Saturday 11 March 2006

You're a Good Man, Lester Brown

An interview with the founder of Worldwatch and Earth Policy Institute....

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Tuesday 7 March 2006

China Secures World Bank Loan for Renewable Energy

February 20, 2006

Washington, DC []

Earlier this month, the World Bank approved an $86.33 million loan to scale up China's use of renewable energy as the country's demand for power increases.

The World Bank's Board of Executive Directors approved the follow-up project to the 2005 China Renewable Energy Scale-Up Program Phase 1, which would develop a large wind farm in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and rehabilitate and develop selected small hydropower projects in Zhejiang Province.

The overall renewable energy scale-up program aims to develop the Chinese commercial market for energy suppliers to provide renewable energy to the electricity grid on a large scale in an efficient and cost-effective way. Renewable energy sources like wind power, solar power, and biomass have up to now been produced only in small-scale, pilot programs outside the main electricity supply.

"China's energy demands and its need to decrease air pollution make large-scale renewable energy development an important goal," said Noureddine Berrah, lead energy specialist for China. "The idea behind the program is to increase the commercial, large-scale use of renewable energy sources like wind, small hydropower, and solar energy so that they contribute to meeting the fast-growing electricity demand from homes, farms, and businesses."

As China's gross domestic product quadrupled from 1980 to 2000, its energy consumption more than doubled to about 1300 million tons of coal equivalent (Mtce). Projections for energy consumption indicate that fuel consumption could double or almost triple by 2020 (between 2,500 to 3,300 Mtce), even if energy efficiency efforts were increased. The follow-up project to the China Renewable Energy Scale-Up Project (Phase I) provides investment funds to help demonstrate success in large-scale renewable energy development by local renewable energy developers as other local investment funds take time to materialize.

A total of $67 million of the World Bank's investment would go toward the development of the 100 MW Huitengxile Wind Farm in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which is currently home to approximately 70 MW of wind generation capacity. An additional $19.33 million would finance the rehabilitation and development of selected small hydropower projects (not exceeding 10 MW) in Zhejiang Province.

The $86.33 million International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) loan is a variable spread loan, which matures in 20 years with a 5-year grace period. The project, which is set to begin in April 2006, is expected to be completed in March 2010.

Costs may take wind out of bigger renewable energy plan

The skyrocketing cost of building materials may derail Western Power's plans to extend the Albany wind farm, in southern Western Australia.

Western Power announced in October it would investigate the feasibility of adding another seven turbines to the wind farm at a cost of about $30 million.

The extended wind farm would supply up to 90 per cent of Albany's electricity needs.

Renewable Energy director Paul Ebert says the public response to the project has been encouraging and there are not any technical reasons why it should not go ahead.

But Dr Ebert says he is concerned by unfavourable exchange rates and a spike in the price of materials.

"For example, copper has increased by 50 per cent in cost in the last six months and we use a lot of copper in cables and things like that, so all those costs are going up and that's putting a lot of pressure on the project," he said.

Tracking West

After their innovative wind energy proposals failed to generate excitement in Louisiana, local Sierra Club Chairman Harold Schoeffler and oil magnate Herman Schellstede are getting a welcome reception across the border.

By Nathan Stubbs | 3/1/2006

In February 2004, Schoeffler Cadillac co-owner Harold Schoeffler and New Iberia oilman Herman Schellstede announced their new joint venture, Wind Energy Systems Technology LLC. Headquartered in New Iberia, the company planned to use abandoned oil rigs off Louisiana’s coast as platforms for some of the nation’s first offshore wind farms. It was an innovative idea — one that Schoeffler and Schellstede found to be a tough sell in Louisiana. “Harold and I went to the Public Service Commission the first time, and they figured that we were completely and absolutely crazy in thinking there’s any alternative energy in Louisiana,” Schellstede says.

Two years later, the Louisiana PSC is still studying its options when it comes to wind energy. But WEST isn’t waiting around anymore and pinning its hopes on the Louisiana coast. Under a subsidiary named Galveston-Offshore Wind LLC, WEST recently signed a 30-year lease with the Texas General Land Office to develop the nation’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Galveston. Over the next three to five years, WEST plans to erect 50 turbines on the 11,355-acre site at a total cost of almost $240 million. The offshore wind farm is expected to generate 150 megawatts of electricity a day, enough to power 40,000 homes.

