Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The media and the energy battle

Newspapers are not helping to create awareness to the solutions for climate change.

Voters and taxpayers have a right to an informed debate on this vital topic.
Unfortunately, it's not an easy topic to get your head round.
And when it comes to selling newspapers, often it's only bad news that gets published.
That's why it's no surprise that a new survey shows that tabloid newspapers hardly ever cover climate change, and if they do, they only report bad news.
The vast majority (76%) of UK national newspaper readers are tabloid and middle market newspaper readers.
They see only 16% of the stories concerning climate change.
Survey reporters Futerra say: "Like terrorism... climate change is portrayed as a ‘big nasty’ to worry and feel guilty about, but not to take action on."
Very little of the newspaper coverage shows the positive steps that all of us can take to reduce energy use and curb climate change. It doesn't sell.
No wonder we're not meeting our carbon reduction targets.

"Climate of Fear" - The Sun

Most of the stories Futerra surveyed (59%) focused on the negative effects that climate change brings, with no mention of potential or even current solutions.
But some journalists are working hard to raise awareness of climate change. Fiona Harvey of the Financial Times is the most prolific national newspaper writer on climate change and also the most positive.
The media has the power to significantly influence the public’s attitudes on climate change.
We have to move from reporting that induces apathy or creates misconceptions, towards that which inspires action and informed thinking.

Key findings of the survey

> 59% of stories are "negative"
> 15% of stories are "balanced"
> 25% of stories are "positive"
The Independent and Independent on Sunday are publishing the most stories on climate change, followed by the Financial Times.
The Daily Mail and the Financial Times have the most "positive" coverage of climate change.
But no newspaper actually manages to reach a overall positive score, all being negative or, at best, balanced.
"This survey brutally demonstrates the desperate need to engage with the popular tabloid media with stories focused upon solution," concludes Futerra.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The energy battle commences

No government worth its salt will ever risk letting its economic engine run out of fuel - ie, energy.

When needs must, the devil rides. This simple fact explains, and for the last 100 years has explained, much foreign policy.

Henry Porter outlined this simple fact in last Sunday's Observer article Nuclear power? Don't dismiss it, when he pointed out how, in Iraq, an American-inspired deal to hand over development of oil reserves, the third largest in the world, to US and British companies, in a 30-year binding agreement, is being rushed through by the oil minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi before next month's election.

Over a quarter of Europe's natural gas is supplied by Russia: by 2020, that figure will be around 40%.

Our new friend, top Russian bully-boy Putin, has ruthlessly acquired a monopoly of oil and gas production, which controls some 90 per cent of the country's reserves.

He imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, stripping his oil giant, Yukos, of its assets and paid off Khodorkovsky's fellow oligarch, Roman Abramovich.

The ex-KGB officer has Europe by the balls, and with rising gas prices, it cannot be anything but sensible for Blair to look at other options.

Trouble is, his option is just one: nuclear power.

This is why, today, Greenpeace protestors entered the CBI conference in London where Tony Blair was scheduled to speak. They waved banners saying "Nuclear Wrong Answer".

He announced that the DTI has issued the call to battle: the energy review. The outcome of this battle will be decided next summer, and will determine British energy policy for the next 15 years at least.

The battle must be fair and transparent, with no special doors open just to the nuclear lobbyists.

Somehow, the Low Carbon Kid doubts whether it will be.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Just 34 countries have targets for renewables

On the day the Montreal talks opened, the International Energy Agency posted on the net a database of which countries of the world have what policies and targets for renewables.

Guess who heads the list? Step (or ski) forward Austria, which wants 78.1% of its electricity to come from renewables by 2010. Following is Sweden, at 60%. Some way lower down is Hungary, at 3.6%.

Only 34 countries have targets for renewables in total, according to the list, although 189 countries signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil. The Montreal conference brings together 10,000 officials from these states, trailing behind their aircraft GGH emissions.

Among the delegations will be the 156 countries that signed Kyoto, which include every industrialised nation except the US and Australia.

The Global Renewable Energy Policies & Measures Database is a joint effort of the European Commission and the Johannesburg Renewable Energy Coalition (JREC), launched during the Beijing International Renewable Energy Conference in China.

It's a one-stop look-up for the countries which, together, represent almost all the world’s supply of renewable energies and have targets.

And reading it makes you realise just how far there is to go - or how much of a market there is left to grab for the energy companies of tomorrow.

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First post-Kyoto talks open amid gloom

The climate talks opening in Montreal today are the first chance the countries of the world have had to discuss the world's most pressing problem since the Kyoto Protocol was ratified.

But to look for a positive outcome is like listening for the first cuckoo of spring in January.

The host country's government, that of Paul Martin, the Liberal Prime Minister, looks set to collapse, making it likely that pro-targets Stephane Dion, the Canadian Environment Minister and conference chairman, will be replaced by an anti-targets Conservative after January.

(This in a country which only this month saw Ontario's government awarding C$2 billion (US$1.7 billion) in contracts to build wind and hydro power projects, to secure renewable electricity for 10 percent of Canada's biggest market. Next door, Quebec awarded C$1.9 billion for eight wind farms last year.)

