Category Archives: environment

Does the Government Care About Wind Power or Not?

The answer is at the heart of why people, specifically young people, aren’t bothering to vote. They see bankers destroying their own industry through arrogance and greed, and being bailed out by the government with taxpayers’ money – despite not essentially changing their behaviour one iota. They see banks nationalised because, apparently, it’s in the ‘national interest’. When wind turbine producing firm Vestas goes to the wall however, the result is entirely different:

Around 30 workers facing redundancy took over the management suite at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight. Police reinforcements were brought in but workers claimed they would not leave until the government stepped in to save the factory and more than 500 jobs.

One of those barricaded in with sleeping bags and enough food to last days, gave his name as Michael. He argued that it was “crazy” for energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband to be making “statement after statement” about green energy but standing by as the factory closed down. “It would be a tiny step financially to keep this factory open, but it would be a huge statement about the government’s commitment to the green economy,” he said.

The Newport factory is due to close at the end of the month. The Danish company that owns it has refused to comment on the protest, but when the cuts were announced it cited a “lack of political initiatives” and an obstructive planning system.

Seumas Milne adds:

There are a string of ways in which the government could keep the Isle of Wight plant in the wind turbine business, from the nationalisation demanded by the workforce to taking a stake on the back of new investment to levering in another company. As Len McCluskey, frontrunner to be elected leader of Britain’s largest union Unite next year, argues: “Vestas is the clearest case for government intervention we could wish to see: 700 industrial jobs are being put at risk because of market failure in a sector the government is desperate to see expand. The workers are fighting for our economic and environmental future as well as their jobs.” In Scotland, a small turbine Vestas spinoff company was saved from collapse earlier this year by a Scottish government-backed takeover.

Whitehall insiders say the Vestas management wasn’t interested in cash support, blaming planning obstruction for the lack of a UK turbine market, and believe the government has already helped secure a Vestas offshore turbine R&D facility at the Isle of Wight site. Miliband, who announced greater control of planning and the dysfunctional privatised energy markets last week to drive green growth, insists: “We don’t think the market on its own will deliver the low carbon jobs of the future we need.”

So why doesn’t he intervene? The man himself adds:

We are unlikely to be a centre for onshore wind production, if up and down the country, and indeed on the Isle of Wight, onshore wind applications are consistently turned down. So we have to win a political argument that environmentally and industrially, onshore wind is part of the solution.

In the meantime, there must be a strategy for the Isle of Wight to do all we can to help and there is. Not just support for the workers who are losing their jobs, but a strategy to work with Vestas. They are keeping a prototype facility at the factory and we are currently considering an application from them for government help to test and develop offshore wind blades in a facility which would employ 150 people on the Isle of Wight initially and potentially more later.

Sorry Ed, but it’s not enough. Milne is right when he goes on to criticise your argument for a reliance on the market here, when your government was perfectly prepared to control the market in banking. Climate change can’t be the most important thing to tackle and not at the same time – the time for pleasing everyone is long past.  A ‘prototype facility’ is ridiculous when the jobs still exist, they’ll just be (again as Milne says) in Denmark and Germany, not to mention Colorado! Is Miliband prepared to underpin his agenda for green industries in the UK, both to combat climate change and to provide an environmentally sound industrial basis for pulling out of the recession, or not? Caroline Lucas correctly contrasts the absurdity of the government’s spending on ID cards (they aren’t going away), trident renewal (for what purpose exactly?), wars without end (with what strategy?) and road expansion (if you build them they will come), with their laissez-faire attitude to a market which is supposed to be important like no other. Jenkins however sounds a note of discord:

Meanwhile not a kilowatt is derived from the massive energy surging back and forth across estuarial Britain, because the start-up costs are high and there is no lobby for the rental subsidies that have made British onshore wind the most expensive energy source on earth. Water cascades unharnessed down mountains. Buildings leak energy. Vehicles sit burning fuel at badly phased traffic lights. Nobody cares because such energy conservation does not sit on an annual report like a photograph of a turbine.