“We can have power in 2008 in Galveston,” Schellstede says. “That’s the goal.”
For WEST, setting up its first wind energy project in Texas was much more practical than trying to work off Louisiana’s coast. While the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources did get a bill through the state Legislature last year to allow for the leasing of offshore state waters for wind farms up to three miles off the coast, the Public Service Commission hasn’t adopted regulations that would allow WEST to sell its power.

At the end of last year, the PSC looked at a study from a consulting firm that examined different incentives other states have implemented to encourage the development of renewable power. Texas is one of 20 states that have set up systems to require utility companies to buy a portion of their power from renewable energy generators. The requirement helps to seed the renewable power industry in a state, eventually allowing for renewable power to become a competitive alternative to traditional fossil fuel power generation. Until Louisiana adopts a similar system, WEST is shut out by utility providers and has no way of selling its power.

WEST hasn’t been the only one lobbying the PSC to promote the use of renewable energy. Several other parties, including state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom’s office, have touted the benefits of generating electricity by burning agricultural byproducts such as wood chips, sugar cane residue and rice hulls. Not only is this a clean, renewable source of energy, advocates say, but it also gives farmers a profitable way of disposing of byproducts.

“Beyond wind, we have outstanding renewable energy opportunities in Louisiana,” says Schoeffler, who also chairs the Acadiana Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The state’s three largest utility companies, Entergy, Cleco and Southwestern Electric Power Company, have rallied against any regulations that would require them to purchase renewable energy. They insist the power sources are unproven and that other auxiliary costs from transmitting the power and adjusting the power grid for intermittent sources — like wind — will drive up their expenses.

Schoeffler and Schellstede maintain all of these issues have been worked out. Because Louisiana’s coast is ideally suited for wind power, they say, the utility companies are passing on a golden opportunity. Unlike onshore wind, offshore wind blows primarily during the day, when demand for electricity is at its peak. As for transmission costs, offshore wind farms can help greatly reduce the distance that electricity currently must travel to reach several coastal communities, like Port Fourchon. “We can do [wind energy] better and cheaper than anybody,” Schoeffler insists.

Right now, the PSC is siding with the utilities, opting to hold off on any renewable requirements. Bill Robertson, who serves as Commissioner Foster Campbell’s executive assistant, says commissioners are cautiously optimistic when it comes to renewable energy. He says it’s really unknown how cost-competitive these renewable energy projects will be in Louisiana, “because nobody’s doing it right now.”

“Right now,” Robertson says, “the commissioners are focused very carefully on anything that affects the price of electricity because the prices are really high right now based on our general dependence on natural gas.

“That’s kind of a double edged sword,” he continues, “because the higher the price of conventional fuels, conceivably the lower the price of a renewable product. But since it’s still largely unknown how much the renewable energy is going to come in, in terms of price, the commissioners are a little bit leery about putting their toe in the water.”

The debate may be just beginning. The PSC has now directed its consultant to go one step further and develop a detailed analysis on the feasibility of renewable energy projects in Louisiana. They also ordered a proposal for a green pricing program. Green pricing requires that utilities give their customers the option of paying a little more each month for electricity by guaranteeing that it come from a renewable source. Robertson expects the PSC will be able to review these studies in about three months. WEST is also considering a small, PSC-approved 35-megawatt pilot project off the coast of Port Fourchon.

For Schoeffler and Schellstede, both elderly white-haired men, the slow-moving bureaucratic process has been frustrating.

“Does a wind turbine work in Louisiana?” Schoeffler asks incredulously. “I mean if it works in Germany and Spain and England and Australia, why wouldn’t it work here? What kind of nonsense is that? Texas is grinding out 3,000 megawatts of windpower. In Texas, they know the wind works. We don’t have to prove it to Texas; they’ve got it figured out. We had no choice but to go to Texas.”

Jim Suydam, spokesman for the Texas General Land Office, says the deal with WEST will generate a minimum of $26 million for Texas’ permanent school fund through royalty payments on the energy. In addition, the state is already collecting on the $10,000 annual lease. Schellstede, who has 37 years of experience in the offshore oil business and whose father worked on the crew of the nation’s first offshore oil rig in the Gulf, makes the project a sound bet for Suydam’s office.

“He’s literally grown up with the business of building offshore platforms,” Suydam says. “He wants to continue to build platforms. We want to continue to be able to make money for the permanent school fund. We’re both just looking for different ways to do the same thing, and wind seems to be the way to do it. They found that Texas was an easier state to do business in than Louisiana.

