Monday, 27 July 2009

Wind power boosted by £1bn in new loans

Figures from Greenpeace show Conservative-run councils blocking three times as many wind farms as they approve
Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Monday 27 July 2009

The credit crunch has delayed many onshore wind energy projects
The government will today demonstrate its willingness to exert influence over Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group by announcing £1bn of lending to wind farm developers whose schemes have been becalmed by a lack of cash.
The initiative comes as Greenpeace unveils new figures showing that local councils run by the Conservative party block more than three times as many wind farms as they approve. Labour-controlled councils meanwhile approved marginally more projects than they turned down between December 2005 and November 2008, according to the campaign group.
Both issues are important because Vestas, the UK's only major wind turbine maker, is threatening to close its manufacturing plant on the Isle of Wight this week blaming some of its woes on "faceless nimbies" and a lack of a vibrant domestic market.
Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, will argue that the £1bn of loans organised through the partly state-owned banks and the European Investment Bank (EIB) will kick-start 1 gigawatt of onshore wind schemes delayed by the credit crunch – enough to power 2 million homes. The government does not want the loans to be seen as a specific attempt to save the Vestas plant, which is at the centre of a sit-in by workers.
"Earlier this month we laid out a transition plan to a low-carbon economy that included a massive expansion of green wind energy," Miliband will say. "The resources we are announcing back up our plans with clear actions to ensure we deliver. The money for the development of offshore wind manufacturing will help us generate green jobs on top of our success as the leading country in the world for the generation of offshore wind.
"Alongside these proposals, we are reforming planning laws, finding new ways of working with local communities and are determined to persuade people that we need a significant increase in onshore wind as part of the UK's future energy mix."
The £1bn cash arranged by the government is part of the additional £4bn of EIB lending to support UK energy projects announced in the spring budget. The government has been urged by environmentalists and thinktanks to use the state equity stakes in banks – gained when they had to be bailed out last autumn – to push them towards green projects.
But the loans are unlikely to change the decision of Vestas to close its manufacturing plant at Newport on the Isle of Wight. The Danish group exports the turbines from there to the US, but the blades are unsuitable for the UK market and America will in future be served from a new production line in Colorado.
Vestas was considering investing in a new type of blade for the UK market but said the credit crunch, soft pound and endless delays in planning projects had made this uncommercial.
Greenpeace claimed last night that its study of publicly available information provided to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) showed that Tory councils approved 44.7 megawatts of onshore wind schemes but blocked 158.2MW. Labour-controlled councils approved 68.3MW and rejected 62.6MW.
"One of the reasons Britain's green industrial revolution is yet to take off is the lack of domestic demand for wind turbines, and a key reason for that has been the attitude of many Conservative councils," said John Sauven, Greenpeace's executive director. "They need to be offered incentives to stop blocking wind developments, while David Cameron could make a difference straight away by making a crystal-clear commitment that a Tory Britain would meet the target to generate 20% of our energy from renewables by 2020."
Vestas has insisted it will take no decision on the future of Newport and another facility at Southampton until the end of this month, when a formal consultation with its 600 staff ends. But the government seems resigned to the closure.
A research and development base at Newport will keep going and Vestas is expected to be one of the beneficiaries when a £10m R&D fund is distributed by the DECC, perhaps as early as this week. A second £10m fund will be launched by Miliband today and Vestas will also be eligible for funding from that.

Greenpeace threatens E.ON with legal action over nuclear reactors

• Move triggered by reports of preparatory bore holes• EO.N claims work is to 'make sure the ground is suitable'
Terry Macalister, Sunday 26 July 2009 19.11 BST

