Saturday 11 November 2006

Election job fears: Portland staff urged to vote carefully

Warrnambool Standard
Friday 10/11/2006, Page: 5

By Madeline Healey

THERE are fears 700 wind farm-related jobs in Portland could be threatened if the Liberal Party wins government. Keppel Prince general manager Stephen Garner urged his staff to think carefully about their vote.

Mr Garner said yesterday the Liberals' policy to abolish the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) scheme would mean major wind farm projects wouldn't go ahead, forcing him to lay off 80 workers employed to build turbine towers.

The State Government said those jobs would be among 200 wind energy manufacturing jobs and as many as 500 project construction jobs that would be threatened in Portland if the VRET was abolished.

Member for South West Coast Denis Napthine said major wind farms in the south-west wouldn't be threatened as they were proposed long before the VRET scheme, which was announced in July.

Mr Garner said the VRET scheme, which forces energy retailers to buy 10 per cent of power from renewable energy sources, was the main artery to the heart of Keppel Prince and blade manufacturer Vestas. He said if the scheme was retained he would be in a position to put on an extra 20 jobs to build towers for various wind farms including stage two of the Portland Wind Energy Project.

Developer of the Portland project, Pacific Hydro, said yesterday it was ready to begin construction in December but would have to cancel the development if the Liberals won government.

Mr Garner said he was not a political man but he felt compelled to speak out about the Liberal policy which would threaten his business and 80 of the 120 employees in the company's wind tower division. He said the division had been busier recently and now operated 24 hours a day over three shifts.

Mr Garner said it would continue to grow if the company could win contracts to provide towers to wind projects including AGL's Macarthur wind farm, which was approved by the State Government recently. He said if the company was able to secure a contract to build Macarthur it would ensure the division two years' work to build the 183 towers.

Mr Garner said the Portland project would keep workers busy for most of next year.

Minister for Energy Industries Theo Theophanous visited Keppel Prince yesterday and said that under a Liberal government no wind farms would go ahead.

"People have to understand that there is a very clear choice if you are concerned about jobs in regional Victoria, climate change (or) the drought you shouldn't vote for the Liberal Party," he said. Mr Theophanous said that under the Bracks Government south-west Victoria would become an energy hub.

"It will have wind farms, it will have gas being delivered as well as gas power stations, mineral sands ... There's a lot of prosperity that can emanate from this area as a result of its natural resources."

MP's support questioned

Warrnambool Standard
Friday 10/11/2006, Page: 5

Keppel Prince boss Stephen Garner has accused member for South West Coast Denis Napthine of not supporting the southwest's wind farm industry. Mr Garner said Dr Napthine claimed to support wind farms but hadn't supported the Victorian Renewable Energy Target(VRET) scheme, which he said was essential for the future of 80 of his staff.

Labor Party candidate for South West Coast, Roy Reekie, has also criticised Dr Napthine's stance on wind farms. Mr Reekie said Dr Napthine said he supported wind farms but hadn't stopped his party's plans to abolish VRET.

"Denis is two-faced on this issue. He'll say one thing here and do the opposite in Melbourne," Mr Reekie said.

Dr Napthine yesterday hit back, accusing the State Government and wind industry of "playing politics" by claiming that the VRET scheme was essential to the wind industry's future.

"There's politics being played here by the State Government and the wind industry, which is trying to promote even greater assistance and subsidies and government promotion," Dr Napthine said. "The fact remains I am a long-term supporter and advocate of wind farms." Dr Napthine said he did not support VRET because he believed it should be replaced by a national scheme.

"If you just go as an individual state what you do is push up electricity prices in one state and you drive investment and jobs into other states." Dr Napthine said he didn't believe south west projects would be threatened by cutting the VRET scheme. "VRET was only passed a couple of months ago. Macarthur has been proposed for three or four years," he said.

Subsidies to pay for green power drive

Sydney Morning Herald
Friday 10/11/2006, Page: 6

Wendy Frew Environment Reporter

NSW taxpayers will subsidise investment in renewable energy projects in other states and pay more to subsidise energy-intensive industries such as aluminium and steel under a State Government scheme announced yesterday.

The Government's decision to make energy retailers buy 15 per cent of their electricity supply from clean sources such as wind and solar by 2020 will add only $1 a week to consumer power bills, the Premier, Morris lemma, said.

He said the scheme would cut the state's greenhouse gas pollution by 115 million tonnes - the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road for 12 months - and stimulate investment in renewable energy generation. "The need to act on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is clear," he said.

The "green" electricity could be sourced from anywhere in the National Electricity Market (which does not include Western Australia or the Northern Territory).

That meant NSW taxpayers would get the cheapest renewable energy available rather than relying on projects inside NSW, the chief executive of the Renewable Energy Generators of Australia, Susan Jeanes, said. "For example, the optimum sites for wind are found in South Australia and Tasmania," she said.

However, Greenpeace said the scheme could mean NSW would miss out on jobs and investment associated with renewable energy, making it more difficult to move away from coal-fired power.

"Overwhelmingly, our response [to the scheme] is positive, but we want NSW to start moving away from coal, not just offsetting its greenhouse gas emissions in other states," Greenpeace's energy campaigner, Mark Wakeham, said.

The increased price of power associated with the scheme will not flow to "energy-intensive users" such as the aluminium and steel industries. Mr Wakeham said that meant taxpayers would further subsidise those industries, which already receive tens of millions of dollars in electricity discounts.

The Opposition's environment spokesman, Michael Richardson, said it would have preferred a scheme that encouraged investment in NSW. He called for NSW to fund research into so-called "clean-coal" technology to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The renewable energy target follows a similar scheme in Victoria, which has a 10 per cent green power target by 2016. South Australia has a 20 per cent target by 2014, much of which has been met by Federal Government support for renewable energy.

Almost all of Tasmania's power is provided by renewable energy.

Mr lemma also announced planning approval for a $220 million wind farm south of Tarago. Until now, there was no market for the cleaner but more expensive electricity generated by wind farms.

The Government's energy plan also includes a continued push for a national emissions trading scheme and curbing demand for electricity. It also made a commitment to stabilising greenhouse gas pollution at 2000 levels by 2025, and cutting them by 60 per cent by 2050.

At The Coalface
  • In 2005, 90 per cent of NSW's electricity came from coal-fired power.
  • Electricity generation contributes about one third of greenhouse emissions in NSW.
  • Only 6.1 per cent of the state's electricity consumption is from renewable sources.

Origin says no to `Dead Koala' trade

Hobart Mercury
Friday 10/11/2006 Page: 3

SOME national energy companies will not buy power from Gunns Ltd's proposed wood burning power plant. Origin Energy has a complete ban on buying Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from burning native forest waste, which the industry has dubbed "Dead Koala" certificates.

