Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Evian and Volvic prove their green credentials

The Times
February 11, 2009
The company behind the well-known brands is to recycle as many plastic bottles as it uses after environmentalists complain
Sarah Butler

Danone, the producer of Evian and Volvic, is tackling critics from environmental groups, as well as falling sales, with a plan to recycle as many plastic water bottles as it uses in the UK, The Times has learnt.
The French company, whose bottles are made with 25 per cent recycled plastic from France and Germany, is to buy up to 12,000 tonnes of plastic a year from Greenstar, a Buckingham-based recycling operation.
The aim is to increase use of recycled PET (plastic used in water bottles) from 10,000 to 40,000 tonnes by 2012. Danone wants its bottles to be made from 50 per cent recycled plastic - or more if technical difficulties can be overcome - within the next few years.
Bottled water companies have come under fire from environmentalists for their use of plastic to sell a product that people in the UK can drink free straight from the tap. Some local authorities in the UK and US have banned plastic bottle dispensers from their offices amid claims that 16 million gallons of oil were consumed to make such bottles last year.

The furore is estimated to have led to a 9 per cent fall in sales of bottled water last year from a peak in 2006. In the previous 30 years, sales had risen one-hundredfold to 2,000 million litres a year.
According to Nielsen, the market research group, sales of Danone's bottled mineral water fell 12.5 per cent in the 12 weeks to mid-November last year as they were also hit by the economic downturn.
Danone will buy 5,000 tonnes of plastic from Greenstar this year and increase that to 12,000 tonnes by 2011. Using the British recycled plastic will save the company £250,000 this year.
Nick Krzyzaniak, chief executive of Danone Waters in the UK and Ireland, said: “For every Evian and Volvic bottle sold here in the UK, one bottle will be recycled and the plastic reused.” Danone is hoping to roll the idea out to markets beyond the UK.
The government-backed Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) welcomed the deal, saying that another regular buyer of recycled PET would give local authorities more confidence that there were customers ready to buy the material and so increase its collection.
Some councils are having difficulties in selling recycled materials after prices collapsed when Asia temporarily stopped buying. The price of PET bottles sorted into bales has dropped from £150 a tonne last summer to about £80 a tonne.
Richard Swannell, Wrap's director of retail and organics, said: “The Danone Waters PET bottle recycling initiative demonstrates that there is a robust market for good-quality UK recycled materials, and that major brands recognise the role they can play in encouraging recycling of their packaging.”
But Chris Dow, managing director of Closed Loop Recycling, a company that processes PET bottles for use by manufacturers, questioned the viability of Danone's plan to ship used plastic bottles to its reprocessing partner in Dijon, France. Both Closed Loop and Greenstar have British facilities to turn the bottles into clean plastic chips, which would be much less expensive and more environmentally friendly. “They should be doing that in the UK - it beggars belief,” he said.
Danone, which is listed in France, reports its annual results today

Tidal farm project to cause a sea change

Published Date: 11 February 2009
By Jenny Haworth


LOOKING out over the vast expanse of sea off the north coast, there is currently little to see other than crashing waves and diving seabirds.In ten years' time the view may be very similar, but lurking beneath the waves there will have been considerable changes, according to experts.An insider in the renewables industry has predicted that there will be thousands of tidal machines generating electricity from under the waves in the Pentland Firth.Renewables firms have previously spoken of a desire to build between a dozen and several hundred tidal farm devices in the Pentland Firth – a stretch of water famed for its ferocious tides. However, predictions given to me this week go one step further, suggesting the scale of development could be far greater."There will be 3,000 in the Pentland Firth in the next few years," said the source. "There's room for thousands of machines in there."He believes there will be tidal farms in that stretch of ocean by 2011, and that by 2015 there will have been a large-scale development of tidal power.Dozens of companies are currently designing and building prototype tidal devices, which often look like small wind turbines that would sit on the seabed. Little is yet known about the impact of tidal energy machines on marine life. Such mass development could be seen as a threat by environmental groups keen to protect the seas from over-development.Energy companies are likely to be testing the water when they apply to build tidal farms in the Pentland Firth. It is the first area of ocean around the UK to be opened up for marine renewables development by the Crown Estate – which owns the seabed.Any tidal farm would have to be granted planning permission, which would be likely to consider the impact on the marine environment. However, with energy companies having such high hopes for the site, marine groups are likely to be keeping a very close eye on their activity.

