Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sun continues to set on feed-in tariffs as plans for cuts are laid out

Sun continues to set on feed-in tariffs as plans for cuts are laid out

17 February 2012

Solar feed-in tariffs have been the environmental hot topic these past few months, but on February 9 the final terms were set in stone.

The new system that governs feed-in tariffs was apparently necessary because of the reduction in cost in installation but also due to the surprisingly large amount of people that were getting solar panelling. In reality the Government created an easily utilised system that would give a huge number of people jobs in the middle of a job crisis. So it’s not so surprising that so many people took up the job and quickly made the process more efficient to maximise profit, while also selling it very effectively, if not always honestly.

Ed Davey, the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary, claimed that the reforms were necessary due to “the uncontrolled surge of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in the latter part of last year, driven by rapidly falling costs, placed a huge strain on the FITs budget”.

It’s been a long painful journey for the mass amounts of PV workers created by the heavily subsidised industry, but finally they have a realistic view of what their future might be.
The immediate changes to take place are:
  • Tariff rates of 21p/kWh are to take effect from April 1 2012 for the standard domestic panels (≤4kWh) under 25. All applications for solar panelling after March 3 will be placed into this FIT bracket but will receive the original FIT rate up until April 1.
  • Properties that apply for the feed in tariff after the April 1 will also need to meet a D standard on the Energy Performance Certificate ratings. Apparently 50 per cent of people fit into this area more than the original estimation, those below a D grade will have to either raise their status or apply for a lower tariff based on their rating.
  • Multi installation rules will also come at the beginning of April. Anyone with more than 25 panels including private citizens and organisations will be given only 80 per cent of whatever the current FIT rate is.
Proposals to make sure that the system is sustainable in the future (consultation2A) primarily due to continually reducing installation costs along with the possibility of increased demand are as follows.
  • Tariffs for the ≤4kW panels will lower to a range of around 13.6p to 16.5p per kWh after July 2012, these will then decrees gradually over time based on estimated cost reductions and an annual review.
  • Solar PV will receive a 5 per cent reduction in October of 2012 and then a further 10 per cent reduction every 6 months. If the installation ratio goes to 125 per cent of predicted installations they will also activate a contingency mechanism that will bring forward some reductions on tariffs. This could lead to two changes a month to the tariff rate in worst case scenarios.
  • If you where to buy you solar panelling on the first of April it would supposedly decrees from 21p to then 12.9 in October and then down to 7.7p by April 2015.
There’s no denying that feed-in tariffs have become considerably less attractive to the consumer. While they were originally a very simple idea, their popularity, combined with both the solar industry and the average citizen recognising a good deal when they see one, has essentially put the fear of God into the Government as they watch their idea drain huge amounts of money with very little political gain.

Ministers seem painfully aware that given the inefficiency of solar panels especially in the English climate, they will have a hard time claiming kudos for the programme despite the cost. This is only made harder by the Government defending the lowering of the tariff by pointing out the ineffectiveness of solar panels, even saying that it was not appropriate for them to spend so much of the energy budget on something that accounts for just 1 per cent of the energy supplied in the UK. How he could have estimated that figure given the amazing take off of solar panels and the continued progress that would have been made is not forthcoming.

It’s clear that the Government have backtracked on this subject, first it’s worth paying out large amounts for solar panelling then when its popular they have to cut the amount returned in half. ‘Rent-a-roof’ operators will lose huge amounts of business after being lured into an industry that was made so attractive they could not resist. Now they have invested in training and the tools required, there is a big chance many will need to sell out or go bankrupt.

How ministers can justify cutting the tariffs in half due to lowering costs of installation which have only gone down by 8 per cent is beyond most mathematicians. However, making a financial mistake that could have seen taxpayers shelling out billions for a scheme they thought would be ignored is not surprising and should probably be accepted as another bout of short-sightedness from the Government.

Faith schools could be at risk as secularism is back on the agenda

here's hoping!

yet: let's not get complacent, there's still a recession, a global one, so I for one _don't_ think this tide has turned

Faith schools could be at risk as secularism is back on the agenda

21 February 2012
It might seem as if religion is losing some of its relevance in modern society, but a wave of recent developments has thrown the spotlight firmly back on faith in the UK.

While on a high-profile visit to the Vatican, Baroness Warsi of the Conservative Party spoke of the “threat from a rising tide of militant secularisation” reminiscent of “totalitarian regimes” sweeping across the country. Her words might appear strange out of context, but after recent events it was little surprise to see politicians from both sides weighing in with their take on secularisation – a debate that many may have assumed had already been won.

The words emanating from the Papal residence followed an extraordinary development in the small Devon town of Bideford, which made headlines after a battle between councillors spilled into the courts. Former councillor Clive Bone, a staunch atheist, enlisted the help of the National Secular Society in order to prohibit the practice of saying prayers before council meetings, and in doing so opened the floodgates for religion to take centre stage in national discourse.

The judgment, which is set to be appealed by the council, was made as the debate surrounding the place of religion in the public sphere boiled over, with many taking the opportunity to scrutinise society for the last vestiges of faith.

Significant progress means the UK can now rightly call itself a modern secular democracy, but the jagged separation of Church and State has not removed every remnant of faith from public life. Heated debate often takes two opposing sides, one of which sees the persistence of religion in public life – and particularly the status afforded to Christianity – as increasingly anachronistic, whilst the other seeks to protect deep-seated traditions that are part of our shared history and culture.
Meanwhile, faith groups and politicians managed to join forces in the midst of the fracas in a bid to protect Religious Education in schools and promote its value to young people. While likely to remain a compulsory subject for the foreseeable future, MPs took up the cause after RE was slated to be overlooked as the new English Baccalaureate is drawn up.

