Thursday, May 18, 2006

Questioning Blair's assumptions on the need for nuclear power

This week Downing Street published three graphs on its web site to support Blair's case for going nuclear "with a vengeance". But what are the assumptions behind these figures?

Are they correct? Are there other possible predictions? If so, we can question Blair's conclusions on the basis that his assumptions can be changed.

Challenge 1: The 'carbon gap'

The first challenge is not up for question.
Challenge 1: The 'carbon gap'

If we do not reduce our carbon emissions, by whatever means, we can only expect that the devastation predicted to come from climate change will be at the mosre severe end of the spectrum.

At the moment the trends are all going the wrong way, despite the Kyoto agreement. Something radical must be done.

Challenges 2 and 3

Challenge 2: One third of current generating capacity will retire by 2025

Challenge 3: Increasing reliance on gas as domestic production declines

These two challenges are up for question.

The main way to do so, according to many commentators, is to observe that they fail to take account of policies and strategies to implement the Rational Use of Energy (RUE), which reduces demand, and makes the most of what we have.

So much energy is currently wasted.

As Peter Harper, from the Centre for Alternative Technology, comments today: "This should go in and 'orthodoxy' should concur. After that it's just a question of filling in the gaps according to our political and other prejudices.'

Peter is one of the authors of CAT's 1977 document Alternative Energy Strategy for the UK.

This was the first report of its kind and addressed concerns such as Climate Change, Peak Oil and resource depletion many years before they entered the mainstream consciousness. So he has been thinking about this stuff for a good deal longer than Tony Blair.

He continues: "The pattern I prefer is below very similar, Dave, to the one you published a couple of years ago [in Defra's own highly subversive Energy and Environmental Management magazine... Something else Blair doesn't read, no doubt.]

Energy needs forecast to 2050 using rational use of energy

"This is just as plausible as the nuclear route, and in fact could incorporate a nuclear component," continues Peter. "But neither will happen if left to a deregulated market."

It's easy to see from the graph that RUE reduces the need for power, and therefore for new plant, and therefore, in principle, new nuclear build.

If we can make products, transport and homes more efficient, we need less power. If we use the power we do generate more efficiently, we need less power. If we need less power, energy bills come down, and we need to spend less on generating power.

Energy efficiency is always cheaper than buying new plant.

Whether our energy in Blair's future comes from nuclear or renewables, or clean coal, the price we pay for it is going to rocket. This is the end of cheap energy, and the beginning of higher bills for business and consumers.

What does the CBI, which applauded Blair on Monday night, think of this?

It should be thinking, that it is becoming far more cost-effective make rational use of the energy it buys and stop wasting £1.5 billion a year (Carbon Trust figure).

Rational Use of Energy (RUE)

Google currently references several pages on Rational Use of Energy (RUE) from DTI's own web site, but these links are broken, and a search on the DTI site turns up very little.

Is it a coincidence that they have suddenly disappeared?

In fact the DTI has been a partner in a pan-Europan programme to develop the Rational Use of Energy under the Fifth Framework Programme.

Nowadays RUE is generally called energy efficiency and resource efficiency. The EU has published its research on the types of policies governments can effect to promote the Rational Use of Energy. The UK Government is perfectly aware of them (somewhere).

The political will to implement the policies is the only thing lacking.

Blair is letting his government off the hook.

Instead, by choosing to put the onus on the nuclear industry and a deregulated market to find the means to address the three challenges, Blair is letting his government off the hook.

A policy solution requires an effort of strong leadership and implementation (such as Taking the choice out of sustainability).

But we know from New Labour's attempts to reform the NHS or implement big IT projects - or even meet its own climate targets - how difficult Blair finds such a government-led solution.

Is it not much easier, he surely thinks, just to pass the buck?

Surely then no one could blame him for failing to "take the tough decisons" or, even, failing - and leaving us with either a legacy of nuclear waste and a security nightmare, a horribly expensive legacy, or the devastation of climate change.

It would be someone else's fault. Dream on, Mr Blair.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"Back on the agenda with a vengeance"

Speaking to the CBI last night, Tony Blair said he was "back on the agenda with a vengeance", and that, after a period of unpopularity, he would make another comeback to rescue British business from predicted dark days ahead.

The BBC reported, "Mr Blair's official spokesman predicted there would be "despairing shrieks of outrage" in response to the prime minister's comments".

Oh, I'm sorry, Mr Blair wasn't talking about himself was he? He was talking about nuclear power!

No prizes for guessing that what he said about it was what he has been thinking for at least 18 months.

It's just another example of how Blair is always happy to trample over the wishes of the majority in pursuit of his own convictions.

He claimed that he based his statement on having seen a 'first cut' of the Energy Review's conclusions.

