Government Carbon Rules Still Wrong Says BT


New guidance from the UK Government appears to show BT would be better off building its wind farms in China

The UK Government’s advice on how to account for greenhouse gas emissions is still confused, and will prevent companies generating renewable electricity, said BT’s head of sustainable development.

BT has planned to generate 250MW of its own electricity through wind farms, as part of a £250 million plan to cut its carbon footprint, but said earlier this year that the plan would be uneconomic under proposed carbon accounting rules due to come into force by 2012, and could be cancelled.

The government has published a draft guide on how to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions under the “cap-and-trade” scheme which will require large companies to enter a league table and penalise those who perform least well. Public responses to the draft are invited before a deadline of August, but there are big holes in it, said Chris Tuppen, head of sustainable development at BT (below).

“We had hoped it might clarify things.” Said Tuppen. “But nothing is any clearer.” Among other things, the document appears to give more credit to renewable generation in China than in the UK, and does not explain what “on-site” generation is – a crucial point, since electricity must qualify as on-site generation, or else it is counted the same as electricity purchased from others.

“If the turbine is on top of the building, it’s on-site.” Said Tuppen. “But if your site is in a valley and you pay a farmer and put the turbine on a nearby hill, does that count as onsite? Also, we have locations, which can generate power, but which can’t use all the power where it is generated, so we have to have the electricity on the grid and take it off again. Does that still count as on-site?”

The document includes a new definition of “net” and “gross” emissions, which leads to further complications. Despite the apparent preference for on-site generation, BT would get more credit for building a wind farm in China than it would for one in the UK, says Tuppen, referring to worked examples from pages 64 and 65 of the document: “Where a company has a wind project in China, not only can it take the carbon savings off the gross footprint, but it can even sell the carbon savings to achieve Kyoto-style carbon credits. That exaple is so bizarre it will probably disappear.”

Despite this, BT is continuing with the planning phase of its wind farms, including applications to build turbines at Goonhilly in Cornwall, but the final go-ahead depends on the government explaining exactly how carbon accounting will work, said Tuppen: “We have made a lot of investment in terms of measuring wind speeds and are simply going ahead and applying for planning permissions.”

“The government hasn’t thought through the unintended consequences, and this puts people off,” he said. “Companies need to employ people with more and more expertise – expertise in carbon accounting, not wind generation. BT is big enough to employ me to do this, but smaller businesses will be pulling their hair out.”

The government’s Climate Change Act has promised that there will be mandatory carbon accounting by 2012 – or else it will have to give a reason why not, in Parliament.


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