Friday, 29 October 2010

Oil - The glass is half empty

This week saw the publication of 'The Post Peak World' by Dr Colin Campbell of the Institute for Policy Research and Development. It says that we have already passed the peak of oil discovery and that production of oil and gas from fossil sources will inevitably decline. Given much of our civilisation is based on fossil fuels this is disturbing reading. The concept of peak oil is well established and has moved from a concern of environmentalists to well informed former oil company insiders. The oil companies themselves play down the peak oil debate and their own brand of denial pushes the issue down the political agenda. But it is coming.

Dr Campbell outlines a future where oil goes up to 100 dollars a barrel and where the world population falls by billions to a level half what it is today in 40 years. All pretty apocalyptic stuff.  Modern food production is highly dependent on oil and therefore food production and prices are highly sensitive to the cost and availabity of oil. It seems crazy that we are actually using oil to produce plastic bags and useless plastic rubbish from mainly China when oil should be used carefully and sparingly. It gives an additional push for renewable energy in a post oil world.

Today I've been in a Council briefing on the Kirklees budget issues we face and quite rightly we are looking at how we deal with the cuts being passed down by central government and it is truly horrendous. We are as we know 'in a deficit situation' a financial deficit and the Tories (and Lib Dems) tells us we are living way beyond our needs. Whereas money is an artificial construct, oil is a very real commodity and a limited resource which we have been using at an alarming rate. We are effectively in an 'oil and gas deficit' with consequences which affect our very civilisation. We have to really understand and accept there's a problem before it can be addressed. We have a long way to go in a short time.

We have been here before of course back in the 70s with the OPEC crisis which prompted a flurry of concern about oil depletion and apocalpyptic films which the deniers point to as 'proof' that the peak oilers are crying 'wolf'. The other charge of course is that there is some sort of hankering to live in the past and that talk of  a transition to a low oil (and carbon) economy is anti - progress. This sort of talk is just dodging the issue, the problem exists and we have to find ways of dealing with it some of this will be using technology  to take us to a low carbon future and yes there will probably be some old skills that we have to employ to boost local food production. Anyway to reinforce a few prejudices about peak oilers here's 'Heavy Horses' by Jethro Tull from 1978 about a time when the 'Oil Barons have run dry' and when we will be using horses again to work the land.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Lib Dems - They don't like it up em!

Seeing a Lib Dem motion to Kirklees congratulating the Coalition Govt on it's commitment to tackling climate change was somewhat annoying having seen cut after cut in energy programmes and broken promises associated with the new feed in tariff. So the Green Party Amendment listed many of these and annoyed the Lib Dems because of the length of the amendment but then there were a lot of cuts and broken promises. They also claimed the amendment was inaccurate but never really identified exactly what was inaccurate about it. There was an inaccuracy in the amendment. It said that funding for the Green Investment Bank had been scaled down from £6Billion to £2 Billion. Following the Spending Review yesterday this figure went down to £1Billion. Our apologies!

The focus of the Lib Dem motion was the new right for Councils to sell renewable electricity they generate back to the grid and this is indeed welcome but there are a few 'howevers'. One particular 'however' is the fact that a promise to extend the Feed In Tariff to early adopters of renewable technologies such as pioneers like Kirklees has now been dropped by the Coalition government. This means that thousands of  pounds worth of funds that could have come to Kirklees now will not. The Lib Dems called for a Green Energy Action Plan to take advantage of the Feed In Tariffs. At no point in the debate did they mention the programmes already being planned such as the £650k worth of PV for Council Buildings or the £12 million for Council buildings, probably because they've had nothing to do with it. You can imagine however that a few months down the line a Lib Dem leaflet will appear somehow linking themselves with these developments. They do have some form in this regard. They poured scorn on the Green Party amendments for a free area based solar photovoltaic programme across Kirklees saying it was 'unaffordable' and a 'fantasy'. They are clearly not following developments in the capital financing of PV projects across the country where all the capital costs and more of the projects are being met by the feed in tariff. Indeed businesses are being set up seemingly weekly offering free PV. A Council led scheme could offer value for money and spread the benefit to households beyond those which are dead on due south with large roofs.

Anyway for your delectation here is the Lib Dem Motion and the Green Amendment. For the record the Green amendment was defeated by the Cons and Lib Dems but was supported by many Labour Cllrs. The Lib Dem motion was passed.

Lib Dem motion

Coalition Government's Commitment to Tackling Climate Change

This Council congratulates the Coalition Government for their positive commitment to tackling climate change.

Council welcomes the decision by the Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne to allow local councils to sell renewable energy to the grid, overturning a ban on this activity by the previous Government.

Council recognises that we have a vital role to play in the switch to a new low carbon economy. This decision will allow us to take full advantage of the feed-in tariff and deliver long term benefits to support services delivered by this council.

The availability of feed in tariffs will provide this council with an opportunity to generate a significant income and reduce our energy bills via increased micro generation.

This Council therefore calls upon the Cabinet to urgently develop a “Green Energy Action Plan” to maximise the benefits and identify potential savings that can be delivered via the use of feed-in tariffs.

