Thursday, 23 July 2009

Saving water could cut water-heating emissions by 30%, report finds

Energy Saving Trust and Environment Agency report estimates simple water-saving measures could save a typical household £225 per year
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Wednesday 22 July 2009 00.05 BST

Britons could save 30% of the carbon emissions associated with heating water at home by following simple advice such as lagging pipes and using low-flow taps, according to energy experts.
They estimate that installing just a few water-saving measures could save a typical household £225 per year on combined water and energy bills.
In a joint report launched today, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) and the Environment Agency examined the carbon impact of domestic water use in the UK. They concluded that heating water would continue to be a major source of carbon emissions from homes in the future unless urgent action was taken to reduce demand and the associated energy losses from inefficient boilers.
Energy use in homes accounts for more than a quarter of the UK's carbon emissions. In a bid to reduce overall emissions by 80% by 2050, the government has announced plans to reduce the footprint of homes by retrofitting existing homes with energy efficiency measures, such as loft and cavity-wall insulation, and wants all new homes built from 2016 to be zero-carbon.
But the energy used to heat water, around 23% of an average home's carbon footprint, will not be tackled by the government's proposals. "If the drive toward zero-carbon homes goes as planned, by the time you get to a really energy-efficient home, the energy required for space heating is going to be quite small, but unless you do something about water use, that's going to dominate and will account for over 70% of carbon emissions," said Magda Styles, water and waste strategy manager at the EST.
But she said very simple methods of water and energy efficiency could take out 5% of the emissions associated with water, equivalent to taking 600,000 cars off the road.
Water-saving technology and sustainibility standards for new homes have helped to reduce wastage but the growing popularity and frequency with which people use power showers means that Britons still use the same amount of water today as they did 10 years ago – around 150 litres per person per day.
"Water is a precious resource and as the government outlined in last week's low carbon transition plan we urgently need to cut carbon emissions to help reduce the impact of future climate change," said Ian Barker, head of water at the Environment Agency.
The EST report suggests taking showers instead of baths, retro-fitting showers and taps with low-flow heads, lagging hot water pipes, washing dishes in a bowl rather than under a running hot tap and installing a water meter. "It's been documented quite well that metering reduces water consumption by up to 15%," she said. "We're not trying to make people endure hardship and do away with hot water. In most cases, it's a simple prevention of waste."
According to the report, changing a 16 litre per minute shower head with a six litre per minute head, and using a 4.5 litre toilet instead of nine litre one, could result in annual savings of 67m3 of water, 371kg CO2 and £225 for an average household.
Getting beyond 30% reductions in CO2 for individual households would be possible, said Styles, by additionally replacing old washing machines and dishwashers with more energy and water-efficient models and more conscious behaviour change that minimised use and heating of water.

Meet Belcha – Europe's biggest carbon polluter (and it's about to get even bigger)

• Polish facility pumps out 30m tonnes of CO2 a year • Activists say giant plants undermine climate fight
Terry Macalister, Wednesday 22 July 2009 21.52 BST

The biggest single producer of carbon emissions in the European Union has been named – and it is about to get even bigger. The appropriately titled Elektrownia Belchatow – a massive coal-fired power station – belched out 30,862,792 tonnes of CO2 last year and by 2010 the whole generating facility will have grown by 20%.
The Polish energy giant was named as climate change enemy number one in a report by the London-based Sandbag Climate Campaign and its greenhouse gas output dwarfed the 22m tonnes of annual carbon produced by the Drax power station in North Yorkshire and a host of equally dirty German plants.
Sandbag said the expansion of Belchatow and the planned construction of 50 coal-fired plants across the European mainland demonstrated that policies such as the EU's European Trading Scheme (ETS) were not working.
Bryony Worthington, founder of Sandbag, said the price of pollution allowances in the ETS was too low to deter companies from choosing coal over clean energy, noting that six of the 10 most polluting plants are in Germany despite generous government subsidies for solar and other clean technologies.
"They have to buy emission allowances yet they are still planning a massive expansion. If the scheme was having the desired effect they would be pursuing cleaner options now, not at some distant point in the future," she added.
While British ministers have taken a stand against constructing new coal stations at Kingsnorth in Kent and elsewhere without "clean" technology to capture the emissions, the deluge of projects in Europe is undermining EU credibility ahead of the forthcoming UN negotiations in Copenhagen on tackling global warming, according to Mark Johnson, a Brussels-based campaigner at the WWF.
"Dozens of new unabated projects across Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland and elsewhere are either under construction or could soon be approved. Going ahead with these could wreck Europe's climate strategy," he said.
Elektrownia Belchatow is raising coal-fired capacity from 4,400 megawatts to 5,258 from next year. The facility, which burns the most polluting lignite "brown" coal from its own mine next door, is earmarked for a full carbon capture and storage prototype, but only by 2015 at the earliest.
A spokesman for French engineering company Alstom said they were working on a range of initiatives to improve the wider efficiency of the plant and reduce its carbon output. It is one of an estimated 11 new coal schemes planned in Poland, while 28 more are on the drawing board in Germany, according to the WWF.
While Poland has long been dependent on its home-mined lignite, Germany is expanding its coal-fired stations to produce electricity in anticipation of a rundown in its nuclear facilities.
This strategy, being pioneered by RWE and E.ON, could yet be changed as the two main political parties vying for power in the September elections have opposing views on how energy security should be achieved.
E.ON said that coal is being pursued because it answers some of the problems posed in the energy sector.
"It is a cheap form of power but it also gives security of supply and flexibility. The final element is obviously to find a way of not damaging the environment and we hope CCS will be the answer to that," explained a UK spokesman for the German company.
Protests by environmentalists over E.ON's plans to build a coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth have encouraged Ed Miliband, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, to rule that there should be no plants in the UK without some degree of CCS, with the remainder of any plant having CCS fitted within five years of it being judged "technically and economically proven".
The WWF believes the 50 coal schemes in total around Europe represent about 50 gigawatts of power. That compares with the 70GW of total power produced in Britain from all existing sources, including gas, nuclear and a small but growing contribution from wind.
New coal stations are being planned in big numbers in the US and China but the EU has been arguing that all countries should proceed only if they use CCS to turn them into "clean" coal projects.
The EU is committed to cutting carbon emissions by at least 20% by the year 2020 and 80% by 2050 and wants all nations to agree tough new targets at Copenhagen.
The concept of CCS is considered vital to the fight against global warming.
But question marks remain about whether the feasibility of doing it at large scale and at a cost that makes it work, leaving Belchatow and others belching on.