To add to the gloom, the US has reiterated its anto-Kyoto stance, and many countries around the world face rising GGH emissions and missing what meagre targets they have.

But the talks are important. So much rests on them.

The forward-looking politicians have to encourage the ostriches to get their heads out of the oil shale, and lift them high to look further than the immediate scene.

Failing that they have to march ahead without them.

The present US administration is on its last legs. With any luck, a more co-operative and less blinkered one will follow.

Eevryone is worried about rising energy prices. This makes renewables more attractive.

Just as a junkie's cold need leads to the criminal underworld, the politics of oil leads us into the company of brutal regimes - let's mention Russia this time.

Renewables are or can be owned by everyone.

Maybe that's why the White House doesn't like them.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Summary: Nuclear power or renewables?

Here is the Low Carbon Kid's handy summary of why we shouldn't support nuclear power and should support renewables

  • Renewables:
    • create more jobs than nuclear power

    • can be decentralised, and so are modular, cheaper, subject to local control

    • provide variety of source and technology and security of supply

    • give greater value for money

    • are not terrorist targets

    • can create exportable expertise to generate income for UKplc

    • are replicable throughout the world

    • are quicker to build

    • leave no waste legacy.

    • the fuel is free
  • If we go for nuclear it sends the wrong signal to the rest of the world. Many countries will all want nuclear power. And many of these are not as 'safe' as ours.

  • It would take literally thousands such stations to meet the world's energy demand in 2020.

  • Would you like the job of working in the uranium mines required to feed such a quantity?

  • Do you want to live in a world where a high level of security is required to police the supply routes and stations? Certainly this would not be the case with renewable energy

  • We've had enough wars over oil - do we want to have to go to war to maintain our uranium supplies?

  • As for short and middle-term energy security, any decision on nuclear power taken this year will take around 8-10 years to result in new nuclear juice feeding the grid. It will not solve immediate needs.

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency says the UK's EXISTING nuclear clean-up bill is £1000 per person.

  • The cost of just cleaning up all the EXISTING nuclear waste in the world could amount to $1 trillion in the long run.

  • In the whole world, there is only one deep geological site which has been authorised to store nuclear waste... in New Mexico.

  • It's this waste-management bit of the nuclear industry that hasn't been privatised in the UK - so although the government says no public money will be used to build new nuclear power stations, it will come out of our taxes, giving rise to a new definition for the term 'fuel poverty'.

  • Beware that when people say nuclear electricity is cheaper they're comparing like with like - ie the delivered cost (minus cost of grid, losses of conversion, etc., since enewable and CHP is often consumed locally.
But nuclear lobbyists are winning the day: despite all the hot air by politicians and policymakers, nuclear power will have the lion's share of EU funding in the next few years.

  • Nuclear funding under the EU's Euratom programme and the seventh framework program (FP7) will receive five times more than renewables and energy efficiency.

  • What's more, the Government is 'secretly' funding a new pro-nuclear research programme called "Making nuclear power more attractive: largest UK grant for nuclear energy research in 30 years looks at future energy needs", funded by £6.1 million from Research Councils UK, ie the Government.

We need to be told why funding for renewables is still so lamentably poor (eg, the recently announced desultory £30m over 3 years for the Low Carbon Buildings Programme which is LESS than the previous / current grants they replace - think how little this will buy) when public opinion consistently has supported renewables over coal and nuclear.

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Court rules in favour of UK over NAP

The European Court of First Instance has ruled that it was acceptable for the UK Government to increase its allocation of carbon dioxide emissions last year, prior to the carbon trading system being set up.

It said that the UK had already said that its first estimate of 736 million tonnes of allowances, submitted on 30 April 2004, was provisional, and that it needed to consult further. On 10 November, the DTI announced an increase to the total quantity of allowances to 756.1 Mt CO2 (2.7%). The EC protested, as did green groups, that the government was capitulating to the big emitters, such as power companies.

The Court has said that the UK acted within the rules, since not to have been able to make the amendment would have rendered meaningless the public consultation, which was required by the directive.

This decision lets the UK Government off the legal hook, but it does not mean that they didn't capitulate to the power companies. Nor does it mean that the power comanies were right.

At the time they argued for more allowances as it would hurt their profits.

In the event they have made windfall profits as a result of carbon trading.

The Government is therefore still guilty of protecting profits of the oil companies at the expense of the environment.

Link to the Court's decision press release

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Support the Management of Energy in Buildings Bill

The Management of Energy in Buildings Bill was promoted by Alan Whitehead MP alongside Lazarowicz's Bill [see the 17 November posting on this blog), but was blocked.

It proposed to increase the energy efficiency and use of renewables in buildings, and to reduce fuel poverty.

This Bill is just as important as the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill. It would support the development of solar thermal, heat pumps and biomass for heating buildings.

Please contact your MP and ask him/her to support both bills.

Read the draft bills:
- Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill; and
- Management of Energy in Buildings Bill

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The King of Nuclear Power

At least we know how Blair will justify his option to sanction the building of new nuclear power stations.

He will point to the advice of the man who said global warming is "the worst threat facing the planet".

David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, said on BBC TV two days ago: "We have to make decisions very quickly and I think the important thing here is to give the green light to the private sector utilities to give them nuclear as an option".

