Friday, December 22, 2006

Green Bollocks Award for 2006 goes to Windsave

The Low Carbon Kid's Green Bollocks Award for 2006 goes to Windsave, David Cameron's and B&Q's friends who make wind turbines. They are pants.

The Low Carbon Kid has watched this company from the start. They are total crap.

They started off making physically impossible claims (due to the conservation of energy principle).

Then, when I questioned this, for two years wouldn't publish any specs.

Yet at the same time won over politically advantageous friends such as Brian Wilson, former energy minister and others close to the Scottish Executive to win backing.

Their sales literature only included photocollages of turbines on roofs.

I have questioned them at several NEMEX trade shows. Last time - when I pointed out how poorly sited a turbine was - I got some bullshit about things off frame I couldn't see compensating for it.

None of the reps ever seems to know how the things really perform - because they haven't been properly independently tested at BRE (to my knowledge).

I'm impressed by Mark Brinkley's blog on Windsave, which contains some good facts on how poorly they perform - there's so much misunderstanding and therefore misinformation about smallscale windpower.

This is going to cause a public backlash in the future when they find the reality doesn't match the hype.

(The same thing happened in the nineties when Greenpeace overhyped solar electric panels).

You want a proper and honest small scale windpower assessment, probably cheaper than rip-off Windsave? Talk to the master - Hugh Piggott at Scoraig.

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McDonalds Biofuel Madness!

A German company is going to collect and import to Germany used cooking fat from French McDonalds burger bars, turn it into biofuel and send it to fuel British cars.

By the time the carbon cost of all that transport and processing is taken into account, just how low carbon is that fuel going to be?

Wouldn't it be better if people didn't use their cars to go to McDonalds and eat overpackaged crap food grown on trashed Amazon rainforest land in the first place and save all that trouble?

>> Read the Reuters report.

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Shell booted out

As the Low Carbon Kid predicted on December 12 Gazprom has bought Shell out of the Sakhalin Energy group to snatch for Putin a controlling interest in oil and gas exploitation in that environmentally sensitive nature reserve.

It used as an excuse that Shell was breaching environmental law around the Pacific island of Sakhalin.

Now that the environment has been used as a political football for Putin's strategic games, let's see how many fresh abuses of green law the the World Conservation Union finds in the future, and their tactic will be exposed for the sham it is.

Yet another example of Russia's actual disdain for nature is exposed this week as Greenpeace International takes the government to court to prevent them destroying thousands of hectares of virigin forest as part of their bid for the Winter Olympics.

The least bad loser around Sakhalin - if we're lucky - is the environment in that area. But for how long?

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

How green are 'green' electricity tariffs?

How green are 'green' electricity tariffs - and how honest are energy suppliers about what you get for your money and and what the environmental benefits really are?

We're often told that switching to a green tarriff is on of the simplest ways to cut carbon emissions from houses and workplaces.

But a study by the National Consumer Council shows that most green tariffs don't live up to the environmental benefits claimed.

The best ones are Good Energy and RSPB Energy from Scottish and Southern. Go there and switch now to reduce your carbon load on the planet!

But so only 1% of households have signed up to the renewable energy tarriffs - despite it being simple to do so - anybody can do it - reflecting the complex and confusing publicity and information from the utility companies.

So why don't they want you to join their schemes?

For instance, no supplier, whether 'green' or otherwise, makes it clear that every GB household is already supporting renewable electricity to the tune of £7 a year through their normal electricity bills (via the Renewables Obligation).

Also the complex rules that encourage all energy suppliers to source renewably can mean the electricity's 'greenness' is oversold (sold more than once). Even choosing a green tariff that offers to plant a tree would not contribute anywhere near enough to offset a household's carbon emissions.

Furthermore, good practice 'green supply' guidelines issued by the energy regulator Ofgem in 2002 are being patchily enforced.
The end result is that not enough NEW renewable energy is being installed.

Green Tarriffs examined

There are three distinct types of green tariff:

  • a green electricity supply tariff, where the supplier guarantees that the electricity it sells to customers is covered by the electricity it buys from renewable sources, backed by the necessary contractual evidence; <>
  • a green energy fund tariff, where the supplier invests the premium consumers pay into new renewable energy, or other environemental projects
  • a carbon offset tariff, where suppliers offer to offset the CO2 emitted by the consumers' electricity and gas supply – by planting trees or by investing in other CO2-reducing projects in the UK or in developing countries. These are becoming more common.

Many tariffs are a hybrid of two or more of these types.

