Friday, 31 July 2009

US auto "clunker" program limit, new funding sought

Reuters, Friday July 31 2009
(Updates throughout, adds byline, auto dealers, details)
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON, July 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. government's $1 billion "cash for clunkers" auto sales incentive program reached its funding limit unexpectedly after an avalanche of business exhausted its funds, an Obama administration official said late Thursday.
Auto dealers began offering government-backed rebates in early July of up to $4,500 to consumers who traded-in their gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles.
But the Transportation Department will need additional cash after rebates for nearly 250,000 vehicles jammed the pipeline nationwide.
The White House was working with Congress to try to extend funding as lawmakers prepared to leave town for the month of August, according to the official who was not authorized to speak for attribution.
The program was part of a congressional effort to revive slumping U.S. sales and further help domestic automakers, especially General Motors Corp and Chrysler Group that briefly went bankrupt.
Sales unexpectedly spiked this week after the government began logging transactions and approving rebates that indicated consumers were opting for vehicles that get significantly better gas mileage than the models they were trading in.
The end of the month is usually the busiest time for auto dealers and automakers that have matched the government benefit.
Initially, congressional and industry officials signaled that the program was going to be suspended late Thursday or early Friday as funding ran out.
The administration opted to keep the program in place while it sought new money. It was not clear where the administration would find additional funding in a short period of time.
"We hope there's a will and a way to keep the program going a bit longer," General Motors said in a statement. "Any doubt that the program would jump-start auto sales is completely erased."
An estimated 16,000 dealers were eligible for the program and each would have to sell more than a dozen vehicles at the maximum rebate to reach the government's funding limit, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.
U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Susan Collins of Maine said any extension of the incentive must require greater fuel efficiency and higher reductions of auto emissions.
Congress wrestled with both issues when it established the current incentive to give U.S. manufacturers a better chance of qualifying for the program.
U.S. auto manufacturers are scheduled to report their July sales next week.
It was unclear how the program that was to run into the fall was impacting sales at individual companies, including Asian manufacturers like Toyota Motor Corp. (7203.T) and Honda Motor Co. (7267.T) that make the most fuel efficient cars on the road.
Nevertheless, analysts expected the program, if utilized fully, to push U.S. sales above 10 million units for 2009, higher than the annual rate so far this year. That would represent a modest jump for an industry that has endured a severe slide in business during the recession. (Writing by John Crawley; Editing by Philip Barbara)

Chinese Leader Cites Need for 'Industrial Restructuring'

GUANGZHOU, China -- The global financial crisis has been a wake-up call for southern China, adding urgency to official efforts to move beyond the region's traditional reliance on low-end manufacturing, a top Chinese leader said in a rare meeting with members of the foreign media.
Wang Yang, Communist Party secretary of southern China's Guangdong province and a member of the party's Politburo, said Thursday that the financial crisis exposed the fragility and volatility of basing the Chinese economy on what he called "the lowest level on the value chain."
"We need to start from a new beginning," said Mr. Wang, who ranks as Guangdong's most powerful official. "Since last year, we've been calling on people to free their minds of the old growth patterns, but there was still strong demand for our products and it was very hard for people to realize the pressing need for change."
That sentiment has changed when southern China bore the brunt of the global slowdown. Demand for Chinese exports fell steeply, hitting industrial output and forcing waves of factory closures in Guangdong boomtowns such as Dongguan and Shenzhen.
In response, Mr. Wang said, China needed to push "industrial restructuring" and encourage innovation and green business models -- as a response to economic realities as well as to growing environmental concerns.
"It's fair to say we have very severe environmental problems in Guangdong province," he said, citing high levels of acid rain as one example. "The best answer is to continue our industrial restructuring. We have to make up our minds and either relocate or close those highly polluting and high-consumption industries."
Mr. Wang said the government was serious about cleaning up the environment, pointing to a recent decision to relocate a controversial oil refinery at a sensitive site in Nansha, on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Guangzhou. The move, which he characterized as a response to environmental concerns and complaints from residents, was "very difficult," he said. Mr. Wang declined to say to where the refinery project would be relocated.
Officials have been attempting to wean Chinese industry off low-cost labor, imposing new regulations, such as worker protections, that make this time-worn business model less attractive. They face challenges, especially labor unrest, as job creation in favored industries struggles to keep up with the pace of factory closures.
Mr. Wang acknowledged Thursday that the shift would likely exacerbate social tensions in the process, particularly as many of the migrant workers at Guangdong factories in recent years grapple with unemployment.
"As ethnic relations develop in China, we need to make adjustments," Mr. Wang said. "If they aren't made promptly, there will surely be problems." He nodded to recent unrest in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, which was sparked by a dispute between members of China's Han majority and Uighur minorities in a Guangdong factory.
On the Uighur unrest, Mr. Wang said 25 people had been arrested in relation to the factory dispute, and that 15 of them were still being detained.
Commenting separately on a recent spate of high-level corruption cases in Guangdong province, Mr. Wang said he had no reason to think the cases were connected to each other, adding that he hoped for "severe" punishments and, in the longer run, "a more comprehensive legal system" to institutionalize anticorruption measures.
Mr. Wang also pointed to the recent arrest of several mayors in New Jersey to argue that "even mature economies like the U.S. are not immune from corruption."
Write to Jonathan Cheng at

Patio heaters might impress Dragons, but green credentials are hot air

Eddie Middleton told the Dragons' Den his electric heaters produce less CO2 than the gas version. But can it be true?

