Wednesday 31 May 2006

Renewable energy for Kalbarri

The Geraldton Guardian, Page: 3
Wednesday, 31 May 2006

HALF of Kalbarri's energy requirements will be supplied through the construction of a $3.8m two-turbine wind farm this year. The project was announced by Energy Minister Francis Logan on Monday as part of an $18m expansion of the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program (RRPGP), which will see rebates offered to small and medium sized renewable energy systems in rural areas on the fringe of the main electricity grid. Mr Logan said having the turbines would provide a more reliable power source for Kalbarri, which was known tor Us questionable supply.

"They are two Enercon wind turbines. 800 kilowatts each; webelieve they will certainly go a long way to providing stability for power supply in Kalbarri. " he said. "There is no guarantee the wind will blow all the time and they will get consistent power, but nevertheless it will certainly add to the reliability.

"They are going to be located, webelieve, south of Kalbairi, the actual site of location is still under negation with the shire there. "Mr Logan said when the power generaied by the new turbines was not being absorbed by Kalbarri, it would be fed back into the main grid so communities on the line to Kalbarri would also benefit from a more stable electricity supply. "I'd imagine construction will start before the end of the year, in terms of when the power will be connected. " he added.

Mr Logan saidhedidnot expect opposition from Kalbarrire sidents to the project. "The Walkaway wind site has been very successful and the embracing of renewable energy by the Mid West is fantastic. " he said. "Even if there is some concern about the location, and we haven't had feedback that there is, I think people in town will always come down to having consistent and reliable energy."

The RRPGP is a joint State and Federal Government initiative funded through the diesel fuel excise scheme. Kalbarri is the first major project under an expansion and extension program.

Investors turn green with energy

The Australian Financial Review, Page: 27
Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Melting ice caps, the rising incidence of natural disasters and soaring oil prices are pointing some savvy investors in the direction of green energy.
Uranium stocks have been among the biggest beneficiaries of the drive to find alternative sources of energy, buoyed by Prime Minister John Howard signing a deal to sell the mineral to China, and a potential agreement with India. But not everyone is buying in to that story. Some fund managers won't touch the industry with a barge pole on the grounds that it is highly speculative.

Luckily, uranium is not the only alternative to coal, gas and oil. Governments around the world are promoting renewable energy from sources such as wind and water as a means of reducing greenhouse emissions. Furthermore, they are setting targets for renewable energy. China has set a 15 per cent target for renewable energy by 2020. In Australia, Victoria is expected to pass laws setting a 10 per cent target for renewable energy.

South Australia has a 15 per cent target, while nearly half the US states, including California, have imposed mandatory targets. All of a sudden, water, wind arid sun are looking like attractive investments. In Victoria the government's plans have encouraged energy companies such as Lakes Oil to tender for 31 exploration permits to find Victoria's geothermal hot spots. According to the Total Environment Centre, 12 per cent of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, wave and tidal power.

Australian Wind Energy Association (Auswind) president Andrew Richards, thinks wind power is leading the way. "Most low-emission solutions being contemplated require technological breakthroughs and are still many years away from commercial deployment," he says. "In contrast, wind energy does not need to be invented, nor is there any need to wait for a magical technological breakthrough. It is already being deployed on a global scale.

"There is certainly room for growth in the sector. According to Auswind, total installed wind energy capacity in Australia was 572 megawatts at the end of last year, compared with 6750MW in the US, 3000MW in India, 991MW in Japan, 769MW in China and 71MW in South Korea. Australia's biggest fund manager, Colonial First State, has invested in the $850 million Babcock & Brown Wind Partners Group, which has stakes in 16 wind farms in North America, Europe and Australia. The listed group's market value increased $180 million between October and December, prompting a hefty $33 million payment in performance fees to its parent company, Babcock & Brown.

Trading at 38 times forecast earnings for 2007, BBWG's share price closed at $1.585 on Monday. Investment banks JP Morgan and UBS have both set a target price of $1.90.Their recommendations are "overweight" and "neutral" respectively.

CFS's head of Australian equities, Simon Shields, says, "We're not Ethical Investors. We look for businesses that are sustainable and on these merits we invest." Despite the potential for green energy, not all companies in the sector are having a good time. Tasmanian company Roaring 40s recently halted development of its $180 million Waterloo Wind Farm, 30 kilometres south-east of Clare.

The company, a joint venture between Asian power developer CLP Group and government business enterprise Hydro Tasmania, blamed the federal government's mandatory renewable energy target scheme. The scheme offers financial incentives for establishing clean and green energy but the targets - which require suppliers to source 2 per cent of their power from renewable sources - have almost been met. The executive director of the Australian Business Council for Continued Sustainable Energy, Ric Brazzale, last week called on the government to reset the targets." The missing link in getting private sector investment into developing and deploying clean energy technologies has been an incentive for companies to do so.