Green Party Amendment

Delete all after ‘This Council’ insert

‘questions the Coalition Government’s commitment to tackling climate change based on:-

• the breaking of a promise by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats prior to the election to include early adopters of solar panels such as Kirklees in the Feed In Tariff

• the abolition of the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Spatial Strategy which would have provided strong policies to encourage microgeneration in new buildings.

• the breaking of a commitment by the Liberal Democrats not to support new nuclear power stations the cost of which will now be borne by the public.

• the end of a commitment by the previous government to insulate all lofts and cavity walls where technically possible to 2020.

• the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission which actually saved the Government money.

• Cuts of £12.6m from The Carbon Trust's grant for low carbon technology and business support funding from DECC

• Cuts of £4.7m by cancelling final rounds of Bio-Energy Capital Grants Scheme and Bio-Energy Infrastructure Scheme

• Cuts of £3m by reducing the scope of the Offshore Wind Capital Grants Scheme

• Cuts of £3m from closing the Low Carbon Buildings Programme early

• £2.9m cuts by reducing the scope of the government's Low Carbon Technology Programme

• £1m cut to funding for development of deep geothermal energy generation

• £700,000 cut by the closing of renewable technology trials early

• The damage caused to the solar thermal, biomass and heat pump industry by the long period of speculation over the future of the Renewable Heat Incentive

• The damage caused to the solar PV and small wind industry by long speculation over the future of the Feed In Tariff

• The reported reduction in the Feed In Tariff by 10%

• The halving in funding for Carbon Capture and Storage Projects

• The reduction in funding from the proposed £6Billion to £2 Billion for the Green Investment Bank

• The proposed abolition of the Warm Front scheme for Low Income households

• The 10% increase in funding for nuclear decommissioning

• The cancelling of the Severn Barrage which could have provided 5% of the UK's electricity needs

This Council has the following concerns about the Coalition Government’s ‘Green Deal’

• An over emphasis on supermarkets as the deliverer of the Green Deal when clearly Council schemes such as the free insulation provided by Kirklees Council demonstrably deliver high numbers of measures while schemes lead by supermarkets have performed poorly.

• The reported omission of microgeneration from the Green Deal finance package

• A loan mechanism will not be the most cost effective way of funding low cost measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation.

This Council calls on the Coalition Government to ensure the Green Deal

• makes Councils a key partner and/or deliverer of the programme.

• enables area based approaches for the delivery of insulation and microgeneration measures

• has a cost effective way of delivering low cost measures such as insulation measures

This Council calls on the Cabinet to

• develop a free area based solar photovoltaic programme to be made available to all households where technically possible and where there is no impact on Council budgets.

• Add carbon reduction as a 5th Council Priority

• Develop a comprehensive action plan to reduce carbon which based including energy conservation, energy efficiency, behavioral change and green energy.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Blooming Bonkers

Thursday this week I returned to my old sixth form Greenhead College for a Green Question Time session. No Labour or Conservative representatives were available but the 'Greenest Government Ever' was represented by Liberal Democrat Cllr Ann Denham and we had the treat of a UKIP representative in the form of Godfrey Bloom MEP. He's a fully paid up climate change denier and believes its all part of a conspiracy to make lots of money. I of course got stuck into him and defended his right to believe manmade climate chamge didn't exist, I also said I would defend his right to believe in Pixies if he so wished. All good fun but it was the students who really impressed me. After Godfrey told them not to accept anything they were told at face value they took him at his word and relentlessly challenged him on the rather dodgy 'evidence' he presented. Godfrey's the chap who has referred to Greenpeace as terrorists and defended the action of the French when they blew up the Rainbow Warrior killing one of the crew. He also has some rather 'traditional' some may say old fashioned views about the role of women. He had a young familiar in the audience who blamed Greenpeace for the deaths of thousands from malaria in Africa due to their opposition to the widespread use of DDT. You could spot him he was the only one in a suit. The Greenhead Students rounded on him too.

Godfrey represents a constituency of opinion, not one of knowledge, not of logic, just opinion. There is a foaming mouth tendency among certain folk which is reflected by groups like the Taxpayers Alliance, the Daily Mail and of course UKIP. They recognise cost but not value, they would rather be wrong than be seen as 'politically correct' and they don't just deny climate change but change and reality in general. The problem is with people like Godfrey being simple folk is they give simplistic explanations of the world around them, that linked with his cut price Boris Johnson characteristics means that he can be a hit with a not too discriminating audience. This definitely wasn't the case at Greenhead College however.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Denby Dale Passivhaus

Here's a film about the Denby Dale Passivhaus completed this year. I saw it during construction an at its opening and I'm incredibly impressed by the work the groundbreaking work the Green Building Company have done on this project. The estimated heating costs are around £75/year and around £100 for the hot water (though the solar thermal system may reduce that cost). It is of national significance as it uses cavity construction and so could by replicated by the building industry across the UK. The commitment to reducing energy demand through airtightness, super insulation standards and heat recovery ventilation is impressive. Great to see such an important project in the Huddersfield area.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Flocking to Grange Moor as the Eco Childrens Centre opens

