Struggling along on a paltry salary

One thing I shall never understand is just how public sector salaries are calculated. Logically, as the head honcho, the prime minister ought to be the best paid of the lot. In practice, he struggles along on a paltry (?) £142,500 a year.

Unions the true conservatives?

Hats off to Redditch Council. The Conservative-run authority wants to use surplus heat from furnaces at the local crematorium to help keep nearby Abbey Stadium swimming pool warm. A brilliant idea, regularly found in Scandinavia. Judging by responses in local papers, pretty well received too by most residents, particularly as the Council think it will reduce overall fuel expenditure by £14,000 a year.
I suppose it is inevitable it is the unions that object. Listen to Roger Mackenzie, Unison’s West Midlands regional secretary who lambastes the idea as “sick”, “insensitive” and “an insult to local residents”.
He claims it demonstrates “yet again that the Conservatives know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Actually, it is cynics at whom that jibe is usually made. Far from being cynical, I think this is an excellent example of sensible, lateral thinking. So there. Trust the unions to be the true conservatives.

A criminal bonanza

Scoffers may not take the concept of trading carbon emissions seriously. But there is one lot of people who most certainly do. It is the international criminal fraternity.
The European emissions trading scheme was created seven years ago. It was meant to achieve two policy objectives. These were to get heavy industry to use electricity more efficiently. And to get the electricity industry to reduce the carbon intensity of its supply mix.
Given that there have been a) far too many trading permits issued and b) most of these have been made available free and gratis, it is not surprising the number of scoffers regarding the scheme’s actual impact has continued to grow. But now a new set of sceptics can join them.
The European scheme is proving a nice little earner for industrial companies selling on their surplus permits, usually at discount prices, to electricity generators. The generators then store these away, against two years’ time when they will have to start actually buying their permits. Meanwhile the generators have been making massive profits – worth €50bn according to WWF – from increasing their prices as if they had bought all their permits at the highest market rates. Rather than being given most free, and getting the rest on heavy discount.
Now into the mix have stepped some sharp-eyed members of the criminal fraternity, exploiting the lax on-line security arrangements operating in many of the 27 participating countries. And simply breaking into existing carbon accounts, to transfer, and then selling on the carbon credits to innocent purchasers. As almost anybody can set up – and then close down - a carbon registry, these intermediaries are proving very difficult to catch.
At least three million credits are officially acknowledged to have been stolen – from the large cement company Holcim, from the Austrian and Greek registries, from a bunch of Czech accounts. Consequently the entire system closed down for 16 days last month. The strong probability is this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Even if a generator or an industrial company has bought any of these stolen permits in good faith, they are then in receipt of stolen goods. In the UK, these will be confiscated, and returned to the original owner.
The US House of Representatives has just passed a resolution not to permit the development of a nationwide carbon trading scheme. This has been done primarily because of dubiousness about the science of climate change. A much better justification might be that the one such scheme in existence is turning into a complete criminals’ bonanza. Green fleeces, red faces.

Into the ministerial pot

For the past ten years, the Big Six electricity companies have been required by the government to help domestic consumers install energy saving measures. How they stimulate any installations to occur is entirely up to them, says the government. The companies simply have to show enough insulation or cfls and so on have been installed. Otherwise OFGEM the regulator will levy enormous fines.
The reason for this arcane arrangement is simple. Nowhere is it specified exactly how much needs to be spent to meet any official targets. Therefore the scheme is not deemed to be a tax. And so does not get included within the Treasury’s books. At least, up until now.
All this changed in last November’s Comprehensive Spending Review. The Treasury redefined such obligations as mandatory expenditure. It made an estimate of what each of the Big Six needed to spend to persuade householders to install these measures. It then declared that such obligations to be putative public spending.
This book-keeping alteration has significant ramifications. Not least for energy ministers, long fed up with all the kudos going to the electricity and gas companies. Now they think: if such schemes are henceforth going to be scored against their Department’s total, why should we not take the credit, by taking full control of any funds raised?
In 2013, a new scheme – called the Energy Company Obligation – will start. Ministers rather like the idea of simplifying this Obligation. The energy companies will continue to provide the money. But this time it will all go into a pot controlled by ministers. Who will determine how it is spent. And in that way will receive all the gratitude from the beneficiaries themselves. Who just happen to be voters.

