Thursday, 31 July 2008

AGL will commit $10m

Adelaide Advertiser
Thursday 10/7/2008 Page: 68

POWER giant AGL Energy has thrown its weight behind South Australia's geothermal energy industry, committing to invest about $10 million next year. AGL has bought 9.99 per cent of geothermal firm Torrens Energy, which is exploring for hot rocks north of Port Augusta, near Port Wakefield, in the Barossa and the Port Adelaide area. AGL paid $2.2 million for the stake in Torrens, but has also agreed to fund the drilling of 4km deep geothermal energy wells, once Torrens had completed initial exploration, in return for a half stake in each project.

Engineered geothermal energy, still in the testing phase, involves drilling deep wells into hot rocks in the earth's crust, and circulating water between them. The energy in the hot water or steam which returns to the surface is then used to generate electricity. South Australia is the undisputed leader in the geothermal sector in Australia, with more than $700 million earmarked for investment in the sector - or 82 per cent of investment Australia-wide.

The State Government was applauded for setting up a progressive bureaucratic structure to foster investment, while the Federal Government set aside $50m of the $500m Australian Renewable Energy Fund to co-fund geothermal drilling. Torrens has had encouraging results from exploration at its Parachilna prospect area near Leigh Creek. Chief executive Chris Matthews said the benefit of Torrens' projects was that they were close to power grids. Other projects, such as GeoDynamics's Habanero project in the Cooper Basin, are very remote.

"We're combining Torrens Energy's expertise which is exploring for, identifying and then perhaps defining geothermal resources, with AGL's considerable experience in bringing resources to development and market, so this is a perfect fit," he said. Mr Matthews said it was too early to say when geothermal could be a large contributor to the nation's power supply. "We'd like to think that five to 10 years from now the geothermal sector will have a significant, large scale impact on the renewable energy mix in Australia."

State's first biomass plant wins approval

West Australian
Tuesday 8/7/2008 Page: 16

A controversial biomass plant, which will generate enough energy to power about 45,000 homes and save about 280,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, has been given the go-ahead by the State's environmental watchdog. The $110 million plant, the first of its kind in WA and the biggest in Australia, will turn 380,000 tonnes of waste from the timber industry each year into 40 megawatts of power for the State electricity grid.

WA Biomass Pty Ltd, a joint venture between Babcock and Brown and National Power, still needs the approval of Environment Minister David Templeman to build the plant at the Diamond Timber Mill site, 10km south of Manjimup. Announcing a recommendation of conditional approval for the project yesterday, Environmental Protection Authority chairman Paul Vogel said the proposal would have low emissions and result in greenhouse gas savings which would contribute to the Government's 20 per cent renewable energy target.

Dr Vogel said an expert risk assessment had concluded that the direct health risks of exposure to emissions were "low" and the Health Department had agreed on the proviso that WA Biomass comply with conditions. "The controlled combustion of plantation waste would produce significantly less emissions when compared to current open burning practices, decreasing the pollutant load currently emitted into the region's airshed," Dr Vogel said.

The EPA approval, which is open to appeal in the next 14 days, includes conditions requiring emission limits, monitoring and reporting obligations and limits on the amount of ash stored on the site. Manjimup shire president Wade De Campo said the plant was a "winwin" for the local community and was expected to generate about 50 fulltime jobs, as well as hundreds of jobs during the construction phase.

"This is the biggest project we have ever seen in our shire in 100 years," Mr De Campo said. He said the project still needed planning approval from the shire and he expected an "immense amount of political pressure" on councillors. Biomass Action Group spokesman Neal Bartholomaeus said there were still major concerns about the impact of the project on local agriculture and water supplies. WA Biomass spokesman Ross Rolfe said it was hoped the project would start producing energy close to its original target of late next year.

Carbon capture efforts `stalled'

Canberra Times
Tuesday 8/7/2008 Page: 2

Coal-based electricity generators are stalling the development of geosequestration opportunities, the Government's chief climate change adviser says.