Almost all national retailers also take part in the Green Power scheme, which forbids RECs sourced from burning wood waste.

"Origin has a policy that we will not buy Renewable Energy Certificates from any generator that burns native wood waste, which results from chopping down native timbers." said Origin environmental markets manager Steve Harris.

Gunns' proposed pulp mill project includes a wood-burning plant. The Huon Wood Centre power plant - formerly Southwood - would also burn native forest.

A Federal Government scheme means retailers have to source a certain proportion of power from renewable generation. "That includes wind farms, hydro and upgrades of existing plants," Mr Harris said.

Renewable Energy Certificates, or RECS, are the proof that companies source their power from renewable energy. Gunns managing director John Gay was not available for comment on the issue yesterday.

Green light for wind farm

Canberra Times
Friday 10/11/2006 Page: 3

A controversial $220 million wind farm north of Bungendore is a step closer after receiving crucial planning approval. NSW Prettier Morris lemma announced yesterday that the 63-turbine wind farm had been granted approval, subject to 80 strict conditions.

The wind farm, which would be capable of generating enough electricity for 52,000 homes, has been the source of controversy in the Bungendore area, with residents worried about the impact on the landscape and environment.

Some residents have said the development would create an intrusive "visual scar" and undermine the beauty and historic cultural value of Lake George. Canberra scientists have also voiced concerns about plans to clear endangered woodlands to install the turbines.

Monaro MP Steve Whan said renewable energy was "vitally important for the future of Australia - and of our planet." "We simply must do more to help off-set and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

Yesterday's announcement from the Premier demonstrates a commitment on the part of the state Government to encourage alternative energy sources.

"The threat of global warming is very real - and we're seeing more evidence of its impacts every day," Mr lemma said. The wind farm would employ tip to 25 people during the nine-month construction period.

Mr lemma is hoping the wind farm will help the Government achieve its aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He wants the state to double its production of "green" energy over the next five years, and has announced Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets for the state's electricity companies.

Renewable energy makes tip 6 per cent of total energy used in NSW. Under the mandatory targets announced by Mr lemma, that figure will rise to 10 per cent by 2010 and 15 per cent by 2020.

Mr lemma described it as the "first step" in the state's plan to address climate change. But he warned that electricity bills would increase, since renewable energy was more expensive to produce than dirtier fuels.

Liberal poll win will kill the wind industry

Thursday 9/11/2006 Page: 11

Employer warns of job losses -

HUNDREDS of people employed in the booming wind energy industry will be thrown out of work if the Opposition wins the state election, one of Victoria's major regional city employers will warn today.

In a passionate notice to be distributed to its 450 employees, Portland wind tower manufacturer Keppel Prince says: "Make no mistake about it - if the Liberal Party wins the election on November 25, it will effectively kill the wind industry in this town." General manager Stephen Garner tells his workers that the Liberals' plan to abolish the Bracks Government's subsidy scheme for renewable energy would sever "the main artery to the heart of Keppel Prince".

Emphasising that he has no political connections, Mr Garner writes: "The choice you make on election day could have a major impact on Portland and our surrounding communities." His dramatic intervention in the election campaign comes as a left-leaning national think tank nominates Victoria as the best performing state in Australia, based on economic, social and environmental measures.

The Sydney-based Evatt Foundation has put Victoria at the top of its annual "league table" of states for the first time in the survey's 13-year history. It said Victoria was the best performing state in social policy, second best on the environment (after South Australia) and fourth on economic policy (behind the boom states of Western Australia and Queensland and then NSW).

Premier Steve Bracks last night seized on the report's description of Victoria's result as "a clearly superior all-round policy performance".

But Mr Bracks added: With today's increase in interest rates and the impact of the drought, Labor recognises there is more work to be done to meet these challenges and keep Victoria at the top."

Mr Garner said last night that two weeks ago he had pleaded with Liberal frontbencher and former leader Denis Napthine, whose electorate is based in Portland, to persuade the Opposition Keppel to embrace Labor's renewable energy scheme. When Dr Napthine said he stood by the Liberal policy to abolish the scheme, which requires energy retailers to source 10 per cent of their power from renewable energy by 2016, Mr Garner told him he felt compelled to speak out before the election.

"The wind industry can't survive without the subsidies," he said last night.

In the notice to his employees, Mr Garner writes: We employ around 450 people - 120 of whom are directly employed in the manufacture of towers for the rapidly expanding wind energy business. It is a fact that we will be employing an extra 20 people when we expand our operations to include a third shift on the two production lines.

If the Liberals are elected on November 25, not only will this cancel our plans for expansion, but we will be forced to lay off up to 80 of our existing employees." Last night he said the job losses would spread beyond his firm to about 250 people in the wind industry in Portland.

Wednesday 8 November 2006

Howard committed to nuclear despite poll

AAP Newswire
Tuesday 7/11/2006

CANBERRA, Nov 7 AAP - Prime Minister John Howard has dismissed a poll which shows only 17 per cent of Australians back nuclear power while almost half think solar power is the best way to tackle climate change.

Mr Howard, who has been promoting a nuclear energy industry for Australia, derided solar power as a soft answer which would never be able to replace coal-fired electricity. He said he would not back away from his support for nuclear power because of one opinion poll.

This is going to be a long debate, but I am going to continue to argue reason. I can't have a policy on something like this dictated by an opinion poll," Mr Howard told reporters.

In the end I've got to call it as it is and in the end I have to say that solar and wind will not replace conventional power stations." The ACNielsen poll in Fairfax newspapers today found that nine out of 10 people believe global warming is a problem and 62 per cent are unhappy with the Howard government's response.

Almost half of those questioned cited solar power as the best weapon against climate change, while 19 per cent supported a carbon tax on fossil fuels and 17 per cent backed nuclear power.

Mr Howard said the results were unsurprising given the publicity surrounding last week's Stern report on climate change, which warned of dire consequences if the problem was not immediately tackled. Its a natural response to that sort of question," Mr Howard said.

"I didn't find that surprising. I didn't find the 50 per cent who thought solar was the answer surprising either, because solar is a nice, easy, soft answer." Mr Howard said solar and wind power could make a contribution, but would never be enough to replace baseload power generation by coal-fired power stations.

The only way wind power could create enough energy was to have a windmill "every few hundred feet starting at South Head and going down to Malabar", he said. Well you can imagine the residents of Sydney wanting that," he said.

You simply won't be able to generate enough power from something like wind in order to take the load off the power that is generated by the use of coal and gas and in time I believe nuclear."

Howard takes wind from the sails of alternative energy

Sydney Morning
Herald Wednesday 8/11/2006 Page: 6

SYDNEY'S coastline would need to be festooned with windmills if clean, renewable energy was to generate enough electricity to replace that produced by fossil fuels or nuclear power, the Prime Minister said yesterday.