Interested parties may soon find their attention turned from the classroom to the wider education system. Faith schools, which make up a significant proportion of primary and secondary education facilities in the UK, are one of the most obvious traces of a past in which religion informed many aspects of daily life, and are seen by critics as an outdated anomaly in today’s world.

Often boasting outstanding records and reputations, they can make an attractive proposition for any parent unwilling or unable to afford the fees that private schools demand, often leading to charges of oversubscription and parents willing to falsify a conviction in order to acquire a place for their offspring.

It is their segregated nature, however, that draws many detractors, with taxpayers left with no choice but to foot the bill for schools at which their children may be denied entry on the grounds of faith. Discriminating on the grounds of religion may seem a particularly antiquated notion in a modern secular society, especially as there is often little to distinguish the curriculum at a faith school with any other, but such schools have been part and parcel of the education system for a long time, and are now deeply entrenched in society.

We are perhaps reaching a tipping point at which secularisation campaigners will focus intently on the last remaining faith-based practices. Faith schools, despite their highly regarded work to instil knowledge and morals, could soon find themselves next in line for persecution.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Face the facts - we aren't so green

This may focus on NZ, but applies, one way or another, to the globe...

"It's a bit like paying all the bills with a credit card and pretending all is well with the home budget. Healthy rivers, lakes and soils are our natural capital. But we are running them down in a mad rush, ignoring the fact that we have long since exceeded the limits.

Our ecological capital credit card is maxed out and it's long past time for action."

Face the facts - we aren't so green

The enthusiastic response of Kiwis and many Government agencies to the Rena shipwreck disaster was heartening.

A foreign-owned vessel messing up our environment and wildlife provoked a deep sense of injustice and motivated many to get involved in the clean-up.

But sadly, this remarkable response really just serves to highlight our denial of the real environmental disaster that we are increasingly desperately avoiding.

If only New Zealand's real "worst ever" environmental disaster was so well publicised, officially acknowledged and stimulated such urgent action. And if only our real disaster was so easily fixed and even better that everyone could be involved its remediation.

Unfortunately, unlike the Rena disaster, the true environmental and biodiversity catastrophe is so pervasive it cannot be cleaned up by teams of volunteers; rather its cure will involve a total rethink of what we accept as being "good for the economy".

At present, any economic gain is considered a great thing, regardless of the losses inflicted on the environment or society; neither of which are counted or even mentioned. To have a future, we must grow up as a nation and begin to take into account the losses inflicted on our natural capital.

Most Kiwis perceive our country as clean and green, and this perception is shared by the rest of the world, although doubts are creeping in.

Clean and green is what defines us; it is fundamental to differentiating New Zealand from geographically closer competitors in world markets.

So, the perception and the reality of environmental health and sustainability are essential to a secure economic future and we trash it at our peril.

Unfortunately, a "hands-off" approach by successive governments in the past few decades means we have slipped a long way towards the bottom of the heap.

This news will come as a bombshell to most Kiwis; but a recent peer-reviewed international study using seven well-accepted measures of environmental performance revealed that per capita we are 18th worst of 189 countries in the world. The frightening reality is that we only rank one notch higher than China, at 17th worst per capita.

Not surprisingly, for overall impact China placed much lower given its population, they ranked third worst behind Brazil and the United States. When it comes to this overall impact New Zealand ranked 47th worst in the world.

We smugly scorn other countries for trading in endangered species. Whether it's rhino and elephant tusks in Africa or the condemnation of Japanese whaling, we vehemently condemn this destruction of indigenous biodiversity.

In a delightful irony here in 100 per cent-pure-New Zealand we harvest, export and sell locally at least five endangered freshwater fish species.

Four of the five species in your whitebait fritter are listed as endangered, but you can buy them at any supermarket. Our amazing, endemic longfin eel is commercially harvested and exported but is one of our threatened species.

Sadly our Fisheries Ministry is "managing" them to extinction by allowing them to be harvested under the much-lauded "quota management system" that even it admits is failing longfin eels.

This freshwater fish calamity is but one example of scores of examples revealing how we got be so low on world environmental rankings so quickly. The recent unprecedented and totally unregulated boom in dairy farming has had enormous impacts on our rivers and lakes and their biodiversity.

The extreme number of cows we now have per hectare, made possible by imported fertilisers and palm kernel, is now more than twice the carrying capacity of our land and rivers.

Just one clue of how far we have gone is the fact that two thirds of our 50 freshwater fish species are listed as threatened. The impacts to our waterways their decline portends are only just beginning to be seen.

A recent Environment Court decision confirmed a limit of one cow for every 2ha to protect Lake Taupo – this is about a third of the stocking rate for the rest of the country.

Now it's official – we have the world's highest proportion of threatened species, and 161 countries are cleaner and greener than us. This environmental devastation driving us down to the bottom of world rankings is the result of a failure of successive governments to measure or even realise the true economic value of a healthy environment.

It's a bit like paying all the bills with a credit card and pretending all is well with the home budget. Healthy rivers, lakes and soils are our natural capital. But we are running them down in a mad rush, ignoring the fact that we have long since exceeded the limits.

Our ecological capital credit card is maxed out and it's long past time for action. However, the bizarre response from Government is to take money from conservation and continually weaken the Resource Management Act, driving us even further down.

Many New Zealanders are now painfully aware of the true implications of the weakening of regulation. Owners of leaky homes, residents of liquefaction zones or those hit by landslides are the latest victims of our supposed leaders putting short-term economic gains before sustainability.

These urban examples are well-known and publicised but the same lack of regulation has led to environmental degradation in the rest of the country. The losses are less well-known but are proof of the lobbying power of industry, the profit takers who are long gone when disaster strikes.

Mike Joy is a senior lecturer in ecology and environmental science at Massey University.