Friday, 23 January 2009

How green is my orange?

By Andrew Martin
Published: January 22, 2009

BRADENTON, Florida: How much does your morning glass of orange juice contribute to global warming?
PepsiCo, which owns the Tropicana brand, decided to try to answer that question. It figured that as public concern grows about the fate of the planet, companies will find themselves under pressure to perform such calculations. Orange juice seemed like a good case study.
PepsiCo hired experts to do the math, measuring the emissions from such energy-intensive tasks as running a factory and transporting heavy juice cartons. But it turned out that the biggest single source of emissions was simply growing oranges. Citrus groves use a lot of nitrogen fertilizer, which requires natural gas to make and can turn into a potent greenhouse gas when it is spread on fields.
PepsiCo finally came up with a number: the equivalent of 3.75 pounds, or 1.7 kilograms, of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere for each half-gallon, or 1.9 liter, carton of orange juice. But the company is still debating how to use that information. Should it cite the number in its marketing, and would consumers have a clue what to make of it?
PepsiCo's experience is a harbinger of the complexities other companies may face as they come under pressure to calculate their emission of carbon dioxide, a number known as a carbon footprint, and eventually to lower it.

"The main thing is helping us figure out where the carbon is in the chain," said Neil Campbell, president of Tropicana North America, a division of PepsiCo. While acknowledging that protocols for measuring greenhouse emissions are far from perfect, Campbell said, "you can end up doing nothing if you let that stop you."
PepsiCo, a manufacturer of soda, salty snacks and cereal based in Purchase, New York, is among a growing number of companies that hope to get ahead of potential government mandates and curb their energy use as prices and long-term supply grow less certain.
They also want to promote supposedly low-carbon products to consumers anxious about rising global temperatures; such labeling has already appeared in Europe.
The list of companies that have taken steps to reduce carbon emissions includes IBM, Nike, Coca-Cola and BP, the oil giant. Google, Yahoo and Dell are among the companies that have vowed to become "carbon neutral."
PepsiCo is among the first that will provide consumers with an absolute number for a product's carbon footprint, which many expect to be a trend. The information will be posted on Tropicana's Web site. The company has not yet decided if it will eventually put it on the package.
While carbon reduction efforts are generally welcomed by environmentalists, some complain that the marketing claims are backed by fuzzy numbers and dubious assumptions.
Standards exist for determining a carbon footprint, but companies can apply them in different ways. They can decide how rigorous they want to be in counting emissions in the supply chain, and what data sources they should use in the process.
"Any time people are making a legitimate effort to reduce emissions directly or indirectly with their product and services, most of us would think that is a good thing," said Michael Gillenwater, dean of the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, a nonprofit organization that teaches greenhouse gas management and accounting.
"The trick is when you try to put a strict label that has implications for comparing your product to another product, or implying that you have no climate change impact," he said.
Nancy Hirshberg, vice president for natural resources at the yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm, said measuring a carbon footprint is a "fabulous tool" for pinpointing areas to reduce emissions. For instance, her company was surprised to learn that milk production was a far bigger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than its factory.
But she said there were so many variables in determining a carbon footprint that an absolute number was meaningless as a marketing tool.
"I'm thrilled that people are thinking about their carbon footprint, but to put a number on a package is misleading at best," she said.
PepsiCo's interest in determining the carbon footprint of its products began in England, where carbon anxiety is further advanced than in the United States. In 2007, Walkers, a PepsiCo brand, published the carbon footprint of its potato chips on its Web site and on the package.
Campbell, who ran the Walkers brand, championed the idea when he came to Tropicana at the beginning of 2008. As was the case with Walkers, Tropicana hired an outside auditor, the Carbon Trust, to review its calculations and certify its footprint. The Carbon Trust was set up by the British government to accelerate progress toward a low-carbon economy.
Making orange juice is relatively straightforward: the oranges are picked by hand, trucked to the plant, squeezed, pasteurized and packed into cartons and shipped by train to distribution points around the country. Early on, company officials roughed out the carbon footprint of Tropicana juice. But when the Carbon Trust came back with its own calculations, that initial estimate was off by more than 20 percent.
Growing the oranges accounted for a larger share — about a third — than PepsiCo had expected, almost entirely because of the production and application of fertilizer.
Now, PepsiCo managers said they planned to work with their growers and with researchers at the University of Florida to find ways to grow oranges using less carbon. And they are starting to grapple with ways to teach the public how to interpret the carbon footprint of a product.
PepsiCo is scheduled to announce its Tropicana results on Thursday, and will publish carbon-footprint numbers for products including Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Gatorade. Said Bryan Lembke, a PepsiCo manager on the project: "If you don't measure it, you can't improve it."