Clearly, something more than 'business as usual' needs to be done if Australia is to play its part in tackling climate change," he said. Until the sector gets more subsidies, investors should take Shields's advice and pick a potentially sustainable business. For investors who prefer wind power, two listed companies to note are Jackgreen and Viridis Clean Energy Group. Sydney-based Jackgreen sells electricity in NSW, Victoria and South Australia entirely sourced from wind farms and hydro generators.

Despite a slow start after a backdoor listing in December 2004, it finally received its financial services licence in March last year. While it has had to draw on the support of its institutional investor, Babcock & Brown, and raise a further S2.09 million, Jackgreen has a unique selling point: its renewable energy costs the consumer no more than its coal-based cousins. Since March last year, Jackgreen has signed up 10,000 households for three years and hopes to provide electricity for 100,000 homes by June next year.

The shares, which listed at 20c before falling to 7c last year, closed on Monday at 40c. A fund manager who did not wish to be named says: "Jackgreen's equal [pricing] strategy has been expensive but it gives people what they want." In 2004, Jackgreen surveyed 3000 households and more than 90 per cent said they would sign up to green energy if it cost them no more than other energy. The analyst says: "The issue is that Origin and others have to generate green energy anyway to meet the government's 2 per cent target and they then charge the customer more for it.

"Jackgreen forecasts a net profit after tax in the vicinity of $5 million for 2006-07. One analyst says it's difficult to project the company's price-earnings ratio. The wind is blowing in the right direction for Viridis, which floated in September at $1 per share after raising $126 million. The group, which is 8 percent owned by Investors Mutual, has a strong following because of the high yields it generates from its wind farms, landfill gas and other renewable energy projects in the US and Europe.

Undeterred by its $ 1.2 million first half net loss, Viridis plans to accumulate $100 million in clean energy investments over the next 12 months. Its shareholders are also buoyed by the company's maiden distribution of 2.5$ a share on March 31 and promises of a 7.1$ dividend in 2005-06 and 9.5$ in 2006-07. Trading on a high forecast multiple of 78 times, Viridis closed at 90c on Monday.

ABN Amro analyst Nicholas Burgess recommends buying the shares at $1.17. There are also opportunities elsewhere. The official sales process for the $2.5 billion float of Snowy Hydro is under way.

The company, which recently appointed Sydney Futures Exchange chair Rick Holliday-Smithas its chairman, hopes to raise more than $2.5 billion. The Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme generates clean and renewable energy through 31 hydro and six gas-fired units and has a licence to store and divert water from the Snowy River catchmentuntil 2079. One analyst says: "We expect there will be strong demand for the shares."

NSW Finance Minister John Delia Bosca has said the float has been timed to coincide with Snowy Hydro's plans for capital expansion into the national electricity market. The NSW government, which owns 58 per cent of Snowy Hydro, stands to pocket at least $1.5 billion from the sale. The Victorian government owns a 29 per cent stake and the federal government 13 per cent.

Meanwhile, New Zealand electricity generator and retailer Trust-Power has enjoyed a 34 per cent increase in its share price over the last year. It recently posted fullyear net profits of SNZ81.4 million ($68.2 million) to end-March against SNZ73.2 million a year ago.

TrustPower has 18 hydro schemes and two wind farms located on the North and South islands. Total annual output is about 2000 gigawatt-hours, compared to a retail load of 4700 GWh. About 55 per cent of this load is fixed-tariff customers, with the rest on variable rates, where TrustPower manages the load for mainly industrial customers. UBS analyst Wade Gardiner says the "strong fourth quarter was due to high wholesale price exposure".

Gardiner says in a research note: "In our view, the company's key risk is fluctuations in wholesale electricity prices at times when it is inadequately hedged." TrustPower, which is trading at 22 times forecast earnings, closed at SNZ6.90 on Monday. Infratil and Alliant have effective control, with a combined share of 59 per cent.

Gardiner recommends investors "reduce" their shareholdings and his target price is SNZ6.50. Other listed renewable energy companies that have been on the radar of investors include Geodynamics, which develops renewable geothermal energy from hot dry rocks, and Environmental Solutions International, which treats water and waste water. Biodiesel fuel companies Australian Biodiesel Group, Australian Renewable Fuels and Mission Biofuels have also caught the attention of investors.

Mission Biofuels listed in May and has a 100,000 tonne per annum biodiesel refinery in Kuantan Port, Malaysia. It recently received permission to establish a 200,000 tonne per annum facility adjacent to its present site. "We expect there will be strong demand for the Snowy Hydro shares."

