Friday, March 18, 2016

Full Steam Ahead

This episode was published as a podcast on Friday 26th February. Find it at 

Is Brexit sustainable? Not everyone in the Johnson family seems to think so. Now winter is over, SSE is closing power stations. Fortunately Scottish Power Renewables is going to build a new and enormous wind farm, although it won’t be doing much to bridge the electricity gap before 2020. The US oil and gas industry is emitting more methane than anyone thought and the UK oil and gas industry is emitting vast quantities of hot air as it lobbies for tax breaks. And vast clouds of steam and smoke were emitted from King’s Cross as a green icon started its journey North. And 13 stay out of jail.

Here’s the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 26th February 2016. I’m Anthony Day, and before I start I’d just like to say hi to the people at Blackpool and the Fylde College where I delivered my “Seven Billion People want Everything You’ve Got” sustainability presentation this week.

First, that green icon. Apparently 3,000 people waited in York and many more lined the route from King's Cross to welcome back the Flying Scotsman locomotive. Some even managed to wander on to the track and stop the trains. Not sure what all the fuss was about, but they were probably all Yorkshiremen because Flying Scotsman was built in Doncaster. I believe the train managed to exceed 100mph in 1934, but of course any Westcountryman like me knows that the GWR locomotive City of Truro did that 30 years earlier, in 1904. Oh, and don’t mention carbon footprints. But at least Flying Scotsman is green. And so is City of Truro.

So Boris Johnson thinks we should leave Europe. At least, that’s what he says. His father Stanley Johnson, co-chair of Environmentalists for Europe, disagrees. Since the beginning of February Stanley has been busily publishing articles warning of the threat to wildlife, climate and the environment if we leave. Here they are:

3rd February 2016, Published in the Guardian Brexit would return Britain to being 'dirty man of Europe'
3rd February 2016, Published in Conservative Home Stanley Johnson: Making the environmentalist case for remaining in the EU
3rd February 2016, Published in the Times Why it is in our nature to stay in the EU
1st February 2016, Published in the Independent Nature Studies: The environmental case for staying in Europe

What do I think? Well, this isn’t a political column. I believe that subscribers to the Sustainable Futures Report will examine the facts and make the obvious choice.

Closing Power Stations

We seem to have got through this winter with hardly a flake of snow or serious frost. Just as well, given that the National Grid warned that if the winter had been severe their safety margin between supply and demand could have been as little as 1.5%. What can we look forward to next winter? Many coal power stations are inefficient, uneconomic and worn out. Many of them, including Long Gannett and Ferrybridge, will close this year although Eggborough has been reprieved and will provide back up capacity for the coming winter. What must be worrying the Department of Energy and Climate Change is be the decision of Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) to close three of its four units at the Fiddler’s Ferry power station. SSE has a contract to supply electricity from the station for a specific period, but has taken the business decision to pay penalties rather than keep the loss-making plant open. When the news broke the UK government and the electricity regulator moved rapidly to reassure consumers that they would not face blackouts as a result, but it will be interesting to see what the government will be able to do to fill the gap before next winter. Fracking and nuclear cannot be ready to make a contribution for years (and years). Renewables are not favoured by the government. We could start a national home insulation programme (again) although that would save more gas than electricity. In reality we will probably see more (NISM)s from the National Grid - Notifications of Inadequate System Margin - meaning that major consumers will have to cut their demand. We’ll see more and more back-up diesel generators in use. Maybe your business should invest in one, but don’t mention carbon footprints.

You’re listening to Anthony Day with the Sustainable Futures Report. Still to come: subsidising the oil industry, controlling methane emissions (with difficulty), the Heathrow 13 and that wind farm.

Oil industry looking for subsidies - need to invest in exploration. 

If we are going to decarbonise our economy, in line with our commitments at last year’s Paris Climate Conference and to fulfil the obligations of the Climate Change Act, we are going to have to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industries. A new report claims that on the contrary, we should be lowering taxes on the sector.

Oil & Gas UK describes itself as the leading representative organisation for the UK offshore oil and gas industry.

Its 2016 Activity Survey reveals that while the industry’s drive to improve efficiency, reduce operating costs and increase production has had marked success, exploration remains at an all-time low with no sign of improving.
Most concerning, it says, is the collapse of investment in new projects. This year the upstream industry is expected to approve less than £1 billion to spend on new projects, compared to a typical £8 billion per year in the last five years – sparking fears for the long term future of the industry.
Oil and Gas UK is calling on the Government for urgent reforms of the special taxes paid by the industry to attract investment back into the basin and minimise loss of capacity during the downturn.

There will be a budget statement next month. It’s due on the 16th March. Will the chancellor take action? Should he effectively increase the subsidies for this industry and support fossil fuels even though we are committed to reducing our GHG emissions? Given his enthusiastic support for fracking, the answer is probably YES. And why has the industry got fears for its long-term future? Why does it think it has a long term future? Didn’t it monitor what went on in Paris? Doesn’t it know about climate change and the government’s commitment to cutting emissions by 80% by 2050 - without Carbon Capture and Storage? And quite apart from that, what about the 55,000 people in the UK and millions worldwide who die every year from atmospheric pollution? Much of which is generated by burning fossil fuels.