But this is not actually due till July..surely a little pre-emptive? Perhaps it's really the draft he's had in his bottom drawer for the last eighteen months.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said ministers appeared to be considering changes to the planning process to overcome local resistance to new power stations. What's that about then? - if the democratic process doesn't work in your favour - change it.

BBC political correspondent Carole Walker was maybe on the ball when she said Mr Blair "is trying to distract from all the speculation there is about when he is going to go." He has to appear to be big and macho - still the alpha male - and what's more macho than nukes?

What did he actually say? Blair said "stark" facts "put the replacement of nuclear power stations, a big push on renewables and a step change on energy efficiency, engaging both business and consumers, back on the agenda with a vengeance."

If the latter two were ever off the agenda, then who's fault is that Mr Blair? You've ignored the matter for too many years and now there's real urgency.

But all those pesky details of all the different renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are too boring to get your head around - better to just make one decision - more nuclear power stations. The hell with the details.

The Low Carbon Kid says: politics and nuclear power make an explosive combination. When they are in bed together you can be sure, as wrong decisions can be taken for the right reasons, it will end in tears.

So many have told you Mr Blair that nukes - for reasons of timing, security, the long view and expense - are that wrong decision.

Listen, for once.... or leave - and turn the light off as you go.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Revealed: bizarre Nirex plans to 'groom' political favour

The Low Carbon Kid has obtained evidence of a deliberate and secret plan by the nuclear industry to influence Parliament and public opinion.

The evidence is a document from Nirex, the nuclear waste agency funded by your and my taxes.

Its initial aim, on page 4, is 'to produce a list of MPs with an interest in radioactive waste management...which can be targeted".

This is based on an analysis of MPs and Lords' voting and speaking history since 1995, and other research.

It then fiendishly goes on to discuss other targets and how they can be 'groomed' to promote Nirex' views as the only viable ones.

Prepared by an anonymous PR consultant, the 48 page report includes a substantial section 'The Way Forward'.

This nefarious plot argues that "We have to be sure that 'opinion leaders are carefully recruited and groomed'", and someone has cleverly handwritten the word 'Careful!" at the side of this paragraph.

Hmm, obviously they weren't quite careful enough.

Target: journalists

Surprise! The target groups include journalists. Page 12 reads: "My general feeling is that journalists are manageable and must be kept on-side. It's also important to recognise that we are dealing with different 'types' of journalists".

The Low Carbon Kid wonders how much the un-named consultant who wrote his devastatingly insightful comment was paid for his specialist advice.

Target: Wales

But there's more of this cutting stuff. Wales is also considered - he writes (and this is all he says about Wales): "We must also be aware of Wales with its devolved powers in the environment field."

The WAG must be quaking in its boots.

Fatuously, it continues: they [decision makers] must be made to "realise that 'our' way is the best way forward, otherwise there can be no future development of the nuclear industry" (sic). [p. 16]

Target: CoRWM

The document is not new - it is dated 2004 - and refers to the forthcoming CoRWM report (their views were published earlier this month).

It seeks to argue that "a positive CoRWM report does not mean that government will act. They will still be facing the same problems and lobby groups that they face today."

Well, he got that right. Yes, we're not going anywhere.

So, "There will be a need to argue". Smart thinking, Batman.

Meanwhile, NIREX should bring "third party pressure to bear" on CoRWM.

As the report is now out, and we can see that CoRWM did indeed opt for burial, we must expect that the Nirex 'strategy' was implemented and is being implemented now... however poorly.

Target: everyone

The 'strategy' lists four targets:

1. Parliament and government
2. The public at large
3. Regional communities that might be affected
4. Nirex' image and reputation.

Well, that should cover everyone.

The first target groups are supposed to be "well-briefed to respond 'spontaneously' to the CoRWM report".

Spontaneous planning, eh? Kind of like a "Well-planned spontaneous riot".

Our ever resourceful consultant then lists organisations who can be encouraged to influence the public. These are:

- Geological Society
- ESEF (Emgland and Wales)
- universities
- and, er, others.

Not a very good list then.

The report then lists all the MPs to be targeted (including Jeremy Corbyn - good luck, guys!)

The last 12 pages include a 5 page action plan of who to target, and how.

On this evidence we're not quaking in our boots either. It's hardly surprising that Nirex shuld be doing this, although, as a public body, it's highly questionable that they should be spending our taxes on this sort of nonsense. No, they should employ a consultant who knows what he's doing (not).

>> Read the Nirex document [PDF 517kB]

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill passes third reading

The important Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill has this afternoon passd its third reading in the House of Commons.

The Low Carbon Kid applauds all the effort which has gone into making this happen, including much grass-roots lobbying, and the work of backbench MPs, all trying to push ministers into doing what they should have done anyway if they really wanted to walk their talk about climate change.

It's great to get some good news from Westminster for once.

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David Miliband's blog site

Our new environment secrtary, a mere stripling at 42, has a blog site.

