Electricity generated from 100% renewable resources will be available to schools, councils and similar-sized public sector bodies at the same price as electricity generated from fossil fuels.

British Gas and OGCbuying.solutions agreed that, as of 1 July, electricity from renewable energy sources would be available to public bodies of a certain size.

The chief executive of OGCbuying.solutions, Hugh Barrett, says the deal allows the public sector to buy electricity from renewable sources at highly competitive prices in a fluctuating market. “This contract is a good example of how harnessing government’s combined purchasing power can produce real value for money benefits for the taxpayer,” he said.

OGCbuying.solutions, the trading branch of the Office of Government Commerce, awarded the five-year contract extension in June. British Gas will be the main provider for contracts below 100kW. The agreement means a council office or primary school that has around 100 to 120 users, and which spends up to £12k a year, will be able to buy electricity from renewable sources.

The UK Resource Centre for Women in SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) has launched a new resource website.

The Resource Centre is part of the government's strategy to improve the recruitment, retention and progression of women throughout SET education and employment and to increase their involvement in SET policy. The centre was one of the key recommendations in the Greenfield Report, which identified the need for greater coordination of information, resources, knowledge and good practice.

The new website has been developed to act as a central source of information to provide informed solutions to employers including academia, professional institutes, research councils and careers professionals while providing access to mentoring for women and girls entering or already participating in SET learning or work.

The website launch, at the IEE, was attended by women representing the breadth of SET occupations. Pat Langford, deputy director and head of promoting science, engineering and technology for women at the DTI, said: "There is a strong demand from employers for high-quality SET educated individuals who will be deployed effectively in businesses, universities and the public sector but we cannot afford to leave women, who make up 50% of the workforce, out of the UK's SET future.

"The DTI sees this new website as a key channel of communication, allowing the centre to achieve its objective of working with SET employers to help them tackle the barriers to recruiting, retraining and progressing women in their organisations."

The new site can be accessed at http://www.setwomenresource.org.uk. The UK Resource Centre's official launch will take place on 16 September 2004 at the Royal Armouries, Leeds.

VA Tech Transmission and Distribution (VA Tech T&D), a subsidiary of VA Tech and Schneider Electric, has announced the Transfer of power
transfer of the 40% stake in the high-voltage joint venture held by Schneider Electric.

In October 2000, VA Tech T&D and Schneider Electric signed an agreement whereby each company contributed its high-voltage equipment business (as of Jan 2001) to a jointly owned company, VA Tech Schneider High Voltage. VA Tech T&D and Schneider Electric owned a 60% and 40% stake respectively. The venture was managed by VA Tech T&D.

Included in the original contract was the option for VA Tech to acquire Schneider's 40% share. To strengthen its core business in the high-voltage switchgear sector, VA Tech has chosen to exercise this option.

Klaus Brenner, chairman of the managing board of VA Tech T&D and member of the managing board of VA Tech, said: "The purchase of the 40% share from the joint venture is a further step within the course of our corporate strategy to become one of the leaders in transmission and distribution."

In 2003, the venture achieved sales amounting to EUROS620m, employing 2,600 staff. The purchase price has not been revealed by either company.

Construction of nuclear power plants has virtually ceased in Western Europe and North American countries with long-standing nuclear power programmes, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Eighteen of the 27 nuclear power plants under construction are located in Asia, where 22 of the last 31 plants were also created.

The IAEA says that although four countries in Western Europe have decided to close their nuclear energy plants, the future of nuclear energy in Europe and North America is still uncertain. Only one nuclear power plant is being constructed in Western Europe and none are planned for construction in North America.

The director general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, said: “The more we look to the future, the more we can expect countries to be considering the potential benefits that expanding nuclear power has to offer for the global environment and for economic growth.

“The decision to adopt nuclear power cannot be made on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ basis. New nuclear plants are most attractive where energy demand is growing and alternative resources are scarce, and where energy security and reduced air pollution and greenhouse gases are a priority. But some countries have rejected nuclear power in their energy mix because of concerns about safety and waste.”

(For more on the IAEA report, see the July issue of Electrical Review.)

Investigation into a cancer cluster around Bradwell nuclear power plant in Essex has been cancelled. Environmental scientists say it has been scrapped to protect the nuclear industry’s reputation. It was to have been carried out by Cerrie – the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters.

Committee members Dr Chris Busby and Richard Bramhall claimed the pro-nuclear members of the committee feared the study would show that cancer levels had increased in the area around Bradwell.

Dr Busby said: “The study would have confirmed the cancer cluster is there. They did not want this. They pulled the plug. But we are left with our original finding which shows the existence of the effect.

“It is not just about Bradwell. It has implications for all nuclear power stations.

"If the investigation had confirmed the existence of increased risk, litigation from people who have developed cancer would be overwhelming.

"Cerrie came to the conclusion that this would be embarrassing to the nuclear industry, so they pulled the carpet from under it.”

Bradwell Nuclear Power Station was opened in 1962 and decommissioned in 2002.

Crown Castle International announced on Monday that it has signed an agreement to sell its UK subsidiary to National Grid Transco for £1.1bn. The transaction should be completed by the end of September.

NGT will merge Crown Castle UK with Gridcom, its wholly owned subsidiary, to create a combined business that will be an independent provider of infrastructure to the UK mobile telecommunications operators, with a portfolio of some 5,000 sites. Crown Castle UK is also one of two providers of infrastructure for transmission of UK terrestrial analogue and digital television and has a good position for the expansion in digital viewing.