Scotland is Europe's green energy capital, says energy minister

Jim Mather counters Fred Pearce's claim that Scotland is 'planning to green its electricity by burning more coal'

Jim Mather, Tuesday 10 February 2009 10.42 GMT

Fred Pearce's claim in his Greenwash column that "the Scottish government is talking up the world's dirtiest fossil fuel as clean in its push to revive its coal industry" cannot go unchallenged.
The Scottish government is unequivocal in our commitment to tackle climate change. Our Climate Change Bill is the most ambitious legislation in the world – it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 and will create a statutory framework committing Scotland to securing this reduction.
This will be backed by the legally binding targets set by the EU for greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 20% by 2020 – or even 30% by 2020 in the event of an international climate change agreement being reached in Copenhagen later this year. Scotland is embracing that challenge.
Our energy policy commits us to substantially increasing the supply of renewable energy, while developing clean energy technology, to move Scotland to a low-carbon economy.
Already, 20% of Scottish electricity comes from renewables. Compare that with the paltry UK total of just 5% of electricity from renewables.
We have some of the best natural resources in the world for harnessing energy from wave, water and wind. We have the Clyde wind farm, the largest approved onshore wind farm in Europe; we have recently approved one of the largest commercial wave farms in the world off the Western isles, and there are plans for investment in marine energy the Pentland Firth – which has been dubbed the "Saudi Arabia of marine energy", so great is its potential.
In December the Scottish government unveiled the £10m Saltire Prize, one of the biggest scientific innovation awards in history.
The prize – which will be awarded to the team that demonstrates commercially viable wave or tidal in energy in Scottish waters that achieves a minimum output of 100 GW over a two-year period using only the power of the sea – has already attracted more than 70 prospective entries from around the world.
We will continue to use all of our resources to make Scotland the green energy capital of Europe.
With nuclear power already proven as costly, dangerous – and with our vast natural resources, ultimately unnecessary – we are building a balanced energy policy.
We are currently consulting on our approach to approving new thermal power stations. A final decision has not yet been taken on the way in which we will achieve emissions reductions from any such new plant and require carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Any decision on new power stations must be in the context of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which sets a legally binding framework for emissions reduction across the EU. Phase 3 of the ETS from 2012 will mean a tightening cap on emissions that is consistent with this legally binding reduction framework. And a combination of full-auctioning of allowances for the power generation sector from 2013, and the expected resulting rise in the carbon price, it's clear any new power plants will have to reduce their emissions, driving coal-fired power generation to capture emissions via CCS.
CCS offers Scotland opportunities to become a world leader. We have the technical expertise in carbon capture, a willingness on the part of our power generators, and unrivalled storage capacity in the North Sea to realise this vision. The immediate need is for a programme of CCS demonstration projects covering the range of pre- and post-combustion technologies and storage solutions available, so that full commercial scale capture, aided by a rising carbon price can occur as quickly as possible. We have constantly supported calls for the rapid development of such demonstration projects.
I will continue to take the bold and ambitious decisions necessary to ensure we remain world leaders in tackling climate change and in moving our economy down the low-carbon pathway. The agreed legal frameworks at Scottish, UK and EU levels assure this, and I am confident that they will lead to the scale of emissions reductions that are essential to prevent dangerous climate change.
Climate change demands action – and we will be judged by our actions.
Jim Mather is Scottish energy minister

How green energy beats red ink

The faltering economy has hurt renewable energy firms. But there are steps the US can take to keep them afloat