The low-carbon wine baa

Winemaker deploys miniature sheep to cut fuel costs and keep grass short
Duncan Graham-Rowe, Wednesday 22 July 2009 12.55 BST
A New Zealand winemaker believes he has struck upon the solution to reducing the carbon footprint of wine – and the answer, which may come as no great surprise, lies in sheep. Miniature sheep, that is.
There are only 300 of them in the world and they were originally bred as cute miniature pets, but Peter Yealands believes that babydoll sheep could help him to reduce the environmental footprint of his wine.
By allowing the rare breed to graze on the grass between his vines, Yealands says he can dramatically reduce the energy his wine takes to make and ultimately enable the process to be more sustainable.
Wine producers often use sheep to keep grass short, but flocks must be removed when the vines bud because the animals will eat them too. So, to prevent the grass using up precious nutrients and water, and to prevent the spread of disease and fungus, growers normally use tractors to do the job.
With 1,000 hectares in Yealands' vineyard that means driving 3,500km for each of the 12 times a year the grass has to be mowed. As a result, for Yealands, diesel makes up about 60% of his energy costs. To avoid using a tractor, last year he experimented by letting loose giant guinea pigs. That worked initially, he said. "But once the hawks had a taste for them they were sitting prey. We were losing them by the hour. Besides, we would have needed 11 million of them to make it work."
Now Yealands has turned his attention to babydolls, a rare breed of sheep which only reach about 60cm tall when fully grown, pictured left in a Californian vineyard. Because the grapes tend only to start growing from about 110cm off the ground the sheep can't reach them. Yealands has tested 10 of the sheep on a 125-hectare patch of vines.
By selectively breeding them with another more common sheep, the Merino Saxon, which is favoured for its meat, Yealands now hopes to get his stock up to the 10,000 he needs within the next five years. If successful, the flock should save him NZ$1.5m (£600,000) a year in diesel alone, and he hopes to sell the sheep for meat too.
Marleen Stumpel, co-director of AdVintage Wines, a London-based supplier of carbon-neutral wines, said the babydolls are an unusual approach. She said most wine makers reduce their carbon footprint by paying to offset their emissions. "There is a growing market for it, but the wine does tend to be a little bit more expensive," she said.

Striking workers learn to think green

Staff at the Vestas wind turbine plant realise the environmental benefits of their job are just as important as employment figures

Gregor Gall, Wednesday 22 July 2009 19.04 BST

About 25 wind turbine workers have occupied their plant on the Isle of Wight – the Vestas Wind Systems factory in Newport – in protest at its imminent closure.
While the industrial action is news in itself, the real story is the madness of closing the only wind turbine manufacturing plant in Britain when the government is committed to generating more green energy. Only last week, Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary, announced targets for the generation of green and renewable energy.
The workers occupying the Vestas plant on the Isle of Wight pointed out this obvious inconsistency in letting the private owner flout government policy. So too has the workers' union, Unite.
Vestas claims that the manufacturing operation is insufficiently profitable – even though its profits continue to grow – and that it exists in too complex a planning environment. Furthermore, it has been cutting back on its wind turbine activities in Britain for some time. In late 2008, it signalled its pullout from its Scottish operation.
So the importance of the occupation is not just about action to save jobs at a time when unemployment is continuing to rise steeply. Rather, it is about the necessity to save jobs which are critical to the wider good for society. These jobs could be about delivering vital public services as firefighters do. But, in this case, the issue of the public good is the protection of our environment.
Six hundred workers' jobs are under threat on an island where employment is difficult to find. In understanding why the occupation arose, the agitation of the Campaign against Climate Change seems to have played a role in bolstering the workers' understanding of fighting not just to save their jobs but also to make a stand for the environment. But they also seem to have learned that previous protest outside the plant was not sufficient.
That's why the occupiers have set up their own website and organised a series of demonstrations. Protests are due to take place in London and the Isle of Wight in order to support the occupation.
The real battle is now on as the occupying workers claim they have been threatened with the sack unless they leave the plant and that police have tried to stop supplies of food getting into the plant. To stay in occupation means balancing the fight to save their jobs with the threat of losing their redundancy packages.
But it will also mean the need to strengthen the alliance between workers and environmentalists. Unions have often supported expansion of airports (such as the T4 Heathrow terminal) and the continuation of nuclear power on the basis that these create jobs in spite of their environmental costs. So enlarging and deepening such an alliance is not going to be without problems. But it may become easier when the union movement comes to see that the clear determination of environmentalists allows them to take direct action when political lobbying on its own returns slow and sparse results.

Even the Isle of Wight wants Miliband to buck the market

Wind turbine workers have shown only public action will deliver green jobs. The same goes for beating climate change