Don’t be complacent warns Hatton

South Coast Register, Page: 2
Monday, 29 May 2006

IT WAS deja vu for former State Member for South Coast John Hatton when he heard of the latest push for a nuclear power plant in Jervis Bay "People should not be complacent about this issue," Mr Hatton said. "The last time we dealt with the Atomic Energy Commission they lied and prevaricated that was my experience. "I'm surprised that the Government is expecting people to trust them on this issue."

"The last time a nuclear power plant was proposed in 1970 and I was shire president at the time the only way council found out about it was through leaked information," he said. "This current situation is almost a replay of 1970." Back then we had a Prime Minister who was determined that it was going to happen and there was no debate," he said. "This time however the Prime Minister has control of the Senate whereas in 1970 he didn't," "I don't care what Jo Gash says, if the Feds want to put the nuclear power plant in Jervis Bay then they will put it there," Mr Hatton said.

Mr Hatton said it takes 10 years to build a nuclear plant so it's not a short-term option "It is more expensive than solar or wind power or coal-fired power stations," he said. "Australia has the leading technology in the world on solar power so a mix between solar and wind power and use of crop residues would all be far more economical than atomic power."

Mr Hatton said he was genuinely puzzled why the Federal Government with its huge surplus did not put more money into developing alternative power sources. "One thing people forget about is that when nuclear plants reach their use-by date no one knows what to do with them," he said. "If you include the cost of clean-up at the end of the life of a power station it's way over the top." he said.

Tuesday 30 May 2006

'Climate of fear' in solar research

The Canberra Times, Page: 3
Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Australia's renewable energy researchers are operating in a "climate of fear", causing loss of expertise and tipping a former worldleading industry into decline, a leading scientist says. Murdoch University Professor of Energy Studies Dr Phillip Jennings said scientists were fearful of losing research grants if they were perceived as criticising Federal Government policies on renewable energy or climate change "They're afraid of being victimised because they have seen it happen to colleagues who have spoken up about government funding cuts to renewables research, " he said. Former federal energy policy adviser and whistleblower Guy Pearce has also called for "independent and credible economic research" to inform the Government's policy on energy options and climate change. "It's important to understand that some of the same interests who have persuaded our government to avoid emission cuts domestically also have an interest in domestic nuclear power.

Our two biggest uranium producers are also in the coal and aluminium business, " Professor Pearce told a coastal environment forum in Queensland last week. Professor Jennings said Australia had been a pioneer and world leader in solar technology since the 1940s, but was rapidly losing its leadership status as research programs were closed and scientists moved overseas to take up lucrative research opportunities in Europe, China and Japan. "Australia has already lost solar thermal technology to China because there were no funds for its commercialisation. It would have created an industry worth at least $1 billion, but that's gone now.

"Because of the work that was being done at CSIRO, we led the world in solar water heater technology. Their design was the base for subsequent heaters, but because of the Government's short-sighted views on renewable energy, we've lost that lead now to Israel and Greece. "Professor Jennings said the Federal Government had progressively stripped solar energy of research funding, closing the Energy Research and Development Corporation and the Cooperative Research Centre for Renewable Energy. There were now only two solar energy research centres - at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales - despite Australia's strong international track record of innovative solar technology.

Federal Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell was travelling in Western Australia yesterday and unavailable for comment. Science Minister Julie Bishop was also unavailable. Greens energy spokeswoman Senator Christine Milne said solar energy researchers had been progressively shut out of national debate on climate change by the Government because "there are thought to be not enough dollars for the big end of town in solar energy". She said Australia was already losing ground to China, which had set a 15 per cent target for achieving uptake of renewable energy.

China's first billionaire, Dr Zhengrong Shi, a graduate of the University of NSW's renewable energy centre, had recently donated funds to help support renewable energy research at the university "because he felt it was not getting an appropriate level of government support", Senator Milne said. The Chinese billionaire and founder of Suntech Power returned to China in 2001 to set up a company to make photovoltaic cells for use in solar panels. In 2005, he listed his $296 million company on the New York stock exchange, and its market cap has since soared to $7.2 billion.

A recent report to the World Bank by six leading scientists has recommended active and continued support for solar thermal technology claiming it could play "a more significant role" than wind farms in achieving deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. The World Bank report supports claims made in a confidential report by the Cooperative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development that solar thermal technology is capable of producing Australia's entire electricity demand.

Editorial - Australasian Science

Australasian Science, Page: 1
Saturday, 27 May 2006

Over the past decade Australia has enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom. Government coffers are awash with revenue, leading Treasurer Peter Costello to announce $37 billion in income tax cuts last month. Even with this year's largesse, a significant surplus has been forecast for the coming financial year. Past surplus forecasts have proved to be conservative, leading analysts to predict that the government's swelling kitty will be used in next year's Budget to bribe the electorate in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election.