Kate Sheppard, Tuesday 10 February 2009 18.00 GMT

Like nearly every other part of the economy, the renewable energy industry has taken a hit in the past few months as the market staggers. And for an industry that's still in its fledgling stages, the news has been particularly grim.
On the same day last month that President Barack Obama visited an Ohio factory that manufactures nuts and bolts used to build wind turbines, the New York Times detailed major layoffs in the wind-energy industry. North Dakota-based DMI Industries, a wind-turbine manufacturer, has laid off 20% of its staff at three plants in Oklahoma, North Dakota and Ontario. Six months ago, the same company had announced plans to expand and become the "largest wind tower manufacturer in North America". The Danish wind-turbine company LM Glasfiber also announced 150 layoffs at its Arkansas plant, and the Spanish wind company Gamesa is laying off 180 employees at its eastern Pennsylvania plant.
While conservatives have criticised spending in the stimulus bill for renewable energy and other green projects, those concrete job losses in the industry should indicate that they are in need of assistance. The spending is even more important in the context of Obama's greater economic recovery vision, which includes a goal of making more than 75% of federal buildings and two million homes more energy efficient and doubling the nation's renewable energy production in three years. The stimulus could be the down payment on those goals, but there must be additional help to keep these industries afloat, and they must come at the federal and local level.
The House version of the economic recovery package has $28.4bn for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. While the Senate stimulus is still subject to change, it would currently put $40bn for energy programmes like weatherising homes and developing advanced battery systems and a more efficient electrical grid.
But while direct spending on renewable projects is important to keeping clean energy alive through the recession, it's the tax programmes and the signals this bill could send to the market that will set determine the prospects for renewables over the next few years. Both bills include $13bn to extend tax credits for renewable energy production, which is a start.
The most important element in this bill is that it would make the tax credits for solar and wind energy refundable. The like most tax credits, they're not currently refundable, meaning that a producer only gets the money back if it makes a profit.
The problem is that with the market what it is today, not many renewable energy companies or the entities that back them are making money. Thus, the tax credits (the same much-beleaguered credits that Congress fought over all of last year before finally slipping them into the October bail-out of the financial markets) aren't helping at all.
The solar and wind industries would like the renewable tax credits to become refundable, which means the federal government would offer rebates even to companies that aren't making money. The House has already approved a measure in their stimulus bill to do just that, and it should be a relatively simple fix, since the government already committed to putting $17bn toward those tax credits last year.
The package would also increase by 20% the research expense credits for renewable energy, energy conservation, fuel cells, batteries, efficient transmission and distribution and carbon capture and sequestration. The alternative-fuel vehicle refuelling property credit was also increased from 30% to 50% through 2010, and the residential energy-efficiency and energy-improvements tax credit was raised from 10% to 30%. It also extends the credits for wind, biomass, geothermal, small irrigation, hydropower, landfill gas and ocean currents for three years, to the end of 2012. Solar got an eight-year extension of its tax credits last year, putting them on somewhat more assured footing.
The extensions are important, but they don't go far enough. Though longer than the piddly extensions they got last year, they're not nearly long enough to convince big-name, international renewable companies that they should set up shop in the United States. General Electric Energy's John Krenicki threatened last year that without a more permanent signal, "We'll go to Germany and China". Renewables advocates would like to see at least an eight-year assurance on all the credits, if not longer.
Another boost would come through the creation of a manufacturing tax credit, which could influence companies as they make plans about where to open manufacturing facilities. Renewables advocates would like a 30% refundable tax credit for the purchase of the manufacturing equipment used to produce the material and components for renewable technologies as well.
The other key move to help grow the renewables market would be to adjust the federal tax code to give states and localities more incentive to create their own renewable initiatives. Currently, if a business is making use of a local incentive, they're excluded from using the federal tax credits. This affects places like California, which last year passed a new law that made it possible for counties and cities to use general fund tax dollars or municipal bond money to create loan programmes for energy-related improvements.
Those programmes, already underway in Berkeley and in consideration in other cities, allow private citizens to finance solar photovoltaic systems over 20 years rather than having to pay upfront. But those benefiting from the local credit can't make use of the federal one. Groups like California's Vote Solar are lobbying for the federal government to eliminate the barrier to using the federal credits, which would incentivise the move to renewables even further and support municipalities that want to take initiative.
The other big fight for renewables this year will be on a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), which would create the legal impetus to move toward clean energy. In the 110th Congress, an RES passed in the House as part of the 2007 energy bill but failed in the Senate. Already this year, there's a strong House bill on the table that calls for the US to draw a quarter of its energy from renewables by 2025. A Senate bill in the works would call for 20% to come from renewables by 2021.
So while the outlook for renewables is dismal right now, there are some relatively simple actions the federal government can take to support the industries. The stimulus will be a down payment, but there will have to be significant measures following up on that if renewables are to play a larger role in the energy portfolio.