At his first public meeting to discuss his draft climate change report, Professor Ross Garnaut said new geosequestration technologies, which enable the capture and storage of greenhouse pollutants, could eventually bring forward timetables on the lowering of carbon emissions. "The coal-based electricity generators don't want to acknowledge the possibility of doing anything early because their case for compensation and free permits and so on depends on there not being low emissions alternatives," Professor Garnaut told the Perth forum.

"My own assessment is that if we put a lot of resources in to support for (the) research, development and commercialisation of geosequestration technologies we could possibly end up with much better timetables than have been discussed." Professor Garnaut told Greens senator Scott Ludlam that while there was a risk that renewable energy would be pushed to the margins, there would be other incentives to help new technologies come onto the market.

"One is the price on carbon which means that the resource will be more competitive.... the second is the.... funding for research development and the commercialisation of new technologies.... the third (is a) commitment to.... the rationalisation of the electricity grids to make sure that there's no systematic exclusion of new sources of electricity because they're in locations away from the established grids," he said.

The Australian Energy Supply Association, which represents Australia's electricity and downstream gas businesses, attacked Professor Garnaut's claim that coal-based electricity generators were not interested in developing geosequestration technologies.

The association's chief executive, Brad Page, said Professor Garnaut did not appear to be aware of the research work already being undertaken within the industry. "That is the most outrageous, unfounded comment I've ever heard," Mr Page said. "It demeans the man."

Financial gain, not just pain

Tuesday 8/7/2008 Page: 4

AUSTRALIA stands to make huge financial gains if it seizes the initiative ahead of global rivals by moving quickly to a low emissions economy. The claim came yesterday from leading American climate scientist Ben Santer, who is famous for linking human activity with global warming, and worked as a lead author of the groundbreaking 1995 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In a public lecture in Adelaide, Dr Santer reacted to the release of Ross Garnaut's draft report on an emissions trading scheme by saying it was in Australia's financial interests to swiftly develop the technology and policies demanded by a low-emissions economy. "There are tremendous economic benefits to be won for those first countries to grapple with climate change," he said at the University of Adelaide. He suggested that those countries that made the running in regard to the development of climate-friendly technologies would stand to make a significant financial benefit by exporting it to the rest of world.

Low-carbon and zero-emission energy sources were among the most pressing priorities, he said, rejecting the "false dichotomy" of "the environment or jobs." Dr Santer is an expert in global climate modelling and specialises in gleaning the effects of human activity on the earth's climate. He said the "best modelling" predicted a global temperature increase of between 1.5C and 3C this century.

Dr Santer is no stranger to controversy. He was criticised by energy industry interests for changing the wording of the final IPCC report in 1995, allegedly to comply with the IPCC's political agenda. Dr Santer and others rejected the criticism, asserting that he did not alter the overall findings of the report, which expressed some doubt about the role of human activity in climate change.

Dr Santer said yesterday that the debate over human-induced global warming had largely been settled in mainstream science, industry and political circles. He even admitted he had some reason for optimism, after 15 years of struggling to communicate the implications of climate change to the wider community. "We have spent decades trying to convince people that there is a problem," he said. "I think the message has gotten through, even in the US." Dr Santer and the IPCC are preparing the fifth IPCC report, due out in 2015.

He said a huge part of the new report would be devoted to improved climate modelling, so that policy-makers struggling in Australia with a planned emissions trading scheme might act with more confidence. Dr Santer admitted that modelling of the climate's future would never be 100 per cent accurate, but said this was no reason not to act. "If we wait until we understand every aspect of climate change, then we will be waiting for something that never happens," he said. "Meanwhile, the human imprint on climate will increase."