Fred Pearce, Thursday 30 July 2009 11.00 BST
Anybody watching the BBC's Dragons' Den a couple of weeks ago may have sat up straight when Eddie Middleton walked in and pitched for money to invest in making his eco-friendly patio heating.
Eddie claims that his heaters, which have names such as Zeus and Neptune, produce 50% less carbon dioxide than regular patio heaters because they run on electricity rather than burning LPG gas.
This matters. Demand for his products is good. His company website says that "due to very high demand", Neptune is out of stock.
Also, according to the Energy Saving Trust, a non-profit adviser on low-energy living, there is a "patio pandemic" going on, with more than 1m of these backyard Humvees polluting the skies above British suburbia during summer evenings.
Eddie told me he is not quite saying it is climate friendly to heat the air over your back garden. More that, if you are going to heat the atmosphere, then you should buy one of his heaters to do it.
But is it true? According to the Carbon Trust, another government-backed advisory body, grid electricity produces more than twice as much carbon dioxide to deliver a unit of energy than LPG.
So how can Eddie make his electric heaters produce less CO2 than their gas rivals? His number crunching is carried out by Andy Lowe at Carbon Clear, a private "carbon management" company. Eddie sent me Andy's calculations.
They start with an estimate provided by the Energy Saving Trust that a typical British gas patio heater produces 50kg of carbon dioxide during a typical year's use.
Andy reckons that, given how much gas an average patio heater consumes, this means it burns for 21 hours in a typical summer. He then says that if you run Eddie's Neptune heater for 21 hours, it produces just 26kg of CO2. Only half as much.
Fair enough. I have no problem with any of those numbers. But there is an obvious question. Does the Neptune produce as much heat as a regular gas heater? If it doesn't, then surely the comparison is invalid.
Here comes a bit of maths, so bear with me. If the average gas-powered heater emits 50 kilograms of CO2 during 21 hours of operation, then it must emit 2.38 kilograms for every hour it is switched on. Now, according to the Carbon Trust's Greenhouse Gas Conversion tables, a kilowatt hour of energy from burning LPG produces 0.214 kilograms of CO2. So to emit 2.38 kilograms of CO2 in an hour, the "average" heater in Andy's calculation must have a heat output of 11.1 kilowatts.
But Eddie's Neptune – which is advertised, I notice, as "the baby of the range" – is a 2.3 kilowatt heater. It has not much more than a fifth of the heat-generating power of the "average" gas-fired patio heater. It is no wonder it kicks out less CO2, because it kicks out a very great deal less heat as well.
When I put this to Andy, he insisted that the Neptune heater is "a direct replacement" for bigger gas heaters. "Advances in technology have made it possible to deliver a comparable heater which uses only a fraction of the energy."
How's that? He said that "70% of the heat generated from a gas patio heater is lost". It heats the air and not people sitting close by, he said, whereas his infra-red electric heater heated only the people.
Well, he has a point here. Physicists among you will know that radiant heat from an electric heater is more efficient at warming objects, like people. But I am still hoping for the documentation to back up that claim that there is a 70% difference in heat delivery.
Even assuming he is correct though, Eddie's Neptune heater is still producing substantially less heat than its rival. So his claim to produce 50% fewer emissions is not justified.
I don't think Eddie is trying to pull a fast one. He is an enthusiast. But if you make such claims about a product selling out after TV exposure, you need to be able to back them up. He may be a straight guy, but his claim is greenwash.
Actually, though, isn't this all nuts? Isn't the truth that the world does not need patio heaters? Back in the real world, they are a disgraceful waste of energy, however they are powered. And calling them environmentally friendly is an insult. What's wrong with a pullover?
• Do you know of any green claims that deserve closer examination? Email your examples to or add your comments below

New Jersey Outshines 48 of Its Peers in Solar Power

Lacking California's Sunshine and Deserts, State Capitalizes on Utility Poles and Flat Industrial Roofs to Claim No. 2 Spot
New Jersey's biggest utility is outfitting 200,000 utility poles with solar panels, part of the state's embrace of a try-anything strategy that has made it the nation's second-biggest producer of solar energy behind California.
Instead of bemoaning what it doesn't have -- bright sunshine, high winds, empty land -- New Jersey has looked for places where solar capacity can be squirreled away inconspicuously. In addition to utility poles, the state is pushing solar panels for industrial locations with many flat roofs.
Enterprise Group, the state's biggest utility, plans to install about 200,000 solar units on utility poles in its territory. The solar units also will have radio capability to alert the company of outages.

FedEx Corp., for example, said Thursday it will begin installing solar panels atop its distribution hub in Woodbridge, N.J., next month. Covering about three acres and capable of generating 2.42 megawatts of electricity, it is expected to be the largest rooftop solar facility in the U.S. when completed in November. The solar array will satisfy about 30% of the facility's electricity needs.
Other states may adopt New Jersey's practical approach, if Congress pushes ahead with plans to create a national renewable-energy mandate. In Southeastern states, this could mean burning more wood chips or farm waste to make electricity.
"We don't have the land to do big, grid-connected, utility-scale solar projects, so we've had to think more creatively," said Ralph Izzo, chief executive of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. The big utility received regulatory approval this week to install 40 megawatts of solar panels on utility poles and another 40 megawatts at its industrial yards and on rooftops.
Rooftop projects avoid the environmental hurdles associated with the use of pristine, desert locations, often sought out in Western states like California. Nor is there the problem of trying to get leases from the federal government, the biggest landowner in the West. And, of course, when solar energy is scattered on rooftops, it's literally sitting right on top of customers, so there is no need for major new transmission lines.
"We need to break away from the mindset of putting solar energy where there's lots of land but no people," said Mr. Izzo.
The Garden State's generous financial incentives for solar installation are helping to generate interest. "I've had plenty of people ask me, 'Why New Jersey? Why not Arizona?' " said Paul Vicarro, a facilities managing director at FedEx. "The answer is: That is where the money is, that is where incentives are to make the deal financially viable."
California also is on a solar tear. It wants "a million solar roofs" a decade from now, and is spending $3.3 billion on subsidies, hoping to get 3,000 megawatts installed. More than 158 megawatts of grid-tied solar power were installed in California last year, double the amount installed in 2007. Since the 1980s, California has installed nearly 500 megawatts of grid-tied solar power, equivalent to one large power plant, but still a tiny fraction of the 40,000 megawatts the state needs on a summer day.
New Jersey's $514 million program will double its solar capacity to 160 megawatts by 2013, and will be funded by utility customers. Costs will be defrayed slightly by a 30% federal tax credit, roughly $1 million a year in proceeds from the sale of solar renewable energy credits. In addition, solar energy fetches higher prices in the state's deregulated market, because it's produced at peak times.
PSEG will get more than electricity from the pole-mounted systems, which cost about $1,000 apiece. The solar units will have a radio capability, so they can alert the utility to outages and relay other grid data. "As they deploy these systems, they get a smart grid network," said Shihab Kuran, chief executive of Petra Solar in Plainfield, N.J., which is manufacturing the systems locally.
Jesse Pichel, an alternative-energy analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., said a change in government incentives should stimulate more solar development. Beginning Aug. 1, renewable-energy companies can get cash grants from the federal government, instead of a credit against taxable income, for 30% of the cost of projects. The change will make it easier to finance projects.
Even though panel prices have fallen amid abundant supplies of polysilicon, the primary material used to make panels, the electricity still costs more than power generated from conventional fossil-fuel sources. "We've got to stop pretending solar power will lower the cost of energy. It's going to increase the cost, and people have got to understand why it's worth more," said PSEG's Mr. Izzo. He listed the names of pollutants produced by coal or gas incineration that don't occur with solar technology.
Jeanne Fox, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, said her state has 4,000 solar installations, or "more per square mile than California." There are limits, though, she added, "because the ratepayers can't afford to have solar everywhere, even though the cost is dropping."
New Jersey's goal is to garner 3% of its electricity from the sun and 12% from offshore wind by 2020, part of a larger effort to meet 30% of the state's electricity needs through clean sources.
Write to Rebecca Smith at and Russell Gold at

