26. 10. 2007

Good news from Wales

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Excellent news from Wales. First Minister Rhodri Morgan has just announced a very creative plan to bring forward nearly 1,000 MegaWatts of new wind energy on Forestry Commission land owned by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Subject to the standard planning process, developers will be able to bid for major new wind farms on Forestry Commission land, with part of the “rental value” from the use of that land going back into community-based projects – to the tune of around £4 million a year. And part of that must be invested in schemes to reduce CO2 emissions in the local community. Efficiency plus renewables plus community benefits – spot on!

I haven’t seen the responses in the media as yet, but, for once, I hope the positive voices will outweigh the moaning minnies who still think the best way of dealing with climate change is to just carry on talking about it.

Their ranks have been strongly reinforced of late by what I call the “wouldn’t-it-be-better-brigade” – as in “wouldn’t it be better to invest in energy efficiency”, “wouldn’t it be better to put the wind farms offshore”, “wouldn’t it be better to focus on small-scale generation on our homes”, and so on. To which the answer has to be “No, No and No”: all of those things would be great in their own right, but they wouldn’t be better. People still don’t get this: we need the whole boiling lot, and then a lot more on top of that, and then a lot more on top of that.

Which is why I’m so gobsmacked by those who have piously pointed out since the SDC’s report on tidal energy that a Severn Barrage would contribute only 5% of the UK’s electricity over the next 120 years. Only 5%! Do they have any idea how hard it’s going to be to get 1%, let alone 5%?

Anyway, back to Rhodri’s wind farms. The big ones (more than 50 MegaWatts) will have to be approved by BERR, which currently seems to have lost its renewables bottle in a big way. Leaked memos, ministerial back-sliding, “if it’s not nuclear, we don’t want to know”. So fingers crossed they don’t screw it up for Wales as and when the proposals start coming through the system.

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27. 10. 2007
Susanna Rees

I listened to Jonathan Porritt on Any Questions on BBC Radio Four last night and was struck by the comment by the lady who said that she was had not stopped driving her diesel-powered BMW four wheel drive, because there was no reliable alternative, and she knew it was harming the planet but she was waiting for someone to tell her what to do. I think the Labour minister Barbara Follett said that the Government was leaving it up to individual consciences as they did not want to take away people's human right to drive whatever they chose.

Jonathan Porritt commented "listening to those two ladies, the planet is stuffed".

When we developed our economic model we left sustainability out of the growth model only because we didn't know it was necessary. That's all right: anyone can make a mistake, it makes sense for this to happen - if we had written sustainability into the equation, we wouldn't be in this mess, so in order to rescue ourselves, we need to admit we made a mistake (and anyone can make a mistake) and make a plan, now, not tomorrow because we are now operating outside the parameters of the model we were operating under so that model just isn't applicable.

Some of us may think the predictions are completely wrong and that makes sense because we don't have all the evidence - but perhaps not having an insurance policy in case they are right is a bit of a risk? It is interesting that the insurance companies think that global warming is likely and are taking remedial action as a consequence. I guess their models for forecasting the future must be the most rigorous in the world.

It must be in the insurance companies' interests that we take action - Government isn't going to do anything - maybe the insurance companies might sponsor something?

So the only thing left for us now is to take the mick out of industry and the Government. Campaigning and protesting and writing letters doesn't work. We have to laugh at them. No-one likes being laughed at.

"The Planet is Stuffed" would be a great title for a film.

30. 10. 2007

I (almost) wholeheartedly agree Susanna. I work in nature conservation and even among the converted there seems to be a reluctance to take the first big step. It's all politics - the response to news that we have to pay more or do more to undo centuries of environmental neglect is likely to be negative, and no-one playing a political game wants to be unpopular. There needs to be a strong-willed movement within political circles, a willingness to bite-the-bullet and say (nicking a line from M&S of all places) "it's Plan A as there is no Plan B".