John Howard was responding to a Herald/ACNielsen poll that found 91 per cent regarded climate change as a serious issue.

More than 60 per cent were unhappy with the Federal Government's response to the challenge and were willing to pay more in taxes and for services if it helped. Mr Howard said he found the results "quite unsurprising" and natural given the recent publicity on climate change.

He said he was particularly taken by the poll's finding that, when canvassed with energy options on how to best tackle global warming, almost 50 per cent opted for solar power. Mr Howard said he could understand why people preferred solar power, but it and wind power would never be mainstream generators of electricity.

"Solar is a nice, easy soft answer. There is a vague idea in the community that solar doesn't cost anything and it can solve the problem. It can't ...

"Solar and all these other things can make a contribution at the margins, but unless you want to have a windmill every few hundred feet starting at South Head and going down to Malabar ... you simply won't be able to generate enough power from something like wind in order to take the load of the power that is generated by the use of coal and gas and, in time, I believe, nuclear.

"In the end, if you look years ahead, there are only two ways of generating the electricity that this nation needs - either through the current methods of fossil fuel use or through a combination of that in a cleaner form but with nuclear power." Mr Howard said he understood what the opinion polls were telling him, but they would never dictate policy.

"I read what people say, I understand it, I'm sympathetic but in the end I've got to call it as it is, and calling it as it is means I have to say that solar and wind will not replace conventional power stations." Mr Howard doubted he would meet the former US vice-president Al Gore, due to revisit Australia soon. Mr Gore, who lost controversially to George Bush in the presidential election in 2000, visited Australia recently to promote the film An Inconvenient Truth.

"We ought to be realistic," Mr Howard said. "I don't know I'm at the top of his popularity list. I am, after all, a rather close friend of somebody he's not very keen on."

Farm brings a windfall

Geraldton Guardian
Wednesday 8/11/2006 Page: 8

A NEW wind farm near Cervantes will have widespread benefits for the Mid West and has injected around $10m into the local area, according to developers.

The 80Mw Emu Downs Wind Farm project, 30km east of Cervantes and 25km west of Badgingarra, will be capable of powering 50,000 homes in the region when it is launched on Friday. The joint development between Stanwell Corporation and Griffin Energy will have a generating capacity of 80MW and a total of 48 turbines standing 68.5m high.

Mid West Development Commission chief executive Steve Douglas said the new wind farm would have benefits not only for the Cervantes- Badgingarra area but for the whole Mid West. Mr Douglas said it would reduce reliance on greenhouse gas-producing energy or power sources and be "an important addition to the power supply". He said Emu Downs, like the Walkaway wind farm, would help create a balance in the South West Interconnected System and less power would be lost through transmission from the state's South-West.

"We lose around 20 per cent transferring power from Collie to this end of the power grid," he said. "So by having generational capacity at other places on the grid, and certainly at the end of the grid, helps overcome that sort of issue.

"It helps to balance out the grid because it's a more even distribution of power ... rather than getting large variations because of the generation at one end (of the grid). " At the height of construction, 110 new local jobs were provided, while seven people will work full time on the project.

Developer information said contractors had collectively injected $10m into the regional economy and $2m had been spent locally through employment wages and service procurement. A project management team had spent around $1.75m in the area by way of support to local businesses.

The Emu Downs Wind Farm was formally approved in July 2005 and construction began in November 2005. In addition to the 48 turbines, each with 1.65MW capacity, the project includes a substation, interconnection to the main 132kV grid, an administration and stores building and a network of access roads. A public carpark and visitor viewing area closely located to the wind farm were recently completed.

Walkaway Wind Farm was opened in August last year, with 54 turbines standing 80m high and producing 90Mw at full capacity. It is capable of powering 60,000 homes. Mr Douglas said the benefits to the region of Emu Downs and Walkaway were comparable.

Renewable energy has power to generate opportunities

Wednesday 8/11/2006, Page: 12

Victoria needs to move quickly on energy alternatives, writes Evan Thornley.

THOMAS Watson, the founder of IBM, said in 1943: "I think the world market for computers is maybe five." Visionary as he was, Watson turns out to have been a little conservative. But he certainly did better than The Australian Financial Review, which in 1997 announced with world-weary scepticism that "the internet is the CB radio of the '90s". It was just wrong.

And so it is for conservative politicians who are having a devil of a time getting their head around the possibilities for renewable energy. Prime Minister John Howard says we'll never get there without nuclear power. Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu promises to tear up the Victorian Renewable Energy Target scheme because he claims it is "too expensive".

In stark contrast, the Stern review, led by Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, reviewed the literature and came to the opposite conclusion. We can't afford not to move to more renewables - and fast.

Why? Firstly, when you look at the full cost of energy sources, some renewables are already cheaper. Secondly, the costs of doing nothing are horrendous. And thirdly, we might actually reignite our manufacturing sector by leading the world in smart renewables technology.

When you look at the full cost of any energy source, there are three elements - the capital cost of the equipment, the operating costs of fuel and staff, and the cost of cleaning up the mess once you've finished. Those who argue that renewable sources are "too expensive" base their entire argument on today's capital costs for the equipment, since both the fuel costs and the clean-up costs are close to zero.

But the history of technology and manufacturing tells us capital costs in any new technology decline dramatically once mass adoption occurs. Why? Firstly, economies of scale mean unit costs reduce once design and tooling costs are spread over large volumes.

Secondly, anyone making anything learns as they go about it. With each new version we simplify, make it more efficiently, solve production bottlenecks, find cheaper materials, our suppliers learn more, and so it goes. That's how cars went from a luxury for the few to commonplace. It was the same with computers. It can be the same with wind turbines and solar cells.

Stem makes the same observation: "Experience shows that the costs of technologies fall with scale and experience." That is why he argues that "particularly in electricity generation. .. policies to support the market for early stage technologies will be crucial". That's why the Bracks Government's VRET is an essential building block for change and why the Liberals' "promise" to tear it up looks reckless. The closer you look at fossil fuels and nuclear, the more expensive they become.

As Stern is now showing, the cost of cleaning up the mess you make turns out to be large indeed. In rough terms it is somewhere between five and 20 times cheaper to take action now to reduce emissions than to cope later with the cost of not doing so.

Similarly, I don't know if Howard asked his accountants to look at the net present value (the cost in today's dollars of things that happen in the future) of guarding plutonium waste from terrorists for the next 500,000 years or more, but I suspect it's a big number.

Finally, this debate is not just about minimising the economic and social downsides of climate change, it's also about capturing the opportunities. When Stern talks of the world investing $US500 billion ($A647 billion) now or having to spend 20 times that later, that $US500 billion is a massive business opportunity. And, as is often the case, "first movers" will have greatest opportunity to capture that opportunity.

