block this from happening with regulation and taxes, as we are doing with landfill, or do we slide into a society that predominately incinerates its waste? The way Liz Parkes, head of waste at the Environment Agency, sees it, we are going through some inevitable growing pains as we move from a nation that once unthinkingly threw its waste in the ground and buried it to one that attempts to make as much use of it as it can.
"Yes, it is taking time to turn this around, and it's a shame that the current debate could turn attitudes away from recycling, but there is a demand out there for our materials," she says. "We have to keep building up public trust with things such as open days and school visits. We must keep the message simple. Recycling has to be normalised and socially acceptable. Just look at what happened with issues such as smoking and drink-driving over the years. It takes time as this is really all about public behaviour. We just need to move as a society from one that says 'not there, not there' to one that asks, 'Where do you want it then?'"