Solar company results reflect weak global market

Reuters, Friday July 31 2009
* First Solar 2nd-qtr profit, revenue top Street
* Stock falls 3 pct after rebate announcement
* Evergreen Solar Q2 loss before items misses Wall St view
* Evergreen shares down 10 pct after hours
* Hoku Scientific, Akeena Solar post quarterly losses (Adds analyst's comment, Akeena Solar and Hoku Scientific results, changes dateline, previous LOS ANGELES)
By Nichola Groom and Matt Daily
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, July 30 (Reuters) - First Solar Inc reported a quarterly profit on Thursday that handily topped Wall Street estimates, but its shares fell in extended trading after the company said it would start offering rebates to defend its position in Germany.
The solar panel maker's shares soared more than 10 percent after it announced its results but reversed course and fell 3.2 percent after the rebate program was outlined during a conference call with analysts.
"They say they're doing it through a rebate program, but it doesn't matter what you call it, they still have to cut prices," said Kaufman Bros analyst Theodore O'Neill.
First Solar, based in Tempe, Arizona, has weathered the global recession better than many of its peers because its cadmium telluride panels are cheaper to produce than the silicon-based panels that dominate the market.
That was underscored on Thursday as three smaller U.S. solar companies, Evergreen Solar Inc, Hoku Scientific Inc and Akeena Solar Inc, said they lost money in the second quarter.
A dearth of financing for renewable energy projects has contributed to a global glut of solar panels that has sent prices falling, hurting panel makers' margins.
At the same time, prices of silicon-based panels have come closer to those of First Solar's low-cost panels, chipping away at its competitive edge.
To defend his company's market position in top solar market Germany, Chief Executive Mike Ahearn said First Solar would offer rebates to customers once solar installations were completed.
"We're the cost leader in the industry by a wide margin, and we're going to do what we have to do," Ahearn said, adding that the duration of the program would be "flexible" and depend on market conditions.
"We're willing to reduce price so long as, but not beyond when, it's necessary," he said.
Analysts said the announcement was disappointing after the company posted strong second-quarter results. Many had been expecting First Solar to raise its full-year revenue view, which it held steady. In addition, its gross margin outlook was below many estimates.
Second-quarter net income was $180.6 million, or $2.11 per share, compared with $69.7 million, or 85 cents per share, a year ago. Wall Street analysts, on average, had been expecting earnings of $1.65 per share, according to Reuters Estimates.
First Solar said it still expects 2009 revenue of $1.9 billion to $2 billion and gross margins of 31 to 33 percent.
The company expects to spend between $40 million and $60 million on the rebate program.
"Concerns over channel inventory and competitive pricing from some of the lower-cost crystalline module companies seem to be weighing," Canaccord Adams analyst Jed Dorsheimer said.
Evergreen Solar Inc reported a worse-than-expected quarterly loss as lower selling prices offset rising sales volumes. Its shares were down 10 percent after hours.
Evergreen also said it had signed agreements with Jiawei Solarchina Co Ltd to build a 100 MW manufacturing plant in China, for Evergreen's products.
Evergreen, based in Marlboro, Massachusetts, will invest $17 million in cash and equipment for the plant that will begin production in the first half of 2010, and receive $33 million in loans from the Wuhan government's Hubei Science & Technology Investment Co.
The Chinese government recently said it would subsidize half the investment for solar power projects as part of an effort to grow its renewable power output.
"Unless the world changes in a dramatic way, our plan is to expand in China," Richard Feldt, Evergreen's chief executive officer told a conference call.
Simmons & Co analyst Burt Chao said the Chinese expansion was a positive development for Evergreen as "they will be able to extract really low costs and they will be able to remain very competitive."
Also on Thursday afternoon, Honolulu-based solar raw material provider Hoku reported a quarterly loss and said it had taken steps to slow construction for its polysilicon plant in Idaho. And, California-based solar systems installer Akeena Solar earlier in the day posted a narrower quarterly loss as it reaped the benefits of cost-cutting measures.
First Solar shares fell 3.2 percent to $167.98 in extended trade after closing at $173.55 Thursday on the Nasdaq, while Evergreen shares fell to $2.15 after hours after closing at $2.38 on the Nasdaq.
Hoku shares were unchanged after hours after closing at $2.15 on the Nasdaq. Akeena shares slipped to $1.30 after closing at $1.36 on the Nasdaq. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Additional reporting by Laura Isensee in Los Angeles Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Bernard Orr)