“We’re the first people to be getting paid for this right now,” Suydam adds, “and we think as the years go by, we stand to make a lot of money off this. We’ve got 367 miles of coast, 10 miles out. We would hope to lease a good portion of that to wind energy development because it makes sense.”

Many Texans are already experiencing the benefits of wind energy. Austin’s municipal utility has a green pricing program, which locked customers who wanted renewable energy into a 10-year fixed rate for their electricity. With the current increase in natural gas prices, green power customers in Austin are getting lower energy bills than customers using traditional energy sources. Demand for the program has exceeded supply, and Austin’s utility recently raffled off the remaining renewable power capacity.

“I don’t think the price of natural gas is going to go down any,” Suydam projects. “And at [current prices], wind is cheaper. So, it’s not about feeling good, and it’s not about being groovy and green or anything. It’s all market-based economics. And the fact that it is good for the environment is like frosting on the cake.”
Schellstede wouldn’t be investing in wind power if he didn’t see enormous potential. He and Schoeffler often point to a 2003 Stanford University study that identifies Louisiana’s Gulf coast as the most opportune location to develop wind energy.

“We’ve always known this from the oil and gas operations,” Schellstede says. “[The wind] blows you out of the Gulf. But we never put two and two together.”
A mild-mannered man who towers over 6 feet tall, Schellstede’s always been a shrewd wildcatter. His company is currently involved with one of the deepest offshore natural gas drills in the Gulf. At the Schellstede and Associates office, housed in a historic 19th century wood floor schoolhouse building along the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Schellstede proudly displays large-scale models of oilfield work boats his company helped design. (Schellstede and Associates holds more than 80 patents.) One model of the world’s largest barge rig occupies an entire corner of a room.

Schellstede has set up the WEST office with five employees in an adjacent building on the old school campus. Mounted on a pedestal outside the WEST office is a new 5-feet-tall model of a red wind turbine hooked into a yellow base that resembles an oil derrick. The turbine tower is adjustable, able to slide up and down into its support base. Schellstede says with this design, WEST will be able to pull down its turbines’ collapsible propellers in the event of a Gulf storm or hurricane.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before WEST can put these turbines on the leased property off the coast of Galveston. Within the next two months, WEST will erect two 80-foot high meteorological towers to identify the best locations for its turbines. Schoeffler will conduct a study examining the Gulf flights of neo-tropical birds to ensure that the turbines do not endanger their migration. And through a partnership with Texas A&M, WEST plans to collect data on Gulf wind and water currents. Schellstede says the yearlong study will cost the company about $5 million before it puts up a single turbine, but in the end, he thinks it will pay off. He is courting big investors interested in partnering in the project once the study verifies the Gulf winds.

“We’re going to learn more about that area than anyone’s ever learned before,” Schellstede says. “It’s very expensive to do, but at the same time it’s worth everything. The economic models that we have, especially if oil goes up to $100 a barrel, there’s a really reasonable payout on these wind farms.”

Monday 6 March 2006

Clean Power At Risk As Target Reached

The Sunday Times, Page: 6
Sunday, 5 March 2006

BILLIONS of dollars of clean power plants might never be built because Australia is ahead of schedule achieving its green energy targets of just 1 per cent. In New South Wales alone, there are 16 wind plants worth $2.4 billion awaiting planning permission, with three more already approved. Together, they would power almost 500, 000 homes and save 4.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses a year - the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road.

While no dollar figures were available for WA, the state has more windfarms than any other - 13 in operation and 11 on the way. This compares with six in Victoria, with another 21 planned; five in South Australia, with 24 planned; four in Tasmania, with six planned; and two in Queensland, with four planned. These combined projects would boost Australia's wind-power capacity more than tenfold - from 618MW to 6457MW - or enough to power almost 1.5 million homes.

Hydro-electric, solar and biomass plants are also at risk because Australia has almost met its renewable-energy target of 1 per cent of all power, four years ahead of schedule. Despite their increasing efficiency, wind turbines need government support to compete with cheap fossil-fuel power. Without an increase in the Federal Government-imposed target, industry figures say many of the projects will not be viable. Under the target scheme, renewable-energy producers are entitled to tradeable certificates for every kilowatt hour of clean energy they produce.

