Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Clean coal dealt second blow as Danish energy giant pulls out of Scottish plans

Dong Energy withdraws from 1.6GW Hunterston power station scheme just days after E.ON shelves Kingsnorth
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 12 October 2009 17.24 BST
Plans for a new generation of "clean coal" power stations were dealt another severe blow after the Danish energy giant Dong Energy announced it was pulling out of plans for a major new coal-fired plant in Ayrshire.
Dong said it was withdrawing from the 1.6GW Hunterston power station scheme, which would eventually use carbon capture technology, and a further coal-fired plant in Germany, to focus its efforts on green energy and cutting its CO2 emissions.
The decision raises further doubts about the future of UK and Scottish government plans to invest heavily in "clean coal" plants after the energy firm E.ON said last week it was shelving proposals for a new coal-burning station at Kingsnorth in Kent. It cited the drop in demand for power due to the recession.
The news caps a dizzying few days for environmentalists, with an announcement at the weekend from airports operator BAA that put plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport in severe doubt. BAA said that it would not submit a planning application for the development ahead of the general election. If the Conservatives win the next general election that will effectively kill the project because the party has said they will include a manifesto commitment not to expand Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted.
Dong, which brands itself as a climate-friendly power company, said that the economics of coal were too difficult for it to invest in new plants. Its withdrawal raises significant problems for the junior partner in the 50:50 joint venture at Hunterston, the Manchester-based property company and airport operator Peel Holdings.
It has invested in windfarms and has a 24% stake in the mining company UK Coal but it has never built a coal-fired power station. Environment campaigners and the Scottish Green party urged Peel to completely drop the proposal.
Liz Murray, Scottish campaigner for the World Development Movement, said: "It's clearer than ever that dirty coal is a risky investment. Energy companies are finding it impossible to justify such climate-trashing developments."
Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said: "The Hunterston coal proposal was the wrong sort of scheme in the wrong place. It would have locked us into major climate change emissions for three or four decades, long past the time when we need to have kicked our addiction to burning coal."
E.ON's decision last week suggests the energy industry is unwilling to risk fresh investments in coal but Peel insisted it would continue with the application. Dong would continue giving it technical advice, said Owen Michaelson, chairman of Peel Energy.
"We can all appreciate the business drivers behind this decision," he said. "We are sorry to lose Dong Energy as an investor on this project but are pleased the relationship will continue through their design services."
"Ayrshire Power's [the company formed by Dong and Peel Energy to build Hunterston] overall strategy for the project is unaffected by this decision. We have just completed the latest stage of our public consultations with the local community and other key stakeholders and we now look forward to continuing to progress through the planning process."
The UK energy secretary, Ed Miliband, has insisted no new coal-fired plants can be built in England without the capacity to use carbon capture and storage technology which will bury waste CO2. Environmentalists say this is unacceptable, as the technique is unlikely to be available until 2020.
The Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has publicly backed the Hunterston proposal, since it too would have the capacity to use CCS technology and would allow Scotland to entirely phase out nuclear power.
The Dong plant would sit beside Hunterston nuclear power station, which is due to shut down its last reactor in 2016. The Scottish government has given Hunterston significant support by adding to its national planning framework, which allows it to sidestep local planning rules.

Britain has great low-pollution technology but it needs to be supported

Most people will not pay more for renewable energy than for fossil fuels. That is the reality that Lord Turner's Committee on Climate Change skirted around and the challenge that businesses trying to developing green technologies face every day.

By Richard TylerPublished: 5:57PM BST 12 Oct 2009
For low-carbon alternatives to compete with the mainstream, the companies that are pioneering them need the support of a stable regulatory framework and a package of pricing and tax-relief incentives to give them confidence to invest.
Take biofuels. Kevin Thomas, managing director of Regenatec, warns that he may have to take his company's diesel-engine conversion technology and develop it in India because the UK is such an uncertain market in which to invest. The conversion kits allow diesel engines in commercial vehicles, boats and generators to run on pure plant oil (which Regenatec also produces), and one of its main shareholders, Berkshire-based Courtney Coaches, is among those companies running their fleet off its supplies (other pioneers include the food service logistics group 3663, Stagecoach and even McDonalds).