There's no reason why Silicon Valley had to be in Silicon Valley and not New York, London or Frankfurt. But it did start there and, having done so, it's hard for anyone to catch up.

And so it is with renewable energy technology at the early stage of its development. Victorians can not only become large customers for this technology and save ourselves a bundle in the medium term, if we become large suppliers, we might even make a bundle. Given the high design and technology-intensive nature of the renewable energy business, it presents a bright opportunity for us to make a virtue of necessity and see if we can build a new high-value, manufacturing export industry.

The targets are expected to produce $2 billion of investment and 2200 jobs. By creating a strong market, the VRET allows companies to compete, and for those who succeed, the potential to open up global markets.

There are always risks in doing something new. But sometimes the risks of doing nothing are bigger. In 1962, Decca Records rejected a four Liverpool musicians - "we don't like their sound ... and guitar music is on the way out anyway". The cost of not taking the risk was the Beatles going elsewhere.

Baillieu thinks we "can't afford" to pursue the renewable energy target. He's got it wrong, but fortunately voters have a clear choice - the Bracks Government knows we can't afford not to.

Evan Thomley was co-founder of technology company LookSmart and is a Labor candidate for the Southern Metropolitan Region.

Wind industry confident turbines, radar can coexist

Scientific American
November 05, 2006

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Wind power advocates see a series of recent approvals for major wind farms as proof that the burgeoning industry's growth will not be stunted by U.S. Department of Defense concerns that turbines can interfere with radar.

However, additional scrutiny brought on by a defense department report may prolong the approval process of wind farms, said Laurie Jodziewicz of the American Wind Energy Association, an advocate group for the U.S. wind power industry.

The Defense Department warned in late September that a report showed that giant wind turbines with rotors rising 450 feet can interfere with radar used by the military and commercial airlines. The report said the dangers are at present potential and not actual and will remain so as long as wind farms do not proliferate in the line of a radar's sight.

The 62-page study, which was called for by Congress in a defense authorisation bill earlier this year, said each wind turbine proposal must be studied on a case-by-case basis by federal agencies like the defense department, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Energy.

How much this impacts missile defense systems and military and commercial aircraft depends mainly on how effective the FAA and other federal agencies are in keeping the wind turbines away from radar sites, the military study says.

"(Should wind farms) degrade the ability of the radar to unambiguously detect and track objects of interest by primary radar alone, this will negatively impact the readiness of U.S. forces to perform the air defense mission," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian Maka, spokesman for the Defense Department.

Already, the concerns held up development of wind farms in the upper Midwest. Ten to 15 wind farm projects for 614 turbines that will produce more than 1000 megawatts were put on hold until the defense department released its study.

"This was a big concern and something they were not suspecting," Jodziewicz said. But the projects were recently approved, showing that the added scrutiny does not have to curb wind farm growth, she said.

"Decades of experience tell us that wind and radar can coexist," AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher said. "The American wind energy industry will continue to work collaboratively with government and others."

Lt. Col. Maka said the Department of Defense supports wind power and other forms of renewable energy and wants to work with the industry to allow wind farms to flourish. The defense department gets new proposals for wind turbines almost daily and thus far has not rejected any proposals as being in the line of sight of radar, Maka said.

The turbines are already sprouting up across the United States and with 46 of 50 states having enough wind to make significant amounts of electricity, the issue of placing wind farms in the sight of radar surely will be faced more often, both the AWEA and the defense department agree. The Earth Policy Institute, a private organisation advocating sustainable energy, said that wind power has had an annual growth rate of 29 percent in the past decade.

The AWEA said that by 2020 "under an aggressive growth scenario" about 6 percent of the power used in the United States could be provided by wind power, about the same as is generated by hydroelectric power plants today.

Wind vote goes to VCAT

Yarram Standard News
Wednesday 1/11/2006 Page: 3

THE Devon North wind farm issue will most likely be debated in the state's peak planning arena, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Wellington Shire Council has been notified that Synergy Wind, the company proposing to build nine turbines at Devon North, has lodged an application for VCAT to review council's decision to refuse an application for a planning permit for the wind farm.

"VCAT is an independent tribunal and will review the matter and set a hearing date in due course," said council spokesperson Mark Vittin.

Many Australians are taking their own steps to combat climate change.

Weekend Australian
Saturday 4/11/2006 Page: 38

More than 40,000 Australian households have installed a solar hot water system in the past 12 months, according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

Environmentalist David Suzuki, who recently launched a tirade against Australia and the Federal Government's inaction on climate change, once stated that installing a solar hot water system was the single biggest change a householder could make to help the environment.

It would seem our future on this planet is moving up the agenda in many people's minds. It's a conclusion borne out by an AC Nielsen survey of 1500 Australians for the Australian Wind Energy Association last month, which found that 84 per cent believed Australia should take stronger action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution levels.

Furthermore, 71 per cent believed Australia should sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Many in the media and Government have chosen to liberally quote enviro-sceptic Bjorn Lomborg, who suggests climate change is a beat-up, rather than look at the evidence that something is happening quite rapidly.

The favoured argument of the sceptics seems to revolve around an acceptance of the world's increasing warmth coupled with the objection that no one really knows why temperatures are rising. Unfortunately, forces seem to be moving fairly rapidly to a point of no return.

For example, one major product of climate change will be rising sea levels caused (in part) by melting ice caps. Earlier this year, NASA and the German Aerospace Agency's joint satellite project uncovered the disturbing fact that the Antarctic is losing around 48 cubic kilometres of ice a year. If the loss continues at this rate, it will mean the rise in the sea level predicted for the next century may have been seriously understated.

For Australians, the reality of climate change is best illustrated by the current drought. Five years of below average rains across most of the nation coupled with some of the hottest years on record have increased our awareness and fear.

According to the CSIRO, the Earth has warmed, on average, by about 0.7°C since 1910 with nine of the 10 warmest years on record occurring in the past decade. There have been more heatwaves, fewer frosts, and a warming of the lower atmosphere and upper ocean. Australian temperatures have increased by almost 0.9°C over the past 100 years, which is slightly more than the global average.

The CSIRO says much of the warming since 1950 is due to human activities that have increased greenhouse gases. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by 35 per cent from pre-industrial times. Ice core records indicate the current level is higher than at any other time in the past 420,000 years.

A recent climate change report in The Economist suggested that scientists are worried not just by the current level of warming but by its feedback loops - where warming sets off mechanisms that lead to more warming, spiralling out of control.

Among the major feedback loops outlined by The Economist were: Albedo - the tendency to reflect rather than absorb light. Ice floes tend to relect light, so as they melt, the Earth's albedo decreases and the Earth absorbs more energy, leading to a further increase in temperatures; Ocean absorption - as the seas warm they tend to absorb less carbon dioxide, because colder water absorbs more. The result: more warmth as more CO, is left in the atmosphere; Soil respiration - soil emits CO2 and warming may lead to a rise in microbial activity, causing emissions to rise faster than the increase in vegetation can absorb them.