All but one of the UK's nuclear power stations are due to close by 2023.

But in the red corner of the Labour ring is Margaret Beckett, who opposes nuclear power on grounds of cost and waste disposal, although for political reasons she says publicly things like "We can't afford to close the door on nuclear."

King's line is that as nucelar power stations close, we won't be able to bring low carbon energy on stream fast enough to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Nuclear power gives us about 24% of our electricity now but he says this will drop to 4% by 2010 without new reactors.

But there's no way we can get ten nuclear reactors built in four years, as Beckett herself argues.

Any decision on nuclear power this year will take around 8-10 years to result in new nuclear juice feeding the grid.

On Saturday Blair wrote a piece in the Independent defending the accusations of WWF and greenpeace last week. He said he did want targets for emission reduction.

But nowhere in the piece did he talk about meeting these via demand reduction - energy efficiency. It was all about new technology, the mantra of the walking wounded president Dubya.

I wonder for how much longer Beckett can remain Environment Minister?

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EU funding favours nuclear over renewables

Despite all the hot air by politicians and policymakers, nuclear power will have the lion's share of EU funding in the next few years.

Nuclear funding under the EU's Euratom programme will be Euro 4.8 billion over the next seven years.

But under the seventh framework program (FP7) energy technologies are currently expected to get 1.8bn less - Euro 3 billion.

Of this, renewables and energy efficiency technologies will receive just Euro 118 to 134 million per year - that's under one billion - five times less.

The Greens / European Free Alliance caucus in the European Parliament mildly points out this is “remarkably low especially when compared to the fact that the nuclear fusion budget is expected to rise to Euro 600 million per year in 2011."

The Low Carbon Kid says this is a scandal.

FP7 is the largest ever research and development scheme put forward by the European Commission. Funding should therefore be allocated on “traceable and transparent criteria that enables technologies to be judged on their ability to assist the EU to meet its energy objectives which are competitive, environmental sustainable and secure,” says the caucus.

If that were done, FP7 would give “absolute priority to energy efficiency measures” with the second top priority for renewables which have “no or few physical limits and do not pose any additional significant risks to the planet and people," they say.

Too right. But it's clear that the renewables and energy efficiency sector lobbyists need to have far more muscle to compete with the nuclear lobbyists.

Fact-finding tour of solar power in the Maldives, staying in a five-star hotel and a luxury yacht, anyone?

Read the group's report: ‘Stimulating a democratic debate about the EU's research priorities’. [pdf]

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Branson's bid for green air travel

Virgin Atlantic Airways boss Richard Branson said on Wednesday he plans to turn his back on hydrocarbons and use plants to power his fleet.

You can award him a prize for chutzpah for making his announcement in oil-rich Dubai ("who needs ya, baby?").

Branson said "We are looking for alternative fuel sources. We are going to start building cellulosic ethanol plants (to make) fuel that is derived from the waste product of the plant."

He said his combined fleet of nearly 100 aircraft "uses around 700 million gallons of fuel a year. I hope that over the next 5 to 6 years we can replace some or all of that (with ethanol)."

But The Low Carbon Kid will believe it when he sees it.

According to one pundit, to distill the 16% EtOh one gets from fermenting plant sugars (cellulose included) does not produce sufficiently energy-dense fuel to fly a plane.

Distilling plant sugars also requires an energy input - presumably from carbon-burning power plants.

If he wants bio-fuel why doesn't he burn the coconut oil (vegetable oil rather than distilled plant sugars) from his private island in his diesel-engined aeroplanes?

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Support the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

Scottish MP Mark Lazarowicz's Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Private Member's Bill would make it more attractive financially to install PV panels and wind turbines on buildings.

It would simplify the issue of the Renewables Obligation Certificates for microgenerators by letting agents amalgamate their output, and end the absurd situation where they have to sell their generated power to the grid and then buy it back.

The Bill also calls for an annual report on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and revised transmission charges for renewable generators on the Scottish Islands. It has passed its second reading.

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Carbon trading brings windfall profits for energy companies

Windfall profits for European utilities in liberalized markets are likely to continue throughout the first phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), according to Standard & Poor’s new annual credit survey on Climate Change and its impact on the European Power Industry.

It also judges that cash flow and credit quality will continue to benefit in the short term for European generation companies in fully-liberalized power markets.

The Low Carbon Kid says - time for a windfall tax, with the proceeds spent on energy efficiency projects.

Was this supposed to happen when carbon trading was introduced? The big emitters squealed that it would hurt their profits when the UK NAP version 1 was introduced. The subsequently pro-industry version 2 is still the subject of ongoing court action between the UK and the EC because the EC judged it to be too lenient.

Other EC countries' NAPs are also subject to much suspicion as being too lax.

Standard & Poor go on to say that despite pressing governments for greater certainty, the lack of long-term direction of global and EU climate-change policies is likely to cause delays in utilities' investment decisions and expenditure.

Flexibility mechanisms incorporated in the Kyoto Protocol are expected to have only a small impact on the price of carbon and power prices up until 2008.

New-build of low-carbon infrastructure will continue to be heavily influenced by the price of oil and gas.

None of this is good news for those hoping for an acceleration in building new low carbon projects.