Leaked CEO conversation suggests electricity revolution coming

By Pat Pilcher
Thursday, 30 July 2009
Transcripts and audio files of a leaked phone conversation between the secretive CEO of Texas-based EEStor, Dick Weir, and an as yet undisclosed source have been doing the rounds online for the last 24 hours creating a stir amongst technologists and environmentalists around the world.
Whilst you'd be forgiven for thinking that a leaked phone conversation on the internet was merely yawn worthy, this particular conversation saw eeStore CEO, Weir confirming that they are mere months away from launching an uber capacitor which is an electrical component that would fully charge up in minutes yet hold enough juice to power electronic gadgets for days.
Should this leaked conversation be something more than a cleverly orchestrated PR stunt, and EEStor's invention actually work, the implications are nothing short of revolutionary.
Electric cars could finally become a viable option. Photovoltaic solar cells and wind turbines could store their own energy, reducing global dependence on less clean forms of energy and most importantly giving us notebook PCs and iPods that charge in seconds but run for days.
If this all sounds more than a little Buck Rogers, there has been some independent corroboration of eeStor's claims.
In May ZENN Motor Company (who hold exclusive rights to the eestor capacitor system for vehicles under 1,400kg) confirmed that their own independent testing verified that EEStor's capacitors were on track to performing as promised. This said, eeStor's claims have also attracted scepticism from capacitor experts and to date no uuber capacitor prototypes have been publicly tested.
The leaked conversation delves into the ins and outs of building capacitors in excruciating detail.
The leaked conversation even alludes to a involvement with military contractors Lockheed Martin. Weir also confirms that pre-production prototypes of what he calls an electrical energy storage unit (EESU) could be revealed as soon as the end of this year.
EEStor is not the first company to claim it's about to revolutionise energy generation or storage, with Steorn announcing in 2006 that they'd circumvented the law of conservation of energy with its "Orb" generator to produce clean, free and constant power.
After a botched demonstration in 2007 where Steorn blamed heat from the camera lights for the failure, Steorn has yet to deliver any free energy. Will EEStor come up with the goods? Only time will tell.
The article is sourced from the New Zealand Herald.

Wind power: Local difficulty

The Guardian, Thursday 30 July 2009

Many a radical hankers after a red-green alliance, but few ever expected one would flash into life on the Isle of Wight. The occupation of a factory set for closure in a conservative corner of England is interesting in itself, but is made even more so by the support being lent by environmentalists who are appalled because the plant in question, Vestas in Newport, is Britain's only major manufacturer of wind turbines. Two dozen determined workers have installed themselves there for nearly a fortnight, staying even after dismissal notices were delivered along with their meagre rations of food. And after the company botched its paperwork in court yesterday, the protestors will avoid eviction right through the weekend. That will give time for ticket-holders for the cancelled Big Green Gathering to make their way over the Solent for what they are branding a "Vestival", a spontaneous show of support.
Although Vestas has not moved to sell the plant, the firm's mind seems settled. The loss of livelihood for 650 employees amid a recession is a miserable prospect, made all the more galling when they are engaged in making something which – as the government's bold plans spell out – the country desperately needs. In the week when the business secretary, Peter Mandelson, has found £150m in new state support for manufacturing, Vestas might seem an obvious candidate for help from the newly proactive industrial policy. Most of the money went towards greening Rolls-Royce, but it might have been better to support genuinely environmental industries than to subsidise the partial cleansing of grubby aerospace. The Vestas story, however, is a complex one – and it is not really about shortage of money.
The firm's global sales and profits have risen, and it has not even asked for a bailout. The Newport plant makes turbines for the American market and the immediate trigger for closure is the transfer of this work to Vestas's expanding US operation. But that still leaves a mystery as to why the company is not, as it had planned, converting its Isle of Wight operation to serve the UK market. After all, this month's Low Carbon Transition Plan committed to 10,000 new turbines by 2020, so demand should be about to balloon. There are grumbles that Vestas charges too much to win UK contracts, but with the prospect of expansion, the firm should have very chance to make itself more competitive. Everything points to the company harbouring grave doubts about whether the orders for thousands of new turbines are really going to materialise.
At one level that seems peculiar, as both the main parties at Westminster are firmly committed to expanding renewables rapidly. Dig deeper to the local level, however, and the picture changes. We reported yesterday on objections being lodged in Shetland to the largest windfarm in Europe, and Greenpeace figures this week show that local councils are refusing permission for windfarms more often than they are giving them the green light, particularly in Conservative districts. A government scheme to overhaul the planning rules is supposed to make it easier to override local objections, but – while in firm agreement with the direction of travel – the Tory frontbench objects to some of the detail, which it regards as undemocratic. And until further detailed regulations emerge, it is unclear to potential investors how far either party will face down the inevitable objections from local people who resent the change that wind farms bring to familiar landscapes.
Not every windfarm should be licensed, but the great bulk of them will need to be. In a country that is serious about tackling climate change, raising objections might need to become something that carries a certain social stigma, as the climate secretary, Ed Miliband, has suggested. Reverence for local landscapes is natural, but it needs to be balanced by the need to find sustainable forms of energy.

