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