UK and China work on carbon capture

British scientists are working with their Chinese counterparts to develop a new technology to burn coal without harming the environment.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 12:18AM GMT 11 Feb 2009

Carbon Capture and Storage could help cut emissions from coal-fired power stations
It is estimated that China builds around one coal power station a week, causing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide to be pumped into the atmosphere.
In an effort to tackle the problem, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has invested more than £3 million in developing Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in China, a new technology that will take the CO2 and store it underground.
A conference of scientists from around the world will meet to discuss the technology at a British Geological Survey (BGS) conference in Nottingham this week. The delegates will discuss the possibility of storing the CO2 in old oil or gas fields.
The UK is also interested in CCS as a means of continuing to use fossil fuels at power stations like Kingsnorth while meeting strict targets on cutting carbon emissions.
But Jonathan Pearce of BGS said CCS in China it is even more important to tackling global climate change simply because of the scale.
"An awful lot of power stations are being built in China that lock the country into power from coal for many decades to come," he said. "CCS is a way we could help China reduce emissions."
As a developing country China does not have to meet targets on cutting emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.
However after taking over the US to become the world's biggest polluter two years ago, the super power is under increasing pressure to act.
President Barack Obama is expected to work more closely with China to reduce emissions and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to visit Beijing this week to discuss the issue.
The two countries hold the key to any replacement of the Kyoto Protocol decided in Copenhagen at the end of this year.
Scientists are due to gather in the Danish city next month for an emergency summit on new studies showing climate change may be happening faster than expected, making it more important than ever to take action.

National Grid to pipe carbon dioxide emissions under North Sea

The Times
February 11, 2009

The company is planning to develop a £2bn transport and storage network so it can collect carbon and store it overseas

The Government hopes the plan can play 'a critical role' in meeting obligations to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

National Grid is drawing up plans for a new business unit that will pipe carbon dioxide emissions from UK power stations for storage in geological formations beneath the North Sea, The Times has learnt.
National Grid believes the business, dubbed National Grid Carbon, can play a major role in the company's long-term growth by serving UK power plants fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment.
Chris Train, the director of network operations, said that the group is developing plans to construct a £2 billion carbon transport and storage network around the Humber estuary in Yorkshire, where five of Britain's largest coal and gas-fired power stations are located.
“National Grid would provide the gathering system to collect the carbon and store it offshore,” he said. “Our expertise is very much in running safe and effective pipeline networks, so the transport and storage of carbon fits in very well with that.”

He said that National Grid, operates Britain’s high-voltage electricity transmission and gas distribution networks, planned investment in the long term that could amount to “several billion pounds”. He added that the system could be operational within three years.
“When you look at the UK's carbon emission targets and the need for future power generation, this could play a huge part of the UK's plans to have a competitive energy industry,” Mr Train said.
The Government hopes that CCS, which remains an untested technology on a commercial scale, can play “a critical role in helping the UK” to meet legally binding obligations to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.
Mr Train said the proposed Humber network would handle gaseous carbon dioxide emitted from coal and gas-fired stations such as Drax, Eggborough, Ferrybridge and Killingholme.
The captured carbon would be fed through National Grid's pipeline network and pumped to storage sites in old gasfields in the North Sea, where permeable rocks which originally contained gas are well suited to the permanent storage of carbon.
He said National Grid planned to be ready to operate its first carbon pipeline system within three years, in time to meet a Government deadline of having Britain's first commercial-scale CCS-equipped power plant operational by 2012.
National Grid is thought to be in talks with the major generators in the Humber region, including E.ON, Drax Power and Scottish & Southern Energy, as well as Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, about the plan, which Mr Train said could be replicated at other locations around the UK where clusters of coal-fired power stations exist, including Scotland and East Anglia.
About 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year are emitted from power plants and other industrial sites around the Humber estuary - making it the region with the biggest carbon dioxide (CO2) output in Europe.
Mr Train said that capturing and storing all that carbon would be equivalent to taking 20 million cars off the road.
He said that a technical team from National Grid was working with academics at Newcastle University to study methods of storing and moving carbon by pipe while a commercial business development team was examining different ways that the new unit could be structured and financed.
Where possible, National Grid plans to use existing pipes and North Sea infrastructure formerly used to transport natural gas.
“CO2 is a very different gas from methane,” said Mr Train. “If you compress it, it becomes solid very quickly. But this is a great opportunity to reuse existing infrastructure. We are using the investments we have already made to develop the energy industry of the future.”