Garnaut hits back at Costa criticism

Tuesday 8/7/2008 Page: 4

THE Rudd Government's climate change adviser rounded on Michael Costa after the NSW Labor Treasurer warned that "Chicken Little" politics were pervading the global-warming debate. However, three state governments joined Mr Costa yesterday in supporting compensation for electricity generators under an emissions trading scheme. Ross Garnaut hit back at Mr Costa after his attack in The Australian yesterday, and there were calls from within the Labor caucus for him to be disciplined by NSW Premier Morris Iemma.

Professor Garnaut said Mr Costa's position as a climate change sceptic had been known for some time. "The NSW Treasurer is a well known denier of the science (of climate change)," he said. "I'd be very happy to have further discussions with him in Sydney on Thursday." South Australian Energy Minister Pat Conlon accused Professor Garnaut of being indifferent to the fate of coal-fired electricity generation to the point of irresponsibility."

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh also favours compensation but rebuked Mr Costa over his colourful attack on the Garnaut report, which argues against special treatment for the generators. "It is far too serious an issue for name calling. This is the biggest challenge being faced globally and we need to work together to find solutions," Ms Bligh said. She also backed the Rudd Government's plan to introduce an ETS in 2010, saying that, though it would demand extraordinary effort, she was confident Australia could rise to the challenge.

A Victorian Government spokeswoman said it wanted to ensure the federal government understood the impact of an ETS on low-income families, power generators and trade-exposed companies in the state. After meeting Professor Garnaut in Perth yesterday, West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter said it did not appear Mr Costa would get his wish of free permits for the power industry. "I doubt whether the ultimate model will be one of free permits," Mr Carpenter said.

"I don't think that will happen. .. what Professor Garnaut has suggested is a stepped approach where initially for the first two years you have a fixed price for the permits and then after two years the market price will prevail. "Ultimately though, for us in Western Australia, we have to understand there are going to be costs in the implementation of an. .. emissions trading scheme." Professor Garnaut said it was not surprising there were dissenting views about global warming, as it was "a complicated issue."

"This is a democratic country and every interest has a legitimate right to put its case and that case will be put vigorously I'm sure," he said. "What we must make sure of is that we have a strong centre of the public policy process so that the public interest is looked after." NSW Labor backbencher Steve Whan called on Mr lemma to give Mr Costa "a boot up the bum" for contradicting government policy.

Mr Whan, the member for the southern seat of Monaro, said Mr Costa's calls for electricity generators to be given free permits conflicted with his Government's policy, and reflected the Treasurer's interest in revenue from coalfired power stations. "If I, as a backbencher, came out and contradicted government policy like that, I'd get a boot up the bum," he said. "I think that's what he should be getting from the Premier as well." Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong also rejected Mr Costa's warnings after he argued in The Australian that: "Chicken Little arguments are no substitute for getting right the important details on issues of far-reaching consequence, but Professor Garnaut himself has said his detailed economic impact modelling won't be available until August."

Ms Bligh wrote to Professor Garnaut last month saying there was a case for transitional assistance for electricity generators for the disproportionate burden they suffered under an ETS. Mr Conlon took a similar approach. "An ETS in Australia's situation must take into account the current generators remaining commercial, something which the Garnaut report never seems to have embraced," he said.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Wind woos Walkaway man

Thursday 3/7/2008 Page: 44

Walkaway farmer Bruce Garratt doesn't notice the 15 big white wind turbines dotted over his property and hasn't once seen a dead bird under one. "Neither have my neighbours. We've never worried about them, and it doesn't affect our farming at all. The sheep and the cattle use it as shade," he said.

"As for their noise, it's not a worrying noise, more of a soothing noise. They are just another bit of the farm." The turbines have been on the farm for four years. The wind farm has helped Bruce and his wife Andrea to stay in farming, particularly over the past couple of years, giving them an extra income boost, while a private company leases part of their land.

Their farm is on 1800ha spread over two properties and they leasing another 600ha. While the farm is ideally located close to Geraldton, Bruce reckons it's unfortunate that land is becoming so dear. If the farm can't make its own repayments then he says there there is no point expanding it. Like many other farmers in the district Bruce has dropped his sheep numbers and has stopped breeding them all together.

