Wind in Kyoto

Any global agreement on reduction of C02 emissions will signal a seismic shift of the energy market, one that will be of immense benefit to the future of wind power. That is why the Kyoto climate change summit is of such importance to wind. That is why the industry's tiny band of professional lobbyists are in Japan. That is why this issue of Windpower Monthly devotes seven pages to setting the scene for wind in Kyoto. For regardless of whether the C02 reduction target is a fraction of what it should be, and regardless of whether the time frame for reaching it is hopelessly long term, the fact that the world's nations are committing themselves to less use of fossil fuel means they are also committing themselves to more use of alternative sources of energy.

The job of the wind lobby at the UN's Kyoto summit is to help make sure that an agreement on C02 reduction targets is reached. On one side of the debate will be the immense political and economic might of the conventional power industry. On the other side will be the voices of environmental reason -- and of the new power technologies, wind energy among them. It will be an unfair battle. The world's biggest and wealthiest companies have put millions of dollars into a massive public relations effort aimed at preventing swift action to cut C02 emissions, as documented by Greenpeace in its report, "Puppets of Industry." The same report tells how these very same interests -- oil and coal among them -- receive billions of dollars in government subsidies. The misleading name of the organisation fronting these interests is the Global Climate Coalition -- a collection of 56 oil, coal, car and mining companies and associations now notorious for their aggressive activities (threats) to stop government action on global warming.

Kyoto is about changing this corporate attitude. Without that change, governments dare not and cannot act. Witness the writhings of the US vice president, Al Gore, whose views on global warming are clearly stated in his book, "Earth in the Balance;" he is now publicly exposed as a prisoner of industry. Witness the disappointing content of the European Commission's White Paper on renewables -- watered down on the eve of its release as Windpower Monthly went to press. Though the expected 40,000 MW target for wind is included, the mark of corporate interests on the White Paper is clearly visible.

The response of the wind industry to the machinations of big business has been to believe that it is too small to change anything, let alone corporate attitudes. No longer is that true. The United Nations has listened to the wind lobby in the run up to its Kyoto summit. It has understood that here is a technology that today can produce large amounts of electricity without C02. And it has given the wind lobby official UN accreditation in Kyoto (page 36). The message to the wind industry is clear: we at the UN regard wind power as a viable alternative and it is time corporate leaders woke up to it. What the governments of the UN's member countries need to wake up to is that wind and the other renewables are vastly disadvantaged on the energy policy battlefield. The time has come to stop talking and start seriously helping.

An unwelcome romance

As part of the Kyoto jamboree, the nuclear industry will be throwing its lobbying might into convincing the world that it is the true alternative to fossil fuel. One of nuclear's tactics has been to make a non too subtle pass at the renewables industry to give itself some much needed green sheen. At a Brussels conference last month (page 32), nuclear lobbyists talked blithely of the "common concern" they share with the wind industry and of a future energy mix based on nuclear and renewables.

The European Wind Energy Association's policy on nuclear is to leave it well alone and it has greeted this latest overture with a "no way" response (page 34). If any wind aficionados are still in doubt about whether they fancy nuclear as a bedfellow, the latest news emerging from European research should help them make up their minds. According to the EU's scientific press service, 8000 tonnes of spent fuel are generated by nuclear plants each year. Cooling ponds and other on-site storage facilities now contain a global total of 90,000 tonnes of high level radioactive waste. This is expected to rise to 210,000 tonnes by 2010. Reprocessing is out of the question because of the very real risk that those with bomb making tendencies would get their hands on the stuff. "Governments are still not sure what to do with it," states the press service blithely.

Underground storage has long been a favoured option, but even in France this has palled, according to the country's former environment minister, Segolene Royal. She says deep storage plans will soon be abandoned. Just as well. Recent EU research of one million square kilometres of land area at depths of over 6000 metres concludes that the geology cannot be guaranteed in the long term -- and climate change is going to add instability, not least because the past 750,000 years have already seen some spectacular movements of ice. Meantime, the most radioactive elements of large volumes of high level nuclear waste can take up to one million years before they "decay to a safe level," according to the EU research. Need we say more?