Greenpeace is threatening to take legal action against E.ON and other nuclear power companies for rushing ahead with plans to build new reactors before they have got the proper consents.
The move has been triggered by reports that preparatory bore holes for new reactors will start to be drilled for E.ON on 3 August at Oldbury in Gloucestershire. EDF is said to be considering similar work.
A Greenpeace spokesman said its lawyers were reviewing a situation which made a mockery of a whole raft of hurdles that were meant to be overcome before the government starts official licensing in 2013.
The environmental campaigning group said there has not yet been a final national policy statement on nuclear, an official "justification" process for building more stations as needed by law, or an assessment of reactor designs by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII).
The green group has sent a letter to the government telling it to put a brake on E.ON. "Greenpeace is concerned to ensure that any decision to carry out preparatory work does not affect or pre-judge the regulatory or democratic process. Alternatively, the government should ensure that no work goes ahead unless and until it has been formally permitted, including through any decision on justification," says John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, in the letter to Miliband.
"The justification process, involves (among other things) weighing the economic disbenefit against any benefit from a new nuclear practice. The problems inherent in permitting building to go ahead without first carrying out the justification process are clear from the experience of the (troubled) Sellafield Mox plant," he adds.
The Mox fuel reprocessing facility cost £500m to build and a further £100m to commission but has been plagued with problems and produced only a fraction of the fuel promised. Mox was built before the formal justification process was undertaken and the government decided that it should go ahead anyway because the construction costs had already been "sunk."
Greenpeace has already successfully challenged in the courts a "sham" public consultation process by the government, which has been forced to repeat the exercise. The Guardian recently revealed that the head of the NII had proposed giving a waiver to some parts of the design assessment and coming back to them later in a bid to speed up the introduction of new nuclear.
Ministers are in a rush because they know Britain faces an energy crunch after 2015 when many existing nuclear and coal-fired stations will reach the end of their lives or need to be phased out because they do not meet pollution standards. Nuclear companies have said they can get a first new plant up and running by 2017, but only if there are no delays of any kind.
The moves come amid reports from Canada that the Ontario government has put its nuclear power plants on hold because the only bid from Atomic Energy of Canada, the only "compliant" one received, came in at more than three times more than the province expected to pay.
The first nuclear reactor built in Western Europe for three decades – in Finland – has also been attracting negative publicity with some politicians saying the cost overruns put a question mark over whether any further plants should be constructed.
E.ON denied last night that it was jumping the gun. "We will do nothing of a serious nature until the government gives the green light. This is just preparatory seismic work to make sure the ground is suitable. We are not preparing the foundations or anything like that," said the company spokesman.
EDF said it was doing various studies at sites such as Hinkley Point in Somerset ahead of putting in a formal planning application next year. "Any permits that are necessary for preparatory work have been obtained," said a company spokesman.

A New Fight Over Pollution Curbs Takes Root

Energy-Intensive Companies Hope to Counter Emissions by Preserving Trees That Might Not Have Been at Risk of Destruction
Truckee, Calif.
How much pollution can a tree absorb? The question is at the center of a high-stakes fight over how much it will cost to curb climate change -- and who will foot the bill.
Trees are nature's antidote to smokestacks and tailpipes. Factories and cars cough out carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced when fossil fuel is burned. Trees inhale it. They store the carbon in their roots, trunks and leaves, and they send the oxygen back into the air.
Forests are becoming more valuable, as governments provide incentives not to cut down woods. The owners of a forest in California are taking inventory of how much carbon dioxide its trees take in, in hopes of selling carbon credits to polluters. Jeffrey Ball reports.
But when a tree is destroyed, its carbon wafts back up into the atmosphere. Globally, according to the United Nations, nearly 20% of man-made greenhouse-gas emissions come from deforestation: trees cut and burned by humans, or mowed down by forest fire, or rotted away by disease. That is more carbon dioxide than comes from all the world's cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships, combined.
Now, some of the world's biggest polluters are turning into tree-huggers. Facing impending government orders to help curb climate change, energy-intensive companies argue that if they help prevent a forest from being destroyed, they will be keeping carbon dioxide out of the air. So they are proposing that they pay forest owners to keep their trees alive, and in exchange they receive carbon credits that reduce their obligation to make costlier emission cuts at their own factories. In short, they want to harness photosynthesis for the benefit of their bottom line.
It is relatively easy to measure how much carbon dioxide trees soak up. But there are major questions about claiming an existing forest as environmental cover for, say, building a new coal-burning power plant or producing a fleet of SUVs.
These quandaries are popping up wherever there are sizable woods -- from developing countries with vast tropical rainforests, like Brazil and Indonesia, to sylvan spots like the ski-resort town of Truckee, near Lake Tahoe in California's Sierra Nevada mountains.
Preserving forests is just one tactic raising concern that the campaign against climate change is being gamed. Landfills across the U.S. are selling carbon credits -- essentially rights to pollute -- in exchange for capturing a greenhouse gas produced by their rotting trash, even though many landfills installed the gas-capture systems years ago.