Traditional energy producers are obliged to fill a renewable-energy quota by buying certificates, accounting for about half the income of renewable energy producers. When the 1 per cent target is reached extra certificates generated from new renewable sources will become worthless. SA has its own target of 20 per cent renewable energy over the next 10 years - the most ambitious target so far. WA's target is 6 per cent by 2010- with an increased target mooted for 2020 - while Victoria will soon introduce a 10 per cent target over 10 years.

There are hopes NSW and other states will do the same, but the Government has refused to meet the industry's request for a national target of 5 per cent. In fact, WA's own target could be jeopardised by a lack of federal funding - though this hasn't happened yet, according to WA Energy Minister Francis Logan. ''While no renewable energy projects in WA have been delayed to date due to Australia already meeting its federal target, there is potential for this to occur, '' he said. Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell recently wrote to the WA Government calling for a ''national code'' for windfarms, and threatened to withhold funds without one.

Australia's climate makes it an ideal testing ground for solar technology and wind-energy generation. Engineer-turned-entrepreneur Colin Leibman, whose company Southern Cross Wind Power is trying to build a $233 million wind farm near Goulburn, New South Wales, said January's Asia-Pacific climate conference held little of value for the renewable sector. Mr Leibman said the Government's commitment to spend $100 million developing clean-energy technology would not help because the sector needed economic incentives, not research money. ''For people in the industry, it's very disappointing, '' he said.

Wind power could also bring income to drought-ravaged farmlands, while easing pressure on local environments by reducing the intensity of farming. But Senator Campbell believed the existing renewable- energy target was enough to keep the industry growing. ''The mandatory renewableenergy target has been highly successful in kick-starting wider deployment of renewables, '' a spokeswoman for the minister said. ''The Government is always open to innovative ideas for taking the Energy White Paper framework forward, from the renewable energy industry and other industry groups.

''But the Australian Wind Energy Association is confident things will improve. ''Pressure for increased renewable power is building all the time, '' a spokeswoman said.

Windmill Influence

The Standard (Warrnambool), Page: 5
Saturday, 4 March 2006

There wouldn't be many gambling addicts and partygoers at Melbourne's casino who would think for a minute about what was under their feet before the site was all lights, music, bars, pokie machines and dancefloors. [f they did, the last thing they would think of would be a factory which engineered and made pieces for one of Australia's most photographed manmade objects-the windmill. But in the 1890s, that is what the southwest's James Alston and his band of labourers were doing. In 2006 energy companies continue to earmark south-west Victoria as an ideal setting to plant their giant wind turbines -Macarthur, Codrington, Yambuk, Cape Bridgewater, Cape Nelson, Cape Sir William Grant.

This fact, combined with a backward glance to about 100 years ago, makes you wonder if Warrnambool earnt it's 'windy' cliche for reasons apart from the city's climate. James Alston was not the only big name in windmills which blew in from the south-west-there was Bruce McClure, John Esam, John Morieson and later the Webb Brothers. But Alston is known as the most influential windmill manufacturer in Australia, sometimes referred to as the 'Giant of the Australian Windmill Industry'. The Melbourne Museum recognised this and has one of his windmills on display, although a bit of sniffing around discovered they'd made one tiny mistake - the legendary James Alston has been cited as 'John Alston of Warrnambool'.

The man who would become one of the country's most productive windmill manufacturers and whose employees would go on to become some of Australia's most successful in the same field began his career on Conn's Corner in south-west Victoria. His time spent in the district would be one of innovative design and fierce, sometimes tense competition with rivals. One of his opposition would even spend hours writing letters of complaint to the local newspaper whenever Alston won yet another prize at an agricultural show. He was 13-years-old when he moved from Southworkto Australia in 1850 and was 17-years-old when he took up a fouryear apprenticeship in the iron trade.

In May, 1874, he was reported as buying a business at Dennington, but which was actually at Conn's Corner in Farnham and was on William Rutledge's land. The first Alston Windmill was erected at Dennington in the 1870s and as demand for his windmills grew, the need for a larger premises did too. In 1884 he moved to Warrnambool at theVictoria Forge and Implement Works site on the corner of Raglan Parade and Darling Street and in the same year he secured the first patent for a windmill design in his name. Alston's rival windmill maker John Morieson was playing second fiddle to Alston at all the agricultural shows and his anger was building.