Resisting the urge to delete

Ping. A press release arrives from Friends of the Earth Europe. I resist the temptation to delete. Instead I find it makes rather an interesting point. The European Union governments have signed up four energy-related targets for this decade. Targets which are binding upon, and therefore change policy, in all 27 countries.
Three of these – on climate change, on renewable energy, on bio-fuels – are all legally binding. The fourth is on energy efficiency. It is purely voluntary.  And, as a result, it looks as though the 27 governments will nowhere meet it: European Commission figures forecast a 9% rather than the 20% improvement aspired to. Even though as FoE acidly point out, of the four targets, meeting the energy efficiency one would be infinitely the best for the European economy.


Electrical contractors can not and must not take the recycling of fluorescent bulbs lightly says Terry Adby

How many electrical contractors does it take to change a light bulb? It doesn't really matter, because, with the double focus nowadays on health and safety and sustainability, the real question should be: "Do they know what's being done with the old one?"

As efficient electrical waste disposal gets both more complex and more necessary - for financial, operational and legal reasons - those involved in electrical engineering and building services would be unwise not to pay heed to the answer, a fact that one recent prosecution has shed some revealing light on.

The sustainability lobby's continued success in promoting the balancing of successful business with effective environmental protection (not to mention the wellbeing of the immediate workforce) has ever greater ramifications for the industries responsible for creating and managing the built environment.

Sustainability, above all, is an area where electrical contracting, now worth some £8bn per year, has a key role to play, with the opportunity to propose ‘low or no CO2' options. But to play its role successfully the industry must also pay close attention to the matter of the waste the ‘alternative' option creates, and how it is disposed of.  Developments such as the WEEE regulations (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) impose legal obligations on contractors over the management of ‘waste streams' onsite, and in their subsequent disposal. It aims to "improve the environmental performance of businesses that manufacture, supply, use, recycle and recover electrical and electronic equipment" and has put the practical management of sustainability centre stage. For the electrical contractor its implications are unavoidable.

Energy efficient light bulbs (‘end-of-life gas discharge lamps') are covered by the WEEE regulations and present a particular challenge, because they contain mercury and are classified as ‘hazardous waste'. When these lamps are recycled the potential release of mercury into the air at the lamp crushing stage is a threat to both the wider environment and those in the vicinity if the right protective equipment is not in place. Each time a fluorescent bulb is crushed or broken, mercury vapour is released. If the gas is not effectively captured, that vapour will find its way into the atmosphere, the staff and others in the area.

The challenges of lamp recycling made headlines earlier this year when a Glasgow-registered company, Electrical Waste Recycling Group, and one of its directors, were fined a total of £145,000 plus costs after recycling processes being used for gas discharge lamps exposed workers to toxic fumes for a period of up to ten months.

If an electrical contractor is going to propose the likes of optimal lighting configurations or energy efficient lighting units, and if they are tempted to employ energy efficiency as a sales tool, they should be confident that the principles and practice that underpin sustainability and safety are being applied all the way through the supply chain, including what happens to the waste.

Bulb crushing on an industrial scale is a serious undertaking that comes with huge levels of environmental responsibility. Nevertheless, electrical contractors may face the prospect, perhaps even at the tendering stage, of client pressure to commit to deliver such a service. Contractors need to be completely confident of the ability of the suppliers they choose to meet their commitments. They also need to know what is being done in their name further down the supply chain.

