Sunday, 31 January 2010

Permitted Development for domestic wind turbines mooted in Scotland

According to the BBC, homeowners in Scotland may soon be allowed to put wind turbines up to 3m high and 3.5m in diameter on their roofs without planning permission, under permitted development rules. Free-standing wind turbines as tall as 11m and at least 100m from neighbouring properties could also be allowed, except in conservation areas. Air-source heat pumps would also be allowed, even in conservation areas, if they were invisible from the road.

The proposals are due to be launched next Friday as part of an ongoing consultation on renewable energy.

Climate change minister Stewart Stevenson claims the proposals strike the right balance in the best interests of Scotland, claiming: "By cutting red tape in the planning system we can make it easier for households to generate their own clean, green energy." He argued that the proposals will boost Scotland's renewables sector, potentially generating new jobs.

There's still considerable controversy about the carbon efficiency of small scale wind turbines, with fears that they may not be able to save enough carbon during their operational life to repay the carbon debt incurred in their manufacture. And many urban sites will not have sufficient airflow to operate the turbines effectively. The plans do allow anemometer masts, which measure wind speed, on roofs and in gardens, for a maximum of 12 months, but it's possible that many homeowners will skip this step to reduce the expense.

Relaxing planning restrictions on renewables is generally a positive step, but much better information on the relative efficiency of different systems is essential to avoid people investing in sytems which, despite their good intentions, don't reduce carbon emissions.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Note to Greenpeace - it's not about the polar bears!

I spotted a banner on the excellent Greenbang site from Greenpeace, which is exhorting us to save the polar bear by donating £3 per month. Surely this kind of "save the fluffy animals" approach to climate change is way out of date? It's not that I don't care about the polar bears, but much more is at stake. And photos of cute creatures simply trivialise the largest single threat to mankind ever. It's our own extinction we're facing, not some animal most of us have only encountered in zoos.

It's not that I don't applaud Greenpeace's work, I just think they need better ads - especially on a site like Greenbang, which is likely to attract readers already quite well informed on climate issues. Any species going extinct is a bad thing - but if we can save ourselves, the polar bears will survive too.

Ethical travel company drops offsets

Ethical Performance this month reports that has removed the facility for its customers to offset their travel emissions, arguing that effort needs to be reinvested into actually reducing greenhouse gases. The travel agent was established in 2001 with backing from private investors including Anita Roddick and was one of the first in the tourism industry to introduce an offset scheme. However, it now feels that carbon mitigation must be its first priority and that offseting distracts from the real issues. turns over more than £10m and offers a choice of 3,500 holidays, all of which can be booked as "land only" packages that don't involve flying. It now offers "carbon cautions" to customers, giving advice on reducing emissions through lifestyle changes. Its actions are likely to be welcomed by NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, which has called offset schemes "a dangerous distraction", and Sinkswatch, which says that offsetting schemes run the risk of exacerbating climate change by providing a false expectation that they are making a difference.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

UK Government announces boiler scappage scheme

Today's announcement of a new boiler scrappage scheme will be good news for people struggling to meet the cost of upgrading old, energy-inefficient boilers. And, unlike the car scrappage scheme, it actually promotes the adoption of more energy efficient products. A payment of £400 can be claimed from the Energy Saving Trust by any householder replacing a G rated boiler with an A rated one, and boilers can be purchased from any authorised installer. The large energy companies are likely to offer a £400 reduction in price to match the government's contribution, but buyer beware - their prices are often higher than independent installers, so it pays to shop around.

The government estimates that domestic heating is responsible for 14% of the UK's carbon emissions; the scrappage scheme will reduce energy bills by an average of £235 per year, saving as much CO2 as taking 45,000 cars off the road. The £50m fund will only cover the rebate for 125,000 households of the estimated 3.5 million with G rated boilers, so it pays to act quickly. You can check your eligibility here.