There is some talk around History House even now, that Morieson may in fact have been a better windmill maker and that his claims were not unfounded. But Morieson was especially disappointed when he was refused permission to offer a tender for a windmill which was needed for the Mortlake Common. He badgered the council to admit they were wrong and acknowledge the superiority of his windmills. At one point Morieson tried to sue Villiers and Heytesbury Agricultural Society for 115 pounds, a figure which he believed was the amount of money he would have earnt had he been awarded the prizes he claimed he deserved.

The case was thrown out of court. In 1889 Alston was granted another windmill design patent and trumpeted himself as the largest manufacturer of windmills and pumps in Australia. By 1890 the Alston name had spreadthroughout the country and his windmill design was awarded first prize at the Grand National Show. He did extremely well during the seven-year drought from 1896 when windmills were in high demand and in 1897 he applied for another patent.

It was at this point he made his big move - he moved his business into a large factory at Queensbridge Works in Moray Street, South Melbourne. By 1924 there were more than 50, 000 Alston windmills in use and in the last known issued James Alston and Sons catalogue c!930, Alston claimed he was the originator of the all metal curved windmill blade - it would appear there is some justification for this view. Until the outbreak of World War Two, Alston had a stronghold on the Australian windmill market and also exported to countries such as China, India and parts of Africa. After he died in 1943 the company declined until 1960 when it went into bankruptcy.

The shortage of manufacturing materials after the war and less competitive designs led to diminished sales and allowed other companies such as Metters and Southern Cross to take over the market. Later the company D. E. C.

Webber of Beaconsfield manufactured modified Alston design windmills.

Sunday 5 March 2006

Winds Of Change

Glen Innes Examiner, Page: 1
Thursday, 2 March 2006

WIND farms proposed for the Ben Lomond and Furracabad/Waterloo areas are likely to proceed to the next stage, despite a decision by one of the developers to focus more on China, where renewable energy is more economically viable. Although reports in recent months have predicted the loss of renewable energy developments in Australia it appears the two proposed windfarms, being developed by separate parties, will still get the go ahead. The assurances seem to be supported by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE), which at its annual Outlook conference in Canberra this week supported the development of renewable energy. "The transfer of advanced energy efficient and low emissions technologies is also expected to play a key role in allowing countries to achieve their economic, energy security and environmental goals concurrently," Dr Brian Fisher, Executive Director of ABARE told the Outlook 2006 conference on Tuesday.

Anemometer towers that measure the amount of wind available for wind electricity production have been set up in both areas and have returned positive preliminary results. One landowner in the Furracabad area who did not wish to be identified said he was happy that results showed that the winds in the Waterloo Rangearea were some of the best winds in the state. The area has been noted as a wind-power 'hotspot' on the Great Dividing Range by developer, investment house Babcock and Brown. "It's all go," said Babcock and Brown's Adrian Pizza.

"It's a great wind site. "Mr Pizza told the Examiner yesterday that the Furracabad wind-farm would definitely go ahead assuming there were no problems with the environmental impact assessment currently being undertaken. At this stage Babcock and Brown are looking at constructing 20 wind turbines in the Furracabad area though this number has not yet been finalised. Ben Lomond landowner and potential wind-farmer Dorothy Every pointed out the flow on benefits to the community with tourism being generated by visitors to the wind-farms and a boost in general commerce during the construction phase.

"We think it would be of economic benefit to the local district in both that it will be a financial benefit to the landowner and there will be a flow-on effect to the greater community through tourism as a result of public curiosity," Mrs Every said. "Even in the construction phase the local communities will benefit and later a person will have to be employed for maintenance," she said. Although the future of the current developments in the region does look stable at this stage there are still major concerns over further renewable energy initiatives as major green energy companies move their operations offshore. Richard Finley-Jones of company evergreen which is involved in the development of the Ben Lomond wind-farm told the Examiner that the inability of the Federal Government to offer competitive prices for renewable energies was the major reason projects such as wind-farms are being sent overseas.

He noted that the Howard Government has asked for only 2 per cent of all energy production to come from renewable energies, a quota that is already oversubscribed. "The price is normally $30 to $40 per kilowatt hour and now it is down to $26 because the market has been oversubscribed, other markets such as in China are up to $100 per kilowatt hour," Mr Finley-Jones said. "The policy directions of the government are driven by the fossil fuel industries," he said. Although being pessimistic of the current political acceptance of renewable energies Mr Finley-Jones was optimistic for the future of the Ben Lomond development as it is located in a prefect location of wind-farming.