While last month's Budget included $590 million in new funding for medical research over 4 years - a winner with the public - other areas of science were not invited to the party (see p. 13). While medical research makes voters feel good about the taxes they pay, such research needs to be underpinned by basic research in the enabling sciences. However, these have been left to wither.

Australia's expenditure on R&D as a percentage of GDP has been stagnant over the decade-long term of the Howard government, and has slipped to 16th in the OECD as other nations set ambitious targets. When the government's Backing Australia's Ability 2 program expires in 2011, countries like Canada will be spending twice as much as Australia according to this measure. If Australia can't invest for the future during these times of sustained prosperity, how will it do so when there is a downturn in the economy? Last month's Budget lacked the vision required to set Australia up for the decades ahead. The present commodities boom may have paid for today's tax cuts, but where will the revenue streams come from when the bust comes? Where is the vision to foster the industries of the future? A case in point is the government's trenchant support for the coal industry.

While research into "clean coal" technologies has received massive support, the lights have been turned out on several renewable energy research programs. For example, renewable energy company Roaring 40s last month halted work on wind energy projects worth $550 million because the government's 2% Mandatory Renewable Energy Target has not been increased. The target has almost been reached, and an increase is necessary to drive the young industry further. Roaring 40s recently announced a $300 million wind farm deal with China, which has a renewable energy target of 15%.

The company says the wind power industry will collapse without an extension of the MRET scheme.

Aussie companies get wind of perfect energy solution

The Canberra Times, Page: 24
Friday, 26 May 2006

IN the past 200 years, the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has dramatically increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. There is now strong scientific evidence that this increase in greenhouse gas levels is causing an acceleration of the greenhouse effect, causing irreversible climate change. Scientists predict that the average global temperature will increase by up to two degrees celsius by 2030, and by as much as six degrees by 2070. Given that a rise of less than half of one degree produces dramatic ecosystem changes, the potential impacts of global warming could be devastating.

Extreme weather fluctuations such as droughts, storms, floods, heat waves and hail are already more frequent and more severe. There is a pressing need for Australia to pursue less harmful ways of producing the energy we need. Several renewable energy companies are now choosing to generate electricity from non-polluting wind and water. These are business decisions, guided by economic, social and environmental considerations that have delivered sustained profit growth, the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as significant benefits to local communities.

Wind energy consumes nothing and produces no pollution. It does not cause irreversible and unknown damage to the climate or to the environment. Likewise, it is immune from long term price volatility and will never be a terrorist target. The USA, Canada, India, China and many European nations are leading the way in wind power, with the US planning to install 3,000MW of new wind generation this year alone - that's more than four times the total capacity of all Australian wind farms.

Wind energy has zero fuel price risk, zero fuel costs and extremely low running costs. Its fuel is free and endless. As electricity prices rise, wind energy is an obvious choice for the economic security of Australia's energy supply. The cost of wind energy for the consumer is currently up to twice the cost of fossil fuel generated electricity, but with economies of scale and fossil fuel costs rising, wind energy will be cost-competitive within 10-15 years.

If the cost of environmental and health pollution caused by greenhouse gas emissions were factored in, wind energy would be cost-competitive with fossil-fuels today. So how does a windmill make electricity? Wind generator blades rotate due to a pressure differential caused by air moving over the surface of the blade. The blades cause a rotor to turn, which drives an electrical generator; just as steam drives a generator in a coal-fired or nuclear power station. The turbines used in Australian wind farms are 'smart machines' which require minimal maintenance.

Interestingly, most of Australia's wind farms are subject to hot northerly winds on summer days when the power system faces the biggest demand, largely due to the use of large numbers of air conditioners. On those days, wind farms contribute energy when it is needed the most. Opponents of windfarms say that the generators pose a threat to native birdlife, however, studies from Canada, Denmark and the US show that the total impact on wildlife from wind farms is negligible compared to the impact from road traffic. Wind energy's supporters also point to the thousands of species that will face extinction due to climate change in coming years if pollution-free energy systems are not adopted.

Australian wind farms are required to undertake detailed flora and fauna studies during their planning process to ensure minimal environmental impact during planning, construction and operation. The Australian Wind Energy Association, Auswind, has internationally-recognised Best Practice guidelines which its members follow in all stages of wind farm development. Wind farming is also popular with farmers, because well over 90% of their land can continue to be used for growing crops or grazing livestock. Wind energy is one of the most responsible energy sources, and Australia is well placed to take advantage of this finite resource.

It will not be the answer to all our future energy needs, but the Australian Greenhouse Office has found that the national electricity market can comfortably support 8, 000 MW of wind power, which is more than 10 times our current level. And all this without producing any pollution. It is no doubt time for Australians to realise that wind energy is more than a load of hot air. Our future depends on it.