The "wouldn't-it-be-better" and the "not-in-my-backyard" brigades have both stood in the way of progress toward a more environmentally-enlightened future for far too long. We have no choice but to think sustainably, locally and globally, though if every potential step forward has to be debated for decades then we'll run out of time. So any initiative (bravo the Welsh Assembly Government) that gets beyond the consultation stage is to be welcomed and repeated elsewhere if possible.

And "The Planet is Stuffed" would be a terrible title for a film - unless it's a planetary obituary - as it'll just be used by the "wouldn't" and "not" lobbies to show that there isn't any point in taking action...

30. 10. 2007
Brian Adams

I seem to have to be (yet again) a thorn in the side of Jonathon Porritt in his apparently unconditional support of wind farms although limited to Wales in this blog. I do so as a Member of the South Downs Forum, the agreed vision for which is a landscape of the “highest quality..... and natural beauty” ready for the forthcoming National Park. Already the management committee of the AONBs that will become the NP are objecting to a planning application for a large lone wind turbine alongside Glyndebourne, and rightly so in my view.

Surely the benefits of wind farms must be balanced against their potential aesthetic damage in some places. A wide landscape such as that in Central Wales and Southern Scotland where the landscape although beautiful is the same over hundreds of miles can allow wind farms as aesthetically interesting additions - the same applies to the otherwise boring seascape. But in a small scale situation they can be a disaster. The South Downs (as an example) are small scale because, although they stretch from Eastbourne to Winchester, they are only 6 miles wide in most places. Wind turbines on the top of the South Downs would be seen and heard in every direction and destroy a natural landscape.

I am sure that the mention of “subject to the standard planning process” will be offered against my argument, but the views of the SDC will be quoted by those who are more interested in old fashioned rather than sustainable development.

So in our enthusiasm for renewable energy don’t let us throw out the baby with the bathwater and destroy what we cherish.

01. 11. 2007

Dear Brian,

How far do things have to decline before "potential aesthetic damage" is no longer to be used as a reason for inaction?

02. 11. 2007
Brian Adams

Dear Ironspider,

Your question is a bit unfair – I am not suggesting inaction. I have just returned from Scotland where I have seen wind farms that fit into the landscape (in my view). May I ask a question of you, whoever you are? “Will our enthusiasm for large wind turbines continue beyond the point when there is one on the Houses of Parliament and one on St Paul’s Cathedral?”

05. 11. 2007


I'm the wrong person to ask such a question - I believe that all Government buildings should have rotors or turbines on their rooftops. They should also harvest rainwater where feasible and employ as many eco-friendly options as possible.

As for St Pauls? Tear it down and build something else - with a rotor or turbine as part of the fabric...

27. 01. 2008
Anne Thomas

I was very disappointed that the Lewis wind farm potentially may be turned down. My husband visits Stornaway for work regularly and is very keen that the wind farm should go ahead but I cannot find any information on the critics' concerns that the construction and roads would dry out the peat. Obviously if the peat starts to oxidise then CO2 will be produced, counteracting the benefits of the wind farm. I would like to write to my MP but would like some evidence.

03. 10. 2008
nicholas finney

It's worth looking at our website entitled "Stop the barrage now"We represent those who are strongly opposed to the barrage but in favour of renewable energy . Indeed since the campaign started a few weeks ago we have been surprised by how many exciting technical developments are taking place to put tidal and wave energy projects into production . The barrage has in our submission some fatal flaws . But whilst we seek to bring these to the attention of the public and politicians alike , we hope that our work will also lead quickly to less economically damaging and more environmentally friendly renewable energy projects to take its place.

06. 11. 2007
Max Wallis

I hope Jonathon does not denigrate as "pious" the criticism that a Severn Barrage would contribute the 'wrong kind' of electricity and NOT over the next 120 years.

This mega-project could not come on stream till 2020 or later. It's construction would consume energy and emit mega-tonnes of CO2 just at the time when the UK needs to ramp up renewables to take-off, to cope with the 2015 electricity gap and to meet the 2020 CO2 reduction target.

The Severn megabarrage would generate huge amounts of electricity but for only 40% of the day. It lacks the storage, pumping and phasing capability that a series of linked, smaller tidal lagoons (and the Shoots barrage) allow. See www.marinet.org.uk/refts/.