CSIRO Research Fellow Dr Barrie Pittock argues that, even if the likelihood of such scenarios is put at only 20 to 30 per cent, it is still dangerous to do nothing or very little. The only way to prevent the worst-case scenario is to try to mitigate the effects of climate change now.

In an address last month to the Engineers Australia Water Forum in Brisbane, Pittock said scientists must "describe and warn" about the extent and likely effects of climate change, particularly in regard to water supply. Pittock, who is the retired leader of the CSIRO Climate Impacts Group, says measures designed to help communities cope with reduced water supply, such as water conservation and recycling, are urgent.

"However, unless the basic cause - globally increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels - is dealt with, periods of water shortage will become more frequent and severe. The climate system will respond to the present increases in emissions over many decades to come. What we emit now will worsen the situation for decades into the future."

Sun and wind small players with great future

Weekend Australian
Saturday 4/11/2006 Page: 38

SOLAR energy and wind power have long been seen as holding great promise, but systems currently in place have needed government support to be even close to commercial viability.

But key problems are slowly being overcome, and costs slowly coming down. While a cost structure for renewable energy that is comparative with power from conventional sources is not exactly around the corner, it is at least foreseeable.

Ray Prowse of the Australian National University's Centre of Excellence for Solar Energy Systems, regarded as the leading research body in the field in Australia, points to inverters to allow solar electric (photovoltaic) systems to be seamlessly linked into the national power grid as a crucial turning point.

Solar cells create an electric current that is "direct' (DC), not the "alternating' (AC) current required by the grid. "The grid requires 240 volts AC current at 50 Hertz," notes Prowse. "The Commonwealth Government, through the Australian Greenhouse Office, has supported the uptake of solar systems through various rebate programs.

The requirements of the programs are that the systems must be safe, reliable and affordable. These parameters have been met and costs are starting to fall." There are about 9000 grid-connected solar systems in Australia, mostly small in scale and located on buildings such as homes, schools and offices. However, the contribution of solar energy to the grid is presently only about 1 per cent of the total.

Another crucial element of solar systems, the high cost of hyper-pure silicon required for PV cells, is also being addressed. Researchers at Australian National University have developed a solution which they call sliver technology.

"Essentially, it means using a much smaller amount of hyper-pure silicon, only about one-tenth, to deliver the same electrical output as conventional cells," Prowse says. "It's a remarkable breakthrough. Most of the project funding was put up by Origin Energy, which is building a plant in Adelaide to manufacture PV cells using sliver technology.

Origin Energy will have invested up to $50 million by the time solar panels made from sliver cells are commercially available in the latter half of 2007." These developments, Prowse believes, have the potential to reduce the cost of solar generated electricity from the current price of 45-50 cents per kilowatt hour to a figure competitive with the current retail price of electricity generated from fossil fuels, about 12-18 cents per kilowatt hour. There is potential not only for a greater number of small-scale PV cells, but for large-scale arrays to collect and utilise solar energy on an industrial scale.

The development path of the other main renewable energy source, wind power, is similar to that of solar energy, but might be seen as a bit further along the curve. Wind turbines currently only account for about 740 megawatts of Australia's installed electricity capacity (total capacity is around 50,000MW), but the figure is growing.

Professor Chem Nayar of Curtin University, an engineer specialising in wind power, believes Australia, with a high average annual wind speed, is well-placed for the technology. The 3000km of southern coastline, where wind is strong and fairly constant, is particularly significant," he says. "The problem there is accessibility to the national electricity grid. There is also the issue of consistency of output from wind turbines.

Compared to conventional coal power plants, the rated power utilisation time of a wind farm is significantly lower, even though the capacity factor of turbines in Australia compares very well internationally." An answer to the variability of power generation from wind might be to increase the number of turbines and the number of sites, so that reduced output in one area would be balanced by an increase from another area, or by inputs from other sources.

The current cost of wind-generated electricity, according to Nayar, is somewhat higher than electricity from fossil fuels, although much depends on the location of a particular turbine site. Costs are decreasing with more research and economies of scale.

Costing our survival

Canberra Times Saturday
4/11/2006, Page: 1

The response of our leaders to the Stern report will test whether they, too, can see beyond the needs of this generation

THE MOST appropriate Australian political response to this week's Stern report on Climate Change came from the Leader of the Greens, Bob Brown.

He suggested a Cabinet of National Unity of the kind formed during World War II. He quoted from Stern: "Our actions now and over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th Century." In reality the problem dealt with by the Stern report is bigger than those facing the world at the time of the wars. It is truly global, intergenerational, and effectively irreversible.

And if you are to believe Sir Nicholas Stern himself, he was unprepared for it. He confessed to an audience in Oxford earlier this year that when he was asked to examine climate change in July 2005 he "had an idea what the greenhouse effect was, but wasn't really sure".

In some ways his initial ignorance has been his greatest strength. He examined the problem with no preconceptions. And he examined it as an economist. Most people who have inquired into climate change have done so as scientists. They have had the tools to examine what the problem is, but not to model its broader social consequences or to propose practical ways in which they might be averted.

As Sir Nicholas explained while writing his report, the great strength of economists is that they understand incentives. "And they contribute a great deal more to the world than those people who don't know about incentives and they think about institutions to support those incentives," he said.

Originally an academic, Sir Nicholas learnt about applying the tools of economics to practical problems as the chief economist for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the 1990s and then the World Bank. At the World Bank from 2000 to 2003 under the Australian James Wolfensohn, Sir Nicholas was asked to model the human and financial effects of catastrophes, including AIDS, famine and wars. His advice had to be practical. It would be acted on. And he was asked to provide it free of ideological constraints.

He had to do so again in 2004 when as head of the British Government Economic Service he ran the research program for the Commission for Africa which reported to the leaders of the G8 industrial nations. His recommendations took ideas from free - marketeers (he recommended the G-8 nations end their export subsidies) and from the anti-globalisation movement (he recommended the leaders write off billions of dollars of bad debts).

But he says the invitation to examine global warming for the British Treasury forced him to stretch the tools of economic analysis to and beyond their limits. "We are talking about areas which are potentially right outside the area of human experience, not just modern human experience, human experience period," he said.

Along the way he has had to ditch several standard tenets of economics. One is that it is possible to measure the damage that something will do by adding tip the amount of money that people will pay to avoid it. His report says that makes no sense when dealing with a phenomenon that will affect both the world's richest and poorest citizens.

As his report puts it: "a very poor person may not be 'willing-to-pay' very much money to insure her life, whereas a rich person may be prepared to pay a very large sum. Can it be right to conclude that a poor person's life or health is therefore less valuable?" Sir Nicholas decided to value all lives equally.