Greenwash: Time for rail to raise its game and cut emissions

Rail operators get an easy ride over emissions – but they are often worse emitters than their aviation rivals

Fred Pearce, Thursday 22 January 2009 12.00 GMT

A Virgin Trains service on the Manchester to London line. Photograph: Christopher Thomond
Travelling by train is the green way to go. In the month when the government seems set on railroading us into a third Heathrow runway, even ministers will agree on that. You can "travel greener" with Arriva to Wales. Or hop aboard Eurostar, which claims to "generate 10 times less CO2 than flying" to Paris. Or emit "78% less" than flying if you take one of Virgin's tilting Pendolino trains to Glasgow.
But is it always true? And do the rail companies deserve the green plaudits they shower on themselves?
All these claims are based on average emissions for taking one passenger for one kilometre. In theory they take account of everything from how the power is generated to the type of engine and how full the plane or train usually is. And they are independently audited.
So we can take it on trust that one of Virgin's smart new Pendolinos, travelling half-full up the west coast main line, clocks up 27g per passenger kilometre. That compares with just over 150g for a typical, well-filled short-haul plane, and 180g for a car containing 1.2 passengers (the average occupancy). Likewise, Eurostar takes you to Paris for 11g/km or Brussels for 24g.
Eurostar does so well because its trains are mainly powered by French nuclear power stations. The company can't quite bring itself to say "our trains are greener because they run on nuclear power", but that is what it means.
Delve further into the data and it turns out that not all Virgin trains are anything like as clean as the Pendolinos, whose green credentials the firm advertises. Catch its most modern diesel train, the Voyager, and it emits 74g per passenger kilometre when travelling half-full – almost three times as much as the Pendolino.
Suddenly, that 78% claim has shrunk. In fact, if you catch a Voyager when it is just a quarter full – and I've been on plenty of those – then your emissions per kilometre travelled are about the same as sitting in a fullish plane. More leg room, but no greener.
Other companies have different figures for their average emissions. Scotrail, which runs the sleeper train to Euston, claims an average of 60g per passenger kilometre. Other companies like Southern and SouthWest Trains also quote the same figure, which turns out to be the government estimate of the national average. But averages are just that.
I used to take the overnight sleeper whenever I went to Scotland. I felt I was doing the right thing for the environment. In fact, I could be quite rude to people who flew to the same event.
But it looks like I was wrong. That Scotrail figure of 60g is for regular train carriages with 70-odd seats. It doesn't publish detailed stats but I am guessing that, like Virgin, they assume their carriages are about half-full. So maybe 40 passengers share the emissions for pulling a carriage from London to Glasgow.
But sleepers are different. You can't pack in as many beds as seats. And most people these days travel in single-berth compartments. If we assume there are 12 people snoozing the journey away in a typical sleeper carriage from Euston to Glasgow, that works out at 200g per passenger kilometre – rather more than the 150g for flying. Ouch.
This may be a bit of a special case. I am not saying that it is always, or even usually, better to fly. I am certainly not saying we should build a third runway at Heathrow to keep everybody off the trains.
What I am saying is that trains have had an easy ride so far over their emissions. One of the lines I regularly travel on is the Arun Valley line through West Sussex. It recently had a voltage upgrade to run new heavier trains with faster acceleration, air conditioning and power doors, which meant they needed twice the power of the old trains. No airline would ever contemplate doling that.
The Department for Transport admits that till recently, nobody on the railways thought much about greenhouse gases. "The increase weight of recent train designs… has demonstrated that too little emphasis has been placed on environmental issues in the past," officials wrote in the department's document, Rail Contribution to the Energy Review. Now the company is talking to rail operators about using lighter rolling stock. And about increasing the use of "regenerative braking" on electric trains. That means capturing the energy generated during braking as hybrid cars do and returning it to the power system for use by another train. On commuter lines this could cut electricity use by a fifth.
It is also a scandal how little of the British rail network is electrified. That switch alone cuts emissions on the line by a quarter or more. Yet two-thirds of the network still runs dirty diesel trains.
Right now, the railways could do with a lot more effort to cut their emissions and rather less greenwash about how environmentally friendly they are.
• 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