There is a cost to suppliers for providing consumers with 'additional' environmental benefits. To reflect this, suppliers will usually charge a premium for their green tariffs over the standard credit tariff. Consumers may also forego certain discounts that other customers enjoy.

Some suppliers will guarantee to match any premium consumers are paying.

In general, green tariffs with premiums can be expected to offer greater environmental benefits than those without.

The table below shows whether tariffs are based on green supply, a green fund or carbon offset, or a combination of these. It also shows whether or not each tariff attracts a premium over and above the standard credit tariff. It sets out the contractual evidence suppliers use to back up the tariff. This evidence is in the form of certificates issued under the various government instruments explained on page four.

Green supplyGreen FundCarbon OffsetPremium rate?Backed by Renewable Electricity Guarantee of Origin?Backed by retired Levy Exemption Certificates?Backed by Renewables Obligation Certificates? (Ie, over the regulatory minimum?
British Gas – Climate Aware xxn/a
British Gas – Green Electricityx x x
EBICo - Equiclimate xxn/a
Ecotricity – New Energyxx x
Ecotricity – Old Energyx xxx
EDF Energy – Climate Balancex xxn/a
EDF Energy – Green Tariffxx xxx
Good Energyxxxxx
Green Energy – UK 100x xxx
Green Energy – UK 10x xx
Npower – Juicexx xx
Powergen – GreenPlanxx xxx
Scottish and Southern Energy – Power 2xx x
Scottish and Southern Energy – RSPB Energyxx xxxx
Scottish Power – Green Energy Fund x xx
Scottish Power – Green Energy H20x x

>> NCC's report 'Reality or rhetoric? green tariffs for domestic consumers' is here

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Who is the greenest of us all?

Who would you think? The old? The young?? Sun readers? Independent readers?

The answer is not what you'd expect. Below i examine three separate polls which give differing answers, but all agree on one thing - we don't do enough.

The Electricity Policy Research Group (EPRG) at the University of Cambridge commissioned YouGov to survey 1000 UK residents on issues ranging from the future of the electricity supply to their current purchasing decisions.

While climate change concerns are voiced most strongly among the young, Liberal Democrat voters and Guardian/Independent readers, these attitudes are not translated into personal action.

The poll showed, for example, that Guardian/Independent readers are no more likely to have taken any specific energy saving actions than tabloid readers, and are actually less likely to have insulated their homes.

Older people who are least concerned with climate change are also far more likely to have taken concrete action to save energy, including buying energy efficient light bulbs, insulating their homes and lowering their thermostats.

I think this is due to the fact that the old, and the poorer, are more likely to insulate due to the need to cut bills.

The survey revealed that while half of the respondents had changed electric or gas suppliers in the past five years, 90% cited reasons of price and just 4% claimed greener energy as the reason they switched.

The EPRG report ranked environment and fuel prices among the top ten issues facing the UK and placed climate change as the top environmental concern.

But another poll, conducted by YouGov two months ago of 2,455 adults, found those living in the West Midlands were the least likely to be green, whereas people in Yorkshire were most likely to engage in eco-friendly activities. The Green Net Apitude (GNA) scale was conceived by npower and Adrian White, a psychologist from the University of Leicester.

"People who are able to delay gratification - to invest in their future - are much more likely to make green choices," said White. "For example teachers have a high GNA score compared to estate agents who may be working in a culture of short-term commission."

This one found that, "perhaps surprisingly", drivers of gas-guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) were more inclined to recycle or use energy-efficient light bulbs than drivers of small "greener" cars.

The poll discovered significant support for investing in renewable energy, with over two-thirds of respondents saying they would support wind farms even if situated in their own locality.

Roughly half of the people surveyed by Cambridge supported the building of new nuclear power stations, provided they were based on existing sites. Surprisingly, one-third supported the establishment of new sites around the country.

Coal-power was considered the least popular energy option, although opinions improved when those surveyed learnt more about developments in carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies.

But yet another poll, an 'old Europe'-wide Harris poll published by the Financial Times last month, found 85% in favour of their governments spending more on renewable energy. In France and Spain, more than 90% backed increased investment in renewables.

In Europe, the debate on global warming is over. Even in the UK, the most sceptical country, 77% believe human activity is contributing to climate change, and in the other four countries polled the proportion is close to 90%.

There is "significant resistance" to the idea of building more nuclear power stations across old Europe. Only 30% "strongly or somewhat" support building new nuclear plants, while 46% oppose it.

However, when asked about costs, just 5% say they would pay over a week's wages to fight global warming, and 33% wouldn't pay anything.

