Onshore wind refusals rise for fifth successive year

Nearly half of onshore wind applications in England were rejected in 2013, according to new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) figures which also reveal that the proportion of such applications refused has risen for five straight years.

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The statistics, published in a written Parliamentary answer, show that 141 onshore wind applications involving projects with a generation capacity greater than 0.01 megawatts (MW) were approved and 134 refused in 2013.The proportion of onshore wind applications rejected has increased each year for the past five years, jumping from 35.9 per cent in 2012 to 48.7 per cent in 2013, the figures reveal.

The statistics also show that the total capacity of the approved applications had fallen by 37 per cent in the last year, from 2,140MW in 2012 to 1,346MW in 2013. But the capacity of refused applications increased by more than 47 per cent over the same period, from 856MW to 1,262MW.

The figures also suggest a trend towards more, smaller onshore wind applications. The average generation capacity of the applications decided in England in 2013 was 9.5MW, down from 12.2MW in 2012 and 10.7MW in 2011, according to the data.

Philip Lewis, regional director Northern England for environmental advisers Atmos Consulting, said that approval rates may have fallen because “onshore wind development has been taking place for a number of years and it is becoming more challenging to identify sites which will be consented in England”.

Lewis added that the refusal rate may also have risen due to the increase in number of smaller applications. He said that such proposals “often do not have the same level of professional support”.

Paul Maile, a partner at law firm Eversheds, said that the increasing number of applications for smaller-sized schemes was not a surprise. He said: “The technology has advanced. Farmers see (wind power) as an income. I suspect there are a number of local authorities supporting smallto medium-sized schemes to demonstrate support for renewables. This makes it harder to approve bigger commercial developments in the same area.”

A study published last November by trade body Renewable UK found that the average generation capacity of UK onshore wind farms that are gaining planning permission is declining and more schemes are being approved at appeal. In its annual report on the state of the industry, the body said that the average size of a project consented in 2012/13 was 11MW, down from 14MW in 2011/12.

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How to tell a male robin from a female robin

Robin's NestAt every garden I visit just now, I am attended by one or two robins (Erithacus rubecula). They look and behave so much alike that, when there is just the one robin in attendance, it almost feels like the same bird is following me about from one garden to another. You read that male and female robins are identical, but this is not the case – there is a difference, but it is slight and because robins often stand side-on when they’re watching us, it isn’t easy to see. The difference is seen in what can be described as the ‘hairline’ and is clearly shown in the linked photographs here; the female bird’s hairline is ‘V’ shaped and the male’s is ‘U’ shaped. You can make out the ‘V’ in the picture below (taken with a zoom lens from some distance away). Since the eggs are incubated by the female only, this makes the distinction clear.

During late winter and early spring, robins form pairs and this makes it easier to tell male and female apart. It was only a week ago, when a pair of mated robins were bold enough to stand facing me for some minutes, just a metre away from where I was kneeling, that the difference became truly obvious. One robin had a distinct ‘V’ hairline and the other had a much flatter ‘U’ hairline. The two birds watched every move I made as I weeded through a rockery, darting forward to pick up worms and insects and then moving back to keep their vigil a short distance away.

The habit robins have of following gardeners is age old and at one time, when there were fewer humans, they more often followed wild pigs to find the food unearthed by the pigs’ foraging snouts. This is called ‘commensal feeding’, with humans being the ‘beaters’ and robins being the ‘attendants’. It isn’t confined to robins, either; think of the gulls and crows that follow the farmer’s plough. Blackbirds do it as well – there have been many occasions when I’ve dug a planting hole, gone to pick up the plant and returned to find a blackbird in the hole, busy finding worms.

Robins are extremely territorial and their behaviour towards each other outside the mating season is hostile, sometimes resulting in fights to the death, but during late winter and spring they make charming company for gardeners. Some are restless, flitting from branch to ground, others will sit in a nearby shrub and sing their quiet, wistful sub-song. The reason for sub-song is probably that they are singing to themselves, but it is easy to hold the impression that it is sung for us alone, for surely no other bird could hear it.

From ‘Address to a Robin’

Come, sweetest of the feathered throng,
And soothe me with thy plaintive song;
Come to my cot, devoid of fear,
No danger shall await thee here…

Hop o’er my cheering hearth, and be
One of my peaceful family
Then soothe me with thy plaintive song,
Thou sweetest of the feathered throng.

Edward Jenner (1749-1823)

SOURCE – RHS

14 New Northants Local Wildlife Sites

harebellFollowing survey work by the Wildlife Trust last summer 14 new Local Wildlife Sites have been recognised across Northamptonshire. Despite the wet weather, and alongside a troup of volunteers, I surveyed over 70 sites across the county, including existing and potential new wildlife sites. The results were great news with the many of the existing sites in good condition and 14 new sites discovered – not bad for a county recently described by a Plantlife report as ‘botanically luckless’.