"You've got all these folks lined up around the idea that we want to generate as many of these credits as possible so we can continue to pretend that regulating emissions is going to be cheap and easy," says David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied the carbon market. In fact, he says, climate change "is a serious problem, and it requires us to spend serious resources. Right now, no one is willing to do that."
Carbon credits should have strong environmental safeguards, says Bruce Braine, a vice president for American Electric Power Co. of Columbus, Ohio. The utility is a member of a consortium of big greenhouse-gas emitters and environmentalists advocating the use of carbon credits for forests in developing countries, where much of the debate over pollution is likely to play out. But he adds: "If you try to get it to absolutely perfect environmental integrity, you will never get anything done."
One issue is how to prove a tree really would have been cut down were it not for the sale of a carbon credit. If the tree would have remained standing, then any carbon credit attributed to it wouldn't be providing a new environmental benefit, even though its buyer would be able to put more carbon dioxide into the air.
Another question is how to ensure that a tree that spawns carbon credits isn't later destroyed anyway. If a tree claimed as a source of carbon credits were cut down even a few decades later, then the carbon credits it had produced would be environmentally worthless.
In Truckee, many people who own vacation houses arrive by private plane at the town's small airport. Along the aerial approach sits a 1,500-acre forest filled with Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines. After a developer proposed building houses there, the airport district joined with governmental agencies and environmental groups two years ago to buy the forest, and signed a pledge never to develop the land.
The goal, says David Gotschall, the airport's general manager, had nothing to do with fighting climate change. It was to avoid a wave of new homeowners who might gripe about airplane noise.
Coincidentally, though, predictions were mounting that the U.S. government soon would regulate greenhouse-gas emissions and would let companies comply in part by buying carbon credits from trees. To encourage companies to start preparing for the regulations, environmentally aggressive California was setting up a market to promote a voluntary carbon-credit trade.
Figuring that market might provide some extra cash, the airport's managers began the process of getting the Truckee forest sanctioned as a source of carbon credits that could be sold to companies seeking to offset their pollution.
Last year, the airport hired a forester to measure how much carbon dioxide the woods had stored up. Under the carbon market's rules, forest owners get credits only for protecting the portion of a forest they can claim would have been destroyed. The airport estimates that preserving the forest instead of cutting down trees and building houses will keep about 226,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere over 100 years. That is the number of carbon credits the airport has proposed selling.
What is much harder to calculate is whether awarding carbon credits for the forest helps combat climate change.
For one, the airport would have bought and preserved the land even without the revenue from carbon credits, says Mr. Gotschall.
Also, it isn't certain that the developer actually would have built houses in the forest if the airport hadn't bought and preserved the land. Not long after the airport took ownership of the forest, the economy tanked, bringing a lot of new home construction to a halt.
And even if the developers had decided to go ahead with building the homes, it isn't clear how much of the forest would have been chopped down.
"This whole industry is a lot of could-be's and what-if's," Hardy Bullock, the airport official in charge of the details, said on a recent morning.
Answers to the what-if's will depend on what the government decides to do about greenhouse-gas emissions. Could an airport -- even one that owns a forest -- be held liable for the carbon dioxide emitted by the planes landing and taking off there? "I'll wait for Washington to answer that one," Mr. Gotschall says in the airport's terminal, a few minutes after a Gulfstream G5 jet takes off outside. A G5 burns 2,322 pounds of fuel, emitting about 3.3 tons of carbon dioxide, in an hour of typical flying. Compensating for that requires protecting about 740 square feet of Truckee forest from the buzz saw for a century.
Email Jeffrey Ball at