I think this is an important point, and it does tie in to the criticism of Miliband’s position here. If wind power or tidal energy are going to be viable renewable energy sources, the Climate Change and Energy Secretary is going to have to intervene to make the renewables market work. That means acting where there is a need, and nationalising concerns like Vestas. Its main market is the United States? Fine, but the government has to decide whether or not the pressing needs of domestic energy diversification trump the need to maximise profits of a firm whose history has been to bully its workforce

Police Are Creatures of Energy Firms

Evidence that the police are actively being used for political purposes against dissent is continuing to emerge:

Government officials handed confidential police intelligence about environmental activists to the energy giant E.ON before a planned peaceful demonstration, according to private emails seen by the Guardian.

Correspondence between civil servants and security officials at the company reveals how intelligence was shared about the peaceful direct action group Climate Camp in the run-up to the demonstration at Kingsnorth, the proposed site of a new coal-fired power station in north Kent.

Intelligence passed to the energy firm by officials from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) included detailed information about the movements of protesters and their meetings. E.ON was also given a secret strategy document written by environmental campaigners and information from the Police National Information and Coordination Centre (PNICC), which gathers national and international intelligence for emergency planning.

At first officials at BERR refused to release the emails, despite a request under the Freedom of Information Act from the Liberal Democrats. The decision was reversed on appeal and although large sections have been blacked out, they show:

• BERR officials passed a strategy document belonging to the “environmental protest community” to E.ON, saying: “If you haven’t seen this then you will be interested in its contents.”

• Government officials forwarded a Metropolitan police intelligence document to E.ON, detailing the movements and whereabouts of climate protesters in the run-up to demonstration.

• E.ON passed its planning strategy for the protest to the department’s civil servants, adding: “Contact numbers will follow.”

• BERR and E.ON tried to share information about their media strategies before the protest, and civil servants asked the energy company for press contacts for EDF, BP and Kent police.

Last night the disclosures were criticised by environmentalists, MPs and civil liberty groups, adding to the growing controversy over the policing of protests.

We’ve already seen the effects of the government’s secret dealings with corporate energy at Kingsnorth, Bishopsgate and Ratcliffe-on-Soar. If anyone thinks that the latter two are coincidences after Kingsnorth think again – it’s increasingly clear that the police have been turned into a tool to support partisan corporate interests, significantly against climate/environment protest. George Monbiot reminds us:

Their treatment of the climate camp protesters at Kingsnorth last year was wildly disproportionate and repressive. They also appear to have misled the press on the power company’s behalf. The police claimed that if the protesters reached the power station, “there would have been a possible loss of power to over 300,000 homes”.

In fact E.ON had already shut down the power station, with no consequences for local people: hardly surprising in view of the fact that its electricity is sold on to the grid rather than supplied locally.

Now we learn that the police, the Department for Business and E.ON have been working together to thwart a peaceful protest, and sharing information obtained by bugging or informants. This is partisan policing: siding with one social sector against another. (I’ll examine the implications in my column tomorrow). Worse, both the police and the government appear to be taking their instructions from a multinational company.

Just who is running this country? And at what point do we decide that corporate power is making a mockery of democracy?

The almost identical lies presented as truth after the mass arrests at Ratcliffe-on-Soar are what we can expect in the future, particularly when now supine news organisations like the BBC repeat them as fact. The right to protest is being subverted by corporate interests, with the collusion of the government and the enforcement by the police.

The Rise of Corporate Policing?

Has anyone else been as bewildered as me about these arrests of ‘environmental protesters’ in Nottinghamshire?

The BBC reports:

The 114 people arrested at a Nottinghamshire school on Monday posed a “serious threat” to a nearby power station, police have claimed.

Officers said some of the protesters have links to climate change groups, but would not name any organisations.

Over 200 officers from five forces were involved in the operation at the Iona School in Sneinton.

A Nottinghamshire Police spokesman said the group were believed to be targeting the Ratcliffe-On-Soar coal-fired plant.

He added: “Information received during the operation indicates that a number of those arrested may be linked to a group of climate change protesters who have set up climate camps.

The Guardian reports:

A spokeswoman for E.ON said: “We can confirm that Ratcliffe power station was the planned target of an organised protest.

“While we understand that everyone has a right to protest peacefully and lawfully, this was clearly neither of those things so we will be assisting the police with their investigations into what could have been a very dangerous and irresponsible attempt to disrupt an operational power plant.”

Was it really ‘clearly neither of those things’? A pre-emptive arrest of 114 people because they ‘posed a serious threat’ to the local coal-fired power station? Hang on this doesn’t smell right, does it? The BBC’s reporting has completely changed tone this morning too – yesterday they reported that the police ‘had foiled a plot’ – to do what exactly? Local MP Alan Simpson said:

“The scale of it makes people think we are dealing with a major terrorist incident,” he said.