On the nuclear side, there is some good news. "In order for significant new build investment to take place in nuclear energy, Europe would require fossil fuel prices, carbon dioxide emission reduction requirements, and market concentration to all increase further, as well as planning and operating conditions to become more amenable."

In the medium term, investment in new nuclear capacity is expected to remain limited in most EU markets, except for France and Finland where new reactors are already now being built.

"Instead, most new investments in nuclear generation is likely to be directed at extending the lifetime and incrementally increasing the capacity of existing plants. This is considerably less costly and involves significantly fewer risks."

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Defra wonders about the value of the environment

Defra is currently asking for public views on why we should value the environment.

What an odd question!

We value the environment because without it we would not be here. For two million years we lived as an inseparable part of it, and our DNA - or human nature - is formed by this experience. The notion of the environment as something out there is created by the fact that our technology and lifestyle has alienated us from it.

Turn the question round and ask - why should the environment value us? Since humans began, we have destroyed so much of it!

The Low Carbon Kid would like to see more emphasis on educating people about the value of the environment, and re-integrating every day lives with it. For example letting children grow their own food in school gardens, or work on the land is a great way to reconnect with it.

Also, if there is a dilemma on how to prioritise people, business or the environment how will it be decided?

I think the coming EC Water Directive is a great example of how legislation will force thru radical changes in the monitoring and care of the natural environment on a local basis, but that the river basin groups need more local membership, and more pro-active publicity for efffective action.

People will care for their environment if it important and economic to do so. For example here in Wales, 50 years ago, the forests were man aged using horses to clear individual trees. With large area clear-felling this became un-necessary. A whole infrastructure supporting the horses disappeared. Now the Forestry Commission is supposedly planting mixed forest, this type of land management, which evidence from Canada recently has shown is more sustainable, should return.

There is a great deal of added value it is possible to get out of proper woodland management. But at present it is uneconomic to do so. This conflict needs properly addressing.

Another example is community-owned renewable energy projects.

For example our village, Corris, in the Dyfi Valley, wants a district heating system fired by forestry waste, but there are not sufficient grants and support to permit this. It would make so much sense for many reasons, including fighting polution, alleviating fuel poverty, soucing fuel locally, tackling climate change, and creating local employment.

Our area needs more jobs and more people in order to help protect the environment, which, though rural and sparsely populated, is largely non-biodiverse monoculture - sheep, conifers.

There is evidence that when a fairly high population lives and works locally on the land, organically, using it to support itself more than at present, the environment actually is more healthy and diverse.

But as long as it is cheaper to fly in vegetables from far way, no one will grow them.

What should Defra do? Get the Treasury on board. Make Blair realise there are votes in the environment. Let him have the courage to be as bold on this as he was on going to war with Iraq, and people might just start to believe in him again.

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Blair pulls back on climate change targets

Tony Blair has said he remains keen to see 'binding agreements' put in place to deal with climate change.

But only after sustained pressure, following an outcry after his seeming abandonment of the idea of climate change targets at the opening of a meeting of energy and environment ministers from 20 countries in October/November (and following heaps of coal being dumped by WWF and Greenpeace blocking the exits from his Downing Street bunker).

(The Low Carbon Kid would really like to know where this ended up - I sincerely hope it was given to poor pensioners in freezing homes after it was cleared away.)

Speaking to MPs on November 16 during Prime Minister's Questions, Blair refuted suggestions that his 'resolve was weakening' on the issue, and said that any framework on emission targets needed to be agreed by everyone, including the US, China and India to make any such treaty worthwhile.

Blair said that the Kyoto protocol had been important, but that the world needed to combine the need for growth with 'a proper and responsible attitude' towards the environment.

Whether this remains his real thoughts on the matter The Low Carbon Kid really doubts.

Blair is much more interested in votes than anything else, and as long as he feels the majority of the country is more interested in jobs and the economy than the environment, he will do nothing to protect the environment that he thinks will adversely affect the performance of the economy.

Lest anyone doubt this, let them remember his words to the House of Commons liaison committee in February 2005, as he explained, with a smirk on his face, why he won't be seeking to meet his Government's target for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by imposing a fuel tax on airlines:

"How many politicians facing a potential election would vote to end cheap air travel?"

End cheap air travel? We're talking about £5 on the price of a ticket to New York (according to carbon-neutralising experts at Future Forests).

He just doesn't get it.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Loving nuclear power

The craving of certain men to embrace nuclear power is as beautiful and terrifying as the proud phallus of the priapic god the moment before insemination.

Then, everything seems possible, for the fall has not yet happened, and the moment of communion is nigh.

The impatience with which they approach their subject, intoxicated by the smell of its potent and forbidden pleasures, becomes so great the closer they get to the palpitating object of their desire, that they would risk everything for a chance of a kiss.

Even the lives of their mothers.

These men who seek to share a playground or a bed with the force at the heart of the sun are modern Prometheuses, toiling up the tall mountainside, dragging their burdens behind them.

The power of the gods is the lure which beckons them on, and they are hell bent on stealing it. They will promise you anything to let them go there.

As if hypnotised by the notion of flight, they are about to jump, wingless, off the mountain top.