The Garratts still breed cattle but also buy and sell them too, having 160 head of cattle at present and turning over 160 of them last year. "I don't know whether we will buy anymore sheep this year but I will buy cattle if I can get them for the right price," Bruce said. "Cattle are easier work. less hassle while sheep seem to take more people to work.

The Garratts are cropping 480ha canola, 320ha barley, 350ha wheat, 340ha lupins and some hay and so far they have had a pretty good start besides a couple of hiccups with seeding. "Our canola, wheat and barley got in really well. We lost probably 12ha of wheat and barley seeded on the white sand. When we got those strong winds it cut the crop off," Bruce said. "We might go re-seed it; it's not too late for barley.

"We might not get much crop but at least it will cover the ground." It was the first year Bruce had seeded the property on his own. He said it was a bit different sitting on the tractor all day and night. The Garratts normally deliver 3500 tonnes each year.

"In 2007 it was about 1400 tonnes so it was certainly an improvement but it was nothing like what we should be. We've just got to hope that this year is better." Drought was tough but Bruce has always loved farming, starting on a family set up south of Walkaway before taking over his father- in-law's property, shifting only 20km.

"When we left our family partnership, my father-in-law gave me an opportunity to farm at his place," he said. With 107mm falling on the Walkaway property, Bruce reckons it has been a good start this year, but he is always realistic.

Wind is best in west

Australasian Science
July, 2008 Page: 14

Australia's most promising offshore wind sites lie off the coast of Western Australia, a new study has found. Prof Dong-Sheng Jeng of the University of Dublin and Sydney University postgraduate student Yun Zheng evaluated Australian offshore sites on the basis of wind speed, water depth, environmental impact and development costs.

So far Australia has put all its windmills on land, but many European countries are shifting them out to sea as a shortage of remote onshore sites and the greater reliability of offshore winds overcome the high building costs of sea-based windmills.

But Zheng says she does not anticipate that offshore wind farms will be built in Australia in the near future. "What makes Australia different to Europe is that there is so much space on land to build wind farms there's no need to go offshore at this stage," she says. Nevertheless, development overseas may eventually bring costs down.

ACT residents can produce own electricity under new law

AAP Newswire
Thursday 3/7/2008

CANBERRA, July 3 AAP - ACT residents can now harness their own electricity and sell it back to the grid, under new laws passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly. Under the Electricity Feed-in (Renewable Energy Premium) Bill 2008, Canberrans can install photovoltaic (solar) cells or other renewable sources, produce their own energy, and sell it back to the power grid.

In return, they'll be paid a tariff 3.88 times the retail cost of electricity for the clean energy they feed back for up to 20 years from the date they sign up to the scheme. A spokeswoman from Chief Minister Jon Stanhope's office says the tariff is the highest in the country, ahead of South Australia which also has legislated feed-in laws.

"It offers Canberrans an incentive to invest in renewable energy production. .. that they can feed back into the grid at a rate much higher than energy they would have otherwise bought," ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said in a statement. The cost of the scheme will be passed on to consumers in proportion to the amount of electricity they use.

That means companies who use much larger amounts of electricity will be billed higher than low-income families and pensioners in small dwellings. "Coal-fired electricity will become more expensive as a price is put on carbon, and drought affects supply," ACT Conservation Council spokeswoman Genevieve Wauchope said in a statement.

"When packaged with a suite of initiatives, such as a short-term emissions reduction target, energy efficiency measures, and better public transport, the tariff will position Canberra as the Australian leader in a carbon constrained future." Ms Wauchope said the federal government should consider a national feed-in tariff, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Raise price to pass on carbon cost: Synergy

West Australian
Friday 4/7/2008 Page: 4

WA's electricity retailer will lobby the State Government to allow it to pass onto residents the full cost of a carbon trading scheme, estimated to be an extra $200 a year per household. Synergy Energy boss Jim Mitchell said a price rise was the only way to ensure customers limited their energy use, which was the aim of a carbon tax. Energy Minister Francis Logan said yesterday any extra cost of climate change above the amount which had already been factored into planned rate increases from July next year would "probably" be passed on to residential customers.