However, Regenatec's original "angel investor" who had backed the company's development pulled out in March (as he did in several similar low-carbon technology investments). The reason? "He said he just didn't believe the Government walks the walk" on its pledges to reduce pollution, Mr Thomas tells me.
One threat looming over the biodiesel industry is the impending withdrawal next April of a 20p per litre tax relief. It is due to be replaced by certificates that can be traded between those that produce biodiesel and those that don't have enough to meet new renewable obligations (largely those selling at the forecourt pumps).
The only problem is that this new system has undermined investment and innovation in the UK, even as it has helped the Government to hit its target that a minimum of 2.5pc of all the fuel sold contains a mix of biofuels.
The multinationals have managed this feat in part through pumping their own low-grade biofuel from plants on the Continent – which doesn't sound very sustainable. The knock-on effect is that domestic producers have had a hell of a time. The certificates had a maximum face value of 15p a litre but no minimum, and between April and September this year they were worthless.
The problem has in part been caused by poor drafting of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations regulations, which created the certificate system and derive from an EU directive. Three consultations along and still more changes are expected.
Some small biofuels producers under the banner of the UK Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance have begun lobbying the Department for Transport and HM Treasury to maintain the 20p relief. They argue that small producers simply can't cope with certificates that can be worth a lot one month but nothing the next.
Convert2Green, another producer of high-grade biodiesel, was receiving £30,000 a month in certificate revenue, only to lose it all when they lost value. If the small producers have wobbly finances, then the large corporates that rely on them will become nervous, slowing down the adoption of renewables.
The uncertainty is also pushing companies overseas. Regenatec is considering a move because it has a more promising market overseas. India is trying to tackle unreliable power and fuel supplies in remote areas and Regenatec's technology would let farmers grow crops such as jatropha that can be turned into fuel to power the existing small diesel generators that sit beneath mobile-phone masts. The company already has a commercial partner in the country but both are looking for a local financial sponsor and Mr Thomas says they know they need to be on the ground to start with to ensure the fuel produced is of a high quality.
One of Lord Turner's many suggestions was that the Government had to reduce investors' risk so that they provide the capital that companies like Regenatec require. It's a start. While other countries such as Brazil are well advanced in use of renewables, Britain is floundering despite all the talk of targets.
Brighton-based Elektromotive talks of how it took Brighton and Hove City Council more than two years before it agreed to trial the company's award-winning roadside charging posts for electric vehicles – even though the devices are made by manufacturers all within a 30-mile radius of the south coast city.
There's nimbyism and then there's sticking your fingers in your ears, jumping up and down and shouting as loud as you can until the chance goes away. . .in Regenatec's case to India.

Britain's renewable energy plans need support to meet carbon targets

New rules to stimulate more investment in renewable energy and nuclear power coupled with a major drive to encourage a switch to electric cars are among key recommendations to reduce carbon emissions in a report.

By Roland GribbenPublished: 12:30PM BST 12 Oct 2009

Lord Turner has recommended that the nuclear industry must play a bigger role in reducing carbon emissions
The report, which is from the Committee on Climate change, headed by Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, calls for fresh policy approaches to achieve a step change in cutting emissions and meeting carbon targets and warns that reductions achieved during the recession are providing misleading signals.
Last year emissions are estimated to have been cut by around 2pc compared with an average 0.5pc in the four year period to 2007. The committee says cuts of 2pc-3pc a year will be needed in future to meet carbon budgets.