From below, we watch, eyes pinned open, unable to move away from the end point of their trajectory.

They would destroy their mother to steal this prize from their father, Zeus: Mother Earth.

"Prometheus first transmuted / Atoms culled for human clay." - Horace

Let's not get carried away by metaphor or Jungian psychology. But recall the anger of the gods at Prometheus' daring deed.

Yes, he brought fire to the cave men, to warm them in the winter nights, to roast their joints of sabre-toothed tiger, to begin the trail which led to the industrial revolution.

But by way of punishment the gods connived to send mankind Pandora's Box which, when opened, let fly millions of miseries over the earth - diseases, sorrows, vices, and crimes - spereading like radioactive fallout, to plague mankind ever since.

Of course all renewable energy also uses the power of the sun - but it doesn't try to mimic it. Instead it turns to our ends what the gods have chosen to send us.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Taxpayers' money funding new pro-nuclear research programme

The Low Carbon Kid is not afraid to name names and get dirty in the fight against nuclear power.

This time I'm attacking Imperial College London - the august 'independent' academic institution.

And the Government, which is 'secretly' funding a new pro-nuclear research programme.

Imperial College

At the beginning of the month Imperial College trumpeted two new pieces of expensive energy research, funded by industry.

The first project is to be applauded:

BP is stumping up £4.5 million to research the use of energy in cities. The project will "explore how money and energy could be saved in the future if cities integrated the systems that supply them with resources".

This is just what the London Climate Change Agency is set up to do. Founding supporters of this Agency are BP (again), HSBC (the "carbon neutral" bank), Lafarge, Legal & General, Sir Robert McAlpine, and Johnson Matthey.

The Agency's chief is the remarkable Allan Jones, who has pioneered this approach in Woking.

Keeping the Nuclear Option Open

But then at the same time Imperial College cancels this wonderful research by supporting another: "Making nuclear power more attractive: largest UK grant for nuclear energy research in 30 years looks at future energy needs".

This is funded by £6.1 million = £1.6m more - from Research Councils UK. This body in turn gets the money from the Office of Science and Technology - ie the Government.

£6.1 million represents the single largest research council commitment to fission reactor research for more than thirty years.

The honestly named 'Keeping the Nuclear Option Open' programme will "investigate how nuclear power can become a more appealing option for future energy production".

So, the Government is spending taxpayers' money funding a research programme that aims to persuade us how wonderful is Blair's new policy of supporting more nuclear power - which is not even official policy yet, we're told.

Professor Julia King, Principal of the Faculty of Engineering, said: "We are excited that Imperial is leading this important initiative. The award reinforces Imperial's position as a leading player in a broad range of advanced energy technologies."

Yes, it is a seductive power-trip to play with the forces at the heart of the sun.

But please bear in mind that so far, in the whole world, there is only one deep geological site which has been authorised to store nuclear waste... in New Mexico.

Professor Robin Grimes, the Principle Investigator and project co-ordinator at Imperial, said: "Having neglected nuclear reactor science and technology for twenty years, it is now clear that a broad research programme is necessary if we are to be in position to underpin a new reactor based generating capacity. Nuclear power is clearly a route to achieving the UK's commitment to reducing its carbon emissions under the Kyoto accord."

Well, yes, it's a route. A dangerous and expensive route.

So, let's just get this right.

BP is funding a research programme based on energy efficiency and renewables in urban areas. (BP was one of the signatories to the open letter to the government earlier this year asking for more funding and targets for renewables to combat climate change.)

And Blair's Government is funding, by a larger amount, a pro-nuclear research programme, which no one has voted for.

At least we know where we stand.

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The UK's nuclear clean-up bill - £1000 per person

Renewable energy generation is cheaper than conventional energy in the long run. The energy source is free and there are minimal clean-up costs.

Alternatively, the cost of just cleaning up all the EXISTING nuclear waste in the world could amount to $1 trillion in the long run.

In the UK that's £1000 for each person in the country.

This first estimate was made at the 6th European Inter-parliamentary meeeting on renewable energy and energy efficiency [pdf link] held in Edinburgh last month.

The meeting called for a mandatory target of 25% renewable energy consumption by 2020 in the European Union, which is achievable in combination with energy efficiency measures.

Where does the second estimate come from? Some cranky green presure group?

Nope - from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Atomic Energy Agency [pdf link] itself. The figure covers the next 50 years, with the bulk of the clean-up bill before 2040.

The US alone would have a bill of $400 billion.

China, Russia, France and the UK would pay most of the rest.

In the UK the bill will be about £56 billion - that's £1000 each.

And it's this bit of the nuclear industry that hasn't been privatised - so it will come out of our taxes, giving rise to a new definition for the term 'fuel poverty'.

Meanwhile, the rest of the industry looks like it's making a profit.

Ever feel you're being sold a lame horse?

Who's willing to bet we won't get fooled again, and let the government order a new round of nuclear power station building?
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Friday, November 11, 2005

Darling, you're shrinking the emissions

Hey Alistair Darling has finally woken up to the emissions from the transport sector in the UK.

Ever since Transport was peeled off from Environment when Prescott's empire, DETR, was split into Defra. ODPM and DfT, Transport has been somewhat, um, unreconstructed, when it comes to the environment.