The great advantage of hydro-power is its ability to deliver electricity when needed, to rapidly meet the fluctuations in demand. Think Dinorwig! It's a pity the SDC did not advance past counting electical units (5% of UK's electricity) to see how tidal power projects could enhance our electicity supply system and dispense with 'spinning reserve' wastage, rather than imposing huge stresses from a single inflexible megabarrage.

07. 11. 2007
Peter H

In reply to Max Wallis, he refers to Dinorwig, a brilliant engineering achievement, but which, of course, is not really hydro-electric but pumped storage, built by the tax-payer to support nuclear for load balancing. It produces up to 1800 MW(2% of UK capacity) but only for a about 5 hours max.

There's no serious amount of new hydro capacity left in the UK without drowning some valleys, which would not be popular. Tidal lagoons are based on old technology - simple low-head hydro. If it's so good why is there no example world-wide? Simple, it's not economically viable to construct an entire water-retaining barrage when, like the proposed Severn Barrage (which is costly enough), you can use the shore-line for most of it. The Severn Barrage should go ahead, along with wind farms and all other proven technologies, since when the oil runs out (soon) we'll need every scrap of indigenous power we can lay our hands on.

30. 11. 2007

This comment is a bit late – having sat on my desktop for a while – but I hope it is not too late to be taken note of:

I too heard that excellent performance from JP, and an earlier one on the 'News' after the latest shock population figures. (Here we were left in no doubt as to Jonathon’s support of the Optimum Population Trust’s position on the dangers of unbridled growth.)

For these Jonathon, many thanks: But I fear Susanna is letting you off the hook of this current topic.

I meant to comment at the time of the Severn Barrage announcement, but now this blog returns to a similar theme, so here goes:

The SDC seems to have a strangely naïve and trusting faith in developers, when they come forth with Trojan Horse gifts in the form of ‘mega-sustainability’ projects. As I recall, past SDC praised ones have included the filling in of docks for example: rather a dumb thing to do if you are going to go for sustainable transport in the future, one would have thought.

The Barrage looks to me – quite apart from its dire disregard for internationally designated wildlife resources – like just another bolt-on mega-development project from a sector that is quite prepared to build anything, anywhere, just give them the go ahead: “You wan' us to do sustainability: we’ll do sustainability. An you’ll ‘ave a luverly new road with that? Sure you will: ‘ow’s about a few thousand more houses to go? Or six million – six million’s wot yer really need?”

The same goes for wind. Just so long as there is permanent mega-development going on and ten times more in the offing, the ‘economists’ and developers can be bought off – just. Nothing will ever quench their thirst: these people see the melting ice caps as an opportunity for more development; a reward for their efforts at destroying the climate. SDC would be well shot of these people: we all would.

Those who insist on the right to hold these and other development proposals up to proper assessment and scrutiny in the widest sense should not be traduced as whingers and nimbys [No. not even you Max! ;-)]: they should be whole heartedly supported in their efforts to hold our corrupt ‘planning system’ and sham democracy to account. It is our uncritical support of such proposals as these, which brings the environmental movement into disrepute, and shows us to be as two-faced with regard to rights as are our supposed representatives in government.

When supporting such ‘sustainable’ projects, I wonder if the SDC ever looks at how much conventional generation is ever taken off line as each new ‘sustainable’ unit is added? I have no doubt, that the answer would be NONE. The truth is that it all goes towards serving our ever increasing energy demand and thus enables ever more consuming devices to come on line. It is just another weapon in the developers’ cash making armoury, and has nothing to do with any desire for sustainability. [I recall reading of how a new windfarm in Spain just led to ‘economic development’ where none could take place before, and the locals were then able to go out and buy new cars, for example.]

I do not believe mega can ever be good. If it is, then let us look for some real power generating opportunities. A Channel Bridge and barrage, would be a good start; then Barrow to Northern Ireland; Menai Straits; Scotland to Orkney perhaps; both ends of the Isle of Wight? These would generate masses of power as the tide swept in around these islands, and its varying timing would ensure continuous delivery of energy. In the long run, the North Sea could be blocked at both ends and reclaimed for house-building…

Or we could just start to be sensible, and begin working our way towards tried and tested solutions: fewer people; demanding and consuming much less; living in balance with what their country is naturally able to provide.

