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Local elections preview: the Liberal Democrats

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Struggling to decide who to vote for in the local elections on Thursday May 2? Don’t worry, as all this week, Blue & Green Tomorrow is outlining the energy, environment and investment credentials of all five major parties.

After kicking this mini-series off with the Conservatives and following it up with a look at the Labour party’s pledges, this time we’re looking at the Liberal Democrats, whose leader Nick Clegg signed the Coalition Agreement with the Tories after the 2010 general election.

For a full list of local authorities that are voting, and for more details on the elections more generally, see here.

Energy and the environment

We will set out a clear renewable route map to 2050, covering grid access and investment in electricity networks”, said the Lib Dems’ 2010 manifesto.

Sure enough, the UK Energy Roadmap was brought out in 2011, which highlights a priority for government to invest in offshore wind in particular. On top of this, the Lib Dems have helped enabled £110 billion of investment in low-carbon electricity infrastructure over the next decade.

Their manifesto adds, “If you choose micro-generation, you will be able to sell the energy back to the National Grid at a profit, with a more attractive feed-in tariff than under current government plans.”

The feed-in tariff was initially protected under the 2010 spending review. This changed, however, in December 2011, when the it was cut by half by the coalition. Although many Lib Dem MPs were against the decision, the reduction has been costly to the renewable energy sector.

However, last month, Ed Davey, energy secretary as of February 2012, announced that the government’s energy policies would help lower domestic energy bills by £166 on average by 2020.

This has come under scrutiny, however, with analysis by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) showing that 85% of the present average £1,250 bill cannot be controlled by the government because it is determined by international gas and electricity prices, transmission and metering costs.

After energy companies have taken their profits, and VAT has been paid, government policies can only influence around 11% of the bill, said Davey.

To counter some Conservative politicians and media that have claimed that wind power will cost more than £120 billion in the next eight years and send household bills soaring, Davey stated that energy-saving policies, better gas boilers, tighter building regulations, the coalition’s green deal loan scheme and smart meters would be the driving forces behind the reductions. According to DECC, that is an 11% cut compared to the government doing nothing.

Yet, speaking to The Guardian, Dustin Benton of Green Alliance said he feels that an ‘efficiency feed-in tariff’ would be better suited to helping homes in bleaker economic situations. The tariff would “incentivise people to purchase efficient appliances, and would be funded from the savings made by not building as many new power stations”, he said.

The Lib Dems’ 2010 manifesto also pledges to “begin a 10-year programme of home insulation, offering a home energy improvement package of up to £10,000 per home, paid for by the savings from lower energy bills, and make sure every new home is fully energy-efficient by improving building regulations.”

In November 2010, former energy secretary Chris Huhne announced the green deal, designed to help businesses and homeowners adopt more green technologies in their properties. Applicants can install new green technology into their property with no up front costs, paying them back through the property’s energy bill over a set period of time.

The Lib Dems have also helped initiate the Energy Companies Obligation in order to combat fuel poverty. The scheme, brought in to replace the existing Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT) and Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP), requires energy companies to provide help and assistance to poorer customers by providing basic heating and insulation to the most vulnerable households.

One of the core pledges from the 2010 manifesto was to make “the British economy carbon-neutral overall by 2050, reducing carbon emissions in the UK by over 40% of 1990 levels by 2020 as a step on the way.”

There are also legal hurdles with establishing new environmental policy – something that the Lib Dems are aware of demonstrated that awareness in their proposals: “We will press the EU to boost investment in clean energy by reforming the EU emissions trading scheme – bringing in a tighter cap on emissions, auctioning as many allowances as possible, and encouraging other European countries to increase the use of reserve prices in allowance auctions.”

Responsible investment

From a responsible investment point of view, the Lib Dems helped set up the Green Investment Bank (GIB), which was created to fund new offshore wind, waste recycling and energy from waste and non-domestic energy efficiency, investing at least 80% of its capital into such areas.

It has been given £3 billion of funding from the government to invest in sustainable projects across the UK, and is one of the first banks of its kind.

Since its inception in May 2012, the GIB has had a primary objective to “accelerate the UK’s transition to a green economy and to create an enduring Institution, operating independently of government”. Such a stance is in accordance with the Lib Dem manifesto: “to help the transition to a green economy over the longer term, we will set up a United Kingdom Infrastructure Bank (UKIB) to attract private finance.”

In accordance with government legislation, the bank cannot be “a taker of high risk for low reward; nor a provider of venture capital or development equity”, meaning it has a duty to invest sensibly. The bank’s core principles are to be a responsible investor and to monitor the its behaviour through corporate responsibility strategy.

On March 25, it was announced that the GIB would provide £18m of funding for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, going towards a biomass energy centre in what will be the bank’s first investment in the NHS.

Other recent activity includes investing £57.5m to take a 24.95% stake in the Rhyl Flats offshore wind farm. Joining Greencoat UK Wind in becoming a shareholder, the project marks the bank’s first direct equity investment.

Former Green party leader Caroline Lucas criticised the GIB’s purpose back in 2011, before it was established. Writing for The Guardian in 2011, Lucas detailed the irony of the bank’s name and objectives, saying, “It’s a bit rich to call the coalition’s venture a green investment bank if it can neither borrow nor lend, and invests in nuclear.”

She added, “Without these powers [of lending and borrowing], it would be a fund – that is, a pot of money that, once used up, is gone forever.”

Joseph Iddison is a student in his final year of an English degree at the University of Leicester.

Further reading:

Poll claims Lib Dems could ‘win back voters’ by committing to green issues

Clegg’s overdue plans to ‘marry’ green and growth

UK economy to get £25bn boost through renewables as Lib Dems stand firm

Joseph Iddison is a master’s student at the University of Leicester. Having graduated from the same institution in July 2013 in English, Joseph will start the global environmental change course in September.

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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