The committee questions whether plans to reduce power station emissions by 50pc by 2020 will be achieved without a stimulus. The current programme is heavily dependant on creating a wind power industry with capacity of 30,000 megawatts, four clean coal demonstration and two or possibly three nuclear power plants.
But the committee doubts whether the expansion, coupled with the EU carbon trading scheme will deliver the expected results and says it could lead to heavier dependence on imported gas.
Lord Turner’s group is calling on the government to carry out a review of alternative arrangements to reduce investor risks and ensure delivery of investment in low carbon technologies. It says bluntly that new approaches will be needed to support investment in low carbon generation.
Investment in low carbon generation is risky in the current market the report acknowledges and suggests consideration should be given to strengthening carbon prices and providing more certainly on the price to be paid for low carbon generation.
Progress on carbon capture and storage demonstration plans is vital to assess whether the clean coal technology can make a viable contribution to reduce emissions the committee says in reinforcing its earlier recommendation that conventional coal generation has no role in power generation beyond the early 2020s.
The report says the combination of markets and carbon trading schemes is not best designed to deliver the reductions needed in electricity emissions.
Other policy changes may be needed to achieve another target, the committee feels. Improving energy efficiency in homes by 35pc by 2020 may need a shift from the existing strategy based on electricity companies meeting obligations through specific measures such as the supply of energy efficient light bulbs to a 'whole house’ approach.
The committee is encouraged by electric car initiatives announced by manufacturers but to reach a target of having 1.7m electrically powered vehicles on the road by 2020 to help achieve a 30pc cut in transport emissions the report says the government will have to support new car purchases to drive initial volumes and help manufacturers achieve economies of scale as well as supporting a battery charging infrastructure.
Lord Turner said: “With the carbon budgets in place we need to achieve a step change in the pace of emissions reductions. What we have proposed is achievable and affordable but action needs to be taken now if we are to make our contribution to climate change.”

Energy policy changes are needed to hit key 'green' targets, Government told

Urgent policy changes are needed to encourage the £200bn development of wind farms, nuclear power and other forms of renewable energy to reduce costs and carbon emissions the Government was told yesterday.

By Roland GribbenPublished: 7:47PM BST 12 Oct 2009

The Committee on Climate Change made it clear that without intervention in the market place to change pricing rules and provide other incentives to accelerate development of low cost, low carbon generation, the Government risks missing one of its key 'green' targets.
Lord Turner, chairman and the other members of the independent committee, echo warnings from Ofgem, the gas and electricity industry regulator, about the "significant costs and risks" linked to the huge investment needed in renewable energy to reduce emissions from electricity plants by 50pc. The committee's annual report to parliament says the renewable risks and costs should not be accepted.

It wants the Government to consider a range of options for intervention in the power market. The report says support for selected technologies should be extended to cover the full range of renewable and low carbon power systems to cut costs and ease worries about supply security.
The committee questions whether the market will deliver the forecast 30,000 megawatts of onshore and offshore wind power, two or three new nuclear power plants and four pilot clean coal stations needed to replace dirty energy with clean energy by 2020 to meet emission targets without a policy rethink. Suggestions include strengthening carbon price signals and extending the exemption from the climate change levy to all new low carbon energy sources.
The report acknowledges changing market rules could take time but says discussions with energy companies, analysts and academics suggest the current set-up will not deliver a low carbon power generation system through the 2020s. The committee expresses particular concern about the development of wind power, clean coal and warns of the risks of power suppliers opting to build more gas-fired plants using imported fuel unless the uncertainties are addressed.
Offshore wind generation could be handicapped by weaknesses in the turbine market. The market for sub-sea cables is said to be undeveloped while only two of the 12 vessels needed to instal wind turbines by 2020 are operational.
It is estimated £15bn will be needed to develop an offshore transmission network to carry the power generated by a more ambitious wind power programme. The committee is relatively relaxed about the timetable for the modest nuclear power programme but is concerned about the risks of planning, regulatory delays and shortages of specialist staff.
The Tory Party has tried to distance itself from reports that Lord Turner, (right) chairman of the FSA and an adviser to Gordon Brown, is being lined up for a senior Bank of England appointment if they win the next election. A spokesman said George Osborne, shadow chancellor, "Has absolutely not started handing out jobs to anyone."