Eco-awareness festival halted by safety concerns

Adam Fresco
Organisers of Europe’s biggest eco-awareness event have had to cancel their 15th annual festival after police and the local council raised safety fears days before it was to start.
The Big Green Gathering (BGG), which was due to be attended by up to 20,000 people paying £125 per ticket, may now have to go into receivership, leaving thousands out of pocket.
Described as a “celebration of our natural world” in a village fĂȘte atmosphere, the festival combines practical advice and demonstrations on sustainable lifestyles combined with entertainment powered by the wind and the sun.
Visitors to the event are shown how to become self-sustaining, including how to build their own houses and grown their own food.
The five-day festival was due to open on Wednesday but the organisers surrendered their licence yesterday after concerns, including issues involving road and fire safety, could not be resolved with police and the local council.
Directors of the BGG, which has been running since 1994, are furious. Penny Kemp, a director, told The Times: “Our barrister has said it appears the council, police and regulatory authorities have leaned heavily on the road closure people to make sure we don’t get the order.”
She added that some of the reasons given for not allowing the event included the fire precautions not being good enough, even though they were the same as last year when the festival went ahead.
An inspector at Avon and Somerset Police refused to say what exactly their concerns were.
Mendip District Council was due to go to the High Court in London today to apply for an injunction to stop the gathering in the Mendip Hills going ahead.
Thousands of adults had paid £125 for a ticket and £50 for their children to attend.
The Big Green Gathering is designed for people within the green movement who wanted a festival focused on green issues.
According to its website, The Big Green Gathering is for “people who care about health, the environment, sustainability, our children’s future and life in general. It is a celebration of our natural world and our place within it. As such it is a place for enjoyment, learning and fun. Unhealthy activities are not encouraged. The only things taken in excess should be love, peace, joy and friendship.”
This year, Gardener’s World, BBC’s Ethical Man and many other environmental experts were said to be going to help people to reduce their carbon footprint.
Ms Kemp added that they had a multi-agency meeting on Thursday and as far as they were concerned everything was still going ahead. But as they had to cancel the event at such a late stage they may have to go into receivership as they had paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds, including £27,000 to the police.
She said: “We hope to be able to pay people back, but I just don’t know. It is desperately sad that a peaceful event enjoyed by thousands of people over many years has been stopped by the police and the council for what I think are unjust reasons.”
The directors of the Big Green Gathering issued a statement saying that they had “taken extensive legal advice from a prominent QC and other eminent lawyers” and had been left with “no option” but to surrender their licence.
“The event will now not take place and the directors advise and request that no one who was intending to attend the event should attempt to do so as the site is now closed and it is likely that they will be turned away by the police.
“It is our intention to avoid any confrontation or public disorder in regards to this and it is our earnest hope that all of those involved will follow this advice.
“It is with great sadness that we have been forced into this position and we express our profound apologies to all concerned.”
Avon and Somerset Police would only say: “It has been cancelled. The reasons are on our website.”
The statement said: “Police are warning people planning to attend the Big Green Gathering 2009, that the event has been cancelled due to a number of contributing factors that could not be overcome.
“Today (Sunday, July 26) organisers of the Big Green Gathering surrendered their licence to Mendip Council.
“Avon and Somerset Police worked with the event organisers as well as our multi-agent partners, and subsequently went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that this event took place. However, due to a number of issues including road and fire safety that could not be resolved the event organisers surrendered their licence.
“Police would now like to advise any persons planning on travelling to the area for this event not to, they will be turned away.”
Big Green Gathering Chair Brig Oubridge said: "At the multi-agency meeting on Thursday 23rd July, we were still negotiating with the police and the council under the genuine belief that things were progressing and we were continuing to spend money on infrastructure, wages and security.
"If they knew they were going to cancel the event, we can only conclude that this drive to increase expenditure appears to be a deliberate attempt to bankrupt the Big Green Gathering.
"The injunction served on the Big Green Gathering was primarily addressing the fact that the Big Green Gathering did not obtain the necessary road closure despite the fact that the Highways Agency had previously indicated that this would be done.
"The Big Green Gathering has been running an event since 1994 and never before has public safety been an issue. The BGG has an exemplary record on health and safety and crime levels have always been low for the number of people on site."