Dr David Reiner, Course Director of the MPhil in Technology Policy at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge and author of the Cambridge report, said: “There is a real engagement among the British public on questions of energy and environment, particularly over climate change. There is a willingness to support government policies, but even those groups that are the strongest supporters of policy action do not translate this support into their personal energy saving behaviour. They show a clear divergence between their views as citizens and their actions as consumers.”

So although all three polls disagree on exactly what we do, they all agree that we care, but we don't do enough.

My conclusion? The government should just make it harder and harder for us to conduct wasteful and polluting activities by removing that element of choice.

Ban wasteful and inefficient goods, and tax heavily climate-harming actions like air flights.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tools for Tanzania

Wanted: Tools for Tanzania
We've just had a flying visit from Joseph Sekiku, who runs Fadeco, a grassroots development project in NW Tanzania. This remote area of Tanzania is informally twinned with the Dyfi Valley where i live.

I'm chair of Friends of Fadeco, which i and some friends started eight years ago after I visited the region and met Joseph.

Joseph is a beautiful man after my own heart, a total inspiration, modest and visionary, and supremely resourceful as Africans have to be.

He is one of three people in an area the size of Wales with a population of 500,000 that have a degree. Most are illiterate and subsistence growers.

I am fully aware of the dangers and ambiguities of much so-called 'development', but we support Joseph's work because it is appropriate, sensitive, and necessary.

In particular we are now supporting the building and fitting out of a training centre - The Eden Centre for Sustainability. They need equipment to train people so they can become self-reliant, and gain an income.

Tools for Self-Reliance is making a delivery to the area in January 2007. We want to get as many tools as possible on this trip. The tools they need are:

Sewing machines: treadles, hand or even electric; carpentry sets: saws, planes, etc; mechanics tools: spanners, car jacks, ladders, wielding tools, soldering tools; masonry tools: brick making machines, trowels, squares, tape measures. etc. A 4X4 motor cycle which can pull a small trailer.

Please donate anything you can.

If you're local perhaps you can leave them at in Machynlleth: Peter Harper/Andy Rowland's houses (21 Heol Pentrahedyn, Machynlleth) or Taliesin: Flic and Richard's /Temperance House or Corris: mine (Glanydon, by the bridge). Or we can pick them up. Someone can then take them all down to TFSR Crickhowell (Is anyone going that way in January?).

If you're not local, TFSR has many local branches. Or go to the FoF web site - link above - and join/make a donation.

We're also supporting a radio station - Joseph has just got a licence from the govt. If anyone has a transmitter, or can donate £1000 to buy one. This would allow the broadcasting of vital health and ecological information to an illiterate and rural population otherwise unreachable.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shell in deep water

Gazprom is now saying it could land a $30bn damages claim at Shell's door.

The deputy head of Russia's energy agency, Gazprom, Oleg Mitvol, has repeatedly accused Shell of breaching environmental law on the Pacific island of Sakhalin where it's exploiting a massive oil field in a highly environmentally sensitive area.

Accusations include illegal forest clearance, dumping soil in rivers and polluting one of the island's bays.

It won't be the first time Shell has made a mess of a beautiful place - cf Nigeria.

The Royal Dutch Shell-led Sakhalin Energy group also includes Japan's Mitsui and Mitsubishi.

But I believe the environment is a convenient football here, and the real goal of the Kremlin is to make billions and take better control of its energy assets for the sake of a higher profile on the global political stage.

When it flogged off its energy assets in the early '90s the deals weren't what it now thinks it can get. Russia does not receive the full benefit until Strategic International investors receive the cost of their investments back in full.

Shell was claiming a large increase in costs, thereby deferring further the profit Russia wants, even though the costs were probably at least partly justified.

Investors in Russia must align themselves with the government. The Kremlin sees the future for Russia's global dominance very largely in energy terms.

Elsewhere in Russia, for example in the selling off of millions of hectares of virgin forest to China, we can tell that Russia dosn't give a damn for the environment.
In this battle royal between two giants, we can only hope that the environment - and with it the Western Pacific gray whales that use the seas around Sakhalin for mating - is, even if incidentally, a winner.

And by the way full marks to IUCN for keeping watch and alerting us to the damage. And to Greenpeace for forcing Russia to make 74,400 hectares of ancient forest the ‘Kalevalski National Park’.

The creation of this new national park, which plays a vital role in preserving the biodiversity of northern Europe, marks the culmination of an eleven-year-long campaign by Greenpeace and conservation groups in Russia.

