Why wood burning is not carbon neutral

When politicians and advertisers and propagandists want to do something to persuade us that a policy or product or idea is something new, because the old policy, product or idea has failed, they re-invent vocabulary and assign new meanings to words in the hope of fooling us into thinking that the policies, products and ideas are new, whereas it is only the words that are new or used in a different context.

So instead of a settlement negotiation we have a “road map”. A “problem” becomes “an issue”. It has always been thus: Voltaire pointed out that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

In environmental matters words are abused as much as energy is, to hide their real meanings and persuade us that there are easy options. Continue reading

Overhauling solar grants by leaving them “same old same old”

When is an overhaul not an overhaul? The answer is simple; when the Government of England and Wales adjusts an incentive program without really making any changes.

 

The Low Carbon Building Programme has been “overhauled”. The scheme is in effect a way of subsidising householders who want to install some form of microgeneration.  The most popular microgeneration of energy that householders want to undertake is to install solar water heating systems. It is also the most economically viable and the most useful, a fact recognised throughout the world. Continue reading

Green Taxes, reports gathering dust, and polluters that should pay

I decided in October last year to “blog” about the environment and have posted articles almost every day since then. I called this “Ideas for the Environment” because ideas about improving life sometimes turn into real improvements and without the ideas there will be no improvements.  Continue reading

Carlisle loses the plot with green homes advice

I have previously written about the excellent work that Suzanne Burgess’s team of energy advisors do at Carlisle’s Energy Efficiency Advice Centre. Their efforts, expertise and commitment over the years have saved tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. They were one of the first energy efficiency teams to support solar thermal and provide an economic high quality local program, which provided for people in Carlisle, and then Cumbria to undertake high quality energy efficiency measures, including renewables, at low cost.

When Hilary Benn announced that there would be a new Green Homes Service to replace the work that Energy Efficiency Advice Centres were doing, my reaction (20th November 2007) was that it “ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.” I have always thought reinventing the wheel never improves locomotion, but simply Continue reading

No tax relief for the environment

Governments are notoriously reluctant to change. Some months ago I was talking to a Treasury official about the best ways to incentivise microgeneration and solar thermal in particular. I explained that I thought that a simple income tax allowance of the amount spent on a thermal solar system would be a good idea.

This is what Austria has done and it has led to a massive use of thermal solar and a corresponding gain in environment benefits and in energy security.  His reply was disappointing but not unexpected. Continue reading

Taking the carbon out of home heating – Mr Wicks wants evidence

Malcolm Wicks is the Energy Minister. He has called for evidence on the best way to “decarbonise” the way we heat our homes. He is specifically asking for evidence about existing technologies mentioning combined heat and power, renewable heat, heat from waste and district heat.

I shall be responding to his call for evidence in terms that the lowest carbon way forward is solar thermal systems for water and space heating and that the best way to incentivize this will be a long term council tax discount.

I suggest that no one holds their breath for too long while Mr Wicks is making up his mind; we are already stuck with the almost unused LCBP offering of a £400 grant (which costs most households £600 to qualify for), and because hardly anyone uses it we shall be stuck with it for some years to come. Continue reading

Microgeneration and Northern Rock? Darling, it’s between a northern rock and a hard place

Gordon Brown has finally admitted it. He has not ruled out nationalising the Northern Rock. When you walk down a path putting one foot in front of another you should know where the path leads. When he and his chum Alistair Darling decided to rescue the bank, rather than the money of depositors of the bank, he started on the road that inevitably leads to nationalisation, whether he admits it or not. 

The bank is as good as nationalised now. Lots of people and institutions would like to get their hands on (sorry, buy) some of the bank’s good assets, especially if they are going for a song. No-one wants to underwrite the bank’s bad assets at any price, except Mr Darling and Mr Brown. We taxpayers have now pumped £57 billion into the bank, (£57,000,000,000) by way of guarantees and real cash and the only benefit has been to help confidence in the banking system, (although that is debatable), save a few jobs in the North East, and protect Nortehrn Rock shareholders and speculators.  He could have done all of that spending a lot less money by simply underwriting the ordinary depositors’ money and letting the rest take their chances.

If Mr Darling has a spare £57 billion pounds it would come in mighty handy in restructuring our country’s energy system so that we used less fossil fuel and had a great deal more microgeneration. We could have also cleaned up the coal burning power stations with smoke washing facilities, sequestrated carbon, insulated every home to high standards, and still had plenty of change. 

We could have also taken a few million and restructured the Low Carbon Building Programme. Under it today no one is bothering to apply for the £400 grant that you can get towards thermal solar panels because the grant is pitched too low and there is a rather tortuous set of conditions you have to adhere to before you get the money; none of these conditions relate in any way to solar water heating.

You can only get the grant if your home is “holistic” whatever that means. 

The money assigned for helping householders with all microgeneration technologies for the three years ended June 2008 was only £18.7 million – less than one third of one percent of the money used to bail out the Northern Rock. Expressed as a figure it is less than 0.33% of £57,000,000,000.  It is interesting to remember that the grants for microgeneration were conceived by Mr Darling when he was at the Department of Trade and Industry under a scheme called the Low Carbon Buildings Programme. All the failings of this scheme became well known before Mr Darling was promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer, but despite my efforts and those of many others in the microgeneration industry, Mr Darling would not change the defects, denying, through his junior Minister, Lord Truscott (who?) that any defects existed. 

Mr Darling clearly has a talent for this kind of mess, as he showed with the Low Carbon Building Programme and now that he has been promoted he has made another mess on a much grander scale. 

While all the money used for the Northern Rock is being committed and more will no doubt have to be spent, so far less than a third of the microgeneration grants have been spent – a paltry £5.3 million. If the present rate of take up continues when the scheme ends in seven months time the government will have about £12 million spare unspent microgeneration money, which they could inject into the Northern Rock. That should be of immense comfort to the Bank’s shareholders and commercial depositors, but cold comfort to the planet.

Darling, you’re unlucky.

In January and February of this year I corresponded with Alistair Darling when he was Secretary of State for Trade about some serious failings and structural flaws in the Department of Trade and Industry’s Low Carbon Building Programme, which provided householders and not for profit organisations with some small grants to install microgeneration.  He never deigned to reply, although I did get a letter from Lord Truscott, a junior minister then, which was not a substantive reply but a boastful mini summary of what the letter writer obviously thought amounted to world beating climate change policies which involved the expenditure of £50 million of taxpayers’ money to support microgeneration. Continue reading

Low Carbon Building Programme

If you think I have exaggerated the Government’s lack of commitment to saving carbon emissions or if you think I have been unfair to them, try to log on to the low carbon building programme’s website for householders. This gives information about grants available for those who want to invest in household renewable energy and to save you searching its address is www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk/. You will find that the site is virtually permanently down – just like the government’s climate change policy.