Heathrow third runway will never happen, Boris Johnson tells Londoners

Legal and environmental objections, combined with likely election defeat for Labour, will scupper plans, says mayor
Hélène Mulholland, Thursday 22 January 2009 12.03 GMT

Heathrow airport: mayor spoke out against expansion. Photograph: David Levene
The third runway for Heathrow will "never happen" because Labour will lose the next election, Boris Johnson said last night.
The mayor of London was speaking at a public debate organised by City Hall on a platform which included an empty chair with Gordon Brown's name on it.
Johnson had challenged the prime minister last week to defend his decision to allow BAA to apply for the expansion of Heathrow.
Johnson, who has pledged £15,000 to a fund for a legal challenge against the decision, told the debate in Hayes, west London, that the third runway would never be built "because we are working flat out to oppose it".
Asked by a member of the audience how he could make such a promise, Johnson added: "I have absolutely no doubt that the legal, planning, environmental objections will prove that it will be extremely difficult for it to happen in the next 10, 12, 15 years, but even if there were no legal challenge and even if the Labour government were going ahead with this plan, I am afraid that they would find another obstacle at some stage over the next 18 months. They face one obstacle over which Gordon Brown will not be able to jump and that is the electorate and ... that is why I believe it will not happen."
Residents filled the 600-seat Beck theatre to express their fears about the impact of expansion on local communities, ranging from the fate of hundreds of homes set to be demolished in the village of Sipson, to schools being closed and the cost of their homes plummeting as a result of rising noise pollution.
The mayor sympathised with the audience and reminded them that even members of Brown's own cabinet were opposed to the plans.
He said it was time to have a "serious debate" about the possibilities for expansion elsewhere on the aviation map around London.
Opposing Heathrow as a site of expansion, Johnson said: "No mayor of London could ever accept these proposals. No mayor of any comparable city would accept plans of this kind."
Johnson raised eyebrows by breaking the mayor's "people's question time" tradition by failing to invite London assembly members to join him on the stage, even though the cross-party assembly are all opposed to expansion, including the eight-strong Labour assembly group.
The opposition panel also included Zac Goldsmith, the environmentalist who is now the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Richmond Park, and Ray Puddifoot, the Tory council leader of Hillingdon council and a representative of the 2M coalition group of councils opposed to expansion.
Lord Soley, the former Labour MP for Hammersmith who is now campaign director for Future Heathrow, and Frank Wingate, the chief executive of West London Business, spoke in favour of the plan.
The event was chaired by Richard Barnes, Johnson's deputy mayor and Conservative assembly member for Ealing and Hillingdon.
Johnson's team insisted that other guests had been invited to defend the expansion, including BAA and Jim Fitzpatrick, the transport minister, but they had all declined.
Goldsmith described expansion as a "lunatic" decision and condemned the failure to give MPs a vote on the issue. "We should all be enraged at the manner with which we have reached this place," he said. "The story of Heathrow expansion is really a story of political deception."
Soley, however, said that a high-speed rail link, the Conservative party's favoured option, would also force homes to be demolished. He warned that thousands of jobs would be lost if expansion did not go ahead and that Heathrow would eventually close down as it lost out to airport hubs on the continent.
"Look at what would happen to this area if we do not go ahead with this expansion," he said. "You would hear the silence of the economic graveyard."