Supporters of Vestas workers break into factory to deliver food

Paul Lewis, Thursday 30 July 2009 20.58 BST

Supporters of workers occupying the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight today broke into the premises to deliver food, accusing the company of trying to starve the men into submission.
The Danish-owned company said it would officially close the Newport factory, the only major producer of wind turbine blades in the UK, tomorrow. However, about 10 workers at the plant remain in a first-floor office space which they have occupied for 11 days in protest at the closure of the factory, which they say will result in about 625 job losses.
Vestas failed in a legal attempt to obtain a possession order from a local court to evict the workers on Wednesday, when a judge ruled it had failed to properly serve papers on the men. He adjourned the hearing until Tuesday.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has raised concerns over the welfare of the men, who have no access to showers or hot water.
The union is seeking legal advice on the obligations the company has to feed the workers, who are receiving a modest breakfast at 9am and a small meal – such as slice of pizza – at night. Occasionally, they have been given drinks.
"It cannot be right that the company are allowed to try and starve the workers at Vestas into submission," said the RMT general secretary, Bob Crow. "This looks to us like a gross infringement of their human rights."
One of the workers left the occupation yesterday, and was told by ambulance staff that his blood sugar levels were dangerously low. Luke Paxton, 20, said a police officer guided him to a waiting ambulance after he emerged from the plant looking "pale and shaky". He said he was advised to go to hospital after a blood test showed his sugar levels were lower than normal.
Vestas activists from the island, who are campaigning alongside environmental protesters at a campsite outside the factory gates, stormed through a security cordon yesterday to deliver food. Steve Milligan, from the Climate Camp protest group, said those outside had become "really frustrated and angry" at the lack of food and decided to enter by force.
A number were restrained by security, he said, but others managed to throw supplies in, including a kettle, rice, tins of tuna and pasta.
Until now, workers inside the factory have relied on additional supplies stuffed into tennis balls and thrown to them from a distance, meaning supplies have been limited to rolled up bags of instant soup, sweets and pound coins for use in a vending machine.
The tennis ball technique – also used to smuggle drugs into prisons – was used by the Guardian to get a USB memory stick into the factory. The workers uploaded video footage they shot of their occupation, giving an insight into their living conditions, and threw the ball back.
The footage, shot on Wednesday, shows the men lounging around on office desks and listening to music on the radio. They react jubilantly when they hear the news from court that enabled an extension of their occupation until next week.
One worker can be overheard saying: "Six days isn't it – something like that? We need to speak to Ian Woodland and they need to start getting us food in properly. They've said they can do it, so we need to get it done now. And maybe the RMT can start getting the food in and putting on the pressure."

How do you solve a problem like the Nimbys?

The familiar pattern of wind farm objections, Nimby protests, planning difficulties, and investment set backs have returned to the UK this week. By James Murray, from, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Anyone familiar with the two steps forward, one and three quarter steps back world of the UK's renewable energy industry is unlikely to have been surprised by the past week, but that does not stop it being teeth gnashingly frustrating.
Just a fortnight on from the release of the government's much vaunted Low Carbon Industrial Plan and the familiar pattern of wind farm objections, Nimby protests, planning difficulties, and investment set backs has returned.
The most high profile slap in the face for the sector comes in the form of Vestas' plans to close its wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight, despite the brave efforts of staff to oppose the decision by staging a sit in at the plant, jeopardising any chance of redundancy payments in the process.
There have been plenty of suggestions that Vestas' decision to close the plant is short sighted and that the government should step in to nationalise the facility. But while the issuing of dismissal letters inside a food parcel sent to the protestors was crass in the extreme, it is much harder to fault the commercial logic behind the decision to close the plant.
The factory was building blades that were then being exported to the US. At the same time, the company has a plant in the US capable of delivering the same blades at lower cost. It makes sense from both a commercial, and indeed an environmental perspective for turbines for the US market to be built in the US.
Vestas did look at converting the Isle of Wight factory to produce blades for the UK market, but decided that the risk that demand for the new turbines would not be forthcoming was too high. Was this an unreasonable decision?
Well, The British Wind Energy Association is right to point out that up to 2,700 new wind turbines are expected to be erected by 2012 with over 700 under construction and nearly 2,000 having secured planning permission. Meanwhile, the additional £1bn of financing announced by the government this week should ensure that those projects that have planning permission are indeed built.
And yet Vestas would be forgiven for arguing that it has seen such predictions in the past, only for the pipeline of new projects to be blocked time and again by local objections to planning applications, followed by long winding appeals that in many cases ended in disappointment.
It could point to Greenpeace's recent report showing that between December 2005 and November 2008 Tory councils blocked 158.2MW of wind energy projects, approving just 44.7MW, while Labour councils fared only a bit better rejecting 62.6MW, while approving just 68.3MW.
If it wanted more timely examples, it could highlight the news today that the RSPB is to formally oppose plans for the UK's largest onshore wind farm on the Shetland Islands, after previously indicating it would support the proposal. Or the decision by RES to cut the number of turbines at its planned Minnygap wind farm in Scotland from 15 to 10 in an attempt to win planning approval. Or Ecotricity's recent appeal against a decision that saw plans for a 12MW wind farm in North Dorset rejected despite planning authorities recommending to councillors that the proposals should be approved. The list goes on and on.
It is horrible for the workers involved, but you can understand why Vestas has decided that it has had enough operating in an environment where the market it serves is at the whim of a small minority of locally-fixated Nimby protestors and popularity courting councillors. If staff, trade unions and green groups want to protest against Vestas' decision, it is the government, and in particular wind farm blocking councils, that should be the target.
The fact is Nimbyism is at the root of most of the clean tech industry's problems, and what's more it is only going to get worse. The conservationist campaign against the proposed Severn Barrage is already gathering momentum, the anti-wind lobby is if anything getting more vocal and has substantial support on the back benches of a Conservative party that looks destined to form the next government, objections to biomass and waste-to-energy plants are increasingly common, and if the recent opposition to planned carbon capture and storage plants in Germany and the Netherlands is anything to go by, even this technology could be hamstrung by people worried about living above carbon sinks.
Thus far the response from the renewables industry has tended to be one of impotent rage. Talk to anyone involved in trying to gain planning approval for a wind farm opposed by local parish worthies and they are often engaged in an scarcely concealed internal battle to resist an attack of apoplexy.
They can't understand why, when surveys have shown the vast majority of people like wind turbines, when the reality of climate change means they are trying to invest in a project that is essential to the continuation of our way of life, when the government is pretty unstinting in its support for low carbon technologies, when the latest turbines are ghostly quiet and governed by stringent planning rules that keep them a good distance from buildings, small numbers of people complaining about changes to their view can effectively torpedo an entire industrial revolution.
But while it is always fun to have a bit of rant, it is never going to solve the problem - in fact, it tends to exacerbate it by making local opponents to wind farms feel bullied.
So what is the answer?
The first step has to be to understand where the opposition to these developments comes from. Opponents of wind farms like to dress up their objections in vaguely technical (and easily countered) arguments about the efficacy of wind and the damage turbines can do to bird life, but in most cases the root of the opposition invariably comes down to visual impact.
The government recently undertook a major survey that found that the vast majority of people like the look of turbines, and almost everyone agrees they have more architectural value than a coal-fired power plant. But the vocal minority's opposition to wind farms is based not so much on aesthetic judgements but a deep-rooted conservative, with a small c, mentality (although given their councillors' record maybe that should be with a large C too). My guess is that opponents to wind farms simply don't like change, pure and simple.
So how do you win them round? The rigours of democracy quite rightly ensures that the totalitarian approach of telling them to lump it and evicting anyone who protests too loudly is out of the question. As a result, the renewables sector needs to get much better at the gentle art of persuasion.
Wind farms that do secure approval tend to engage in genuine and lengthy consultation and engagement exercises with residents, while the practice of donating funds to local community projects has become increasingly prevalent. But such engagement exercises are only going to have limited success when faced with a deep rooted fear of change.
Perhaps the answer is to be found in one of the few mechanisms proven throughout history to help people get over their fears: money.
My Godfather lives near Sellafield. Not near enough to see it, but near enough to know that if anything ever goes badly wrong his health insurance claim would make for interesting reading. As a teacher with impeccable left-leaning, anti-nuclear credentials and a life long love of the surrounding countryside he always said that he did not like having a power plant in the back yard, but he was fully aware that without it he would most likely be out of a job and an area with an already pretty precarious economy would be tipped over the edge.
Unfortunately, this economic rationalism will not work quite so well with wind farms, when you consider that once they are built the employment prospects are pretty minimal. Consequently, the onus has to be on developers to make the economic case more explicit, and if that means paying local residents some form of reparations or annual stipend then so be it.
The financial rewards might still not be sufficient to convince those with an irrational hatred of wind farms, but I'm guessing their opposition would soon be drowned out by those who quite fancied the idea of the local wind farm paying for their holiday each year.
• This article was shared by our content partner, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Climate change deniers claim they're censored. What hypocrites