And from this decision came one even more radical. Sir Nicholas decided to value the lives of future citizens equally with those of today. In most types of cost-benefit analysis the future is valued less highly than the present. This is because people prefer to enjoy things now rather than later. A dollar in the future isn't as valuable.

But Sir Nicholas says he can find no justification for valuing the lives of future generations less than those of people alive today. He said there might be a justification for doing that when comparing outcomes that can be reversed, or are fairly similar. But where one course of action would devastate a future generation and the other would not the welfare of that generation should be weighed equally alongside that of today's.

Sir Nicholas finds that if no action is taken to limit global warming within the next few years, after a century or so the annual cost will exceed 5 per cent of global income, most of it borne by the world's poorest people By contrast he finds that the cost of taking action now will amount to 1 per cent of annual global income. The actions he suggests go beyond those advocated by either Australia's Government or Opposition.

The Government wants to pour billions of dollars into research into developing new technologies, something Sir Nicholas regards as vital, but according to a Canberra energy consultant Dr Hugh Saddler, it is less keen to fond the commercialisation of that technology. He says developing technologies is only the first step. "Ensuring that they can survive commercially is more important," he says.

The Labor party has promised to introduce a system of carbon trading, something Sir Nicholas regards as essential, but it has not specified the way in which the system would work. Sir Nicholas has come down in favour of a method that would deeply damage the economics of Australia's coal-fired power stations.

In theory, carbon trading could reduce greenhouse gas emissions even if the permits were handed out to the existing polluters for free, as has happened in the European scheme. But Sir Nicholas finds all sorts of problems with handing out permits for free to those industries that are at present the dirtiest polluters.

One is that ahead of the scheme being introduced there might be a race to install the dirty technologies that will earn the most permits, and there could also be an incentive to keep dirty plants operating until the scheme comes in. Another is that the free allocation of permits imposes no immediate cost on existing polluters but imposes a significant cost on new (probably cleaner) competitors that might want to enter the industry.

Sir Nicholas wants governments to auction pollution permits (although he says he can see a case for issuing some permits for free as a transitional measure). It is a measure that will hit existing polluters hard, forcing them to pay the full costs of the damage their operations are causing much sooner.

He sees this as an advantage, bringing "management attention to the importance of making efficient decisions that fully account for the cost of carbon". Hardest hit would be Australia's dirtiest power stations, most of them in Victoria burning relatively wet brown coal. Power stations burning black coal would also be hit.

Saddler, of Energy Strategies, says that it isn't really possible to add carbon filters to Australia's presently designed coal fired power stations. The carbon dioxide emissions are too diluted. He says the next generation of "capture-ready ' power stations will have that capacity meaning that coal may well play a big part in providing Australia's energy needs well into the future.

Australia's coal mining industry is unlikely to be particularly damaged by an Australian decision to require emission permits. Most of the coal mined in Australia is exported. Demand for it will be determined by the carbon-pricing decisions of the countries in which it is burnt, irrespective of what happens in Australia.

On the other hand Australia's gas industry may well be hit. Although natural gas is a very clean burning fuel by the time it is piped to horses and factories or sent overseas, that is because it has most of its carbon removed at the site where it is mined. The gas mining centres of Moomba in South Australia and the North West Shelf in Western Australia are among Australia's biggest carbon emitters.

In a study prepared for Australia's state and territory in August the Allen Consulting Group found that the electricity industry itself would suffer as a result of carbon pricing. Each household could find itself paying an extra two to four dollars a week for electricity and so would cut back on electricity use. The industries advantaged by carbon pricing were found to be include wind, biogas, and biomass electricity production, as well as electricity plants fired by gas.

The exact identity of the winners would depend on the price set for a tonne of carbon and technological developments. The study prepared for Australia's states and territories examined a price of $12 per tonne of carbon emitted, climbing over time to about $30 per tonne.

At the other end of the scale is a study prepared by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics for the CSIRC) and a consortium of Australian companies, including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, and Woodside Petroleum. It models the effect of carbon tax of about $600 a tonne, which it finds would decimate the Australian economy, cutting GDP by 10 per cent, real wages by 20 per cent, and doubling petrol prices.

The Stern report takes numbers closer to those used by Australia's states than the ABARE finding that the damage done by each tonne of carbon is about $110 but it can be avoided for a cost of about $32 a tonne.

The $32 price nominated by Sir Nicholas appears to be too low to make nuclear power economic, and also too low to guarantee the success of wind power. And could be the problem recognised by the government this week and now facing the Opposition.

Charging for carbon emissions is policy with identifiable losers, and without easily identifiable winners. The Treasury Secretary Ken Henry said this week that in an economy like Australia's running at or near full capacity, for just about every loser there is a winner.

"Almost every day I hear somebody arguing that some activity should be accorded a special taxpayer-funded hand-out, either because it will `create' some impressive number of new jobs or because, if it doesn't receive taxpayer-funded support, an equally impressive number of jobs will be `destroyed'," he said.

His message is that if any industry, presumably including any polluting industry, is forced to close by a change in circumstances, it will not cost the Australian economy jobs, or even necessarily harm GDP. Another industry will emerge to replace it.

It is a message that time has proved true when it comes to cuts in tariffs. Yes, Australia's clothing and manufacturing industries have been hurt, but new ones have arrived to replace them. It required courage for Australia's policy makers to stand tip to the old industries who were saying that Australia would suffer if they suffered.

The Hawke government had that courage when it began winding back Australia's industry protection in the 1980s. Australia is better off today as a result. Our leaders' responses to the Stern report will indicate whether they have that same courage.

Green energy gets thumbs up from 2500 ACT marchers

Sunday Canberra Times
Sunday 5/11/2006, Page: 3

PEOPLE power triumphed over non-renewable power in Canberra yesterday in a potent show of support for green energy. More than 2500 people with bicycles, tricycles, scooters and (logs paraded through Civic for the Walk Against Warming march.

Designed to highlight the importance of renewable energy and condemn the burning of fossil fuels, the Greens and Conservation Council-led march from the ACT Legislative Assembly to Glebe Park attracted an assortment of participants including jugglers, musicians, (lancers, clowns and a man on stilts dressed as a blowfly.

The International Day of Action on Climate Change, held right across Australia including in regional areas, inspired different meanings for marchers including Raphaela Mazzone, 22, of Rivett who was dressed in green and carrying a sign saying: "Just do it".

"I believe climate change is one of the most important problems we face today," she said. "We should all work towards finding a solution." Garth Cogin, of Campbell, was equally passionate about the cause, saying it was time people made a difference.

"We should be providing investment for renewable energy - I think solar and wind power is the solution." As part of the demonstration, the Greens Party announced plans to introduce a climate change remedy Bill into Federal Parliament.