But with the advent of yesterday's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation and its incentive to work towards 5% (well, it's better than nothing) biofuel proportion in road fuel, it's taking a turn in the right direction.

Now, Renewable Air Transport Fuel Obligation anyone?

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Carbon trading - the new scam

There's nothing wrong with carbon trading in principle. It's a great way to use natural human greed to save the planet.

But greed, as always, needs sticks as well as carrots.

Here's a summary of some of the problems it has so far:

  • it's too complicated - and therefore expensive

  • the National Allocation Plan amounts are inconsistent and inadequate

  • Joint Implementation (JI) and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) paperwork is too bureaucratic

  • for CDM projects like reforestation in the Amazon basin, there is inadequate attention paid to other sustainability aspects

In most countries the way of allocating emission allowances has failed to create incentives for investments in cleaner, more efficient technologies, says a new ILEX Energy Consulting report.

Targets for CO2 reduction in most NAPs are s low that the EU will probably miss its Kyoto targets at this rate.

And according to a coalition of businesses including McDonalds, carbon-capturing tree planting projects in Brazil are using eucalyptus, a tree which, while fast-growing, is an ecological nightmare because it is poisonous to most other species that try to grow in the same space.

The next round of talks needs to tackle these problems urgently - or the ETS risks being seen as just a scam for a few companies to make a big profit and appear green, while wasting everyone else's time.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Micro-generation is cool

We need a campaign to make building level decentralised energy generation - d-i-y customised, lifestyle techno-fetishism - cool as owning an i-Pod. Imagine if Apple made solar panels!

On the day when Green MSP Shiona Baird outlined her vision for small scale renewable energy devices to power homes and businesses as a central solution to tackling climate change, and deliver jobs and energy security across Scotland, here's a guide to the technologies - something for everyone!

What are Micropower technologies?

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels

· Use energy from the sun to create electricity to run appliances and lighting.

· The average UK home could generate 50-60% of the power needed to supply its own electricity providing it is used efficiently and it has a south facing roof

· PV requires only daylight - not direct sunlight - to generate electricity. So it works in Scotland!

· The electricity generated by the solar PV panels can be used immediately in the home or fed into the grid to supply other homes. Electricity generated by a household could be sold to the grid or make the electricity meter run backwards, generating electrical credit for that household.

Solar water heating

· Solar water heating systems gather energy radiated by the sun and convert it into useful heat in the form of hot water.

· Water heating makes up 8% of UK energy demand.

· Solar water heating typically uses roof-mounted panels to provide 40-50% of a household’s hot water needs

· More than half of the UK building stock is suitable for solar thermal water heating.

Micro-wind turbines

· Micro versions of the turbines used in wind farms.

· A typical domestic system would provide 1.5 - 6 kilowatts of electricity, depending on the location and size of the home

· Costs around £3000 per kW


· Hydro-power systems use flowing water to turn a turbine to produce electricity.

· A micro hydro plant generates below 100kW of electricity (a kettle uses about 1kW)

· Improvements in small turbine and generator technology mean that micro hydro schemes are an attractive means of producing electricity.

· Useful power may be produced from even a small stream. The likely range is from a few hundred watts (possibly for use with batteries) for domestic schemes, to a minimum 25kW for commercial schemes.

Ground source heat pumps

· The ground stores heat from the sun during the summer and a few metres down the earth keeps a constant temperature of about 11-12oC throughout the year.

· Ground source heat pumps (GSHP) transfer this heat from the ground into a building to provide space heating and for pre-heating domestic hot water.

· For every unit of electricity used to pump the heat, 3-4 units of heat are produced. As well as ground source heat pumps, air source and water source heat pumps are also possible.


· Biomass is often called 'bioenergy' or 'biofuels'. These biofuels are produced from organic materials, either directly from plants or indirectly from industrial, commercial, domestic or agricultural products.

· Biofuels fall into two main categories: woody biomass (includes forest products, untreated wood products, energy crops, short rotation willow or elephant grass) and non-woody biomass (includes animal wastes, industrial and biodegradable municipal products from food processing and high energy crops e.g. rape, sugar cane, maize).

· There are two main methods of using biomass to heat a domestic property; stand-alone stoves providing space heating for a room (fuelled by logs or pellets) or boilers connected to central heating and hot water systems (suitable for pellets, logs or chips).

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IEA says there's trouble ahead

Not in so many words of course. But the International Energy Agency's new Energy Forecast report makes it alarmingly clear that even if governments around the world implemented now all the measures for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources which they currently know can and ought to be implemented, ("vigorous new policy measures already being contemplated") then this would still result in a world in 2030 where carbon emissions are around 45% higher than now.

This is based on a projected growth in energy demand of 37%.

Under 'business as usual' - which necessitates US$17 trillion of investment in new resources - it would grow by 52%.

In this, their rosiest future, oil, natural gas and coal would remain the leading source of energy, meeting around three quarters of primary energy demand by 2030.

Given this amount of increase in greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere, sea levels would rise by up to 15 centimeters by 2050. This would jeopardise not just much of the world's population but also many of its nuclear power plants, which happen to be built near the coast.