Home of the future will have own biosphere

The home of the future could feature thermo-reflective wallpaper, an indoor biosphere to grow fish and fresh produce, and waterless ultrasonic washing machines.

Published: 2:46AM BST 12 Oct 2009
Plastic recyclers will turn waste into designer dining plates and showers will use filtered rainwater, it is predicted.
Eco-conscious home designers will be driven by climate change and the rising price of energy to design a range of eco-friendly products.

The Future Laboratory, who wrote the Conscious Home report for John Lewis, say the changes will mark "one of the most seismic cultural shifts since mass electrification in the 1920s and 30s".
In 2030 people will be living in the same homes but the buildings will be radically changed by devices such as "frugal fridges" that will compact food waste and suggest new recipes.
Kitchens will also have a self-contained biosphere, created by Philips, which will produce fish and fresh produce all year round. Running on household waste, it will deliver fresh hydrogen, used to power a car, while the plants will produce oxygen for the fish.
Appliances will create a "linked energy chain", feeding off each other so that, for example, a dishwasher can use the power generated by the washing machine's spin cycle.
Houses will be decked out with feedback systems to tell occupants exactly how much energy they are using, according to the report which was produced for John Lewis buying teams to help them visualise customers' future needs.
Sean Allam, head of product sourcing, said: ''With the onset of an era of acute energy consciousness, we want to assist our buyers in anticipating the products of the future that can help our customers move towards sustainable living.
''Our buyers and customers take their responsibility for the environment increasingly seriously and we are constantly on the lookout for new, innovative products.''
Home energy use accounts for 23 per cent of a person's C02 emissions, according to The Energy Saving Trust.

Electoral reform could save the climate

Green groups such as Greenpeace could benefit if open primaries were used to select candidates
Nicholas Milton
guardian.co.uk, Monday 12 October 2009 14.00 BST
The Greenpeace activists occupying the roof of the Houses of Parliament are calling for a "new style of politics in Britain, one capable of rising to meet the challenge of climate change". But instead should they be calling for electoral reform to save the climate?
Greenpeace has put up banners saying "change the politics, save the climate". But it is the scandal around expenses that will be uppermost in MPs minds on their first day back, not the climate. However, the fallout from the row could yet produce a future intake of politicians who put the needs of the planet above loyalty to party.
If the scores of candidates who are likely to replace departing MPs are selected not by their constituency party or party lists but by open primaries, then it could be a real opportunity for those who care about the climate to put up candidates.
There are already encouraging signs that this may happen. In August the Tories announced the winner of the first ever open postal vote of an entire constituency in Totnes. The result was not a career politician or one of the usual suspects but a doctor, Sarah Wollaston.
Many big hitters in the Labour party have recently shown their support for open primaries. They include Ken Livingstone, who has backed them to elect the next mayor of London and the Tottenham MP David Lammy, who has called for them in every London borough. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, has also backed the cause, arguing the case in cabinet as part of the answer to the cynicism surrounding politics and falling party membership.
For open primaries to really engage with the electorate, political parties must not just use them as a way of deflecting public anger but instead ensure they are rooted in the community and open to anyone and everyone. This comes at a cost. It is estimated that the open primary in Totnes cost the Tories about £40,000 to organise. But in the greater scheme of things this seems a small price to pay to regain the public's trust and participation in politics. Building the cost of open primaries into future discussions about the state funding of political parties and election campaigns could be an option.
If open primaries were used to replace departing MPs then there is no reason why environmental activists like those on the roof of the House of Commons wouldn't be elected to parliament, as well as people from many different walks of life. In return, Greenpeace and other environmental organisations should encourage their members to participate in the democratic process rather than shout from the rooftops.
As a former campaigner with Greenpeace I've participated in many actions and understand only too well its antipathy towards politics and politicians. But with more than five million members, green groups could be one of the major beneficiaries of such electoral reform. While many of them are constrained by rules governing charities, their members vote and many may be prepared to back candidates who put the climate at the centre of their campaign.
For example the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has more than a million members and the National Trust has more than three and a half million members. In the case of the trust this is the equivalent to the population of Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Sheffield combined. And it has already declared that it wants to become "the largest green movement in the world" and put its members in the front line against climate change. Applying this electoral muscle in open primaries could well help to swing the vote, particularly in constituencies where climate change is a big issue, such as those with nuclear or coal-fired power stations.
The Greenpeace action is timely, coming just two months before Copenhagen and as the climate talks in Bangkok having broken down in acrimony. The Committee on Climate Change has also published a report saying a "step change" in emissions cuts is needed.
Sadly, I suspect the only questions that will be asked in the House about the protest will be regarding Westminster security. Yet if parliament advocated genuinely open primaries and they were embraced by the environmental movement, the banners in future could read "join in politics, save the climate".