Smarter driving tips that can save £250 in fuel bills

Leaving enough space on the road ahead, turning down the air con and shifting up a gear are all ways to make driving more efficient and save car owners up to £250 a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

By Jessica SalterLast Updated: 5:06PM GMT 22 Jan 2009

More importantly, if every driver in the UK was trained to improve their fuel economy, the Trust claim that drivers could cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 10 million tonnes every year.
Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, said: "Smarter driving means driving more efficiently, which in turn can lead to reducing fuel usage by an average 15 per cent and a typical annual saving of between £200 and £250 per person.
"If everyone started driving smarter we as a nation would save ourselves £5 billion.
"At times like these that's not to be sniffed at."
TelegraphTV took a lesson with one of the Trust's instructors who are aiming to teach employees to make better use of their company cars - to drive more efficiently, reduce fuel consumption and to save money by implementing "smarter driving".
Tips include:
Revs: Change up before 2,500rpm (petrol) and 2,000rpm (diesel).
Drive smoothly: Anticipate road conditions and drive smoothly, avoiding sharp acceleration and heavy braking. This saves fuel and reduces accident rates.
Air con: Use air conditioning sparingly as it significantly increases fuel consumption. The most efficient speed depends upon the car in question but is typically around 45 - 50mph. Faster speed will greatly increase your fuel consumption.
Don't warm the engine: Drive away immediately when starting from cold - idling to heat the engine wastes fuel and causes rapid engine wear.
Accessories: Roof racks, bike carriers, and roof boxes significantly affect the car's aerodynamics and reduce fuel efficiency, so remove them when not in use.
Avoid short journeys: A cold engine uses almost twice as much fuel and catalytic converters can take five miles to become effective.
Plan: Try to avoid congestion, road works and getting lost.
Tyres: Check your tyre pressure regularly - under-inflated tyres are dangerous and can increase fuel consumption by up to 3%.
Switch the engine off: If you're stuck in a jam, switch the engine off if you expect to be there for more than a minute or two.

British explorers to measure melting icecaps

The Associated Press
Published: January 22, 2009

LONDON: A team of British explorers has set a new date for an ambitious trek across the North Pole after an expedition planned for last year fell through due to funding problems.
Explorers Pen Hadow, Ann Daniel and photographer Martin Hartley plan to set off from northern Canada's Arctic border on Feb. 24.
They intend to clamber over ice fields and swim through open water to reach the pole, taking measurements on ice and snow levels in the Arctic as they go.
The data will be fed into supercomputers at the U.S. Postgraduate Naval School in Monterey, California.
The team hopes to have results ready for an international conference on climate change being held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

Global warming increasing death rate of US trees, scientists warn

Studies find wide range of tree species are dying with serious long-term effects for biodiversity and carbon dioxide release
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 22 January 2009 19.05 GMT