But he said a final decision on how to cover the cost of carbon permits had not been made and would depend partly on long-awaited recommendations to be released today by the Federal Government's key adviser on climate change, Ross Garnaut. Mr Logan said a direct subsidy to Verve Energy, the utility's generating arm, was still a possibility. But Mr Mitchell said a taxpayer funded subsidy would not be true to the spirit of a carbon tax scheme.

"We've been arguing that we must have cost-reflective tariffs because our customers ultimately have to pay," he said. "Rather than it just coming out of general taxes, we should target users. That actually then encourages customers to do some terrific stuff in energy efficiency. We don't know what that (extra) cost will be but there is a recognition that one must pass through that cost as it happens." There is mounting speculation the State Government underestimated the cost of a carbon-trading scheme when it set a schedule for a 72 per cent increase in power rates over the next six to eight years, starting with a 10 per cent increase from July next year.

The increases were based partly on an estimate that the carbon trading scheme would add 17 per cent to the cost of power production over two years. But Verve Energy chief executive Shirley In't Veld has previously revealed that the real cost of a carbon scheme would add an extra 25 per cent annually. Mr Mitchell's comments echo those from the Business Council of Australia, which yesterday argued that businesses must be allowed to pass on to consumers the costs they incur under the scheme and that consumers must prepare for significant rises when it starts in 2010.

BCA president Greg Gailey said the nation's biggest employers, including building products manufacturers and minerals processors, would be forced to close or move their operations offshore unless they got special treatment under the emissions trading scheme.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has indicated that "every cent" of the revenue from the trading scheme will be spent on compensating households and businesses for the higher prices. The Greens, whose support will be vital in getting the legislation through the Senate, want some of the revenue spent on clean energy sources.

Canberrans warm to new solar energy law

Canberra Times
Friday 4/7/2008 Page: 9

Canberrans are delighted with new laws that allow residents to be paid for solar energy and hope the ACT will become the "solar capital." Residents who produce solar power will be paid almost 60c for every kilowatt hour of electricity they generate, a payment called a "feed-in tariff."

Executive director of Canberra community group Sea Change, Vanessa Morris has a solar hot water system and is keen to add some panels to her roof to make the most of the tariff when it comes into effect next year. "I want to boil my kettle knowing that I am using the sun, not some old technology," she said. "The subject of solar power is immensely popular in Canberra.

People are really excited by it." The group's Jamison arts, which encompasses the suburbs of Cook, Aranda and Macquarie, has set itself the ambitious goal of reducing the ecological footprint of the three suburbs by 30 per cent in the next three years. The group held a public meeting to gauge Canberra's interest in solar energy. About 200 people showed tip and the group proceeded to use its strength in numbers to get a provider to sell it solar systems as cheaply as possible.

It negotiated a deal with Armada Solar and about 53 people have signed on to buy solar panels. "So many have a vision of Canberra as the solar capital. We have the public inclination, we have the roofs and we have such a need to increase the amount of renewable energy uptake in Australia," Ms Morris said. The ANU's director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, Professor Andrew Blakers, was enthusiastic about the legislation.

"I think it's a wonderful thing to have happened. I congratulate Mick Gentleman for a well-run campaign to get (the legislation) accepted and I think it's going to put Canberra on the solar map," he said. A feed-in tariff was a better incentive than the Federal Government's rebate because those enjoying the tariff had a vested interest in making sure their system worked for 20 years.

The rebate encouraged residents to buy the cheapest possible system and possibly use it only in the short term. Professor Blakers estimates that over the course of the year in Canberra a resident could get $900 to $1000 a year through the tariff, depending on system size. "The system costs a fair bit so you're not going to make a fortune for it," he said.