Britain has the world's best climate policy: that's good news, and bad news

Even if every other nation followed suit we'd still be likely to hit catastrophic climate change with a global 4C temperature rise

First the good news: the UK has the world's strongest policies for tackling climate change. Now the bad news: the UK has the world's strongest policies for tackling climate change. Although this is the first nation on earth to set legally binding emissions targets, and although the targets here are as tough as anywhere else, if every other nation followed the UK's example, we'd still be likely to hit a catastrophic 4C of global warming.
In its new progress report, the Committee on Climate Change shows that carbon emissions in the UK fell between 2003-2007 by only 0.6% a year. They should soon be falling, the committee says, by 2.6%. Even this annual target, which would require a very sharp shift in government policy, bears no relation to the ultimate aim: preventing more than 2C of warming.
As work by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research shows, global cuts of 3% a year, starting in 2020, are unlikely to avert even 4C by the end of the century. As the UK has higher emissions than most nations, it has to cut carbon by more than the global average. If we really want to avoid more than 2C of warming, we need to start with a 10% cut next year, as the 10:10 campaign demands.
But as David MacKay, chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change has pointed out, even the cuts the UK has made so far are illusory. If you count the emissions outsourced to countries like China, as industry has moved abroad while continuing to supply our markets, you find that our greenhouse gases have been rising, not falling.
The committee points out that the recession has helped to put us on track, but that emissions are likely to bounce back up as soon as growth resumes. The government, it says, should avoid the temptation to let the recession do the work, then bank the cuts it causes as if they were the result of policy.
The downturn also has the unfortunate effect of reducing the carbon price, and therefore the incentive to make cuts. The carbon cap under the European emissions trading scheme was already set too high. Now, the committeee says, the recession ensures that the carbon price is likely to be closer to €20 in 2020 than the €50 it predicted before.
The progress report makes the obvious point that the market alone won't deliver the necessary cuts: either the EU must lower the carbon cap, or the government must impose new taxes or new obligations on electricity providers. The low carbon price and the risks of an uncertain market mean that electricity companies would rather to splash out on expensive new gas plants than build renewables. This would cancel out a big chunk of the UK's cuts.
So what will the government do: abandon its commitment to free-market mayhem, or break its own legally binding commitments? It won't find either option attractive.