Seumas Milne, Wednesday 22 July 2009 23.00 BST

The Isle of Wight is an unlikely setting for an industrial rebellion. It's true Karl Marx was once a regular visitor, but the island's a generally conservative place, better known for sailing than strikes. That changed on Monday, when workers occupied Britain's only major wind-turbine factory in protest at its imminent closure. Tonight they were still there, barricaded in the Newport plant's offices, surrounded by police and security guards, as hundreds of other workers and their supporters demonstrated outside.
Compared with British sit-ins of the past, or the mass confrontations over layoffs in South Korea this week – let alone the "bossnappings" and threats to blow up factory equipment that are now becoming common in France – the occupation at the plant in Newport might seem a tame affair. Only a couple of dozen workers are actually inside the factory premises, and after an initial appearance by the riot police, there has so far been no physical confrontation.
But the symbolism of the dispute could hardly be clearer. In the very week that the energy secretary Ed Miliband unveiled government plans for hundreds of thousands of new green jobs and a massive expansion of renewable energy, with wind power at its heart, production at the Vestas wind-turbine manufacturing plant ground to a halt. The profitable Danish owner is moving the work to Colorado and closing both its British factories with the loss of more than 600 green jobs – citing "lack of demand" and opposition to onshore wind farms in the UK – while ministers appear powerless to act.
You couldn't make it up and, not surprisingly, the workforce is demanding the government demonstrates its commitment to a green economy by taking over the plant and restarting production under new management. As a statement yesterday from the occupying workers had it: "If the government can spend billions bailing out the banks – and even nationalise them – then surely they can do the same at Vestas."
It's not as if attempts to save Vestas can be passed off as throwing money at "sunset" or lame-duck industries. The rapid expansion of low carbon industries is almost universally understood as indispensable to combating climate change and the economy of the future, with government plans to quadruple the number of wind turbines in the next decade effectively guaranteeing rapid market growth. As Caroline Lucas, Green party leader, who is backing the occupation, put it yesterday: "If ministers are serious about delivering what's been promised in the past seven days, why can't they offer loans or guarantees to Vestas to keep production going?"
This is the latest in a series of British and Irish workplace occupations since the economic crisis bit and jobs began to haemorrhage in their hundreds of thousands. At companies such as Waterford Crystal and the Ford car parts supplier Visteon, they have achieved significant results, saving jobs or winning better payoffs. At Vestas, the twin cause of jobs and climate change has created a common front between green activists and trade unionists, who have at other times found themselves at loggerheads over coal, nuclear power or the car industry.
But Vestas is a precarious protest with a political mountain to climb. The workers are defiantly proud of what they make. But it's a largely non-union plant with an anti-union management and a culture of bullying, according to staff. Inside the factory, Vestas miller and radiographer Mark Smith told me yesterday that managers threatened to bring charges and sack anyone who continued the sit-in – with the potential loss of several thousand pounds in redundancy money. Only two left. Earlier a private security firm sealed the doors to the occupied offices, cut the phone land lines, and blocked food and drink being sent in by supporters. Another occupying worker, Ian Terry, said they were expecting an eviction injunction, but would "resist without violence – we will stay until we're carried out".
There are a string of ways in which the government could keep the Isle of Wight plant in the wind turbine business, from the nationalisation demanded by the workforce to taking a stake on the back of new investment to levering in another company. As Len McCluskey, frontrunner to be elected leader of Britain's largest union Unite next year, argues: "Vestas is the clearest case for government intervention we could wish to see: 700 industrial jobs are being put at risk because of market failure in a sector the government is desperate to see expand. The workers are fighting for our economic and environmental future as well as their jobs." In Scotland, a small turbine Vestas spinoff company was saved from collapse earlier this year by a Scottish government-backed takeover.
Whitehall insiders say the Vestas management wasn't interested in cash support, blaming planning obstruction for the lack of a UK turbine market, and believe the government has already helped secure a Vestas offshore turbine R&D facility at the Isle of Wight site. Miliband, who announced greater control of planning and the dysfunctional privatised energy markets last week to drive green growth, insists: "We don't think the market on its own will deliver the low carbon jobs of the future we need."
Which is putting it mildly. If the closure of the Isle of Wight plant is confirmed, the green manufacturing jobs that ministers have enthused about will indeed be delivered – in Denmark and Germany. For all the brave government talk of a new industrial activism, results are so far thin on the ground. Now that a decade of reliance on the private sector has produced one of the lowest rates of renewable power generation in Europe, the need for direct public investment in a green industrial base – the commanding heights of the future – could not be more pressing.
But even as they inch in the right direction, ministers remain hobbled by New Labour's market-first inheritance. "We're in the hands of the company", as one puts it. That's exactly the problem. When it comes to the global threat of environmental crisis, more than any other issue, private firms cannot be in command. Three years ago, the Stern report described climate change as "the greatest market failure the world has ever seen". Its challenge will not be overcome by private enterprise or the market, or even "ethical" individual responsibility, but by collective public action.

Wind power plan blown off course

Closure of turbine factory undermines Government's green pledges
By Michael McCarthy and Nigel Morris
Thursday, 23 July 2009
The Government was facing a growing credibility gap over green jobs last night as environmental campaigners and trade unionists united to fight the closure of Britain's sole major wind turbine plant.
Only last week, ministers proclaimed a green employment future for the UK involving 400,000 jobs in environmental industries such as renewable energy – yet this week they are declining to intervene over the forthcoming closure of the Vestas Wind Systems plant on the Isle of Wight, with nearly 600 redundancies.
Workers at the Newport factory, which makes wind turbine blades, were last night staging their third night of occupation of the plant in an attempt to prevent the closure which is scheduled for 31 July. In an alliance not seen before, they were being helped by climate-change campaigners who have set up an ad hoc camp outside the factory and yesterday helped to get food to the occupiers.
Vestas, a Danish company which is the world's biggest wind energy group, announced in April it was pulling out of the UK, citing the difficulties of getting wind farms built in Britain in the face of local "Nimby" opposition campaigns and the slowness of the planning system.
"A problem we are facing is our inability to get planning consent," said a senior company executive. "We needed a stable long-term market and that was not there in the UK. We have made clear to the Government that we need a market. We do not need money."
Several weeks before the closure announcement, Vestas bosses led by the chief executive, Ditlev Engle, went to 10 Downing Street for a high-level meeting attended by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, where they made specific demands for more direct government support. When this was not forthcoming, the closure was announced.
While the Government may not have felt able to respond to what were in effect threats from a private manufacturing company, the consequence of allowing the country's major wind energy manufacturing plant to fold has attracted ferocious criticism from the green movement.
This was not least because of the prospect that the 7,000 or so wind turbines Britain will install over the next decade to help meet its climate-change targets will have to come from abroad, even though last week both Mr Miliband and the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, launching the Government's climate strategy, went to great lengths to stress the green business opportunities of Britain becoming a low-carbon economy.
"Last week Labour promised Britain would install thousands of wind turbines in the coming years. Are ministers really now saying they'd rather buy those turbines from abroad than make them here in the UK?" said Robin Oakley, head of the Greepeace climate campaign. "Letting this factory close is like a football manager saying he's up for the cup then dropping his only goal scorer. It just doesn't make sense.
"It is factories like this and engineers like the ones occupying it that Britain desperately needs if ministers are serious about launching a green industrial revolution."
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party leader and the Isle of Wight's MEP, sent a message of support to the workers and called for immediate government intervention to save the factory from closure. "The decision to close the facility represents a spectacular failure by government ministers to adequately promote green industries, and protect the future of manufacturing in this country," she said.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "This closure exposes the hollow truth of Labour's climate change strategy." Five Labour MPs have already signed a Commons motion protesting against the closure.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said the company had taken a commercial decision to reduce its production capacity across northern Europe. She acknowledged there were "cultural and planning issues" behind the construction of wind farms, but promised they would be tackled by the climate strategy. She said: "We are hopeful Vestas will go ahead with their plans for a research and development facility on the Isle of Wight which could provide up to a further 300 jobs and also help develop and test products that are suitable for the UK offshore market."
Vestas erected a fence around the site in response to the protest. Workers claimed it was being put up to stop food or drink being sent in. One said: "We are convinced this is against the Human Rights Act because we are being denied humanitarian aid."
Three protesters were arrested outside the site. Hampshire Police said a 28-year-old man from Southampton had been arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and a 49-year-old man from Portsmouth was arrested on suspicion of a breach of the peace.
A London man, aged 38, was arrested on suspicion of a breach of the peace and later released without charge.

