Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Every silver lining has a cloud

The Daily Mail is in outraged mode at the news that power firms are " handing out energy-saving lightbulbs to dodge their obligation to help families cut carbon emissions."

Local councils, we are told, say the free distribution is part of an "outrageous" attempt by the businesses to shirk their responsibility to install more meaningful energy saving measures in homes.

Thus does Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA's environment board, say: "The failure of energy companies to really help householders cut their fuel bills is an outrage. Energy suppliers should be filling our lofts and walls with insulation, not filling our cupboards with light bulbs."

That last bit has a personal resonance as we have received so many free lightbulbs under various schemes that we have more than we can possibly use for the next ten years, even supposing we wanted to use the damn things.

But what the Mail doesn't make clear is that this is in response to the government's Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT), part of the deal whereby the energy companies avoided a windfall tax, accepting instead a statutory scheme requiring them to fund domestic energy reductions.

As the Defra website helpfully explains, the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) is a statutory obligation on energy suppliers to achieve carbon targets by encouraging households to take up energy efficiency and low carbon measures.

It is the Government's principal driver of household energy efficiency and carbon reduction. It is open to suppliers how they meet their targets, but they will typically promote subsidised offers on loft and cavity wall insulation, as well as a wide range of high-efficiency lighting, heating systems, appliances and energy saving devices.

But the canny suppliers have found that, simply by putting seemingly endless quantities of lightbulbs in the post to their hapless consumers (who have to pay for them through their bills), they can achieve their notional targets, even though most of the lightbulbs – as we have found – cannot be used and therefore will not deliver any real energy savings.

However, what these bulbs are doing, according to The Times is far from wholesome. In China, it reports, a heavy environmental price is being paid for the production of "green" lightbulbs in cost-cutting factories.

Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs. A surge in foreign demand, set off by a European Union directive making these bulbs compulsory within three years, has also led to the reopening of mercury mines that have ruined the environment.

So, one "environmental" policy here leads to an environmental disaster elsewhere. The "silver lining" of largely mythical energy saving creates a dark cloud in China. But, no doubt, the greenies feel that poisoning a few thousand Chinese workers is but a small price to pay for their obsession. Since they are going to end up killing us all, they might as well start with the Chinese.