Proudly wearing a Greens t-shirt, environmentalist and IVA Senator Rachel Siewert said the Bill called for a 90 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

We are hoping the Government will support it. If John Howard wants to get into bed with big business, he can at least make a recommendation for industry to stop burning fossil fuels," she said. Senator Siewert described the large-scale event as a "fantastic turn-out" and much more than was expected.

The overall theme of the march was aimed at changing people's minds and switching to energy efficient light bulbs, installing solar hot water, walking to the shops instead of driving and reducing own greenhouse gas emissions.

It was also about sending a powerful message to government, she said. "The Government is still in denial on this issue."

Wind farm blast for Greens

Monday 6/11/2006, Page: 6

STEVE Bracks has launched a fresh attack on the Greens, accusing the minor party of lukewarm support for wind farms, a position he said was "ridiculous". The Premier accused the Greens of trying to impose onerous "deep-green" requirements on drought relief payments to farmers and of stifling the development of water resources.

His criticisms came despite Labor giving indications it would allocate preferences in the November 25 state election to the Greens ahead of the Family First party. Announcing plans to offer a $1000 rebate to households that connected water tanks to their laundries and toilets, Mr Bracks sought to contrast Labor's environmental credentials with those of the Greens.

The Greens are campaigning to stop the Bald Hills wind farm in the seat of Gippsland South, saying that while renewable energy projects were preferable to coal and nuclear power, they should be appropriately located.

Greens candidate Jackie Dargaville, who is contesting the seat held by Nationals leader Peter Ryan, has said that in coastal areas with tourism potential, wind farming is not necessarily the way to go unless that's what the community wants".

Mr Bracks criticised the position, saying: "The reality is that one of the ways we're going to reduce greenhouse gas is to have wind power, alongside hydro, solar. .. and clean coal. The Greens' perceived opposition to wind power is a wrong call, and it's rejected by the wider environmental movement."

Monday 6 November 2006

Strapped Missouri farmers seek salvation from wind farms

Associated Press
Wed, Nov. 01, 2006

KING CITY, Mo. - When one of northwest Missouri's leading employers decided to shutter a nearby manufacturing plant and ship 220 jobs to Mexico, the move was only the latest economic blow to a region accustomed to bad news.

From a steadily dwindling population to the well-documented decline of family farms, hard times have been the norm all too often in the cluster of Missouri counties along the Nebraska and Iowa borders.

Then came promises of economic salvation - or at least a step in the right direction - in the unlikely guise of a sharp-dressed St. Louis lawyer and scion of the one of the state's most prominent political families. His remedy was simple: look up to the sky.

Farmers who once relied upon hogs or soybeans to make ends meet are now harvesting wind energy. By next year, more than 100 towering turbines are expected to rise above the skyline in Atchison, Gentry and Nodaway counties, generating enough electricity to power 45,000 homes across the state as part of Missouri's first set of commercial wind farms.

"There's not a lot of money in rural America. We're not going to get another factory," said Frank Schieber, a fourth-generation Nodaway farmer. "It's a shot in the arm."

After several years of study by state government and university scientists on the technical feasibility of commercial wind operations, attorney Tom Carnahan - son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan - created the Wind Energy Group in 2004.

With financing from tractor giant John Deere & Co., Carnahan has committed to construction of three wind farms in the state's far reaches, each costing $70 million to $75 million. The first, known as Blue Grass Ridge, will come online later this year in Gentry County north of King City.

The second, called Cow Branch, will be located between Rock Port and Tarkio in Atchison County. And on Oct. 20, a group of state and local dignitaries heard Carnahan and his corporate partners announce plans for a third wind farm near Conception in Nodaway County.

"If there's any doubt that wind power is real and can happen (in Missouri), we're here today to put that to rest," Carnahan told about 100 people gathered under a temporary tent in the shadow of the still-emerging turbines. "We're just getting started."

Property owners who allow the company to build on their land will earn $3,000 to $5,000 per turbine over the next 25 years, depending on the amount of electricity generated. They can continue to farm the surrounding land, or let herds graze, right up to the base of the turbines, which are 15 feet wide and weigh 200 tons each.

Installation of the turbines will represent a temporary construction boon - up to 150 temporary jobs at the project's peak. And the infusion of property tax receipts to local governments and school systems will be substantial, supporters say.

Mike Waltemath, a Gentry County school board member and Wind Energy Group leaseholder, said the local education system will reap roughly $250,000 annually - an increase of as much as 20 percent to its existing budget.

"That's like a gift from heaven," said Waltemath, who is challenging Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, in the Nov. 7 election.

The announcement comes on the heels of a decision by Johnson Controls Inc. of Milwaukee earlier this year to close the York Engineered Systems plant in the Nodaway County town of Albany by early 2007, with job cuts commencing this fall. The plant makes commercial and industrial air handler units. Johnson has said it will move those operations in part to Monterey, Mexico.

Widespread use of wind power in the Midwest as well as the rest of the country remains a work in progress. In addition to environmental and aesthetic concerns - not to mention the obvious, finding open spaces with adequate wind speeds - the biggest hurdle remains finding utility companies to purchase the power, said Carnahan.

Unlike Iowa and other surrounding states, Missouri doesn't offer sales or property tax credits for wind farm construction. And with the exception of Columbia, where voters in 2004 approved a law requiring the local utility to devote a percentage of its portfolio to renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power, no statewide mandate exists.

Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, in turn, are among the Midwest states were such requirements exist. "The marketplace and the entrepreneurs are the ones who will decide" the prevalence of wind power in Missouri, said Rick Anderson, an energy analyst with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Those market forces, in the form of the past year's skyrocketing gas prices, helped drive the demand for wind-generated electricity in Missouri, he said. "If it hadn't been for (Hurricane) Katrina in 2005 we wouldn't have seen a wind farm in 2006," said Anderson.

All of the power generated by Carnahan's projects will be purchased by Associated Electrical Cooperative Inc., a wholesale power supplier for 39 rural electric cooperatives in Missouri.

Meanwhile, even without purchasing agreements with utilities, other wind prospectors are scouring the northwest Missouri countryside, looking for potential partners among local property owners. In this volatile energy climate, the appeal is simple, said Anderson. "Wind won't change in price. It will be much more stable (than fossil fuels)."

Australia: John Howard’s green hypocrisy

The Guardian

Last week the Howard Government announced more rural drought relief grants. Howard has finally acknowledged the reality of global warming, caused by emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). However, the government still refuses to introduce carbon trading, which is intended to reduce CO2 emissions, and could see farmers earn significant incomes from reforestation, the establishment of wind or solar energy complexes on their farms, and even from ceasing land clearing.

The government also announced a $75 million grant for a solar power plant in northern Victoria. Yet it was also revealed that between 1998 and 2006 it failed to spend $667 million allocated to tackle global warming.