The new sites included a number of acid grasslands (a perfectly safe but rare Northants habitat that is important for insects and reptile and birds), wildflower meadows, a species rich road verge and the counties only remaining sphagnum bog. These are a mixture of new discoveries that have eluded surveyors in past years (it’s amazing how well wildflower meadows can hide away in lesser visited parts of the county), combined with sites that have developed through wildlife friendly management, the latter showing that the hard work by conservation organisations, landowners and famers in recent years is really paying off!

I may be biased but Local Wildlife Sites (aka County Wildlife Sites in Beds and Cambs) make a vital but often unrecognised contribution to our counties wildlife. In fact they are the most important areas for wildlife outside of legally protected sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). They come in a range of shapes and sizes and include wildflower meadows, ancient woodlands, wetlands, churchyards, old quarries and roadside verges. As the name suggest they are hugely important for our local wildlife, with a wealth of species depending on these sites, including many rare plants, insects and mammals. With the recent additions there are now 754 Local Wildlife Sites across Northamptonshire – so plenty of surveying to keep me busy, fingers crossed for a drier summer this year!

But it’s not all about surveying. As well as identifying and monitoring all important wildlife habitats across the county through a periodic surveying programme, there is a second important reason for running the Wildlife Site system. That’s to help land managers to maintain or improve their sites for wildlife, by providing free advice and information to landowners on managing these sites. In Northants 37% of Local Wildlife Sites are classed as being positively managed for wildlife, a number that has gone up annually since we started monitoring this in 2009, another positive for our wildlife!

However, that leaves many sites in need of improved management. This has led to the, SITA-funded project, Inspiring Meadows, an exciting project which is restoring wildflower meadow sites through working with landowners by offering free wildlife surveys and management advice, as well as funding for practical work to restore meadow habitats and help long-term management. Work over the winter has included fencing and providing access to water at seven sites, allowing better management through conservation grazing and I’m looking forward to seeing the benefits of the work this summer.

If you are not already help us continue this great work in Northamptonshire by becoming a member of your local Trust. (Source – WTBCN)

100 GW of Solar PV Now Installed in the World Today

416138_347722131972086_1739595764_oCumulative global installed solar PV capacity has topped the 100-gigawatt (GW) milestone, according to preliminary numbers from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). Roughly 30 GW worldwide was connected to the grid in 2012, about the same as in 2011; there could be another 1-2 GW added to that 2012 total once final numbers come out in May.

Note these are defined as “systems connected to the grid” to emphasize the electricity-generation theme. Europe’s 69 GW of total installed capacity is enough to produce roughly 2.6% of the region’s electricity demand this year, and about 5.2% of peak electricity demand, according to the EPIA.

There’s another important milestone in the EPIA’s tally of solar PV. Countries outside of Europe connected 13 GW, up from 8 GW in 2011 and just 3 GW in 2010; at the same time Europe’s PV installations fell from 23 GW in 2011 to 17 GW in 2012, its first decline since 2006.

The table below spells it out. Eight nations added at least a gigawatt of grid-connected capacity in 2012: Germany, China, Italy, the U.S., Japan, France, the U.K., and India. Thirteen nations (up from 8 in 2011) are in the gigawatt-club of cumulative solar installations: Germany, Italy, the U.S., China, Japan, Spain, France, Belgium, Australia, the Czech Republic, the U.K., Greece, and India.

“No one would have predicted even 10 years ago that we would see more than 100 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity in the world by 2012,” stated EPIA President Winfried Hoffmann. Despite tough economic times and regulatory uncertainty, “the results of 2012 show there is a strong global market for our technology,” he said. “The key going forward will be to address these new market challenges and continue policies that help PV technology to grow sustainably, continuing its evolution to a mainstream electricity source.”

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Largest markets, with at least 100-MW installed during 2012 or in total. (Source: EPIA)

Some countries are worth highlighting for their solar adoption even in the face of less than friendly regulatory environments. France and the UK, for example, each installed over 1 GW of solar capacity in 2012; Greece installed just shy of 1 GW during its crippling economic recession. “That shows how much potential there is there even in face of policy adversity,” observed Craig Winneker, head of political communications at the EPIA. Moreover, France represents the positive influence of policy changes toward solar energy adoption, having recently announced an unexpected boost in its support for solar. “France is now singing a different tune” after a change in the political scene in 2012, he said. China, meanwhile, continues to be a strong market, basically doubling its capacity in 2012.

