Controversy surrounds UK green energy labelling scheme

Future Energy, a green energy accreditation scheme, is designed to give consumers the choice to buy electricity derived from environmentally-friendly sources. But Friends of the Earth (FoE) has accused the government of watering down the labelling system by including energy generated through the incineration of household waste.

“We were a bit disappointed by the FoE response,” Sam Armstrong of the Energy Savings Trust told edie. EST is a government-funded organisation that operates and supervises UK initiatives aimed at reducing CO² emissions. It developed the Future Energy scheme. “In including energy from waste, we’ve gone with the government’s definition of renewable energy.”

At the heart of FoE’s criticism of Future Energy is its belief that energy generated from burning household waste should not be defined as renewable energy. “The problem is that incinerators are working with a very mixed feed stock, including burning metals and plastics which are fossil fuel based,” Mike Childs, senior waste campaigner at FoE told edie. ” If the energy is produced from fossil fuels, it is not renewable energy.”

FoE has also criticised the government for not working hard enough to increase the percentage of UK waste being recycled. The UK is currently bottom of the European list in terms of the percentage of household waste that is recycled (see related story).

“Green labelling is a very good idea,” says Childs, “but they shouldn’t widen it too much. A recent report by the Department of Trade & Industry said that incinerators release almost as much carbon dioxide as gas-fired power stations”.

Figures for CO² emissions are as follows:

  • gas-fired power stations: 446 CO²g/kilowatt hour
  • combined heat & power waste incinerators: 364 CO²g/kilowatt hour
  • straw burning: 13 CO²g/kilowatt hour
  • on-shore wind generation: 9 CO²g/kilowatt hour

Future Energy will allow UK customers to choose a premium-priced electricity package. Electricity companies offering green energy packages will use the funds from customers who choose the green products to either boost their purchase of renewable energy or to add to a company fund designed to stimulate future investment in renewables.

Thus far, eleven electricity companies have received Future Energy accreditation, including Eastern Energy. Eastern is the fourth-largest electricity generator in the UK and is seen as a forerunner in the renewable energy market.

Its Eco-Power product offers energy from primarily on-shore wind farms. Its policy on renewables puts emphasis on benign renewables: wind, solar and small-scale hydro generation. Eastern also invests in biomass generation.

Eastern does not currently, and has no plans to, generate energy from waste incineration.

The eleven electricity suppliers that have received Future Energy accreditation are:

  • Eastern Energy
  • London Electricity
  • MEB
  • Northern Ireland Electricity
  • PowerGen
  • SEEBOARD plc
  • ScottishPower MANWEB
  • SWEB
  • WRE
  • Yorkshire Electricity

Suppliers of Future Energy-accredited products must declare the sources of their renewable energy, but not the percentage derived from each source.

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