Last updated: 01/02/2013
With less than 100 months left to stop runaway climate change should we be questioning the eco-credentials of those helping out? asks Simon Birch.
Manchester’s just got a new windfarm. Clearly visible from the city centre, the 26 turbines of the Scout Moor windfarm now produce enough electricity to power half the homes in nearby Rochdale so saving around 160,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Brilliant.
What’s not quite so brilliant though is the company behind the project. The Manchester-based Peel Group is one of the biggest corporations in the UK with fingers in a vast range of commercial and industrial pies and assets worth almost £5 billion.
The trouble is that many of Peel’s activities leave an almighty, boot-sized environmental footprint. Peel Airports owns three airports across the north of England including Liverpool’s John Lennon airport which alone is responsible for a whopping 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually according to the World Development Movement. This effectively wipes out any carbon savings from Scout Moor windfarm at a stroke.
Peel also has a 24% stake in UK Coal – with coal being a major source of carbon dioxide pollution. And the Peel-owned Trafford Centre is one of the biggest out-of-town shopping centres in the UK and it is leading the campaign against the proposed pro-environment Manchester Congestion Charge.
And we’ve not finished yet. More controversially, as owners of Salford Mosses, home of some of the last remaining lowland peat bogs in the UK, Peel stands accused of the unauthorised extraction of peat, which is not only leading to the loss of precious biodiversity, but because peat acts as a ‘carbon sink’, vast amounts of carbon dioxide are now being released into the atmosphere.
What’s troubling about Peel is that, apart from its current questionable environmental record, these days it’s almost unheard of for a company the size of Peel not to have a publicly available environmental report. For example, nobody at Peel was able to tell the Ethical Sceptic what its total greenhouse gas emissions are, let alone have any programme to try and reduce them.
So is the Scout Moor windfarm at best a classic case of greenwash and at worst a cynical money-making exercise from a corporation adept at spotting an income-generating opportunity?
“We believe that a mix of low carbon schemes, not just wind-farms such as Scout Moor, are the only way to meet the UK’s growing energy needs,” replies Myles Kitcher, development director for Peel Energy. “As a responsible employer, Peel is always keen to look at further ways to reduce its impact on the environment, such as using more energy from renewable sources.”
But if Peel was genuine about wanting to reduce its environmental impact would it really be steaming ahead with the expansion of its airports for example?
“It’s great that Peel has developed Scout Moor windfarm and it’s something that we welcome,” says Paul Waring from Manchester Friends of the Earth. “However we reserve the right to criticise them for their environmentally-damaging activities such as expanding passenger numbers at Liverpool airport.”
Juliet Davenport who heads up Good Energy, one of the UK’s leading providers of renewable energy, believes that we’re right to be sceptical about companies entering the renewable market without first making a commitment to reduce their carbon emissions: “If you’re increasing your wind energy assets that’s great, but then you have to question it if you’re doubling your carbon pollution elsewhere in the group,” says Davenport.
“There has to be pressure on these companies to say that overall you should be reducing your emissions not increasing them. We do need everybody on board but I don’t think that it means that you should pat companies such as Peel on the back and say that you’re OK now you’ve got a windfarm.”
The trouble is that given the urgency of the climate crisis, with many greenies now talking in terms of less than 100 months to stop runaway climate change, can we honestly afford to be picky about which companies join the renewable energy club?
Ben Stewart from Greenpeace believes that we can’t:
“There needs to be a transition from a fossil-fuel economy to one based on clean energy and we’re talking months not decades,” says Stewart. “We aren’t going to achieve this with piecemeal investment in renewables, we need big players in the economy to start looking at a massive transfer of resources into clean energy as soon as possible.”
First published in Ethical Consumer 116, January/February 2009