Thursday, September 29, 2011

Exposed: The Renewable Energy Foundation is a front for biofuel and energy-intensive industries, and anti-wind campaigners

The Renewable Energy Foundation sounds like a nice green charity that serves the cause of green energy. But it is in fact a front for the interests of biofuels companies, energy-intensive industries and even oil and gas companies.

It put out a scare story last week, claiming that Britain would lose 10,000 jobs due to the Government's current green policies and 30,000 jobs if those policies are accelerated.

Together with Civitas, the right wing think tank, REF's policy director John Constable argued that "the more green technologies are subsidised by the EU, the greater the predicted net loss for British workers".

But not just any green jobs. It found figures which led it to compare the average cost of a wind power job with the wage of a public worker (not the same thing at all) as £54,000 versus £29,000. What this fails to do is show the comparable cost of that public sector job.

But what of the financial benefit of the wind power job? The report is unable to say, instead admitting "it is not yet possible to estimate the net employment impacts of such costs" but insinuating "they seem unlikely to be positive".

There have been many criticisms of the REF over the years, particularly from the rest of the renewable energy sector, such as Renewable UK and Good Energy.

Juliet Davenport, CEO of Good Energy, has said, "The problem with the Renewable Energy Foundation is that their name is misleading. It suggests they are in favour of renewables when actually the opposite is true."

The Charity Commission even investigated and cautioned them on the grounds that they were engaging in political lobbying.

The REF doesn't see it like that; they claim that they are merely providing educational data sets. Nevertheless these sets are almost exclusively biased against wind power and in favour of biofuels.

Who are the REF?

The REF is registered as a charity at the Charity Commission, which means it can claim charitable tax status. Its website lists a chairman and three trustees, all of whom have strong links to either the biofuels and/or oil and gas industries.

Links to biofuel industries

Mike Starkie

REF's secretary is Mike Starkie, formerly Group Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer of oil company BP Plc, but now he is a Non-Executive Chairman of biofuel company Clenergy.

Clenergy, its website says, has been set up to build plants to generate "500MW/h" (sic) of electricity from imported, cultivated biofuels.

It envisages importing the fuels from countries where there are serious questions about the sustainability of the forests.

It announced this month that it aims to become nothing less than the worldwide supplier of biomass feedstock through licensing agreements and joint ventures through the cultivation of energy crop plantations throughout the developing world.

These will produce not just timber but pyrolysis oil and wood pellets.

The European Union is now under severe pressure to change its policy on biofuels and biomass after evidence has emerged that their use can actually increase carbon emissions.

ActionAid, Birdlife, ClientEarth, European Environmental Bureau, Oxfam, Transport and Environment and Wetlands International all signed a letter last week addressed to the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, asking for the policy to be reviewed in the light of five scientific studies on the topic including one on land use by the EU's own scientific advisors.

The Renewable Energy Foundation has published no comment on this news.

If this evidence is accepted and policy changed, then support for biomass in the Renewables Obligation Order will undoubtedly have to be removed.

This is the policy shift for which Biofuelwatch, the campaign organisation that challenges the sustainability and carbon-neutral value of biofuels, is actively campaigning: for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) to be withdrawn for both biofuels and biomass.

Yet another REF trustee, Colin Davies told the House of Lords in May this year that he does not want support for renewables but instead wants a change in the Renewable Obligation banding so that biomass, not wind power is favoured.

Under present ROC support, palm oil, imported timber and other biomass energy crops used as a source of electricity earns two ROCS per megawatt-hour (MWh) - currently worth around £90.

This has led to a large number of planning applications, many of which are approved already, for biofuel and biomass (mainly wood) power stations across the UK.

One was recently approved at Anglesey. Other companies wanting to build such plants include MGT Power, Prenergy, Helius Energy and Forth Energy.

Almost all plan to import the wood fuel from industrial plantations at the expense of tropical forests, grasslands and communities in countries such as Brazil, the Republic of Congo or Ghana, according to Biofuelwatch.

With the REF lobbying for an increase in support for biomass in the RO, and scientific evidence pulling in the other direction, there is speculation that this dilemma may be a factor in the delay in publication of the Government's review of Renewables Obligation Certificate banding.

Cambell Dunford

There is a further link to biofuels companies. REF's company address, 21 John Adam Street in London, is alongside Charing Cross Station. Also registered at the address is a limited company called REF Ventures Ltd., which sounds like it could be the trading arm of the charity.