I’m sorry if this is sounding like “Let’s bash the oil industry”, but I’m only reporting what I read. According to Fortune Magazine, The U.S. oil and natural gas industry emits more methane than previously thought.
The regulator last year said it would try to reduce emissions of methane, which is far more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, by requiring new oil and gas processing and transmission facilities to find and repair methane leaks and for producers to capture or limit methane from shale wells.
As part of that rules process, the EPA collected new data on how much methane is emitted by oil drilling, transportation, and refining.

“Methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas sector are substantially higher than we previously understood,” That’s what U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told IHS CERAWeek, the annual gathering of global oil executives, though she did not quantify the difference.

“The data confirm that we can and must do more on methane,” McCarthy said. “By tackling methane emissions, we can unlock an amazing opportunity to better protect our environment for the future.”
The Obama administration has also set a goal of reducing methane emissions 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025.
So far, industry and state leaders have lined up to oppose McCarthy, who has sought industry’s help by asking them to voluntarily disclose their methane emissions.
Out of nearly 8,000 U.S. natural gas producers only eight have done so, and much of the EPA’s new data comes by combining research from other government agencies and universities.

I’m sure it will all change under President Trump.

Heathrow 13

Airport Protesters NOT sent to jail

On July 13th 2015, 13 people invaded the runway at Heathrow airport in protest at plans for expansion. They disrupted 25 flights and were arrested and prosecuted. Found guilty in January of aggravated trespass and entering a security restricted area, they were sentenced this week. They were led to expect a custodial sentence, which would have been the first imprisonment for trespass since they can discount Mass trespass in 1932, when people were demanding the right to walk on private land. In the event, they were all given suspended sentences.

The defendants had argued that their actions were reasonable, proportionate and necessary to prevent death and serious injury via air pollution and climate change. The judge said, “the fact that you are principled and have strong views about public interest doesn’t mean you can break the law”.

The defending counsel said all 13 had acted in the public interest and felt that all other avenues of protest had been exhausted. She said there was no evidence anyone was endangered by the protest, that the activists had taken steps to alert the police and had caused “minimal effect” on the airport.

What do think? Should the Heathrow 13 have acted as they did? Was it the right sentence, or should they have been put away?

And now some good news.

ScottishPower Renewables Gives Green Light for £2.5 Billion East Anglia ONE

First let me make it clear that Scottish Power Renewables has no connection with Scottish and Southern Electricity. Completely different companies.

ScottishPower Renewables has made its final investment decision for wind farm East Anglia ONE. When built, it will be the best value offshore wind farm in the world, and one of the largest.

According to the press release, the final investment decision is an important landmark, as it signals that ScottishPower Renewables is fully committed to the development and construction of the Project, and will now progress with the aim of the windfarm being fully operational by 2020. As well as creating up to 3,000 jobs during construction, East Anglia ONE will spend at least 50% of the total £2.5 billion investment in the UK.
The project will generate 714 megawatts, enough to power the equivalent of 500,000* homes or the majority of the households in Suffolk and Norfolk.
This is also a significant milestone for the East Anglia region, they say, as the project will bring substantial investment to the local economy, including a £25m deal with the Port of Lowestoft to be the home of the windfarm for 30-plus years, during construction and operation phases.

About East Anglia ONE:
East Anglia ONE will see around 102 wind turbines installed in the southern North Sea, approx. 26 miles off the coast. The overall investment will be in the region of £2.5 billion, and the project is planned to meet the annual electricity demands of the equivalent of 500,000 homes.
Construction is planned to commence in 2017, with the first turbines installed by 2019, and hopes that the project will be fully operational during 2020.
East Anglia ONE Offshore Windfarm project is likely to include:
Offshore wind turbines and foundations (102 wind turbines to provide an installed capacity of 714 megawatts).
An offshore substation to collect the electricity from the turbines and transform it to a form suitable for transfer to shore.
Two offshore export cables, each around 85 km in length, to transfer the electricity to shore.
A landfall site with onshore transition pits to connect the offshore and onshore cables.
Six onshore underground cables, each of around 37 km in length, to transfer the electricity from landfall to an onshore converter station.
An onshore substation adjacent to the existing substation at Bramford, Suffolk, to connect the offshore windfarm to the National Grid.

Before I go, here’s something that may help if you’re undecided about the EU referendum. It’s a letter from the i newspaper and it comes from a Louis Lawrence in the Isle of Wight. “While we are all thinking about getting out of Europe or not, perhaps we should also be considering whether we might also ditch the decimal system. Imperial measures stood us in good stead for hundreds of years. Our pound was 240 pennies, or 20 shillings, we had a 12 mile territorial limit at sea that kept our inshore fisheries safe, and I am really fed up with wine bottles containing 75 centilitres. What was wrong with pints and gallons, and especially the spirits measure of a gill? The metric system was a Napoleonic construct. I thought we had won the Battle of Waterloo. It appears not!”

Ands with that I’ll leave you for another week, but before I go I’ll remind you that booking for the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange is now well under way. We have speakers from Northern Rail, the Supply Chain Sustainability School, CDP, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, Biovale, Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership - about 20 in all - the list goes on and we’re still adding to it. Full details at I hope very much to see you there.

I’m Anthony Day, this was the Sustainable Futures Show, and that’s it!

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