The CEO of Crown castle, John Kelly, said: “The sale of our UK subsidiary is expected to provide us with significant financial and operational flexibility to pursue opportunities in the larger and faster growing US market.

“While our UK operations have been a solid contributor to our business, we believe there is substantially greater growth potential for our US business given the lower penetration of wireless services and the earlier stage of 3G deployments in the US market. This transaction also substantially improves our balance sheet, which we believe will provide flexibility to capitalise on this growth.”

The sale will allow Crown Castle to reduce net debt, exposure to currency fluctuations and floating interest rate exposure, according to the firm’s CFO, W. Benjamin Moreland.

The US Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers has approved Wi-Fi security specification 802.11i as a standard.

Wi-Fi products establish wireless local area networks that allow devices to transmit and receive data within a range of 150 feet. Previous security measures, such as Wired Equivalent Privacy, were easily broken by hackers, leaving many wary about wireless networking. The 802.11i standard encrypts data sent along wireless networks to protect it.

It uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), a strong encryption standard supporting 128-bit, 192-bit and 256-bit keys. Intel’s Centrino bundle of chips will begin to incorporate the 802.11i standard certification by the Wi-Fi Alliance.The US Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers has approved Wi-Fi security specification 802.11i as a standard.

The government confirmed yesterday that Part P will come into force on 1 January 2005 – and granted approval for five self-certification schemes.

BRE Certification, British Standards Institution, ELECSA, NICEIC and Zurich Certification have all been given the green light to operate the schemes.

Contractors wishing to self-certify their work have six months to achieve ‘Competent Person’ status. Those who do not will have to notify Local Authority Building Control before work commences – and work may also be subject to an inspection.

To avoid such bottlenecks and associated costs, industry bodies including the ECA and NICEIC are strongly urging contractors to take immediate action.

According to the NICEIC, applicants who can readily demonstrate they have carried out domestic installations in accordance with BS7671, have public liability insurance, and hold a City and Guilds 2381, will gain registration on its Domestic Installer Scheme in a matter of weeks. NICEIC business development director, Phil Buckle, says that while many contractors are already capable of complying with Part P, "problems relating to inspection, testing and certification have been identified". He says the body has therefore developed “bespoke training to address these problems”.

The ECA, which in conjunction with the IEE helped to develop BRE Certification’s scheme, says contractors should take careful consideration and look at the small print before choosing a scheme. Application for Competent Person status from BRE Certification, ECA and IEE will cost £540 excluding Vat.

The NICEIC, however, says the cost to become a competent person will be similar to that of joining its Roll of Approved Contractors. Currently, the annual fee is £325 and includes publications worth £150.

None of the schemes are allowed to make a profit.

For further information on the NICEIC’s Part P programme, see: http://www.niceic.org.uk/partp/partpindex.html.

Contractors interested in the BRE Certification scheme should see http://www.partp.co.uk.

Information on ELECSA’s scheme is available at: http://www.elecsa.org.uk.

Throughout the UK there are over 120 urban areas registered as Air Quality Zones in need of improvement. Pollution from vehicles is the main cause.

The Wright Group, a Northern Ireland firm, has developed a range of low-pollutant buses. Its latest is an electric hybrid city bus combining an electric drive, batteries and a small turbine engine.

Where a conventional diesel bus could produce 8-15 grams of nitrous oxide each kilometre it travels, the Wright Electrocity bus emits about 1/2 a gram a kilometre. For carbon monoxide gases a similar reduction ratio is achieved while hydrocarbon emissions are barely measurable.

The Wright Electrocity has undergone successful field tests in Ballymena, London, Bristol, Leeds, York, Sheffield and Winchester and is ready to take to market.

Australia’s Electrical Trades Union was accused of using illegal tactics after more than 200 out of 250 linesmen working for TXU, the Victoria power company, called in sick. The union is seeking a 10.7% pay rise over four years, a 36-hour week and higher apprentice ratios.

The mass absenteeism by line-workers follows an order by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission banning strike action against the state’s power companies until mid-July.

ETU organiser Dean Mighell said no industrial action had occurred but he understood there had been a large outbreak of “lineitis”. “It’s a condition suffered by line-workers when they’re overworked and there are no apprentices,” he said.

Demand for composite power transmission cable, distribution poles and cross-arms has increased.

The global market for both replacement and new power poles is more than US$20bn. Several US states, including California, have banned chemically-treated wood poles, with 6 million poles that will require replacement.

Composites give strength, light weight, easier transportation, longer life cycle, corrosion and rot resistance and have natural insulative properties.

Families in the more deprived areas of the UK are around five times more likely to be disconnected from their energy supplies, according to gas and electricity watchdog energywatch.

The organisation’s research formed part of the evidence presented to the Parliamentary Trade and Industry Select Committee today as part of the TISC inquiry into fuel disconnections.

The findings reveal that 30% of disconnections occur to the poorest 13% of the population and it is a particular problem in London, Bedfordshire, Manchester and the West Midlands. People who are disconnected are more likely to live on low incomes, have multiple debts, have children and be in a single-parent household, according to the research.

The watchdog calls for more disconnection safeguards to protect the vulnerable members of society and wants an end to the possibility of “disconnection in error”, where the wrong household or individual is disconnected.

The chairman of energywatch, Ed Gallagher, said: “Far from being the deterrent to ensure more affluent consumers pay their bills, our research shows that disconnections are mainly hurting those who can least afford it.”