EPA Reconsiders Bush Rule on Air-Pollution Permits

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is delaying a rule issued in the final days of President George W. Bush's presidency that would have let some industrial facilities avoid having to install pollution controls when they expand.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that the rule would be delayed 90 days so it could be re-evaluated.
Environmentalists had complained that the rule would have let power plants, factories and other industrial facilities increase emissions that cause soot and smog.
Industry groups said the rule would have enabled facilities to upgrade power plants without worrying about violating antipollution laws.
Existing facilities typically must apply for a permit when modifications will emit an additional 40 tons a year of a major pollutant.
The regulation the Bush administration adopted on Jan. 15 would have changed how facilities calculate how much pollution would result from their upgrades.
The delay, which pushes back the rule until May, is another sign that President Barack Obama is diverging from the ways of the Bush administration on air pollution.
Last week, the Justice Department announced it would no longer fight to uphold a Bush administration plan -- favored by industry -- for controlling mercury emissions from power plants.
Courts had found that the Bush plan violated the Clean Air Act. Mr. Obama's EPA has begun crafting a new regulation to limit mercury emissions from power plants.
Copyright © 2009 Associated Press

DUP stands by climate change sceptic environment minister

Sammy Wilson keeps job despite petitions calling for his sacking and fellow unionists accusing him of turning Northern Ireland into laughing stock
Henry McDonald and Juliette Jowit, Tuesday 10 February 2009 17.03 GMT

Despite petitions calling for his sacking and even fellow unionists accusing him of turning Northern Ireland into a laughing stock, the Democratic Unionist party is sticking by climate change sceptic Sammy Wilson, who is the province's environment minister.
All the major parties in the Northern Ireland assembly have now said Wilson is unfit to hold the office, after he used his powers this week to ban government television adverts from the province's airwaves. Wilson said the Act On CO2 ads were insidious green "propaganda".
In what appeared to be a rebuke from the government in Westminster, Joan Ruddock, the minister for energy and climate change said: "My commitment to this [advertising] campaign is guided by the best science, the most up-to-date information and the evidence – the increasing frequency of extreme weather we are experiencing and seeing across the globe."
However, the only politician with the power to sack the DUP minister is his party colleague, Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland's first minister. Robinson according to senior DUP sources has "absolutely no intention" of firing Wilson, who remains a popular figure inside his party regardless of his unorthodox views on global warming.
The protest against Wilson came from across the board – nationalists, unionists and environmentalists. Roy Beggs junior, the Ulster Unionist spokesman on the environment said:
"Sammy Wilson's views on climate change, whilst mildly amusing, are out of kilter with mainstream political opinion and more importantly the overwhelming consensus view of climate scientists throughout the world. His latest action in trying to block UK government information on energy efficiency again shows his 'himself alone' attitude to environmental matters.
"He has effectively made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence against Her Majesty's Government on this crucial issue and is making Northern Ireland a laughing stock around the world. It is high time the first minister reined this maverick in, or perhaps this is merely a continuation of the DUP's battle against science and reason."
Recently the DUP's education spokesman Mervyn Storey called for creationism to be taught in Northern Ireland's schools alongside Darwin's theory of evolution.
Northern Ireland's Green party set up an online petition yesterday calling for Wilson to be removed. The Greens said the DUP MP for East Antrim had brought "the people and government of Northern Ireland into international disrepute." Friends of the Earth also entered the controversy with its Northern Ireland director John Woods accusing Wilson of being "completely irresponsible" in blocking the Act on CO2 ads.
In the face of growing criticism over the last 24 hours, the Harley-Davidson-riding Wilson remains defiant and has stuck by his assertion that the current rise in global temperatures is not caused by human activity but by natural variation. He regards manmade climate change as a "gigantic con" and an hysterical "semi-religion."
However, a Department of Environment Northern Ireland spokesman stressed yesterday the minister remains committed to saving energy and recycling to save money.
He holds the current environment job as part of the carve-up between the four-party power-sharing coalition that runs Northern Ireland. And while some in the DUP hold more environmentally friendly views he remains one of the party's stalwarts, regarded by first minister Peter Robinson as a vote-winning asset in the unionist heartlands.
Climate scientists and campaigners were divided over how important the incident was. Some fear that such comments from a government minister will be an embarrassment to the UK on the international stage, and encourage climate scepticism, or at least deter people from taking action to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
One leading campaigner likened the latest row to the impact of a programme by Channel 4 in 2007 called The Great Global Warming Swindle, which was widely derided by many scientists, including some who took part, but appeared to have a discernibly negative effect on public opinion about whether humans are to blame for climate change. An Ipsos/Mori poll last summer found six out of 10 people agreed that "many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change", something experts partly attributed to the TV programme.
Professor Martin Parry, a leading expert on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, said: " I do not mean to be dismissive, but I do not think — outside Northen Ireland — that anyone has heard of him; and I doubt that the IPCC knows of his sceptical views."