"But it's attractive enough for a lot of people to invest and the more people invest the more everyone's a winner in the long run." Labor backbencher Mr Gentleman said,"Where we have seen this (tariff) work in other countries, it has generated a social change within the community when people start to take it tip.

"It might start with an interest in solar electricity and then (people) start looking at other things they can do to combat climate change." Phil Harveyson, of solar business Green Frog Solar in Fyshwick, said a lot of his clients had been waiting for a tariff to install a system.

"It's certainly going to help in getting people over the line for solar, giving them an incentive, especially as the Federal Government made it harder for people to access the Commonwealth rebate," he said.

Low-carb diet for energy is essential

Adelaide Advertiser
Friday 4/7/2008 Page: 18

POWER stations to close down. Petrol price increases of 10, 20 or 30 cents. Industries from cars to cows needing special deals. No wonder research has shown that most Australians don't fully understand an Emissions Trading Scheme. Let's call a spade a spade. Under a fair-dinkum Emissions Trading Scheme, energy prices will rise. This is because 80 per cent of our power comes from outdated coal power stations and because petrol and gas are greenhouse emissions-intensive.

Switching to cleaner, low emission energy sources comes at a cost. But with careful design and the right policies, these costs can be turned to opportunities. Many studies have shown that significant reductions in greenhouse gas pollution can be made with ongoing strong economic growth. Monash University modelling shows that Australia could be carbon-neutral by 2050 and still triple its economy - boosting jobs and income.

Last week, the Climate Institute Australia released a report from economists at CSIRO and Australian National University which found that, for most Australians, income growth will outstrip increases in energy expenses from emissions trading. A strong package of energy saving reforms and public transport investments can lock this in. The story is more challenging for low-income households. Even with energy savings and public transport investments, some people will have to spend a greater proportion of their incomes on energy. It is a real concern for low-income families but there are measures to help.

A relatively small but significant part of the multibillion dollar emissions trading investment fund can be used for affordability payments and help those low-income and disadvantaged households genuinely impacted by the introduction of emissions trading. Victoria's brown coal power stations are also a big challenge.

Industry insiders jokingly refer to them as burning mud for power - you have to go to Estonia to find something more inefficient. It's difficult to understand how the companies that bought them didn't factor in emission permit prices. Special deals "buying time" for these companies aren't good enough. Any use of the Emissions Trading Investment Fund should be clearly linked to cleaner energy outcomes like renewables, Carbon Capture and Storage or gas. That way, we can ensure supply and a switch to clean energy.

With the debate on climate policies reaching fever pitch before the release of the Garnaut review's draft report today, we shouldn't lose sight of the big picture. Climate policies need to answer three questions.

First, how quickly will this turn around Australia's still-rising greenhouse pollution? Australia's emissions continue to rise with the biggest spikes from electricity generation, up 53 per cent between 1990 and 2006, and transport, up 27.4 per cent during the same period. We should, and can, reverse this trend by 2012, with cuts of at least 25 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020. Second, how will climate policies help achieve a global deal? Australia is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and an effective agreement is very much in our interest.

We can't be a positive player by saying one thing, and doing another. We need to plan significant reductions ourselves before we can ask them of others. Also, we need to clearly signal that we will invest in our neighbouring developing countries. It is in our interests to help clean up their development and prepare them for the unavoidable climate impacts mostly caused by developed countries. A guaranteed proportion of the emissions trading revenues should be set aside for such assistance.

Finally, how will climate policies help us be competitive in the emerging global low-carbon economy, creating jobs and prosperity for all Australians? Meeting emission reduction targets and building the clean energy alternatives will generate trillions of dollars of investment.

The more we waste protecting industries from cleaning up their act, the less we have to invest in unlocking these opportunities for Australian jobs and pay packets. Growing a low-carbon economy will require a full tool kit of policies but these are well within our grasp. With them, we can achieve a healthy economy and a healthy planet to hand on to our kids.

John Connor is CEO of the Climate Institute Australia.