In the case of Electrical Waste Recycling Group, it was the failure to ensure the safety of the lamp crushing phase of the recycling process at its Huddersfield plant that let down the company, their workforce and the local environment. EWRG, which runs easyWEEE, WERCS (Waste Electrical Recycling Compliance Scheme) and other recycling schemes, were contracted to handle commercial waste for several Local Authorities, which included light bulbs. While none of these clients were in any way implicated along with their supplier, the judgment in the case suggests others in the chain - such as electrical contractors - could be more vulnerable. It has already been indicated in court that putting a service out to a third party does not absolve an organisation of key responsibilities and, in respect of health & safety, the HSE - which brought the successful prosecution in the EWRG case - has said that "The client must ensure whoever carries out the work is able to do so in a way that controls risks." As this case suggests, sustainability and health and safety responsibilities often go hand in hand.

Some of the details of the EWRG judgment highlight the type of issues any business, including electrical contracting businesses, should take into account to ensure they and their suppliers comply with statutory requirements when dealing with waste. The promises of suppliers, the judge made clear, are no defence in the eyes of the law. They must be effectively monitored.

One of the judge's major criticisms was the lack of an effective risk assessment process at the EWRG recycling centre, not least because issues highlighted - such as excessively high mercury levels for no apparent reason - could have been rectified much earlier had risk assessment been in place. It is, in any case, a legal requirement for an employer in discharging their obligations to keep workers and the public safe as far as "reasonably practicable".

The HSE recommends five steps for effective risk assessment: identification of hazards; establishing who might be harmed and how; evaluation of risk and deciding on precautions; recording and implementing findings and regular review. Suppliers in a business as hazardous and regulated as lamp recycling should certainly be implementing all five. Those employing them to do the work should be equally concerned that they are.

The judge in the EWRG case also stressed the need for competent staff to be involved in the process monitoring, who understand the regulations and have the knowledge and experience to spot a breach or issue. Most successful organisations, he said, have employees who understand why risk assessment and vigilance is important for the company, staff and other groups with an interest, such as the local community. 

However, all responsibility cannot be delegated to one individual or team, he added. Senior managers need to put themselves in the position of being able to interpret and understand the implications of the results of any monitoring which is undertaken.  If they do not understand the implications of results, they cannot just ignore them. In the case of a prosecution it will be the senior managers and directors who will be held responsible. It is clear, above all, when things go awry, buck passing between organisations or individuals is not an option.

EWRG paid a heavy price because it did not read nor heed the warning signs. Those looking for lessons from its prosecution certainly should however. The safe recycling of energy efficient lamps may represent a beacon for a better future but, viewed from both an environmental or health and safety perspective, the message for electrical contractors is clear: the responsibility for a safe and sustainable approach to lighting may not end with the life of the low-energy bulb.

It has been widely reported the new coalition government refuses to rule out a rise in university tuition fees. It has also been widely reported that the Russell Group of leading universities is calling for a fee rise, arguing that students should pay more towards the cost of their courses. Engineering degrees are expensive to deliver, and the natural worry is the subject could see dramatic fee increases, which would deter students from applying, exacerbating the country's skills shortages

Unfortunately only a few professional specifiers, contractors and traders in the electrical sector know about their responsibilities under the Low Voltage Directive and related CE marking. Dr Jeremy Hodge, chief executive of BASEC explains


No denying it. Fukushima has changed the ground rules for the wonderful world of electricity. Forever.

With the deadline for the final phase of the incandescent lamp replacement directive due at the beginning of next year, Marie Parry from Click Scolmore, looks at the issues surrounding the replacement of the traditional light bulb

Just a heating engineer...

Steve Whiteley is a lucky man. Or maybe just a canny one. He has just won a cool £1.4m, with just a £2 horse racing accumulator.

Catalogue of errors

When the Coalition government came into office just 15 months ago, amongst the briefings prepared for incoming ministers was one on international fuel prices. Specifically how they were likely to go up (or down) over the next 15 years.