Steve Holliday: The undersea secret that's bringing more power to the people

The Business Interview: The main item on the agenda for National Grid is to rebuild Britain's inefficient and antiquated electricity network, says Sarah Arnott
Thursday, 23 July 2009
"I am boring," shrugs Steve Holliday, the chief executive of National Grid. "Let's stick to talking about the company." To the uninitiated, National Grid might also seem boring. Thanks to its nationalised past, the company is synonymous with Britain's electricity network, and it has perhaps the most risk-averse approaches to investment of any of its peers. But since it was privatised in 1995, National Grid has reinvented itself several times over, and behind the commitment to absolute investment certainty is a keen perception of the opportunities ahead. "It is such an exciting time in this industry," Mr Holliday says. "There is a revolution happening and we sit at the heart of it."
He is talking about climate change, of course. But first, the history. Post-privatisation, National Grid was quick to expand. In the UK, it went into gas, merging with Lattice Group – the infrastructure business of the former British Gas – to run four of the eight regional gas distribution networks. Since Mr Holliday took the top job three years ago, the sprawling group sold out of its South American businesses and doubled the size of its US division with the $7.3bn (£4.4bn) purchase of Keyspan, leaving its £15.6bn revenues almost exactly split between Britain and the US.
The company has one of the safest business models imaginable. A massive 95 per cent of its revenues already come from regulated businesses, so its income is "decoupled" from the volumes its infrastructure carries. And the regulated business is about to get even bigger, as regulatory changes in the US follow the UK's de-coupled example. "Over the next 15 months, our exposure to volume goes from very small to none," Mr Holliday says. "Even for a utility – which is by definition seen as a lower risk business – we are exceptionally low risk."
Given such discipline, it is a great relief that Moody's finally concluded its review of the company this week and raised its outlook back to "stable". In early 2008 after the Keyspan takeover, the ratings agency downgraded its outlook to "negative" amid concerns about the group's £23bn debt pile, which is one of the largest in the FTSE 100. Mr Holliday is almost indignant. "This is the right level of gearing for this business," he says. The group has successfully issued £1.3bn in long-term debt since January, leaving only another £600m needed this year.
But even stable does not mean boring. For many in the once-grubby electricity industry, climate change is an opportunity for reinvention as a dynamic facilitator of society's greener future. And decoupling means National Grid can look at much more interesting business opportunities – such as energy efficiency services. "We want to invest hugely in energy efficiency but we won't do that if it's eating into our bottom line," Mr Holliday says. "There is potential for a huge energy efficiency business in the US. Last year we invested more than $200m, and that is likely to double or triple in the next three to four years."
Not that new opportunities mean taking greater risks with investors' money. An existing example of the group's diversification into unregulated sectors is the Isle of Grain liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal. It is an enormous programme, with two phases completed since 2005 and the third to be ready by next year. But each stage only went ahead once the capacity was sold far into the future. "We still lock in cashflow for 20 years before making the investment," Mr Holliday says. "We only invest when we get an allowed return."
In the UK, the main item on National Grid's agenda is to refresh the electricity infrastructure itself. The grid's architecture – designed around a central spine connected to a relatively small number of very large sources of power – is simply not appropriate for the 21st-century energy mix, with lots of smallish wind farms, both off and onshore, as well as the new nuclear power stations. According to the Energy Networks Strategy Group, Britain's power grid needs £4.7bn of unavoidable investment, 75 per cent of which will come from National Grid. But rather than simply boosting the existing network, the group has a more radical scheme to build new links running down each coast under the sea. The plan for the west coast – from Scotland to just south of Liverpool – is the most advanced. It is no more costly than the more conservative upgrade plan. And although there are some challenges – such as shifting the current to DC when it goes offshore, and AC when it comes back on again – none of the technical novelties is a showstopper. "I just don't think anyone ever thought of doing this before," Mr Holliday says. The plan for the eastern half of the plan has yet to be proven. But the western undersea grid is a "no-brainer", Mr Holliday insists, even for a company as risk-averse as National Grid. Ofgem seems to agree. The regulator has made a rare exception to the rules and given National Grid the go-ahead to start work on the project before the business case is fully worked out.
The company was allowed to collect an extra £10m through this year's transmission charge so that it can get on with the design work, and there are 120 engineers busy on the designs. "This is a pivotal moment for the industry because we are not just thinking about the usual five-year, regulatory time horizon," Mr Holliday says. "This needs to be in place by 2016, so we need to get on with it now and, while we are working out how it can be paid for, we have some revenues to maintain the programme." But there will be no further investment until there is a payback. "It is clear under every scenario that no one would regret this investment," Mr Holliday adds. "But we have not quite finalised how we will earn revenues, and until then we won't invest."
Despite an absolute priority on immediate investment returns, National Grid has ambitious growth plans. The company's UK division, which is still the biggest tranche of its investments, has capital spending running at more than £3bn a year, but that is nothing compared with the prospects for the future. "There are investment opportunities linked to nuclear and renewables, there is the offshore grid, pipes for carbon capture and storage and then the US investment also has to get going," Mr Holliday says. Whatever else it is, National Grid is certainly not boring.
On the right lines: Holliday's CV
* Steve Holliday has a BSc in mining engineering from Nottingham University.
* He has been the chief executive of National Grid since January 2007. According to Forbes, his salary this year is £929,000, with a £1.27m bonus.
* From 2002 to 2007, Mr Holliday was National Grid's group director for UK gas distribution and business services.
* From 2001 to 2002, he was its group director for UK and Europe.
* Before he joined National Grid, Mr Holliday was the executive director of British Borneo Oil and Gas.
* Prior to Borneo Oil and Gas, he spent 19 years with the US energy giant Exxon. During that time, he held senior positions in the company's international gas business, as well as managing its major operational areas including refining and shipping.
* Mr Holliday is also a non-executive director of Marks and Spencer.
* His interests include the England rugby team and the arts.