A black bear wanders through a meadow dotted with fallen trees on July 8, 2007 in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Photograph: Jeff Hutchens/Getty Images
Trees in the western United States are dying twice as quickly as they did three decades ago and scientists think global warming is to blame.
In their surveys, ecologists found that a wide range of tree species were dying including pines, firs and hemlocks and at a variety of altitudes. The changes can have serious long-term effects including reducing biodiversity and turning western forests into a source of carbon dioxide as they die and decompose. That could lead to a runaway effect that speeds up climate change.
"The trend was pervasive across a wide variety of forest types, across all elevations, in trees of all sizes and among major species," said Phillip van Mantgem of the US Geological Survey (USGS). "At the same time, the rate of new establishment of trees didn't change."
If these trends continued, he said, forests will become sparser and store less carbon. "It introduces the possibility that western forests could be come net sources or carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, further speeding up global warming."
The forest survey, carried out by a team of scientists led by van Mantgem, is published tomorrow in the journal Science. It showed that death rates of trees overall had more than doubled since 1955. In the Pacific north-west and British Columbia, deaths had doubled in 17 years. In California, the death rate took 25 years to double.
The work is the first large-scale study of death rates in forests or temperate regions. Much of the world's population – in North America, Europe, most of China and large portions of Russia – live near temperate forests so what happens in these forests has global importance, according to Jerry Franklin, a professor of forest resources at the University of Washington and a co-author of the study.
The researchers think that warming global temperature is the most likely cause for the dramatic decline. From the 1970s to 2006, the period that includes most of the surveyors' tree data, the average annual temperature of the western US increased by 0.3C-0.4C, and increased even more at the higher elevations that are normally covered in forests.
"While this may not sound like much, it has been enough to reduce winter snowpack, cause earlier snowmelt, and lengthen the summer drought," said van Mantgem. This longer summer drought means less water for trees and it also encourages the growth of insects and diseases that attack the plants. Recent outbreaks of tree-killing bark beetles in the western US have already been linked to warmer temperatures.
Mark Harmon, a forest ecologist at Oregon State University, said another concern from the study is that a climate feedback loop could develop from the increased death rate of trees. As temperatures rise, the smaller forests will not only absorb less CO2 but will emit more greenhouse gases ias the dead material decays. This, in turn, would lead to even higher levels of global warming.
The data for the research was gathered by several generations of scientists counting trees over more than 50 years. It included forests in Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and south-western British Columbia. All were older than 200 years, with many being established more than 500 years ago. Death rates in old forests tend to be more stable since they mostly contain very old trees.
"With many of our long-lived trees that grow very large, each year as they become larger and older, the probability of living the next year increases," said Franklin. "You might imagine that, as a tree gets larger and older, the probability of death would increase but it does not – it decreases for many of our species."
In most forests, it is the youngest trees that are most likely to die. "Often they are shaded by larger, taller trees and so they grow more slowly," said Nathan Stephenson of the USGS. "They are less resilient to changes in the environment and they also don't have as well-developed root systems so, if they run into a drought, they're more likely than a large tree to suffer."
In the latest survey, the research team found that trees of all ages were dying more quickly.
The team also ruled out factors such as overcrowding, forest fragmentation or air pollution. The main air pollutant that harms trees in the western US, for example, is ozone. "In California, where most of our forests are concentrated, ozone is fairly severe," said Stephenson. "Over the time period of the study, there was no trend in ozone and it might even have declined slightly."

New US report details effects of rising sea levels

Report concludes that coastal states from North Carolina to New York are at increased risk
McClatchy newspapers, Thursday 22 January 2009 16.08 GMT

A new US report concludes that Florida and Louisiana are the states most vulnerable to sea-level rise, followed by North Carolina and Texas.
The new report focuses on the coastal states from North Carolina to New York where the rates of sea-level rise are moderately high. The region has extensive coastal development, a high population and is likely to be at increased risk.
"You're vulnerable," said Jim Titus, project manager for sea-level rise for the US Environmental Protection Agency and lead author of the report, Coastal Sensitivity to Sea Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region. "The people whose land could be permanently submerged aren't even flooded today."
A rise in sea level increases the vulnerability of development in coastal floodplains and diminishes the rate at which low-lying areas drain. It will result in a loss of wetlands in the mid-Atlantic region.
Rising temperatures cause ocean waters to warm and expand, like water heated in a tea kettle. In addition, rising temperatures near the poles cause massive ice sheets to melt, adding to the volume of water.
The report predicts that coastal erosion will occur at higher rates as sea level rises. Particularly in the sandy shore of the mid-Atlantic coast, the report says, it is nearly certain that barrier islands, spits and coastal headlands will erode faster due to sea-level rise. The Outer Banks are particularly vulnerable.
The report, produced by a collaboration among agencies including the US Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Transportation, offers three scenarios for sea-level rise by 2100: A rise of about 16 inches (40.6 centimetres), of about 2 feet, and of about 3 feet.
In 2007, an international scientific panel projected that sea level would likely rise between 7 inches and 2 feet by 2100. Those estimates do not take into account any contribution from rapid changes in ice flow from Antarctica or Greenland.
Rising sea levels might be especially disastrous to North Carolina, as some sections of the coast are slowly sinking, magnifying the effects of rising seas.
Tide-gauge readings in the mid-Atlantic indicate that relative sea level rise (the combination of rising waters and sinking land) was generally higher - by about a foot - than the global average during the 20th century.
If sea level should rise more than three feet during the 21st century, the report says, "it is likely that some barrier islands in this region will cross a threshold" destabilising and breaking apart.
As sea level rises, the most basic decision that states and beach communities must wrestle with is whether to try to hold back the sea or let nature take its course. Both have costs.
Replenishing sand on eroding beaches allows houses and businesses to remain in place for a period of time, but is expensive to maintain. Retreating from the rising sea avoids the costs but concedes a loss of land and, in a worse case, entire communities, the report notes.
Greg Rudolph, shore protection officer for Carteret county, North Carolina, said people generally accept that sea level is rising. But planning for something that is occurring over decades is difficult.
"Let's face it, we live on four-year cycles when people are elected," Rudolph said. "Not many people are going to plan out 14 years or 21 years in advance."