“We understand there were 200 officers involved and my instinctive reaction to that is to say, well there must be something to do with plans to blow something up, to commit a major disruption of society.

“My worry is that what we are talking about, in practice, something much smaller.”

Supt Mike Manley from Nottinghamshire Police said: “We believe this was a proportionate response to the risk.

“It is not for me to comment on the motivation of the protesters but we know from experience that such protests can lead to prolonged policing operations, putting police, protesters and staff at risk.”

So now we’re getting to the truth. This was a political action by the police again. We know from the Kingsnorth fiasco last summer that noone was put at risk by the protesters – noone. The police claimed that their violence against the protesters and abuse of the media was justified because of ‘violence against the police’ and on ‘terrorism’ grounds; neither proved to be true. There was no violence against the police whatsoever – their claims were subsequently found to be lies. So how should we interpret these mass arrests? The Independent says:

There is in this country, as in most democratic states, a right – express or implied – to free assembly. The mass arrest of more than 100 people gathered in the same place comes perilously close to infringing on that freedom.

There is also, and always must be, freedom to protest. The police made their arrests, citing conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage. The councillor hazarded that the planned action might have endangered the power supply across the region. The reference to equipment doubtless had a purpose, too.

But, if we have learned anything in recent months and years, it is that early accounts by police spokesmen to justify particular actions are not always to be relied upon. We saw this only 10 days ago after the death of Ian Tomlinson during the 1 April protests in the City of London. The police account of what happened in Nottingham in the early hours of Monday morning needs to be treated with similar rigour. Simply planning, or engaging in, a protest is not, and should never be, a reason for arrest.

The policing of climate change protests has often left a bitter taste. A Liberal Democrat report on the policing of last year’s climate camp, at Kingsnorth power station in Kent, condemned the vast police operation for tactics designed to intimidate and provoke. At power stations, as at airports, conflicting rights and interests converge: the commercial rights of the owners and operators, the rights of the paying customer, and the right of protesters to make their case. If our civil liberties are to be preserved, the right to protest is as important as the other two.

I think they’re right – we’re in an age where indeed the rights of E.ON, of customers and of protesters are in regular conflict with one another, be it at Kingsnorth, Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Bishopsgate or Heathrow. What’s alarming is that the police’s role in managing this conflict is erring on the side constantly of corporate or political interest interests. I’ll be interested to see where this goes, at least in Ratcliffe. The police are regularly demonising climate camp protesters, and each time their claims are proven to be lies – even at Bishopsgate where they were preemptively attacked by riot police for no reason. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty said:

“In the light of the policing of the G20 protests, people up and down the country will want to be confident that there was evidence of a real conspiracy to commit criminal damage by those arrested and that this was not just an attempt by the police to disrupt perfectly legitimate protest.”

Heathrow’s Third Runway: Dead?

It looks as if a major blow has been dealt against the putative third runway at Heathrow:

According to a presentation by the Department for Transport, seen by the Guardian, BAA is not expected to seek planning permission for a third runway until 2012. The last possible date for a general election is 3 June 2010 and BAA’s best hope for expanding Heathrow is to submit an application by then.

However, executives at the airport group have conceded that it will be impossible to compile the plans and data necessary for an application by that date. Under the DfT timetable, any BAA planning application is likely to be submitted under a Tory administration that has vowed to obstruct Heathrow’s expansion.

The DfT presentation deals a further blow to BAA’s ambitions by conceding that the government document that must underpin a planning request for major infrastructure, a national policy statement, will not be ready until 2011. A national policy statement is a key guide for any planning decision by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, the newly created body that will evaluate a Heathrow proposal.

Anti-expansion campaigners said the DfT document confirmed that the odds of Heathrow getting a third runway were diminishing. “There is no way that BAA can get planning permission before the next general election. The chances that a third runway will never be built are increasing all the time,” said John Stewart, chair of the Hacan ClearSkies campaign group.

Good news that BAA simply don’t have the time to assemble all the information needed for the planning application before the next general election. Bad news would be the trade off  in the Tories winning that election – greater environmental protection; intended abolition however of the Human Rights Act! Which is preferable, given that the current voting system still encourages a binary choice between Labour and the Tories?