Policy decisions cut both ways, though. Spain’s market famously overheated and then overreacted to the overheating, and now the government has basically implemented a moratorium on any support for the technology, connecting just 200 MW of solar in 2012, notes the EPIA: “The long-expected net-metering scheme was never introduced, and there are doubts as to whether it ever will be, given the government’s fear of creating another boom.” Nevertheless, Spain remains “an obvious place” for solar energy to proliferate given its high irradiation and ideal land setting for the technology, added Winneker. Another start-stop solar market, the Czech Republic, installed 116 MW in 2012, similarly well off its levels from 2009-2010; they, too, “had their foot too heavily on the gas, and then hit the brakes too hard,” he said.

What can we expect for 2013 solar PV installations? Another 30 GW or even more is entirely possible, the EPIA says, with 10-15 GW of grid-connected solar installations in Europe “in line with the market reality.” Germany should see more self-consumption in residential and commercial markets (especially with new energy storage incentives) and declining PV system prices, but likely won’t achieve close to 7+ GW of grid-connection. Italy could see similar market trends as Germany, at a smaller scale. Broadly, the shift of solar PV adoption away of Europe will continue; China is likely to unseat Germany as the top PV market with its target of 10 GW this year, and big growth is expected to continue — and continues to be expected — in the U.S., Japan, and India.

Source – http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/

EU Proposes to Ban Insecticides Linked to Bee Decline

Damian on bees : Bees flys over a sunflower in a sunflower field in Lopburi provinceInsecticides linked to serious harm in bees could be banned from use on flowering crops in Europe as early as July, under proposals set out by the European commission on Thursday, branded “hugely significant” by environmentalists. The move marks remarkably rapid action after evidence has mounted in recent months that the pesticides are contributing to the decline in insects that pollinate a third of all food.

Three neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used insecticides, which earn billions of pounds a year for their manufacturers, would be forbidden from use on corn, oil seed rape, sunflowers and other crops across the continent for two years.

It was time for “swift and decisive action”, said Tonio Borg, commissioner for health and consumer policy, who added that the proposals were “ambitious but proportionate”.

The proposals will enter EU law on 25 February if a majority of Europe’s member states vote in favour. France and the Netherlands are supportive but the UK and Germany are reported to be reluctant.

“It’s important that we take action based upon scientific evidence rather than making knee-jerk decisions that could have significant knock-on impacts,” said the environment secretary, Owen Paterson. “That’s why we are carrying out our own detailed field research to ensure we can make a decision about neonicotinoids based on the most up-to-date and complete evidence available.”

Luis Morago, at campaign group Avaaz which took an anti-neonicotinoid petition of 2.2m signatures to Brussels, said: “This is the first time that the EU has recognised that the demise of bees has a perpetrator: pesticides. The suspension could mark a tipping point in the battle to stop the chemical armageddon for bees, but it does not go far enough. Over 2.2 million people want the European commission to face-down spurious German and British opposition and push for comprehensive ban of neonicotinoid pesticides.”

Keith Taylor, Green party MEP for South East England MEP, said: “For too long the threat to bees from neonicotinoids has been dismissed, minimised or ignored. It is, therefore, good to see the European commission finally waking up. Bees have enormous economic value as pollinators and are vital to farmers. Let us hope that we’re not too late in halting the dramatic decline in their population.”

Scientific evidence has mounted rapidly since March 2012, when two high-profile studies found that bees consuming neonicotinoids suffered an 85% loss in the number of queens their nests produced and showed a doubling in “disappeared” bees who got lost while foraging. Neonicotinoids have been fiercely defended by their manufacturers, who claim there is no proof of harm in field conditions and by farming lobbies who say crop yields could fall without pesticide protection. Some neonicotinoid uses have been banned in the past in France, Italy, Slovenia and Germany, but no action has yet been taken in the UK. A parliamentary committee is currently investigating the impact of neonicotinoids on all pollinators and found evidence raising “serious questions about the integrity, transparency and effectiveness of EU pesticides regulation”.

On 16 January, the European Food Safety Authority, official advisers to the EC, labelled the three neonicotinoids an unacceptable danger to bees feeding on flowering crops and this prompted the proposal produced on Thursday. If approved by experts from member states on 25 February, it would suspend the use imidacloprid and clothianidin, made by Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by Syngenta, on crops that attract bees. Winter cereals would be excluded, because bees are not active at that time, and the suspension would be reviewed after two years. The European commission is also considering banning gardeners from using these neonicotinoids, although B&Q, Homebase and Wickes have already withdrawn such products from their garden centres in the UK.

