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Correspondent’s week

This week by Tim Webb, a business reporter covering energy for the Independent on Sunday

Companies such as car rental firm Avis, housebuilder Berkeley Homes and Radio Taxis Group have already signed up for the services of the CarbonNeutral Company. For a fee, they get that warm feeling knowing that they are helping to save the planet. “But where’s the financial incentive?” the sceptical business journalist in me asks.

Companies which are carbon-neutral can tick all those pesky corporate governance boxes and ethical investors can feel comfortable about buying shares in them, Shopley replied. Ah, ethical investors. I used to be one of those, I told him. Six years ago, I bought 5,000-worth of shares in Henderson’s ethical unit trust. They are now worth around 4,000. The fund has been renamed the Industries of the Future fund but quite how far in the future I will get my money back is not clear. Five, 50, 100 years?

At a recent dinner for the renewable energy industry, I met a director of a solar power company which was one of these industries of the future invested in by Henderson. (I didn’t give her a hard time, honest.) The dinner was a bit disappointing. Everyone, not least Tony Blair, has been banging on about building new nuclear reactors. So you would have thought the renewable industry would want to use this occasion to state its case to the media as a balance to the pro-nuclear lobbying machine. But it seemed quite happy with the paltry amount of state subsidy it receives for things like wave and solar power, rather than asking for more.

I told two anti-nuclear Greenpeace campaigners about it. One of them wasn’t surprised. “The renewable energy industry has been given nothing for so long, they are so pleased to be getting some Government help, they will not ask for any more,” they said. More depressing was that I was only one of two journalists who turned up for the event.

Next up, off to the London headquarters of energy regulator Ofgem to interview chief executive Alistair Buchanan for the business section profile. He seemed a decent chap. I asked him about soaring gas and electricity prices and he mentioned that he knew of a steel manufacturer which is shutting down for one or two months this winter because of high energy prices.

I spent Friday tracking down this unnamed company and eventually found out that it was Kent-based Thames Steel. However, its finance director assured me that the main reason it was shutting down was to fit a new rolling mill. So it was not the story I was looking for but a rare piece of good news for the UK steel industry, which has been starved of investment for years.

A spokesman for Community, a union which represents steelworkers, confirmed the finance director’s story. He could tell I was disappointed – good news doesn’t get my news editor nearly so excited as bad news. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the way it is.

Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Paul McMillan, email: paul.mcmillan@centaur.co.uk or telephone: 020 7970 4776

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