Australia consumes more water annually than Britain or New Zealand, particularly because of agricultural irrigation. We emit more CO2 per capita than Britain, Japan or New Zealand, mostly from motor vehicles, coal-fired power stations and heavy industry.

Greg Bourne, World Wildlife Federation CEO, says, “If the rest of the world led the kind of lifestyles we do …, we would require 3.5 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb the waste we create”. Yet capitalism incessantly promotes ever-higher consumption.

John Howard’s long delay in acknowledging global warming largely stemmed from his desire to protect the powerful coalition of coal mining, coal-fired power generation, cement, smelting and other heavy industries

The uranium mining corporations BHP-Billiton and Rio-Tinto, want coal to be replaced by nuclear power and propped up by massive government subsidies, as in the US. Howard is now advocating public acceptance of nuclear power production.

Renewable energy definitely comes last. The Howard Government is granting only $75 million for construction of the $400 million Victorian solar energy power plant, which will generate 154 megawatts, sufficient for 45,000 homes.

As the Australian Conservation Foundation has pointed out, the government already spends $790 million per annum in aviation fuel concessions, and $1 billion on company car fringe benefit tax concessions. In comparison, this year’s entire climate change initiative spending amounts to just $280 million.

Moreover, this and later projects will involve “public/private” deals which would be part-funded by private capital. These arrangements will privatise energy production and impose crippling financial costs on the public.

Howard has hastened to denigrate solar and wind power, which he describes as unable to achieve “base load” generation, i.e. a stable basic energy output. He studiously ignores new methods of achieving this, utilising chemicals such as ammonia and methane, which are already being used in experimental solar projects.

One scientist recently predicted that by 2020 Australia’s entire electrical energy needs could be met by one central solar power station, occupying an area of only 30 by 30 kilometres. The sale of surplus energy from solar plants could fund reforestation of vast areas of deserts and ruined farmland, greatly helping to minimise climate change. But Howard is not interested

The government still refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol, even though it would permit Australia an eight percent rise in CO2 emissions, instead of the overall reduction required for other nations. Howard doesn’t want to offend the coal mining industry or embarrass the US, the only other developed Western country which refuses to sign.

Instead, he is backing the Asia-Pacific Clean Development group, which includes Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the US. This group agrees that emission reductions are necessary, but does not impose CO2 reduction obligations on its members. Its contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is therefore likely to be absolutely minimal. And that is also true of the Howard Government’s so-called greenhouse gas reduction campaign.

Energy measure could bring winds of change

Sunday, November 5, 2006

OLYMPIA -- In recent years, Cheney-area rancher Maurice Robinette has watched as monitoring towers sprouted on ridges throughout Eastern Washington. The meters are a sign of prospecting landowners hoping that the gritty gusts they tolerated for years are strong enough to now justify a lucrative second crop: wind-generated power.

“It’s a chance for us to make some extra income,” said Robinette, a third-generation rancher. “And we sure need it.”

So he’s hoping voters approve Initiative 937, an environmentalist-backed measure requiring large power companies to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and to spend more on conservation. Supporters say it will mean cleaner, more diversified power, plus homegrown electricity and jobs.

“This is our opportunity to take control of our energy future in Washington State,” said Chris McCullough, campaign manager for Yes on I-937.

Opponents – including Avista Corp., Weyerhaeuser and rural electric cooperatives – say that alternative power is growing very rapidly already. By trying to force the market, the initiative will inflate prices and cause a hike in people’s power bills.

“It’s just going to make people’s power rates go up much faster,” said Avista spokesman Hugh Imhof.

The Washington Research Council says the measure could boost Washington power costs by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Higher power costs, the group projects, will also mean thousands of lost jobs by 2020. “Change is coming,” the group said in a recent report. “Don’t force it.”

Environmental groups have long tried unsuccessfully to get state lawmakers to pass similar measures. “I don’t want to artificially just go out and try to spur the alternative-energy market with taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane. “I really like alternative forms of energy, but I think they’re happening already.”

A recent industry report backs that up. Earlier this month, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council said that “the current rate of renewable resource development in the Northwest is unprecedented in the history of the Council.” Some 1,820 megawatts of renewable power are slated to have come online from 2005 to 2008, the report said. Of that, 99 percent is wind power.

More than 20 states have set goals similar to I-937’s, according to North Carolina State University’s Solar Center. Among them: Montana, which seeks 15 percent renewable power by 2015, and Nevada, which seeks 20 percent by 2015.

Washington’s version wouldn’t count the state’s already-abundant hydropower, although it would count improvements through more efficient dam turbines or other added capacity.

Avista’s plans already call for half of its new power to be renewables over the next 20 years, Imhof said. It’s been trying to buy a 35- to 40-megawatt wind project since February, only to have a larger utility buy up all the available wind turbines.

“We’re all for renewables,” he said. “It’s just that we’re against the mandates.”

The initiative organisers have out-raised opponents three to one: $1.5 million versus about $500,000. Among the major backers: Seattle investor Jabez Blumenthal, Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee’s campaign, Horizon Wind Energy, Seattle biodiesel and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The measure would also require utilities to boost their conservation efforts. McCullough said, for example, that utilities would be encouraged to expand their rebate programs for homeowners and businesses who weatherise buildings, retrofit heating or cooling systems, or who use manufacturing by-products to make power. “It (conservation) is the cheapest power source – and the cleanest – that we can imagine,” he said.

Although the measure cites a wide variety of alternative power – geothermal heat, landfill gases, tides, methane from manure, solar and wood waste among them – the vast majority of Washington’s known energy potential is from wind. A Power Council study pegged the potential power from manure at about 50 megawatts, for example, and two to four times that for landfill gases. A megawatt is enough electricity to power about 750 homes, according to Imhof.

The potential power from wind, the group says, is about 5,000 megawatts. But that comes with an important caveat: wind power typically only produces 30 percent of its capacity, since the wind isn’t constant. As utilities look to add power sources for the future, McCullough said, they’re largely looking at two sources: wind or coal. I-937, he said, is intended to tip that balance toward wind.

“To be building new coal plants in 2006 doesn’t make much sense,” he said. Coal costs could rise. Shipping it is expensive. And burning it produces carbon dioxide, thought to cause global warming.

Imhof said it’s not that simple. New technology converts coal into a gas that burns far more cleanly than it used to, he said.

Robinette, who works for the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network, said he looks forward to seeing 130-foot turbine blades twirling 200 feet in the air as farmers farm and cows graze below. It likely wouldn’t be him – his acreage is flat land between Cheney and Medical Lake. There’s not much wind.

Tapping more wind power, he said, is inevitable. But I-937 will speed it up. “We’ve got to get there sooner or later,” he said, “and sooner is better. So let’s get on with it.”