However, this is listed as 'dormant' or 'ceasing to trade' at Companies House, where the name was registered in 2006.

REF Ventures has three listed officers. One of these is Cambell Dunford.

Dunford is a director of W4B, a company with two projects that involve burning imported palm oil to generate electricity; one in Portland, Dorset, and another in Avonmouth, Bristol - despite strong local and national opposition which questioned the sustainability of the source of the oil.

One of these plants alone, when or if operational, would double the amount of imported palm oil into this country.

Palm oil is strongly implicated in the destruction of natural rainforests in countries like Indonesia, and thus actually increasing climate change and flooding, and decreasing biodiversity.

Greenpeace Canada senior campaigner Stephanie Goodwin says four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to come from the destruction of the Indonesian rainforests alone.

Links to energy-intensive industries

REF's chairman, Guy de Selliers, has little to do with renewable energy and much to do with energy-intensive industry.

He is listed by Forbes as a Director of a Russian Food company, Wimm Bill Dann Foods, which is a leader in dairy products and children’s food of which Pepsico recently bought a 66% controlling interest.

He is a member of the board of directors of Solvay S.A., a global group of pharmaceutical and chemical companies that makes, amongst other things, plastics and cellulose acetate fibre as used in cigarette filters. It has a new energy arm, founded last year - which is involved, at least partly, in biofuels – specifically, sugar cane operations in Brazil.

He's also been a director of an energy-intensive nickel processing company.

Colin Davies

REF Trustee Colin Davies is also the President of the Aluminium Foundation. He recently complained to the House of Lords about the "the huge costs facing energy-intensive industries" like his from the "introduction of Carbon Price Support and Phase 3 of the European Union's Emissions Trading scheme".

Davies is also director of aluminium company Alcoa and in both roles frequently can be heard complaining about the risk to his company and the aluminium industry, especially the upstream, energy-intensive side of the business, of ‘carbon leakage’, and asking for Government support, and appropriate compensation, i.e., against the burden of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Links to the oil and gas industry

Besides REF's secretary, Mike Starkie, having been Group Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer of BP, another Trustee, Dr Carol Bell, is heavily involved in the oil and gas industry.

She is a board member of Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS), which helps oil companies find oil and gas reserves offshore worldwide.

Her company profile says she has over 25 years' experience in the oil and gas sector, particularly its investment and finance and also acts as Senior Advisor on Oil & Gas to Europa Partners, a corporate finance advisory firm; non-executive director of Hardy Oil and Gas plc.; a member of the Investment Advisory Committee of Gemini Oil and Gas (a private investment fund).

None of this has anything to do with renewable energy.

Anti-windfarm activity

REF's anti-wind stance is well known. The author of the report on renewable energy and jobs, John Constable, is frequently quoted by the likes of anti-windfarm group The Countryside Alliance.

Also well known is the involvement of the DJ and TV personality Noel Edmonds. The celebrity was a founder of the REF and is listed as an officer of REF Ventures.

Edmonds is also a director of motor, helicopter and aviation companies - all of no merit in terms of sustainability, let alone renewable energy - and 38 others, none of which are anything to do with renewable energy either.

Although he resigned from the REF itself a year ago, Noel Edmonds' involvement is explained by the fact that he is a vociferous opponent of windfarms. He told the Guardian in 2004 that he helped found he REF "because of the threat near his home in Devon".

In 2008 he told Daily Mirror readers that "Politicians are promoting the wind industry as a green icon, but they are misleading the public into believing the propaganda of the wind industry. The reality is that wind power is too costly and can never meet our energy needs; but it will destroy the countryside."

Edmonds is also on record (News of the World, 14th Sept 2008) as believing that there should be a total ban on migrants coming into Britain because its energy resources are stretched.

Other donors to the charity are known anti-windfarm campaigners, including Sigrid Rausing, heiress to the Tetrapak fortune (the family is among the richest in the country and owns an estate in Sussex and another in Scotland).

The REF doesn't disclose the identities of all of its donors, but of those it does, many are clearly influential and wealthy, For the rest, we can only speculate on the interests they have in trying to discredit windpower and lobby for biofuels and the oil and gas industry.


All of the above represents clear evidence that the Renewable Energy Foundation has an industrial agenda aimed at skewing Government policy in favour of the industries for which it is a front.

Its pronouncements on renewable energy, jobs, and especially windpower, must therefore be taken with several pinches of salt.

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