Anthony Watts, sceptic and scourge of climate change science, has used copyright laws to censor an opponent
One of the allegations made repeatedly by climate change deniers is that they are being censored. There's just one problem with this claim: they have yet to produce a single valid example. On the other hand, there are hundreds of examples of direct attempts to censor climate scientists.
Most were the work of the Bush administration. In 2007 the Union of Concerned Scientists collated 435 instances of political interference in the work of climate researchers in the US.
Scientists working for the government were pressured by officials to remove the words "climate change" and "global warming" from their publications; their reports were edited to change the meaning of their findings, others never saw the light of day. Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service were forbidden to speak to the media; James Hansen at Nasa was told by public relations officials that there would be "dire consequences" if he continued to call for big cuts in greenhouse gases.
Philip Cooney, a senior White House aide who previously worked at the American Petroleum Institute, admitted to Congress that he had made hundreds of changes to government reports about climate change on behalf of the Bush government.
Among other changes, he had struck out evidence that glaciers were retreating and inserted phrases suggesting that there was serious scientific doubt about global warming. In the UK, both Viscount Monckton and Martin Durkin, the director of Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle, have threatened to sue people who have criticised the claims they've made about the science.
Where, on the other hand, is a single verifiable instance of a climate denier being silenced by the authorities? They have yet to produce one. But it suits them to cry wolf. They love to imagine that they are important enough to censor. The claim chimes with their paranoid invocation of a great conspiracy – involving most of the world's scientists, most of the world's governments, most of the world's media and a few hundred million others – to suppress the truth about global warming.
Now we have another marvellous instance of this hypocrisy. Anthony Watts spends much of his time maligning climate scientists and environmentalists on his blog Wattsupwiththat. But while he can dole it out, he can't take it. As Kevin Grandia of desmogblog shows, Watts has just used US copyright laws to take down a YouTube video which exposes his claims. Grandia has since reposted the video (see above) so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
It is not clear how his copyright was infringed by the video, but the US laws have been widely used by other people to block material that they don't like. Websites are obliged to remove any video which is subject to a takedown request, and they can put it back up only if they win an appeal. I charge Watts with the accusation he unjustly levels at other people: this looks to me like an attempt to silence his critics.

Global poll finds 73% want higher priority for climate change

Britons among the most enthusiastic about action to stop global warming, while Americans among least willing to put environment first, according to global public opinion poll
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 30 July 2009 10.49 BST
A majority of peoples around the world want their governments to put action on climate change at the top of the political agenda, a new global public opinion poll suggests.
Unfortunately for Barack Obama though, who has put energy reform at the top of his White House to-do list, Americans are not necessarily among them.
Only 44% of Americans thought climate change should be a major preoccupation for the Obama administration, the survey co-ordinated by the University of Maryland's Programme on International Policy Attitudes said. The only other two countries unwilling to see their governments make climate change a top focus were Iraq and the Palestinian territories. In 15 other countries though there was strong support for governments to do more to deal with climate change.
Britons were among the most enthusiastic supporters for greater government intervention, with 77% urging officials to do more. Germans, however, think their government has already done enough. Some 83% think their government has already adopted climate change action as a top priority; 27% would like the government to turn its attention elsewhere.
"The public is pulling for more — a lot more, no, but a bit more, yes. There is definitely political capital there to move the ball forward and that is pretty much universal," said Steven Kull, the director of the survey which drew on data gathered by academic and marketing polling organisations in the respective countries. Overall about 73% of those polled believe governments should make climate change a top priority.
The poll, which sampled the opinions of 18,578 people in 19 countries, found broad popular support for making climate change a top priority extended even to those countries whose governments have yet to commit to global action. In China there was overwhelming support — 94% — for the government to keep climate change on the front burner. And in India, which is also rapidly emerging as one of the world's leading producers of global warming pollution, 59% of the public wanted their government to make climate change a top priority.
That defies the hard line taken by the country's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, earlier this month against putting any cap on its greenhouse gas emissions.
Around the globe, the public was unconvinced their governments were assigning high enough priority to climate change. The disconnect suggests that there is greater public support for action on public change than elected officials realise, Kull said. "There is a tendency among policy makers to underestimate people's readiness for action."
Only four countries — Germany, Britain, China, and Indonesia — considered that their governments were focused on climate change. But, that did not necessarily satisfy the demand for even greater action.
Although the majority of Britons, 58%, credit the government with making climate change a major priority, even greater numbers, 89%, believe there is room for the government to do even more.