But the main implication is for the predicted rise in climate-induced disasters such as storms and floods. The cost of dealing with these will impact strongly on economic growth, and therefore the ability to meet our energy demand - perhaps even the energy demand itself.

A case of a self-limiting system working by default? But the human cost of relying on this would be huge.

More: World Energy Outlook | Hadley Centre predictions

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wales doesn't need nuclear power

Some say Wylfa power station in Anglesey should be a site for a new nuclear power station.

No thank you.

With its wonderful resources Wales should aim for being zero-carbon and self-fuelling on renewables by 2050 with a mix of wind, biomass and ocean power (as Scotland and the SW of England is aiming for).

The problem is the WAG doesn't practice what it preaches.

Down here in S. Gwynedd we've been trying to some time to get funding for three village-wide community heating schemes fuelled by forestry and wood waste. Local ownership, local employment.

No chance so far - not nearly enough money in the government grant schemes and the Abergynolwyn project was caught by the State Aid rule. Yet this type of project should be supported under the sustainable development plank of the constitution.

The three villages' schemes would cost about £12m to install. They would pay for themselves within a max. of 10 years.

We have invested in the local wind turbine in Pantperthog. This is one of the few locally owned wind projects in the UK.

It's a sad state of affairs that more are not encouraged (as in Denmark for example).

The low carbon building fund recently announced by the govt. is £30m over 3 years. When you think about what this will actually buy you can see how this is pissing in the wind.

In fact it's an insult to the industry and any claims Blair has to be fighting climate change.

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Oil giant profits - drug pushers' paradise

Today, representatives of the Big Five oil giants - Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell
- will be grilled by Senate reps on their profits.

Exxon banked its biggest-ever quarterly profit, $9.9 billion, last quarter. Just how was a 75 percent profit increase in 90 days justifiable at the time when hurricanes in the Gulf closed operations and the world experienced peak prices?

Republicans gave $14.5 billion worth of incentives to energy companies in legislation this year.

Last year's profits for BP yielded a 26% rise to $16.2bn (£8.7bn) after benefiting from high oil prices.

Shell reported a record annual profit of $17.5bn.

So how are they expected to react? "Oh ok, you're right, we make too much money, we'll keep prices down for a few months." You must be joking - this is capitalism - and addiction - at its worst.

"Oil executives should stand fast and refuse to be bullied," said Larry Goldstein, head of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation. "If you show weakness in this kind of political environment where the political system is out for blood, the mere taste of blood will increase their appetite."

After the hurricanes Bush wanted to push through legislation allowing the oil majors to rebuild facilities with reduced environmental proection as "compensation" for the disaster.

These guys have had a soft ride for years and still the bloated, greedy beasts want more and to shit over the rest of us. Did I say addiction?

Yes, we are addicted to oil - like a crack whore on her last pin-thin legs, begging for more and refusing to see the reality of the consequences of our absolute dependency. And the oil giants are the pimping drug pushers.

Those Senators - and politicians everywhere - should just say no.

We've had enough. It's time to get clean. Into the rehab clinic we go - and a decade or so later we'll emerge - on biofuels, fuel cells, renewable energy and pedalpower. The best thing you oil guys can do is check into that clinic yourself.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Oil cowboys to trash the Arctic

US Senate voted narrowly to open the Arctic reserve for oil drilling.

While Britain has a Royal Family, one of whom is on a come-back tour of the States and telling Bush to love the planet, America has an Oil Family at its head. And they're seeking profits in the soon-to-be not-so-Frozen North.

If the Arctic nature reserve is opened for drilling, the impact on wildlife will be devastating.

Yet the oil won't flow for ten years, according to Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington, and even when it does it will only reduce America's demand for gasoline for its hungry vehicles by a projected 1%. The Energy Department has estimated any ANWR oil will skim but a few pennies off the pump price of gasoline.

This saving could easily be achieved by building more efficient vehicles.

But as documented by Chomsky and others, corporate America has consistently and successfully lobbied against the production of fuel-efficient cars.

If reducing oil demand and ependency on foreign oil was the real motive for political action, the result would not be to open up one of the last wildernesses in the world to the benefit of Bush's friends, the oil cowboys.

But what the hell, the Arctic is melting, and the animals will all die anyway. If the heat doesn't get them the pollution will.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

British eco-cities

The First British eco-city - self-sustaining zero carbon new town - is to be created - by Arup Engineering.



I guess the planet's atmosphere doesn't mind where it happens if the carbon's saved somewhere.

But if Arup can do it in China, why doesn't Prescott let them design his so-called 'sustainable communities' in England?

According to the Observer, the eco-cities are regarded both as a prototype for urban living in over-populated and polluted environments and as a magnet for investment funds into the rapidly growing Chinese economy.

More: Observer newspaper.
More on China and the environment [article linked to from this page].

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Climate change policy needs targets

So Blair now thinks, like Bush and other members of the Pacific-Asian alliance that we will not need targets for climate change policies, post-Kyoto.

He said on 1 November that when Kyoto expires in 2012, the international community would need a more 'sensitive framework' for tackling global warming: "People fear some external force is going to impose some internal target on you, which is going to restrict your economic growth. I think in the world after 2012 we need to find a better, more sensitive set of mechanisms to deal with this problem."