GM foods 'could feed growing population during climate change'

Genetically modified (GM) crops could be grown in England as part of controversial field trials into the role of the new technology in tackling climate change

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 9:10PM GMT 22 Jan 2009

In a passionate outburst in The Daily Telegraph last year, Prince Charles warned millions of small farmers would be put out of business and land would be degraded if GM crops were introduced around the world.
However in a debate at the Science Museum, Bob Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the technology must be investigated in light of global food security.
"People are asking how we will be able to feed the world's growing population during a time of dangerous climate change," he said. "While GM is clearly not the whole answer, it may contribute through improved crop traits such as temperature, drought, pest and salinity tolerance. Hence additional scientific studies will allow us to assess the risks and benefits."
At the moment there are no plans for any experiments in the UK after the last two trials were destroyed by campaigners.
But Prof Watson said new trials are needed.
He said the public had a right to know when and where trials are happening, therefore the only way to ensure security is to improve confidence through educating people - including Prince Charles.
"Prince Charles is entitled to his opinion. What we need to do as a scientific community is to understand the issues around the agricultural technology and to present the information to the public at large and people like Prince Charles," he said.
"We need a general information flow to make sure people understand what is going on, that the experiments are being conducted in a totally valid way and there is oversight to ensure the results are credible so we have an informed and educated public that understands the value and the potential risks.
" I would hope we could come up with a system where we can do proper licensed field trials and make sure they are secure."
However Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said the public were already aware of the science around GM and that is why they are against field trials.
"The risk of contamination of non-GM and organic crops is a reality and I do not think we have the right in destroying the right of farmers to grow non-GM crops and consumers to eat non-GM food," he said.

Duke Energy Wins as Stimulus Package Clears House Panel


WASHINGTON -- A Democratic effort to include more than $50 billion in energy-project spending in an economic stimulus package advanced rapidly through Congress as companies jockeyed to reshape the plan to their own advantage.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee cleared the energy portion of the stimulus package by 34-17, putting it on course for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives next week. Duke Energy Corp. emerged as a winner in its bid for a new electricity-pricing system. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who just months ago was advising Democrats on a financial bailout, went unheard as lawmakers speeded through a vote.
Power companies were just one of the groups that racked up wins and losses. The nuclear-power industry tried to qualify for loan-guarantees earmarked for renewable energy projects, but failed with the defeat of an amendment from Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.). Ethanol makers carved $500 million out of a proposed $8 billion loan-guarantee program to develop a cleaner biofuel under an amendment from Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.).
The biggest winner was Duke, the power company that has been leading the charge for decoupling, which breaks the link between energy usage and utility profits. Under the plan, utilities are guaranteed enough revenue to make a profit, no matter how much electricity customers use. If demand comes up short, customers would pay a higher rate to cover the shortfall. In a conventional rate scheme, the utility takes a loss when demand falls short.
"The last thing in the world I would think we want to do is do all these great energy efficiency ideas and actually get people consuming less electricity and then not have their costs go down," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who failed to kill a measure that would give extra grant money to states that seek to implement a decoupling program.
Rep. Jay Inslee (D., Wash.) said that the public ultimately benefits if utilities no longer have to worry about whether energy-efficiency will cause a drop in profits. In California, where decoupling has already been implemented, "they avoided having to build six to 10 new coal-fired plants in California, with the attendant costs of those new plants," he said.
Congress turned a deaf ear to utilities that worry that some $3.25 billion in government loans for the construction of new power lines in the Midwest and the West will shut out private investments. Edison International and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. were among companies that had complained about the terms of funding for the Western Area Power Authority, whose power they fear would be significantly expanding.
The federal agency, which serves a 15-state area, has the power to seize private land -- giving it a significant advantage over private companies that have to clear regulatory hurdles before they can site new power lines. Because it relies on federal appropriations, it has been strapped for money. The $3.25 billion in loans would ease its funding problems, freeing the agency up to speed ahead.
That angers private companies, who are getting no sympathy from Democrats, least of all House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). On Thursday, she appeared to bat down requests to ensure that private companies would have a role in transmission construction.
"The suggested change would allow private groups to indefinitely delay construction of transmission lines by WAPA by simply stating their intention to finance new construction, without providing a clear timeline," said a spokesman for Pelosi, Nadeam Elshami. "This would be detrimental to economic boost intended by this provision, and would hinder the development of renewable energy resources."
Write to Siobhan Hughes at