Vilsack Speaks Up on Climate

WASHINGTON -- The benefits of an agriculture cash-credit program in proposed climate legislation would outweigh the costs of the legislation for farmers, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.
A new report unveiled by the Obama administration is designed to persuade reluctant senators from rural, Midwestern states concerned about the economic impact of the legislation to support the measure. It is likely to be a controversial study, as many farm groups say the benefits to farmers are dubious.
Mr. Vilsack, who testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday, said the agriculture industry could counter rising energy, fertilizer, shipping and other costs expected as a result of the bill through the cash-credit "offset" program.
The analysis predicts the bill, designed to slash greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S., will result in a short-term 1% decrease in net farm income that will eventually turn into a 3.5% decrease and then a 7.2% decrease.
But the analysis also estimates that annual net returns to farmers from offsets would range from about $1 billion a year in 2015-20 to almost $15 billion to $20 billion in 2040-50. Those numbers don't account for the costs of implementing offset practices, however.
Under the proposed cap-and-trade system, the government would give away hundreds of billions of dollars in emission allowances as a way to neutralize higher costs under the bill, particularly for energy.It also creates an "offset" market that allows emission-reduction projects to get cash credits for the greenhouse gases saved from being emitted into the atmosphere.
Farm groups opposed to the legislation, however, dispute the USDA's positive findings. They say that while some sectors in the agriculture industry would be able to benefit, others wouldn't.
Write to Bill Tomson at and Ian Talley at

Mountaintop mining legacy: Destroying Appalachian streams

Scientists are now beginning to understand that mountaintop mining operations' most lasting damage may be caused by the massive amounts of debris dumped into valley streams

From Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 22 July 2009 10.49 BST

Laurel Branch Hollow was once a small West Virginia mountain valley, with steep, forested hillsides and a stream that, depending on the season and the rains, flowed or trickled down into the Mud River about 200 yards below. The stream teemed with microbes and insect life, and each spring it became a sumptuous buffet for the birds, fish, and amphibians in the valley.
But over the past decade, the Hobet 21 mountaintop removal coal mining operation has obliterated 25 square miles of surrounding highlands. From the air, the mine is a 10-mile-long, mottled gray blotch among the green, crisscrossed by trucks and earth movers, appended by black lakes of coal sludge.
The Caudill family has owned a house at the mouth of the hollow since the early 1900s. Many of their neighbors left, but the Caudills fought and blocked an attempt by Hobet to force them to sell their property. Unfazed, the mining operation simply steered around their land, and dumped a mountain's worth of rocky debris into the Laurel Branch up to their property line.When mountains are demolished with explosives to harvest their coal seams, the millions of tons of crushed shale, sandstone, and coal detritushave to go somewhere, and the most convenient spots are nearby valleys. Mining operations clear-cut the hillsides and literally "fill" mountain hollows to the brim — and sometimes higher — with rocky debris. At the mouth of the hollow, the outer edge of the fill is typically engineered into a towering wall resembling a dam.
As I visited Laurel Branch recently with family members Anita Miller and her mother, Lorene Caudill, two bulldozers crawled back and forth over the peak more than 200 feet above us, sculpting it into a steep, three-tiered sloping form. When it can reach no higher, the coal company will seed the slope with grass and move on. But the valley fill's impact on the environment will last much, much longer.
Of all the environmental problems caused by mountaintop projects — decapitated peaks, deforestation, the significant carbon footprint — scientists have found that valley fills do the most damage because they destroy headwater streams and surrounding forests, which are crucial to the workings of mountain ecosystems.
"There used to be pine trees, and it was a very pretty shaded area. There was a nice trail that went up the hollow and I used to take my granddaughter up there and we'd go ginsenging [harvesting ginseng roots, an Appalachian custom] on up the hill," says Miller, whose grandfather built the family homestead in 1920. "She really misses not being able to do that. She said, 'Can't we go someplace else? There's no hills to climb there.'"
The remaining length of Laurel Branch, running past the house into the river, has become a sluice for contamination: As rainwater runs down Hobet 21's dismantled mountainsides and fills, it picks up minerals and pollutants that damage delicate stream chemistry for miles downstream. Laurel Branch and multiple valley fills like it feed the Mud River, which is heavily contaminated with selenium, a heavy metal that works its way up through the food chain in ever-greater concentrations. One study has associated it with deformities — including curved spines and two eyes on one side of the head – found in fish larvae in a downstream reservoir.
When the Obama administration announced last month it would toughen its oversight of mountaintop removal rather than ban it or otherwise crack down, environmental groups that had hoped for decisive action were outraged. In West Virginia, local activists launched protests employing civil disobedience. Actress Darryl Hannah and NASA scientist James Hansen, an outspoken advocate of immediate action to address global warming, were among 31 people arrested at one anti-mountaintop protest in Sundial, W.Va.
But the scientific picture of mountaintop removal now emerging — from, among other things, the study of valley fills like the one in Laurel Branch —is, in its way, far more dramatic than any protest. The spread of mountaintop removal through central Appalachia in the past 15 years has given scientists the opportunity to study environmental destruction on a previously unthinkable scale: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that by 2013 a forested area the size of Delaware will have been destroyed and that more than 1,200 miles of streams have already been severely damaged. As that footprint has grown, so has the evidence, outlined in peer-reviewed scientific papers and ongoing investigations, showing that the damage is far more extensive than previously understood.
The Obama administration's approach puts pressure on coal companies to compromise with regulators to limit some of the more egregious impacts of mountaintop removal. That may have some effect, but it will be limited by the government's balkanized regulatory scheme for coal mining, which dates to the 1970s and never contemplated the vast damage that results when mountains are demolished.
In the case of valley fills, for example, only the EPA has ecosystem-wide responsibility through the Clean Water Act which governs what may be dumped in streams and waterways. But the agency's power is circumscribed; it shares authority with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which actually grants the dumping permits and has taken a much more sympathetic view of the practice. The Interior Department, meanwhile, oversees mountaintop projects via another law, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
Nevertheless, the White House is betting that mountaintop mining can be managed and the damage ultimately repaired. But the science indicates that such an incremental approach may never be effective. Mountaintop removal does damage on both vast and microscopic scales, from hydrological changes over hundreds of square miles to effects on the life cycles of the tiniest stream microbes. Overseeing the repair of such damage is beyond the capabilities of any government agency; the most serious impacts — to streams — may be all but impossible to fix.
Margaret Palmer, a biology professor at the University of Maryland, was part of a team of scientists that compiled a comprehensive database of 37,000 U.S. river and stream restoration projects. She found no record of any mining-related stream-building project that could be called ecologically successful.
"Can you create these streams de novo, from scratch? There's no evidence," says Palmer, who testified on behalf of West Virginia environmental groups in a suit faulting the Army Corps of Engineers' stream management. "Over thousands of years, I think you could do it. You have to have erosion of the land, get the hydrology back. I'm a restoration ecologist — I hope it can be done. But given how much damage they've done, right now I don't think so."
Take a big step back for a moment. Mountain ecosystems developed over millions of years in tandem with evolving patterns of snow and rainfall. On an unspoiled mountain, some rain is immediately absorbed by the soil, while the remainder trickles into stream beds and eventually flows into larger waterways. Between rainfalls, mountain soil acts as a kind of sponge: Some of its water is taken up by trees and other plants, some gradually released into streams. This system creates a steady flow in the spring and summer that sustains entire watersheds and the surrounding ecosystems that depend on them.
Surface mining destroys those ancient interrelationships and disrupts them for many miles around. Keith Eshleman, a scientist at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Studies Appalachian Laboratory, runs an ongoing study on the impact of strip mine sites on the mountains of western Maryland. Using satellite imagery and data collected in the field, Eshleman and other scientists have documented significant changes in hydrology and the ecosystem functioning on sites that have been reclaimed — i.e., restored to the satisfaction of government agencies, typically by bulldozing the mined land smooth and replanting it with grass.