Recycling your rubbish correctly could earn £150 a year

Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Householders will earn up to £150 a year from recycling their rubbish under a scheme designed to reward those who put waste in the correct bins.
Microchips will be installed on wheelie bins, which will be scanned and weighed automatically as they are emptied into refuse lorries.
Councils will issue rewards based on the weight of recyclable waste collected from each home. Some of the plastics will go to a plastic recyling facility in Dagenham, East London. Initially, the rewards will be in the form of vouchers redeemable at local shops. At a later stage, authorities may introduce cash payments or discounts on council tax bills.
Councils will carry out spot checks to catch people who try to exploit the system by putting heavy non-recyclable items into their recycling bins. Culprits will be sent a warning letter but for repeated offences could be fined or lose their entitlement to vouchers.
Householders will be able to track their recycling levels and rewards online.
The scheme will be piloted next year in several London boroughs and will cover up to 100,000 homes.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is holding talks with six boroughs that are interested in taking part in the trials. He believes that offering rewards will be much more effective than fines in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.
Britain has one of the poorest records on recycling household waste of any country in Europe. In London only 21 per cent is recycled, even though more than 60 per cent could be.
Leading to a Greener London, the mayor’s environmental strategy published today, states: “The typical financial benefit to households in London could be about £14 a month, assuming they recycle an additional 100-200kg a year.”
Isabel Dedring, the mayor’s environment adviser, said that the vouchers would be provided by retailers and local businesses, which would benefit from increased trade.
She said that councils were also likely to pass on to households some of the savings they will make from sending less waste to landfill sites. The landfill tax will rise to £48 a tonne next year, up from £40 a tonne this year.
Some local authorities, including the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, have adopted an alternative approach of threatening to fine residents who fail to recycle.
Ms Dedring said that rewarding good behaviour was likely to be more effective. “If the carrot works there will be no need for a stick.”
She declined to the name the boroughs that are interested in taking part in the trials but said all those chosen were likely to be in Outer London.
This is because they have a high proportion of homes that have their own wheelie bins for recycling. In Inner London, most people live in flats and share recycling boxes.
Ms Dedring is considering a special scheme for people in flats under which they would still share bins but also share the rewards with all those living in their block.
Last month the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead began a reward scheme under which householders receive points, which can be converted into retail vouchers, every time they leave out their garden waste wheelie bin. The points earned do not yet vary according to weight, but the total amount of garden waste collected has still risen sharply.
Mr Johnson’s strategy also includes plans to plant 10,000 trees on streets by 2012 and introduce subsidies to encourage roof-top gardens.
These are among several ideas designed to reduce the “urban heat island” effect, under which buildings absorb and release heat and cause cities to be several degrees hotter than surrounding areas.
Ms Dedring said climate projections showed that average summer temperatures in London could be some 3.9C higher than today by 2080, and as much as 6C to 10C on the hottest days.
A study from Manchester suggests that increasing the amount of greenery in a city by 10 per cent could offset the higher temperatures.
The Mayor’s environment plan is aiming to increase tree cover across the capital by 5 per cent — an extra 2 million trees — by 2025.

London to plant 2m trees by 2025, says mayor's office

Mayor's adviser announces plans to make London 'greener, cleaner and more civilised' with 2m tree plan
Press Association, Thursday 30 July 2009 11.41 BST
London needs more parkland and to plant more trees to combat predicted rises in summer temperatures, an environment chief said today.
Mayor Boris Johnson's environment adviser Isabel Dedring said climate projections showed average summer temperatures in London could be some 3.9C higher than today by 2080, and as much as 6C to 10C on the hottest days.
The "urban heat island effect" in which buildings absorb and release heat, maintaining a higher temperature in cities than surrounding areas, means London temperatures will continue to be higher than other parts of the south-east.
But a study from Manchester suggests that increasing the amount of greenery in a city by 10% could offset the higher temperatures.
The mayor's environment plan is aiming to increase tree cover across the capital by 5% – an extra 2m trees – by 2025.
The programme, Leading to a Greener London, also involves plans for an increase in green space in inner London by 5%, including green roofs and more trees in streets. A green roof features waterproofing and drainage layers topped with soil and plants.
Other measures to make the capital "greener, cleaner and more civilised" include pilot schemes which will pay householders to recycle.
"Trees in streets have a very positive air-quality effect," Dedring added.