This should make it easy for friends of the Low Carbon Kid and others to let the minister know what they think the government should be up to!

The Low Carbon Kid has started the ball rolling here, sand there's a new link on the right.

Miliband chose a Prius as his Ministerial car and takes the train to his South Shields constituency.

The latest issue of Which? magazine says the Toyota Prius 1.5 VVTi T-Spirit Hybrid is the greenest petrol car available in the UK, emitting less CO2 than even the cleanest diesel supermini.

A hybrid family car that uses both a petrol engine and an electric motor, the Prius cuts CO2 emissions by 44 percent versus a similarly sized 1.8-litre Toyota Avensis auto.

It saves money too. In an independent trial the Prius averaged 45 to 50 miles per gallon.

However potential buyers may baulk at the price - 20,270 pounds.

It remains to be seen if Miliband will bite the bullet on the really tough issues like transport, waste and energy efficiency by getting the Treasury on board. It's they who need to take the cost out of going green.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

'Optimism gone mad' on nuclear waste

The UK has still not developed a plan for disposing of its nuclear waste, says New Scientist magazine. So the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, cannot go ahead with a new nuclear power programme claiming that it has.

An editorial in the 6 May edition of New Scientist argues that draft recommendations from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), revealed last month, do not provide a solution to the problem of what to do with the waste produced by 50 years of nuclear power and weapons.

CoRWM has said that disposal deep underground is the "best available" long term solution for the waste, some of which remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.

But it has not expressed any preference for the type of geology in which a repository should be built.

Nor has the committee been able to say whether the waste should be retrievable or not.

"The committee is split," says New Scientist, "with some members arguing that retrievability would benefit future generations and others saying it would burden them."

Blair has said that new reactors cannot be built until there is a plan for disposing of radioactive waste, the editorial points out.

"Some advocates of nuclear power will doubtless argue that CoRWM has now provided that plan. This is optimism gone mad," it concludes.

"Deciding to put waste down a hole, with no idea what form the repository should take or where it should be, is no more of a plan than has existed for the past 30 years."

From Rob Edwards

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Scottish and Southern Electricity's RSPB Energy cock-up part 2

Energywatch and RSPB have now responded rapidly to the Low Carbon Kid's complaint about Southern Electricity yesterday. The customer call centre operator who I spoke to yesterday was wrong to say SSE supplies 90% of renewable electricity.

The true amount is 7.5%.

See their SSE Fuel Mix Disclosure Table lst updated 5 days ago (search for 'fuel mix' and scroll to the bottom of the results).

If a tariff is advertised as 100% renewable, this usually means that for every unit of energy you use, the supplier should ensure that an equal amount of energy from renewable sources is brought onto the grid.

They have not done this, and I have asked them to assure me that they'll make it up. The call centre manager blamed the mistake on "human error".

Energywatch says "There are no set guidelines for compensation in such a case. In the circumstances it would be reasonable to expect that both you and the RSPB receive whichever benefits would have been provided over the time of the contract you have agreed with them." I have told RSPB what has happened.

Energywatch continues: "In 2006-07, Energywatch is looking to deliver powerful evidence that, with the right information and motivation, consumers can make a major contribution to carbon reduction targets through their own usage.

"We are also arguing for the establishment of a reliable accreditation scheme for Green Tariffs to ensure consumers can transfer to them with confidence in their enviromental credentials.

"If you have raised a complaint against SSE and remain unsatisfied with their response, we may be able to assist more directly. If you need us to intervene, or investigate, on your behalf, you will need to call us on 08459 060708 or complete the complaint form on our website."

I hope others who think they're on a green tarriff will perform a similar check.

RSPB's attitude

RSPB Energy's Neil Barton has also ben quick to respond.

He says: "Had you been successfully transferred your metered usage of electricity would have been matched by 100% renewable generation - largely hydro, but including 10% of other sources like wind power and biomass. The more customers we are able to attract to the scheme, the greater the renewable capacity needed to supply them.

"In addition to the 100% renewable supply, the monies generated for the RSPB by the scheme are used by the RSPB and SSE in very specific ways:

1. To buy land to offset the predicted damaging impacts of climate change and sea level rise

2. to establish small scale renewable capacity on RSPB sites (to reduce our own emissions but also to raise the profile of the issue to visitors) and,

3. through the retiral of Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) at a rate of 10%, to encourage the development of new renewable capacity.

The latter is complex, but in essence means that for every 10 RSPB Energy customers enough renewable electricity is generated for an additional average household.

Scottish and Southern

SSE is the UK's largest renewable generator and has an 8 year programme of investment on renewable generation of £850m.

This investment will see renewable generation grow to 2000MW by 2008.

Over 600MW of this will have been installed since the start of the Renewables Obligation (April 2002).

By 2008, over 50% of SSE's renewables generation will qualify for ROCs.