“This hugely significant proposal promises a first, important step on the road to turning around the decline on our bees,” said Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton. “The UK government must throw its weight behind it. The evidence linking neonicotinoid chemicals to declining bee populations is growing. It is time to put farmers and nature before pesticide company profits. Ministers must act quickly to support safe and effective alternatives to chemical insecticides.”

Source – The Guardian

Nicholas Stern: ‘I got it wrong on climate change – it’s far, far worse’

thCAJLLEV3Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more “blunt” about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”

The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four “. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”

He said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, but governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies.

“This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”

Stern said he backed the UK’s Climate Change Act, which commits the government to ambitious carbon reduction targets. But he called for increased investment in greening the economy, saying: “It’s a very exciting growth story.”

David Cameron made much of his environmental credentials before the 2010 election, travelling to the Arctic to highlight his commitment to tackling global warming. But the coalition’s commitment to green policies has recently been questioned, amid scepticism among Tory backbenchers about the benefits of wind power, and the chancellor’s enthusiasm for exploiting Britain’s shale gas reserves.

Stern’s comments came as Jim Yong Kim, the new president of the World Bank, also at Davos, gave a grave warning about the risk of conflicts over natural resources should the forecast of a four-degree global increase above the historical average prove accurate.

“There will be water and food fights everywhere,” Kim said as he pledged to make tackling climate change a priority of his five-year term.

Kim said action was needed to create a carbon market, eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies and “green” the world’s 100 megacities, which are responsible for 60 to 70% of global emissions.

He added that the 2012 droughts in the US, which pushed up the price of wheat and maize, had led to the world’s poor eating less. For the first time, the bank president said, extreme weather had been attributed to man-made climate change. “People are starting to connect the dots. If they start to forget, I am there to remind them.

“We have to find climate-friendly ways of encouraging economic growth. The good news is we think they exist”.

Kim said there would be no solution to climate change without private sector involvement and urged companies to seize the opportunity to make profits: “There is a lot of money to be made in building the technologies and bending the arc of climate change.”

George Osborne hints at watering-down of UK’s commitment to cutting carbon dioxide emissions

thCAJAVL91George Osborne gave a strong signal that he intends to water down Britain’s commitment to cutting its carbon dioxide emissions over the next 15 years, threatening tens of billions of pounds of vital investment in renewable energy generators.

Paving the way for a rush into gas that would make it virtually impossible for Britain to meet its emissions targets next decade, Mr Osborne said Britain would be able to produce far more energy from gas if the carbon ceiling for the five years to the end of 2027 “is revised upwards and emissions reductions are more gradual”.

Mr Osborne added: “We are also reiterating that our approach to decarbonisation trajectories will continue to stay in step with other EU countries throughout the 2020s.”

Britain has already met Europe’s target of a 20 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, while analysts believe there is little prospect of the continent setting a target for the next decade that is as strong as the one the UK currently has.

“This is very regrettable. The uncertainty over the Government’s commitment to decarbonisation will further weaken investor confidence. It will also make it much harder to hit our 2050 emissions target,” said Dr Robert Gross, director of Imperial College’s Centre for Energy Policy, who advised the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Department for Energy and Climate Change on the recent Energy Bill.

Even with the dash-to-gas, Britain desperately needs substantial investment in wind, solar, biomass, water and other renewable energy projects. However, figures released earlier this week show that potential investors are being put off backing low-carbon energy generators because of uncertainty about subsidy levels and the government’s commitment to reduce emissions. They are particularly perturbed by the decision to remove a legally-binding target from last week’s Energy Bill that would have made electricity generation almost entirely green by 2030 – although there is a possibility of an amendment to return it to the bill as it passes through Parliament.

They show that private investment in large-scale renewable energy projects has tumbled from a peak of $10.61bn (£6.6bn) in 2009 to just $3.63bn in the first nine months of this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

If Britain is to meet its legally binding target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels, it needs to have cut its carbon footprint by about 55 per cent by 2027, the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) advised the Government in the fourth in a series of five-year carbon budgets designed to keep the country on track.

However, while the CCC’s first three carbon budgets were waved through by the Labour Party and David Cameron supported the fourth one last year, Mr Osborne won a key concession that will allow him to review it in 2014.

“The Government expects up to 26 gigawatts (GW) of new gas capacity could be required by 2030 on current carbon budgets. If the fourth carbon budget is revised upwards and emissions reductions are more gradual, then up to 37 GW of new plant could be required,” the Autumn Statement said yesterday.

The Treasury declined to comment on whether Mr Osborne was planning to relax the fourth carbon budget.

Source – http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/george-osborne-hints-at-wateringdown-of-uks-commitment-to-cutting-carbon-dioxide-emissions-8389342.html