The less oil you use, the healthier our planet is.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Llwybr Diogel i Benegoes - Safe Route for Penegoes

We're supporting this campaign to put pedestrians and cyclists first over road vehicles!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Only a slightly greener shade of Brown

The Chancellor's Pre-Budget Report announced a package of environmental measures, but revealed that the greening of Gordon Brown is still a work very much in progress.

It included a doubling of all rates of Air Passenger Duty, an ambition that all new homes to be zero carbon within a decade, with a time-limited stamp duty exemption for the majority of zero-carbon homes, and plans to make the City the hub for a mature global emissions trading market.

But the rise in air passenger duty is unlikely to put enough people off flying, or reverse steeply rising emissions from aviation unless the revenue is reinvested in improving energy efficiency.

The stamp duty waiver will only affect a fraction of the market in new homes.

There was no carrier-bag tax and no VAT relief on carbon-friendly goods and services.

The measures add up to much less than the 1% of GDP on preventive measures advocated by Sir Nicholas Stern.

Gordon has taxed the poor and left the rich alone.

If he really wanted to make his mark as a true socialist, he would have taxed the Chelsea Tractors, multiple car owners, raised the lower threshold for stamp duty and added an extra band at the top.

This would tax the people that could afford it - but he is frightened of upsetting them. Brown as Prime Minister - not something I'm looking forward to.

Why didn't we get lower Council Tax and Stamp Duty for greener houses (apart from new, zero-carbonn ones) and higher ones for wasteful homes, and adjustment of the rates of VAT and Planning Gain Supplement for developers who build homes to high environmental standards, as called for by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, led by Tim Yeo?

Levels of R&D expenditure in the UK are among the lowest in Europe for low carbon tech. Much more funding from a revised Renewbales Obligation needs to go into developing and installing renewable technologies, especially in the marine and offshore wind sectors.

APD (aviation tax) is a "blunt instrument" that does not differentiate between the relative carbon-efficiency of different flights.

APD could be levied per flight, rather than per passenger. Differential landing fees could be introduced, which could be used to complement a reformed and increased APD by specifically targeting the fuel efficiency of different models of aircraft.

Part or all of the revenue generated should be put towards investment in improving rail services and to accelerating the development and introduction of more energy efficient aircraft designs.

And why are airport vehicles are allowed to run on [untaxed] "red diesel"? Although it is true that these do not run on public roads, given that airports are major sources of both carbon emissions and air pollution.

Finally, carbon offsetting payments should be a compulsory charge on all airline tickets.

Unbelievably, the Department for Transport does not quantify the carbon emissions resulting from transport as a sector in its PSA.

Yet the Department is able to claim credit for being on course to meet the UK's Kyoto target, even while presiding over the worst performing sector of the economy in terms of trends in emissions.

The existing differentials in VED between different categories of cars should have been widened substantially. Gordon has abandoned the fuel duty escalator even though it has played an important role in helping to reduce the increase in CO2 emissions from road transport.

The Department for Transport does not intend to reinstate the Low Carbon Bus Grant programme. So how is it going to incentivise bus operators to introduce low carbon vehicles on a large scale?

For the record, below is a summary of all the new 'green' initiatives in PBR2006:


From February, air passenger duty on flights to the EU - 75% of all flights - will double from £5 to £10. Duty on long-haul flights for the lowest class of travel will rise from £20 to £40 while business-class trips to destinations outside the EU jump from £40 to £80.

The scope of the European rates of air passenger duty will also be widened to include all of the signatories to the European Common Aviation Area Agreement, from 1 February.

Emissions Trading

In parallel with talks with the French Finance Ministry (on economic instruments around climate change, particularly to improve the EU ETS) and the New Zealand Government (on emissions trading), the Government will bring together leading City and international players to examine the accounting, legal and institutional steps needed to support a mature planet-wide emissions trading market.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

The Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) is to tender for engineers to evaluate the costs of a CCS demonstration plant, and the best development route - for example a challenge fund. Meanwhile the UK and Norway hope to have completed by July a study into the infrastructure, market framework and value chain are needed to transport and store carbon dioxide below the North Sea.


The Finance Bill 2007 will excuse from income tax any revenue generated by small scale renewable technologies on homes, in order to support wider uptake.

Climate change levy (CCL)

CCL rates will increase in line with inflation from 1 April to maintain the levy's environmental impact. The new rates will be:
• Electricity 0.441p per KWh
• Gas 0.154p per KWh
• LPG 0.985p per kg
• Solid fuels 1.201p per kg

Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC)

New investment of £7.5 million goes to Warm Front and the Energy Efficiency Commitment to allow 300,000 more households to receive free insulation and central heating.