Yet only in September he headed a summit in China (not a Kyoto signatory, but in the above alliance with America) which negotiated a deal to let British and European low-carbon companies help China move to a low-carbon future - and the financing of this was tied into the Kyoto arrangements.

"With this agreement, the carbon market has taken a major step forward towards moving into the big time," said Jennifer Morgan, Director of the global WWF Climate Change Programme, at the time. "An EU-Chinese partnership to use the market to leverage a low carbon economy is very exciting."

But business friendly-Blair now believes business doesn't like targets.

But who has told him this? Not the CBI or the CEOs of 12 leading companies including BP and Shell who, earlier this year, told the Prime Minister they wanted the government to "set a clear, long term, emissions reduction target" (in a letter sent 27 May).

Is this the same Blair who is so beloved of targets in the areas of health, childcare, education, and a hundred other areas of public life?

How is it that in social policy we can't measure and ensure progress without targets, but business can?

This is dangerous nonsense.

On the same day, Nov 1, the DTI announced a £30m allocation for renewable micropower market enablement over the next three years. This level of grant aid for smal-scale renewables is less than in the last three years.

As Dr Jeremy Leggett, solarcentury CEO and member of the Government's Renewables Advisory Board, commented: "The DTI tell us there is not enough money to support renewables the way they would like. We do not accept this.

"When we look at other government spending priorities, and their scale, we ask ourselves why building amazing new industries that can safeguard a viable future for our children should come so far down the list of priorities.

"And we observe the pan- government efforts to resurrect nuclear power, with its multi-billion pound calls in perpetuity on the public purse, with what might politely be called great suspicion.

"It seems that our efforts at collaborating with this government behind closed doors have been of little use.

"We need now to say it like it is. We live on a planet that is dying as things stand because of our profligate greenhouse gas emissions. The Government accepts this. More than half UK emissions come directly or indirectly from buildings. The Government knows this.

"Renewable micropower technologies like solar PV and solar thermal offer the opportunity, in harness with energy efficiency, to cut these emissions deeply or entirely. Government ministers have said this and companies like solarcentury has demonstrated it.

"Yet just as overseas Governments stimulate their micro-renewables markets into explosive growth, our own drip feeds these survival technologies, meanwhile professing to be a leader in the fight against climate change.

"The Government has to wake up to the increasingly embarrassing discordance between its rhetoric and the reality."

Shooting without targets is dangerous, isn't it?

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Time to join CND again?

Is there some link between the PM's new love of nuclear power and his desire for a new generation of Trident?

With the Tridents' bill weighing in at £30bn of our hard-earned cash, and nuclear power inevitably to be heavily subsidised, he is perhaps thinking that, as in the '50s-'80s, the spent fuel from the reactors may be usable in the warheads, along with other joint operations.

Privatised nuclear power companies are now reportedly making a 'profit' - a clever scam caused by offloading all the clean-up operations into the tax-payers' purse. This makes the companies seem newly attractive to investors.

Meanwhile, on the renewables' side, there is a shortage of investors, and a bottleneck in wind turbine and solar panel manufacturing causing delays in installations. The banks blame this on the government's wavering over long-term policy - beyond 2012.

These two signals to investors are surely not unrelated.

Power-obsessed Blair, like many corrupt leaders in the past, is obsessed with macho, phallocentric, big, centralised, expensive, penis-extending technology, especially if they have military purposes.

A new generation of nuclear missiles is the last thing we need.

Nuclear power is not the answer to our energy needs.

And if anyone wants it, just ask them - where would you rather work - in a uranium mine or a wind turbine factory? Have you any idea what happens at a uranium mine?

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Lord Sainsbury goes nuclear

Lord Sainsbury has said that nuclear power is a renewable energy source!

This is an Orwellian twist of language defying belief from a so-called Science Minister!

Apparently he said in a debate on energy security in the House of Lords: “Lady O’Cathain offered me the opportunity of . . . agreeing that nuclear is a renewable source of energy — it clearly is so.”

Low carbon it may be, at least in terms of its fuel, (though not the associated heavy industry - it's not as low carbon as water power for example, or solar thermal), but it is neither renewable (the uranium will one day run out) nor sustainable (the waste will keep piling up; and on the social/economic plank of sustainability it is centralised, capital-intensive, and provides few jobs per megawatt).

Are we to see nuclear generators exempted from the Climate Change Levy? Would utilities be forced to buy a given per cent of their electricity from nuclear as with the Renewables Obligation?

This is the same Lord Sainsbury who was so keen on GM food and persuaded Blair to back the idea that British industry and business should exploit it as a 'vital cutting edge technology'. Only a mighty public campaign oveturned this policy.

He is now trying the same thing with nuclear, evidently.

Sainsbury and Blair both are in love with large scale, high-tech, highly-centralised solutions like this. Blair recently told the EU to embrace nuclear power - presumably because he wants to sell them UK so-called 'expertise'.

What we really need are diverse, decentralised, integrated solutions which use the capital investment to support high employment too, rather than large plant. But these are probably too complex for Sainsbury and Blair to get their tiny, busy brains around.

Nuclear is renewable! Whatever next - fossil oil is good for you?

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