Fish stocks recover as conservation measures take effect, analysis shows

Regions in Iceland, California and north-east US show signs of recovery but North Sea and Ireland still overfished
David Adam, environment correspondent, Thursday 30 July 2009 19.00 BST
Global efforts to combat overfishing are starting to turn the tide to allow some fish stocks to recover, new analysis shows. Research from an international team of scientists shows that a handful of major fisheries across the world have managed to reduce the rate at which fish are exploited.
The experts say their study offers hope that overfishing can be brought under control, but they warn that fishermen in Ireland and the North Sea are still catching too many fish to allow stocks to recover. Some 63% of assessed fish stocks worldwide still require rebuilding, the scientists report.
"Across all regions we are still seeing a troubling trend of increasing stock collapse," said Dr Boris Worm, an ecologist at Dalhousie University in Canada. "But this paper shows that our oceans are not a lost cause. The encouraging result is that exploitation rate, the ultimate driver of depletion and collapse, is decreasing in half the 10 systems we examined. This means that management in those areas is setting the stage for ecological and economic recovery. It's only a start, but it gives me hope that we have the ability to bring overfishing under control."
Fisheries winning the battle against overfishing include regions in the US, Iceland and Australia. But fishermen in Ireland and the North Sea are still catching too many fish to allow stocks to recover, the research says.
Pamela Mace of the New Zealand ministry of fisheries, who helped to write the new study, said: "Fisheries managers currently presiding over depleted fish stocks need to become fast followers of the successes revealed in this paper. We need to move much more rapidly towards rebuilding individual fish populations, and restoring the ecosystems of which they are a part, if there is to be any hope for the long-term viability of fisheries and fishing communities."
The new analysis used catch data as well as stock assessments, scientific trawl surveys, small-scale fishery data and modelling results. It highlighted catch quotas, localised fishing closures and bans on selected fishing gear to allow smaller fish to escape as measures that help fish stocks to recover. Agencies in Alaska and New Zealand have led the world in the fight against overfishing by acting before the situation became critical, says the study, which is published in the journal Science. Fish abundance is increasing in previously overfished areas around Iceland, the north-east US shelf, the Newfoundland-Labrador shelf and California. This has benefitted species such as American plaice, pollock, haddock and Atlantic cod.
"Some of the most spectacular rebuilding efforts have involved bold experimentation with closed areas, gear and effort restrictions and new approaches to catch allocations and enforcement," the scientists say. But they caution that the study covers less than a quarter of world fisheries, and lightly to moderately fished and rebuilding ecosystems comprise less than half of those.
The isolated success stories, they say, "may best be interpreted as large scale restoration experiments that demonstrate opportunities for successfully rebuilding marine resources elsewhere." Many nations in Africa have sold the right to fish in their waters to wealthy developed countries that have exhausted their own stocks, the experts said. The move could undermine local efforts to tackle overfishing made by small scale fisheries such as those in Kenya, which are highlighted in the new study.
The North Sea, the Baltic and Celtic-Biscay shelf fisheries are all still declining. Here, Atlantic cod and herring as still declining, while globally populations of large predators such as sharks and rays are in rapid decline.
The new survey marks a public truce in a war of words between Worm, a conservationist, and fellow author Ray Hilborn, a fisheries expert at the University of Washington in Seattle. The spat followed a 2006 study by Worm that made some dire predictions about the state of the world's fisheries, including the claim that most stocks could collapse by 2048 if present trends continued. Hilborn criticised the research as "sloppy" and said the 2048 claim had "zero credibility" because it used simple records of fish catches to say whether stocks had collapsed.
"I very much hope I will be alive in 2048 and I have given some thought to whether I will have a seafood party or not," Worm joked at a press conference this week.
Dr Ana Parma, an author of the paper with the Centro Nacional Patagonico in Argentina, said: "This is the first exhaustive attempt to assemble the best available data on the status of marine fisheries and trends in exploitation rates, a major breakthrough that has allowed scientists from different backgrounds to reach a consensus about the status of fisheries and actions needed."

£15m home energy efficiency advice boostPublished Date: 31 July 2009

By Jenny Haworth
TENS of thousands of households are to be offered advice on how to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, under a £15 million scheme announced yesterday.
Experts will knock on all doors in each of ten chosen areas of Scotland, to offer to carry out an audit of how efficiently energy is being used, and means tested free or discounted insulation will be offered.The Scottish Government funded scheme will benefit up to 96,000 homes initially, and could then be rolled out to other areas over the next few years.Green groups warned yesterday the initiative did not go far enough.Houses are responsible for about a third of all carbon dioxide emissions in Scotland, making them crucial in the struggle to meet climate change targets of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.Areas due to benefit include the whole of Stirling, 14,000 homes in Brechin and Montrose, Angus, 13,515 homes in King's Park, Croftfoot, Simshill and Cardonald, Glasgow, 13,000 homes in Craigentinny and Duddingston, Edinburgh, 10,000 in Leven, Kennoway and Largo, Fife, 8,823 in Broughty Ferry, Dundee, 1,500 in West Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, 9,034 in Thurso and Fort William, Highland, 8,506 in Lewis and Harris, Western Isles, and 388 in Kirkwall and Stomness in Orkney.It is thought 900 energy advisor and insulation installer jobs could be created.The Energy Saving Trust, a not-for-profit organisation, will manage the delivery of the scheme.Doorstep assessors will knock on every door in the selected areas to provide energy advice to the householder, gather energy data on the property and seek to sign the householder up for insulation measures, where their home is suitable.Alex Neil, housing and communities minister, said: "Making Scotland's homes better insulated will be key to achieving our ambitious climate change targets."By offering householders help with making their homes more energy efficient, people will have the opportunity to do their bit for the environment."Importantly it will help make homes warmer, reduce fuel bills, safeguard existing jobs and create new employment opportunities."However, the Scottish Green party said the scheme would cover just 4.2 per cent of Scotland's homes – and would take nearly 24 years to roll out over the entire country. They want £100 million a year spent on energy efficiency of homes.Patrick Harvie, Green MSP, said: "While we're pleased to have pushed the Scottish Government a little closer to adopting a decent energy saving scheme, this announcement is a poor substitute for the free and universal project we pressed for. "At this rate some parts of Scotland wouldn't see an insulation van until 2033, even assuming there was a proper commitment in future to finish the job."He added: "If the SNP were serious about climate change and fuel poverty, they'd be rolling out a national free insulation scheme, not a half measure." Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland said the Scottish Government needed to move quickly to "massively expand the scheme to cover every home in Scotland.