By the end of 2008, the Chancellor said 2.7m homes would have been insulated through the Warm Front scheme.

The Winter Fuel Allowance for pensioners will also be continued, but not increased. Households with somebody aged over 60 will receive £200 and those aged over 80 will receive £300. But consumer champion energywatch expressed disappointment that there are still many fuel poor who "appear to have been ignored".

Energy efficiency in buildings

The Treasury is still investigating whether an energy services model for delivering greater efficiencies can be achieved. So it is looking into ways of
financing energy audits and other energy-saving measures.

It hopes, via the Code for Sustainable Homes, that by 2016 all new homes will be 'zero-carbon'. Stamp duty will therefore be abolished for most new zero-carbon homes.

For the rented sector, it plans to expand the Landlords Energy Saving Allowance (LESA) to corporate landlords, its sunset clause from 2009 to 2015, and extend its allowance of up to £1,500 for cavity wall and loft insulation to each property rather than each building, including floor insulation in the measures to be compensated for.

In the public sector, higher standards are to be explored for new and refurbished schools to reduce their carbon emissions by up to 60% over existing standards, and in some cases up to carbon neutrality.

Road transport

A 1.25p per litre increase in petrol duty for unleaded fuel, in line with inflation, the first increase since 2003.

Mr Brown ruled out a return to the fuel duty escalator that used to imposed inflation-beating increases each year, much to the dismay of environmentalists and the Environmental Audit Committee. The differential with LPG is reduced by 1p but compressed natural gas (CNG) keeps its differential.

The Treasury is looking at extending the current duty incentive for biogas - equivalent to almost 40p per litre - and will update the position at Budget 2007.

Regulations to ensure the widespread availability of sulphur-free diesel and sulphur-free 'super' grades of petrol will enter into force in late 2007.

The 20p per litre fuel duty differential for biofuels will be extended to enable a pilot involving the use of biomass in conventional fuel production to go ahead. The definition of biofuels will be amended to include biodiesel that is capable of being blended in excess of 5%.

A rate of 7.69p per litre will apply to biofuels used on the railways, as operators are to conduct pilot schemes exploring their use in trains.
On company cars, the government is looking at the case for incentivising the take-up of 'flex-fuel' vehicles, capable of using high-blend bioethanol E85.

Critics complained that the existing differentials in VED between different categories of cars were not widened.

The Environmental Audit Committee pointed out that the Department for Transport does not quantify the carbon emissions resulting from transport as a sector in its PSA.

Yet the Department is able to claim credit for being on course to meet the UK's Kyoto target, even while presiding over the worst performing sector of the economy in terms of trends in emissions.

This was not changed in the PBR, nor was the fact that airport vehicles are allowed to run on [untaxed] "red diesel".

'Chelsea Tractors' escaped the higher tax measures many had expected, in light of falling sales of 4x4 cars, said Mr Brown.


Landfill Tax is to be increased from 1 April by £3 to £24 per tonne, and may increase more steeply from 2008 onwards, or go beyond the £35 per tonne already committed to for the medium to long-term. The Aggregates Levy will be extended for a further year (2007-08).

> Read the Report

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Planning overhaul would an improvement for the environment

The Barker Review, by Bank of England policymaker Kate Barker on planning regulations for England, has put sustainability at the heart of the planning system, identifying planning as playing a vital role in the mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Kate Barker said rooftop wind turbines to cut carbon dioxide emissions should not be hindered by planning laws, and planning permission should take account of future flooding from climate change.

Planning applications should be approved unless there were strong reasons against them - streamlining the planning process could save businesses and local authorities hundreds of millions of pounds. The Review argues that "Statements of Strategic Objectives" should be drawn up for energy, transport, waste proposals and strategic water proposals (such as new reservoirs).

These should be given locations or areas where they might be built, using the term "spatially specific", "to give greater certainty and reduce the time taken at inquiry discussing alternative sites. Regional Spatial Strategies and local plans should reflect these national Statements and indicate, in particular, where regional facilities are needed."

The British Wind Energy Association welcomed the proposal as it would substantially reduce the waiting time for approval, currently an average of 15 months. The Review called for:
• a rapid increase in the turnaround of planning decisions
• an increase in planning resources to reflect changing priorities
• ring-fencing business rates for local communities
• permitted development rights for micro-wind installations.

The Review will now be considered by the Treasury which said that "in the context of the increased competitive climate caused by globalization the Government is committed to further reform, to ensure that planning delivers the development that England needs."

> Barker Review

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