RSPB Energy's Neil Barton says "My understanding is that currently roughly 15% of SSE's total generation capacity of 10,000MW comes from renewable sources". By SSE's fuel mix disclosure he seems to be wrong by 200%.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Watch out for RSPB Energy

The Low Carbon Kid has just found out he's been deceived by Scottish and Southern Electricity utility company for the last six years. All this time he had ben told he was on a green electricity tarriff when he was not.

Furthermore the tarriff is not even 100% green.

SSE says on their web site: "At Scottish and Southern Energy we care about the environment and have become the UK’s largest generator of renewables.... Electricity from RSPB Energy is produced from renewable sources, including hydro-power and wind power, which do not create harmful emissions. The electricity is matched to output from renewable sources fed into the network."

It says also that RSPB will get £10 when you sign up for the tarriff plus £5 for each year thereafter.

This double benefit, plus the price - no different from 'brown' electricity - is why we joined the scheme in February 2000.

But now we find that due to a bureaucratic error, we haven't been on the scheme after all, even though leaflets etc. were sent when we signed up for the domestic account confirming we had done so. What alerted me to check was that there was no mention of the green tarriff on my bill.

All this time we thought we were getting green electricity from the Scottish hydro plants - and we weren't. Also, that RSPB was receiving donations of £10 when we switched our electricity supply plus £5 for each additional year since, as the web site claimed.

The call centre operator has apologised and said SSE will recompense RSPB.

However during the conversation she also said there's no difference between the electricity supplied by RSPB Energy and normal SE electricity. It is all 90% renewable due to the hydro plants the company owns.

This account of the mix is not true and I am going to investigate what the supply mix actually is. Meanwhile the RSPB Energy web page clearly gives the impression that all the electricity supplied under the tarriff is green.

If you buy RSPB Energy, you're advised to check yourself that you're really getting what you think you're paying for.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Government should take the choice out of sustainability

Social Forum Wales 2006 took place in Aberystwyth over the weekend with lots of workshops, seminars and films and music. In the workshop on climate change the Low Carbon Kid asked the panel what they thought it would take to provide a tipping point for behaviour change so that the whole country takes the real measures necessary to combat climate change?

Two answers were forthcoming: either strong leadership from government or a series of crises such as floods, power cuts, high energy prices.

This conclusion is echoed in the new report from the sustainable consumption roundtable which says that government must make it a lot easier for individuals to take the action they need to take. At the moment it is just too confusing and too difficult and most people can't be bothered or remain ignorant.

It's ridiculous to expect people to work out the life cycle analysis of a range of washing machines before choosing one, the ecological footprint of a computer, or to know if a shoe manufacturer exploits children in Thailand, or to find out how to carbon neutralise their holiday.

It should be done for them!

According to the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable, consumers need to be able to buy green products and services as second nature. Government and business must take radical action to help people tackle climate change and environmental problems, and get damaging products out of the shops.

As they say, "To see real improvements, the deadlock must be broken."

“The Government has got to stop relying on information leaflets and hoping for the best - and start working with businesses and NGOs to get practical measures into people’s lives.” - Alan Knight, co-chair of the Roundtable

According to the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable report – I will if you will – Government should:

• Unite with business to get the most damaging products out of the shops, and replace them with environmental products, e.g.
- TV and set-top boxes which use massively less power when on standby
- Affordable hybrid cars
- Alternative fish species to Britain’s much-loved, but hugely over-fished, cod

• Give consumers up-to-date energy information, so they can manage their energy use, by getting smart meters into every home by 2012

• Take the lead and make all schools and hospitals carbon-neutral by 2015

• Automatically give travellers the option to carbon offset their flights, to demonstrate the environmental impact of flying

• Develop a working economic model to track the links between national income, consumption growth and resources, by 2008.

So it's either this - or more crisis management?

Probably the latter. The response from Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett to the report was merely to "promise the government would take a lead in helping consumers make choices which are more sustainable".

This is simply an abnegation of responsibility. Government should lead. It's instead confused by its oft-repeated mantra of choice.

Too often we hear about 'empowering choice' when all we actually want are decent services everywhere - like schools, healthcare etc.

In this case, we don't want choice either - we want sustainability built into everything, so we don't even have to trouble our little heads with it, and the Low Carbon Kid can give up writing this column and go and do something fun.

That's what I'd choose.

Full Report of the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable

» I will if you will - Towards sustainable consumption

Summary Booklet

» I will if you will - A summary

» Full press release.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

UK nuclear accident fallout map

The map showing what would happen if there was an accident at a UK nuclear power station of the Chernobyl scale has been updated.

We know it's a terribly irresponsible thing to suggest this is possible. But someone has to do it.

You can click on a site and see the extent of the fallout over the UK. It works quite well; it's just that you can't rotate the fallout depending on wind direction.


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