Sheepswool insulation ready to be rolled out.
Today was the opening of a new Childrens Centre in Grange Moor in the Kirkburton Ward. It's a real acheivement for Kirklees and has a very high green specification. The walls are highly insulated with wool from local sheep, it has a green roof using sedum and is heated using an air sourced heat pump. Most importantly the kids, the local mums and dads and the staff like the building. I and Parish Cllr Michelle Atkinson were lucky enough to look round the building during construction and experienced first hand the enthusiasm of the builders for the eco features of the new centre they were working on. One particularly satisfying thing was that it was partly financed by the Renewable Energy Fund established by the Green Party in a budget amendment over 10 years ago now. I mentioned this to one of the Conservative Councillors in Kirkburton Ward today and she got all unnecessarily unpleasant asking what I was doing there. I came up with a bizarre spurious answer saying I was a Kirkburton Parish Councillor and it's a Childrens Centre for the whole of the Kirkburton area. Dubious I know.

Parish Cllr Michelle Atkinson with the wool
With the price of wool dropping , finding a new insulation market for sheepswool could be a real boon for many hill farmers. It won't replace mineral fibre wool overnight but it could play an increasingly important role in prestige buildings where the low embodied energy of construction products will be valued. From this base sheepswool could go on to become a much more mainstream product. Here's a picture of Michelle doing what you couldn't do with fibre glass insulation without gloves and and a paper suit.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Who is going to clean your house George?

A blue feather duster

George Osborne's announcement that there is to be a new cap placed on Housing Benefit for people in areas with higher rents is going to make it less likely that we have mixed communities with a range of incomes.

Far from being workless many households on very low incomes have family members carrying out low paid jobs such as cleaning streets, homes and offices. Of course many can, and do, contribute to the rents to the tenant of the property, usually the parents. The tenant could be retired or unable to work due to illness or disability. All this new cut will mean to the tenants or occupants of these homes is a reduction in their income and possibly further pricing them out of the communities that they may have lived in for many years.

This is actually part of a confused theme running through this government of moving  people on low incomes around the country. It was only a few months ago that we had Iain Duncan- Smith telling us that he wanted families in council houses in deprived areas to move to council houses in affluent areas so they could get work - see link. There were many echoes of Norman Tebbit's 'On yer bike' speech from the 80s. Of course as we know it was a non policy as there are huge waiting lists for limited numbers of council houses,(Conservative /Labour 'Right to Buy' policies) and this is more pronounced in more affluent areas. So where would these job seekers go if they want to clean George Osbourne's floor? That's right, to the private rented sector but haven't we capped the benefits making it more difficult for them to live near George. Yes we have. Of course the real answer is to put a cap on the rents not on the benefits but that would put a cap on the earnings of private landlords which may not go down too well with some Conservatives who may have interests in this area of the economy. The only crumb of comfort is the unlikely vision of George Osborne having to clean his own house.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The pickled politics behind local government budget cuts

Jabba the Hut - Intergalactic Gangster
The annual Kirklees Council budget setting process has begun and early. It is usually another couple of months before everything kicks off from a Councillor point of view, but what with the governments cuts agenda it pays to start early I guess. Last Saturday we had a meeting at the Deighton Centre to kick the process off. The meeting was not an official Council meeting, no decisions are made there and the idea is to inform Councillors and to explore ideas for handling the truly terrible economic situation the government(s) have put us in. The meeting is held under budget protocols meaning that Cllrs are free to express ideas without them being reported wider so as not to 'send hares running' on things that may or may not happen. So what can I tell you? All Parties on the Council were represented, around 18 Councillors present, the Chief Exec and around 4 other Senior Council officers. The background to much of what was discussed is known with anywhere between 25% and 40% cuts in budgets. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this will mean some very difficult choices going forward and a lot of pain. You can imagine how I felt reading an article in'First' magazine by Eric Pickles MP, the Communities and Local Government Minister entitled, 'A new golden age'. It was all about localism or as Eric puts it,

"Instead of demanding that councils report back to me on everything they do, it means expecting that they become much more accountable to local residents instead"

So lets get this right, the Coalition Government cuts funding to local authorities and then Councillors have to be accountable for the 'choices' they make. Of course there's very little choice in reality. This week has been redundancy/retirement week at Kirklees Council. The numbers of staff leaving the Council is huge,  around 500 are gone with around another 1000 to go over the next few months but even this will not be enough services will have to be cut further to satisfy government demands or as Eric puts it,

"For the first time, councils will have real power and a real say over how money gets spent. "

another particularly irritating quote,

"We've cut the apron strings which have tied (Councils) to Whitehall for too long, giving them freedom to act on behalf of their residents,"

This is just utter tosh and a degree of spin that would make Mandelson blush (OK maybe not). People are being 'freed' of local facilities, services and income. He makes a virtue of getting rid of reporting such as that needed for the Comprehensive Performance Assessment and more reporting to citizens on how ther money is spent. OK but we do need to report on the impact on public services, the jobs lost, the impact on the wider economy, the health and social impact of cuts, the loss of public facilities. The Conservatives and their Lib Dem henchmen should not be allowed off the hook for their actions.

They are accountable too!