Eshleman took me out to one of his Maryland study sites, a reclaimed mine on Big Savage Mountain he calls the "site from hell." It's not a mountaintop removal site but a former highwall mine: One slope had been vertically stripped away and the coal mined in the early part of the decade. Like many reclaimed sites, it's now mostly pastureland. Eshleman and his colleagues monitor runoff from the site with a small catch basin near the bottom. It's about 10 feet across, with an attached depth gauge and a flume emptying onto a small valley fill. Their observations show there is a lot more runoff and erosion from the mine than from an unspoiled mountainside or sites that are more carefully reclaimed.
This isn't surprising, since there is little vegetation and no topsoil — instead, mining companies use crushed rock for reclamation, which doesn't absorb much water. In mountain streams, there is a steady flow that swells during rains; in this system, there is barely any steady flow, but rather sudden, extreme pulses during storms. During a recent three-inch downpour, for instance, the catch basin filled up and briefly overflowed. Loose rocks, sand and other signs of recent erosion were still visible up and down the reclamation site. The gauge showed that of 90 millimeters of water that fell, 60 mm — or two thirds — ran off; on forested mountainsides, the figure is typically less than half.
This phenomenon is one source of the frequent flash floods near mine sites throughout Appalachia and is a serious safety risk for nearby communities. Eshleman and his colleagues recently expanded their study area to include mountaintop removal areas of West Virginia. They expect the findings will be similar to those from the Maryland sites.
The environmental impacts of massive alterations in water flow and the loss of soil and vegetation can be catastrophic for the carbon and nitrogen cycles and other basic functions that sustain life. A 2008 paper by Eshleman and several colleagues found many signs of impaired ecosystem health at reclaimed strip mines, including low levels of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous. "Currently the goal of mine reclamation is simply the establishment of permanent vegetative cover," the authors wrote. "This approach is shortsighted and does not take into account the importance of ecosystem processes like nutrient cycling nor the potentially harmful conditions created, like high soil and stream temperatures. As a result, recovery of comparable ecosystem function will take decades to centuries."
Some scientists say that those problems are, at least theoretically, manageable. "Reclamation does not fully restore the natural communities and processes that are lost when land is mined for coal; but, when done right, it can establish conditions that allow many of those communities and processes to return to the mined landscape over time," Carl Zipper, a professor of environmental science at Virginia Tech, wrote in an email exchange with me. Zipper runs the Powell River Project, which researches and tests reclamation techniques (and is funded largely by coal interests).
The problem, however, is that "good" reclamation is expensive, and mining operations that prefer to do it on the cheap outnumber those willing to spend the necessary time and money. Federal law requires that a mined-out site be restored to the "approximate original contour" and planted with "a diverse, effective, and permanent vegetative cover." But it's virtually impossible to rebuild many mountain peaks, so "approximate" is interpreted quite liberally. Replanting is similarly erratic – complete reforestation is rare; many sites end up as grassy pastures. Those problems are straightforward compared to those that mining poses for streams. The "intermittent and ephemeral" valley streams appear and disappear with the seasons and rains. But they are the headwaters for steady-running "perennial" streams below, and the foundation for the broader forest ecosystem: most notably a breeding ground for insects that provide the biomass to sustain birds and other animal life. When those streams are destroyed, the effects are felt far beyond the immediate vicinity of the valley fill, and scientists say they are irreplaceable.
Below Eshleman's basin, repeated torrents had cut a deepening rut into the small valley fill. The fill ended abruptly at the trees where the remaining natural stream bed sat, dry. "This is their 'stream,'" Eshelman said. "This is meant to replace the native stream that was here. Does this look like a mountain stream to you?"
This is a typical problem on mountaintop removal sites. In most cases, Margaret Palmer says, mining drainage ditches are repurposed as streams to move water across reclaimed areas. "In fact, they have created a gutter or a ditch," she says. "If you look at what organisms are in it, it's not similar at all to natural streams."
Moreover, when stream ecosystems are destroyed, trouble flows downstream with the runoff. Scientists at the EPA Freshwater Biology Lab in Wheeling, W.Va., began studying the downstream effects of valley fills in the early 2000s as part of a major, court-ordered environmental impact assessment of mountaintop mining. Their 2008 paper on the topic drew the attention of regulators, coal companies, and scientists because it demonstrated that streams outside of mine sites suffer from pollution, altered chemistry, and biological damage. "Our results indicate that [mountaintop mining] is strongly related to downstream biological impairment," the study said.
The EPA scientists found that an unusually high concentration of ions from dissolved metals and sulfates from mine sites was killing off entire populations of mayflies, an important indicator of broader ecosystem health. "What was alarming to us is in some of these streams we were losing the whole group of mayflies," says Greg Pond, the lead scientist on the study. "Of the eight to 10 species you'll find in a small sample, often, we were getting only one or zero." Other studies have shown that such chemical changes linger on for decades, meaning the mayflies and other affected species won't come back without major intervention. The EPA study concluded that the ecological damage was bad enough to trigger a provision of the Clean Water Act requiring the state to take steps to monitor and reduce the pollution, though that may not be sufficient for the wildlife to recover.
At the Laurel Branch Hollow valley fill, a rectangular pond filters sediment and chemically treats the water running off before it pours into the remaining stream bed and then the Mud River. Studies have shown, however, that the ponds do an incomplete job of filtering chemicals, and the Mud River has been especially hard hit.
The most ubiquitous form of downstream contamination may be the heavy metal selenium, a common element associated with coal seams. Selenium is an essential nutrient in small amounts, but it bioaccumulates in tissue, and in high enough concentrations can cause health and reproductive problems in wildlife and humans. In 2003, the EPA's environmental impact assessment found significant elevations of selenium downstream from valley fills.
The Mud River, which wends through the Hobet 21 site, has become notorious for its high selenium levels. A. Dennis Lemly, a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service who specializes in selenium contamination, found very high selenium levels in the Upper Mud River reservoir, about 10 miles downstream from the Caudill home, and documented the deformities among bluegill fish larvae. In 2007 the state issued an advisory telling people to limit their consumption of fish from the reservoir. After the state filed suit, Hobet agreed to pay $3.5 million to the state and to take steps to reduce selenium leaching from its operations.
Before mountaintop removal, cases of severe selenium contamination were mainly limited to coal-fired power plant discharges. Now they're appearing across Appalachia near mountaintop mines, says Lemly, who recently wrote a report outlining his findings for an environmental group challenging mountaintop removal.
Lemly believes that without major changes, the Mud's contaminated fish populations may simply collapse. "In case of the Mud River, those [fish populations] are quite a few miles downstream of the mining operations — 20 to 30 miles or more," he says. "That's a long way. Selenium just moves with the water."