US clean energy

Published: January 22 2009 09:12

Even as Barack Obama promised to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories” in his inaugural address, investors were fleeing the businesses that seek to profit from this green future. A basket of US-listed companies in the field, the WilderHill Clean Energy index, has lost almost 70 per cent of its value over the past eight months. The mismatch between government enthusiasm and investor sentiment might seem strange. After all, more than almost any other business, renewable energy relies on taxpayer support.
Making money from clean energy has become harder for a variety of reasons. The falling cost of “dirty” energy is a key culprit. Expensive fossil fuels had lessened the need for subsidies to make technologies such as photovoltaic and wind energy viable. But that gap has now widened. Meanwhile, the credit crunch has sapped funding for capital-intensive projects, such as wind farms. It has also made transferable tax credits less of an incentive and strained state budgets in eco-friendly places such as California. Private patrons, such as car companies planning green vehicles, are also more cautious.

Overcapacity is another concern. Even under George W. Bush, US renewable generation doubled and clean energy companies extrapolated too much future growth. Not long ago, solar panel manufacturers were turning away customers. But industry leaders such as Germany’s Q-Cells and China’s SunPower face tumbling prices, pushing their share prices down more than 60 per cent. Consultant iSuppli predicts global solar panel revenue will fall 20 per cent in 2009 after eight straight years of growth. The sharpest boom and bust in clean energy hit US ethanol producers as many went bankrupt or plummeted in value in 2008 amid a glut.
Washington’s new tone is music to environmentalists’ ears. But the companies that stand to benefit will wait to hear concrete details before making new investments.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Green for go as isle plays host to world's largest wave farm

Published Date: 23 January 2009

By Jenny Haworth Environment Correspondent

THE world's largest wave farm is to be built off the Western Isles in a major boost to Scotlsnd's aspirations to becoming a world leader in renewables.
Permission has been granted for a huge green energy device, operated by the power of the waves, to be built off Lewis.The 4MW Siadar Wave Energy Project will be built 400m offshore and will provide enough energy to power about 1,800 homes.The £30 million project was approved yesterday by Alex Salmond, the First Minister, who said it was another step towards Scotland leading the world in marine renewable energy.Npower Renewables and Wavegen, which is behind the scheme, hopes it will be built by 2011.This would be the first commercial-scale wave farm in Scotland, and would be larger than the Pelamis scheme off Portugal – the only other commercial-scale wave farm.Mr Salmond said: "This is proof of Scotland's unique opportunities in renewables and evidence that we are already on the way to seizing every opportunity to maximise our natural resources and capability to generate clean, green energy."And he said the renewables sector was a key strength of Scotland's economy and one that continues to grow through the current downturn. The scheme will create up to 70 jobs in the Western Isles.Jason Ormiston, the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, the green energy trade body, said: "The marine technology of the future has today taken solid steps towards full commercial realisation."The planning system has, at times, been a major barrier to renewables development in Scotland, but this timely decision by government should send a confident message to marine developers that Scotland maintains a world leading role in marine energy."However, Patrick Harvie, a Green MSP, said the small scale of the project was "a stark illustration of the failure of successive Scottish administrations to provide enough support for wave and tidal power."He added: "It would take 340 schemes on this scale to replace just the single nuclear plant at Torness. "If the First Minister is serious about ending Scotland's dependence on nuclear power he'll need to up his game on marine renewables."