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Energy firm's wind power claims misleading, watchdog rules

An npower newsletter promoting wind power broke advertising rules because its carbon offset claim was inaccurate, the advertising industry watchdog ruled today.

The energy company’s direct mail claimed that a wind farm development in north Devon would “help prevent the release of some 33,000 tonnes of CO2” annually from fossil fuels.

But an anti-wind farm group complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the carbon dioxide figure was out of date because lower emitting gas, rather than coal, was the fuel currently being replaced by wind energy.

The ASA upheld the complaint by the Two Moors campaign. Its investigation found npower’s advert broke rules relating to “truthfulness”, “environmental claims” and “substantiation”.

After consulting with the National Grid about CO2 emissions caused by the displacement of coal-fired generation by wind power, the ASA found that npower’s calculations were based on figures that were “no longer representative of the UK electricity generating mix”. As a result, it concluded that “the carbon offset claim was inaccurate and likely to mislead”.

The watchdog told npower to ensure that future carbon saving claims were based on a “more representative and rigorous carbon emissions factor”.

In its defence, npower said its calculations were recommended by the British Wind Energy Association and it used National Grid information to work out how wind power would offset CO2 by displacing coal and oil-fired electricity generation.

But the National Grid told the ASA that the assumption that coal, rather than gas, would be the fuel that wind power would displace was “inappropriate”. The National Grid said it was more likely now that wind power would displace coal in the winter and gas in the summer.

By Alison Benjamin

Guardian Unlimited

10 October 2007