The plight of Britain's ancient trees

We are home to some 100,000 of the oldest trees in Europe. But is our neglect and ill-treatment in danger of killing them off?

Patrick Barkham
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 July 2009
Above crumpled grey roots like the enormous feet of a prehistoric elephant, leaves form a vaulted roof as grand as a cathedral. Huge limbs stretch out for 24 metres on each side. They smell damp. Stand beneath "the Tree", as this magical old beech is known to anyone who walks this corner of the Chilterns, and you feel in the presence of something living and breathing. Its trunk is polished smooth from admirers who have scrambled into its embrace, and it has even brought its charisma and great girth to bear on films such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This tree has lived for 400 years but now it is dying. Green summer weeds sprout on the ground below its huge canopy, sunlight now penetrating its thinning head of leafy hair. "The tree isn't capturing all the light that it once did," explains Bob Davis, head forester for the National Trust's 5,000-acre estate at Ashridge. "It is slowly shutting down. We've decided not to do any surgery on it and allow it to decline naturally into senescence."
In its dotage, this great tree is being carefully nurtured. Across the country, however, many of our estimated 100,000 ancient trees – which could represent 70% of all ancient trees in Europe – are neglected or at risk of being felled. This week, they get a new guardian: Brian Muelaner, a forester turned conservationist, is to count all the ancient trees on land belonging to the National Trust, which could turn out to be the largest private owner of ancient and notable trees in northern Europe. Muelaner's new job as the Trust's ancient tree officer will help push along the Ancient Tree Hunt, a five-year project led by the Woodland Trust, which for the first time is recording every ancient tree in Britain. "If we don't know where they are, we can't protect them," says Muelaner. "If we can't protect them, we don't know if they can survive."
A tree is defined as ancient if it is unusually old for its species. It is said that an oak spends 300 years growing, 300 years living and 300 years dying. Such a long-lived species would have to be 600 years old to be classified as ancient. Beeches are prone to fungal attack and are less long-lived: an ancient beech is anything over 300 years old. Birch trees have even shorter lives; one that has lived for two centuries is very old.
Ancient trees are ecological treasures because they provide unique habitats for rare plants, insects, birds and mammals. When they become ancient, trees such as oaks and sweet chestnuts "grow down", dying at the top and forming a new crown of leaves below so the tree shrinks and hunches like a very old man. Ancient trees also hollow out: fungi feed on the deadwood in the heart of the tree and invertebrates such as rare beetles move into the hollows, followed by birds and bats. Three-quarters of our 17 species of bat are known to roost in trees. Some plant species can only survive on ancient trees: over time, the pH of bark changes and certain rare lichens only grow on ancient bark.
With a laughing Buddha around his neck, Muelaner looks like a hippie rock star, but he is not a tree-hugger. "That doesn't do it for me, but I understand it," he says. "The mood an ancient tree puts you in, it just takes your breath away; you know you are by something extremely important and significant. When you are under an ancient tree, it's very good for your soul." He compares a century-old beech nearby the 400-year-old tree. "It's like the difference between an 80-year-old man who is full of knowledge and experience and a cocksure 15-year-old who thinks he knows everything. You can discard those people as doddery old folks or you could use them for their knowledge. You can learn so much from ancient trees about how a tree survives. How does an organism survive for 1,000 years in the same spot? It doesn't get to move to a better position. So it adapts."
Standing beneath the huge old beech, contemplating its warty imperfections and huge stretch-marks where its trunk has bent and twisted, it seems incredible that it has stood witness to four centuries of humans scurrying around it. While this example partly owes its long life to being pollarded by humans over the centuries (the traditional way of harvesting its branches at head height, pollarding mimics the natural retrenchment of trees such as oaks, and ensures species like beech don't grow too tall and fragile), trees have their own clever ways of prolonging their life. They can eat themselves. When fungus attacks the dead heartwood, a tree might send aerial roots into the hollow and start drawing the nutrients out, recycling itself so it lives longer. Trees can also walk. Slowly. If a branch touches the ground, it can send out roots and grow up again.
Our wealth of long-lived trees is a happy accident: a legacy of our royal hunting forests, our domineering aristocracy and our lack of efficiency – compared with our north European neighbours – in harvesting our forests for timber. The last century, however, has not been kind to ancient trees. We have ploughed too close to them, grazed too intensively around them and used fertilisers and pesticides too wantonly, killing both trees and species of fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with them. Then there was the ripping out of native broad-leaved trees and planting of supposedly more productive non-native conifers after the second world war. "The Forestry Commission, the National Trust, private landowners, everyone was guilty in its day. There was a national drive for it," says Muelaner. "Now we know the unique historical, cultural and biological importance of these trees, and there is a national movement to reverse the bad management of the past."
Trees may be impressively long-lived but they are more fragile than we imagine. Too many livestock sheltering under a tree and defecating there can fatally damage it. Even a footpath under a tree can compress its roots and destroy it. One day, Davis discovered a group of druids worshipping the great beech at Ashridge with a small fire. The tree did not look as if it had been harmed but even a mild scorching – with no visible damage – can cause a tree's sap to boil and kill it. Ancient trees are often hollow: the holes make fantastic dens but children often light small fires in them. "You lose your ancient tree just like that," Muelaner snaps his fingers. "We do things inadvertently and it's gone. We can't put it back. We can't recreate that habitat like we can with grassland. If we kill an ancient tree, we have to wait 500 years to restore that habitat."
Trees can also die of sunburn. Close to the great beech at Ashridge, another beech is dying because a vast branch of another tree fell nearby, exposing this tree to the sun. Beech has thin bark and, just like a pale-skinned human, if it has grown up protected from the sun and is suddenly exposed, it burns horribly. Grey squirrels stripping bark is an increasing problem: holes in the bark allow fungal diseases in, which can weaken a tree and finally cause it to fall over. Fungal diseases introduced by squirrels also stain the quality beech wood that the Chilterns is renowned for, making it commercially worthless. "It's a serious economic and ecological issue. It's a total disaster," says Muelaner.
Ancient trees are not merely great statues to biodiversity, they document human history; they have a social and cultural significance, as well as an ecological one. The ancient trunk pictured at the top of this article bears the scars of decades of graffiti. "It is vandalism but then it becomes historic," he says. During the second world war, American soldiers shot deer, chased local women and prepared for war in the woods at Ashridge. On 4 May 1944, a few weeks before D-Day, when many young men would perish, a group of GIs carved a "V" for victory and the names of their home states – from Texas to South Dakota – into the trunk of another Chiltern beech nearby. It is still there, a memorial in bark, the carving slowly fattening as the tree grows so you can rest a finger in the V now.
Muelaner, whose post has been funded for three years by the Cadbury family, will accelerate the process of logging our ancient trees. So far, the Woodland Trust has logged 38,000 ancient trees through the work of ecologists and ordinary members of the public, who can record trees at Our great wealth of ancient trees may not remain unknown for much longer, but they are still relatively unprotected. Other countries preserve ancient trees by listing them like an old house or ancient monument. In Britain, the only protection is a tree preservation order, which can be circumvented by developers if it is proved trees are dead, dying or dangerous (and most ancient trees, by definition, are dying: it just takes them three centuries).
Muelaner points to the enormous beech at Ashridge. "If France, Germany or the Scandinavian countries had a tree like that, there would be plaques everywhere and it would be a national monument," he says. As well as better protection, he believes we need to create ancient tree-like habitat by planting young trees such as birches that age quickly and provide dead wood or by deliberately maiming some trees to create hollows and dead areas so beloved of smaller living things.
"The speed of our societies nowadays mean that trees are that much more important to us as places where we are grounded and are at peace," says Muelaner. "We need them now more than we ever needed them before".