Aristocracy's top climate change sceptic shows concern for the environment

Christopher Monckton joins RSPB and Woodland Trust in objections to a development near his Perthshire estate
Today we return once more to the world of one of our favourite climate change sceptics, the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. And we bear some joyous news: evidence has emerged proving that Lord Monckton is – steady yourself – an environmentalist!
Notification has reached us that his lordship, who resides on a Perthshire estate in a manner befitting his title, recently submitted a planning objection (pdf) to his local authority against the building of a luxury golfing resort adjacent to his property. Citing concerns about the environmental impact on birds and other flora and fauna, he joins the RSPB, the John Muir Trust and Woodland Trust in objecting to the development being proposed by the Dall Estate on the south shore of Loch Rannoch in Scotland.
We thought he would never be able to better the 428-word sentence he gifted to the US House of Representatives Ways and Means subcommittee this year. But we have now learned never to underestimate how much this man loves to waltz with the English language. Full stops need to know right now they should never dare to interrupt his graceful course.
Here, displaying his splendidly idiosyncratic style in all its glory, is a taster – remember to breathe, mind – of the missive he fired off to his local planning officer:
I object to the proposed development … in that it would represent a major and disfiguring intrusion upon the nationally important and heavily protected natural environment along the littoral of and within Loch Rannoch, would impose far too large a scale and too heavy a built footprint of urban development on what is and should remain a rural region of the Highlands, would destroy for ever some two miles of the uniquely well-wooded southern shore of the loch, would eliminate almost 1,000 acres of deservedly protected and publicly owned forestry, would have a grievously and everlastingly detrimental environmental effect on both flora and fauna, would in particular scare away the protected Carie ospreys that now breed annually in the tranquillity of one of the last unspoiled lochs in the Highlands, would also drive away the nesting golden eagles, peregrine falcons, merlins, hen harriers, herons, black-throated divers, Temminck's stints, capercailzie, and black grouse here that are also species well known to be highly sensitive to disturbance, would interfere with the protected lampreys and otters in the Carie and Dall Burns, would pollute Loch Rannoch and menace not only the ferox trout but also the three rare morphs of Arctic charr that thrive here only because the water of this oligotrophic loch is exceptionally pure and undisturbed, would damage the 60 species of lichen in the woodlands with their countless species of fungi and of rare insects, would in particular put at risk the rare species of giant dragonfly in the woods, would destroy many of the ancient stands of Caledonian pine and upland birch in the Black Wood of Rannoch, would close or divert ancient footpaths, bridleways, core paths and other rights of way, would have an intrusive and unsightly visual impact for miles around, particularly at night, would spoil the undisturbed shoreline with large, ugly, and altogether unsuitable buildings directly on the shore, would intrude upon the loch itself with what looks like a crude power-station cooling tower some 80 yards out from the shore and joined to the land by a steel and concrete causeway of calculatedly repellent design …
I am truly loth to interrupt a statement that is as rousing as anything Henry V ever mustered at Agincourt, but we fear for your bandwidth (there's plenty more in his objection). Lord Monckton's previously hidden passion for the environment and birds – why so shy? – is both highly commendable and moving. It's enough to melt any planning officer's heart. And we wish him every success in seeing off what, indeed, sounds like a hideously inappropriate development.
It's just a shame, though, that he couldn't have packed such sentiments and taken them with him last month when he jetted off to West Virginia to speak in support of coal mining at a pro-coal industry rally called "Friends of America". The rally was held at a mountaintop mine to show solidarity to the region's coal miners and to stress the importance of coal to the US economy.
But now Monckton's passion for conserving endangered habitats and their wildlife has been made public, he might instead want to lend his support in future to the environmental groups who believe mountain mining in the Appalachia to be akin to environmental "genocide". Conveniently, there just happens to be an article in the current issue of Bird Watcher's Digest detailing the disastrous impact of mountaintop removal on the cerulean warbler. He might like to bring this subject up the next time he is interviewed fawningly by those other delightful fans of the environmental cause, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage.
But there's some other recommended reading we've dug out for our new friend which suggests that climate change – something he still refuses to accept is being driven, in large part, by the burning of coal – might, just might, have a more lasting impact on the Highland species he so wishes to protect than the building of a golfing resort.
I recommend he try the RSPB's Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds from 2008, which doesn't offer too much in the way of promise for the aforementioned black-throated diver and capercaillie. And he might also want a salutary read about the likely fate of the Arctic charr in the face of climate change.
If there's anything else instructive you think Lord Monckton – who is now warmly welcomed to the environmental fold – should read, please do share below.