Welcome to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)'s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP)'s blog. The DECC YAP is a group of young people aged between 15 and 25 from all over the UK, with a wide-range of backgrounds, from academia to activism.

Our aim is to inform everyone and anyone about DECC's activities and likewise to help DECC understand and take into account the concerns of young people. We are a medium of consultancy and conversation. Much of our work looks at finding a 'Pathway to 2050', reviewing how energy with be supplied and used in the next four decades, so follow us and join us on the journey!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Butterfly Effect

On Wednesday 8th September Unkha and I woke up early to travel into Bristol to observe a local planning committee discuss, deliberate and (I imagined) have heated debate about a recently approved application to develop a Biofuels plant in the City.

Bristol, being a City on the River Severn, has an old dockyard site called Avonmouth Docks and on that site the Council has granted planing permission for the development of a Biofuels Plant, or more specifically 'construction of Biomass fuel store and biomass fired electricity generating plant' (see the webiste for more info on consent 09/00506/K).

The Biofuels Plant is being constructed by Helius Energy Plc, a London listed company, and on 8th September the Planning Committee were discussing an application for 'variation of consent.' This means that the developers (Helius) wanted to seek approval from the committee to extend the amount of material (biomass) that would reach the plant by the existing roads, rather than by the river and dockyard. The Planning Officer to the Bristol Planning Committee recommended that the consent be given to the developer, with some conditions attached to it, and ultimately the committee approved this 'variation of consent'.

Local government matters
Here we had the opportunity to observe the very local aspect of Government in action and to see the process through which many planning decisions are made – by local councillors sat around a table discussing the planning application in relation to the very specific planning infrastructure policies to the area in question. Like MPs that represent constituents in the House of Commons, Local Councillors represent their constituents in their Borough or Ward, and the councillors who sit on planning committees vote on planning applications. The system produces intriguing and sometimes contradictory results, such as in Bristol, where one application to develop a biofuels plant was granted and another was rejected.

The tale of two biofuels plants
The approved Development – we'll call it 'Helius' – is not to be confused with another planning application that was submitted to Bristol City Council in 2009. The latter development, which is often referred to as the 'Avonmouth' development was very controversial and the committee ultimately refused planning consent. The Developer appealed this decision which went up the planning ladder to the 'Independent' Planning Inspector (which may not last many more months) and now rests with the Minister for Local Government– Eric Pickles. A decision is expected in the Autumn and it will prove to be a benchmark for the future development of biofuels plants. The reason this application was so controversial was, primarily, because it was understood that Palm Oil would have been the primary source of fuel. The Helius Biofuels plant, on the other hand, will use: material such as wood in the form of virgin wood fibre e.g. chipped roundwood and recycled wood chips; and 'energy crops' together with biomass material including: residues from processing cereals (wheat, barley and maize) and oilseeds (rapeseed, sunflower and other oilseeds).

From local to International and back again
Palm Oil growth comes under great scrutiny and is often disapproved of for a number of reasons. For example, much of the imported Palm Oil that will be in products such as soaps, shampoos and cereals as well as a biofuel for power plants will have been grown in places like the Indonesian Rainforest. This rainforest is a unique and special habitat where animals such as the orangutan are increasingly being put under threat because their trees are being chopped down to make way for palm oil plantations. There are a number of campaigns to ensure proper regulation of the palm oil industry and to prevent the destruction of beautiful rainforest and the issue was soon being discussed all the way back in a Planing Committee meeting in Bristol. See e.g. Greenpeace: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/forests/faq-palm-oil-forests-and-climate-change

The butterfly effect of biofuels
Bristol Planning Committee refused the application on the grounds that it would have serious impacts on fragile habitats and ecosystems and these impacts would be contrary to the Council's Principle of incorporating 'Sustainable Development' into it's work. The issue of Palm oil growth for biofuels could be seen as having something of a 'Butterfly Effect.' It may seem unusual for Local Councilors in Bristol to be thinking about the Indonesian Rainforest, but they actually took a holistic approach to their decision-making and considered that if a Biomass Plant in Bristol uses Palm Oil (i.e. if a Butterfly flaps it's wings in one part of the world) this is almost directly linked to the endangerment of the orangutan in Indonesia (this could result in a storm in a completely different part of the world).

Moral responsibilities
When considering the role of Biofuels and Biomass in the 'Energy Pathways' the Youth Advisory Panel will have a responsibility to also consider the 'Butterfly Effect' in the discussions and debates we have about the development of emerging energy production plants and the use of new technologies. As young people we have the dual role of not only incorporating the Principle of 'Inter-generational Equity' (fairness between the generations) but also incorporating the Principle of Intra-generational Equity (fairness across our generation as young people) into our discussions and decision-making.

This means that if we decide to recommend that Biofuels be part of the 'Energy Pathways' we have a responsibility to consider how fair this decision would be on our counter-part young generations in countries such as Indonesia. Would it be morally appropriate to deprive our contemporaries of their precious Rainforest and beautiful orangutans just so that we, in the UK, can claim to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050? Or would it be right to take a view, similar to the Bristol City Council, that acknowledges the complexities of energy production and the significant Butterfly Effects that relate to all decisions we make?

- Kirsty Schneeberger

No comments:

Post a Comment