No fast bucks to be had by this method of course…


02. 01. 2008
Peter Kydd

Jonathon Porritt is right when he says "Do they have any idea how hard it’s going to be to get 1%, let alone 5%?" when talking about increasing renewable energy generation. One of the big problems is that all the arguments are becoming very polarized - for example, there is the pro wind lobby, the anti wind lobby, the pro-barrage lobby, the anti-barrage lobby etc - and a large number of people appear to be making decisions in principle without being fully aware of all the options or the facts surrounding those options. The media may be partly to blame for this as they distil a complex set of issues into simple headlines.

The Welsh wind farms on Forestry Commission land may be an excellent idea if the scale and location are appropriate. Better some than none!

Equally, A Severn Barrage may be an excellent idea if the relationship between benefits and impacts is appropriately balanced - again a question of scale. It would be very worrying if we spend the next 100 years debating the issues whilst the climate and the eco-systems around us change because we are not managing our carbon emissions. But we also have to be realistic - the biggest solution may also have the biggest impacts! We constantly need to be reminded that scale may be more important in making sure that something gets built to achieve reduction in carbon emissions. The alternative is the status quo whilst the pro and anti groups continue their polarized debates. But change is difficult!

Having been working on the Shoots barrage concept - the smaller 1% barrage option in the Severn - since it was originally conceived, it is a constant source of frustration to me that most news reports continue to talk about one Severn Barrage rather than the different options available - the SDC report rightly identified the options (and goes into significant detail on the Shoots scheme) and opportunities for collaboration between different marine technologies - but the news headlines continued to be focused on THE Severn Barrage rather than A Severn Barrage and other tidal options – and so public debate follows!

The larger 5% option may be the right solution - it would add significantly to the UK achieving its 20% renewable energy contribution - but the impacts, perceived or otherwise, on ports and the environment may be too challenging in which case we need to be aware of the alternatives that can also take advantage of the Severn's unique energy potential or we shall end up doing nothing. And that was the motivation behind developing the Shoots Barrage proposal to provide a compromise option - less energy but less impact - but still a significant contributor at just less than 1% of UK's electricity needs - if we all turned off the standby buttons and fitted low energy light bulbs that 1% figure could increase! As Jonathan says, if only people knew how hard it is to achieve 1%, let alone 5%! A sense of Urgency is needed!

I hope that a more sensible debate develops in the months ahead where the various options are given equal weighting and an informed choice can be made by all - including pro, neutral and anti groups! That will be the only way to get something done rather than dust off the various reports in another twenty years time! By which time, it may be too late....

Peter Kydd
Parsons Brinckerhoff

30. 04. 2012

Severn Barrage ideas are all well and good but we just have to accept the truth that the ONLY way that we can prclaicalty meet our country's power needs is with nuclear power, especially once Nuclear Fusion is cracked. It's the one thing Gordon Brown has got right - even if it was down to a shocking piece of nepotism (his brother Andrew works for EDF Energy) - he's right.People who think that the country's energy needs can be met with wind turbines and wave generation simply don't understand anything about electricity. The power produced is minimal and the cost of upkeep is huge, with poor reliability.Unfortunately, due to 20 years of the overly-vocal, paranoid and deeply misinformed Green lobby screaming and shouting down anybody who dares to even suggest considering nuclear power, we've missed the boat.France didn't, and now are world leaders in Nuclear Power generation. So much so that a fairly large proportion of OUR electricity is generated by the French, using nuclear power (so all the people campaigning against it...too late!)With the volatility of Russian relations we can't rely on gas for the future. Nuclear is the only option.Renewable energy sources are worth considering for some things (e.g. solar panels to heat water rather than generate electricity) and are great for small-scale power generation (e.g. properties in the middle of nowhere with a wind turbine) but I'm afraid in the real world it just doesn't cut it.

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