Friday 6 February 2009

SA leads nation

Adelaide Advertiser
Thursday 5/2/2009 Page: 2

SOUTH Australia has the nation's largest number of home solar panel systems powering electricity into the grid. The state eclipses the rest of the nation with 1600 more solar panel systems than Victoria and 1800 more than New South Wales. The Federal Government Environment department figures show SA has a total of 4920 solar panel systems and of these, 4675 systems are connected to the national electricity grid. South Plympton resident Bob Dickenson, 86, said he bought his standard 1000 kW system two years ago. "I think I've only paid about $200 in power bills," he said.

Indians need our uranium: Flannery

Thursday 5/2/2009 Page: 7

SCIENTIST Tim Flannery has accused Australia of taking an immoral position by exporting polluting coal to India but refusing to sell it uranium to help it establish a cleaner power-generation industry. On a tour of India promoting renewable energy alternatives to business leaders and government, the author of The Weather Makers said India's plan to build a new generation of coalfired power stations in the next five years would be a catastrophe for the country because it would lessen its energy security.

"They're backing themselves into a situation where they will have a lot of what is now cheap energy but which will inevitably become more expensive because there will be a cost on carbon," Dr Flannery told The Australian in New Delhi.

"These plants have a 50-year lifespan and no one can imagine that in 2040 we won't be paying an impost on carbon pollution," he said. "But there seems to be very little awareness of that in government." India's current five-year plan calls for the creation of an additional 90 MWs of new-capacity power, most of which is expected to be generated by coal.

Australia exports about 10,000 tonnes of uranium a year a $900 million injection into the domestic economy which equates to about 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year that are not generated. But the Rudd Government has ruled out exporting Australian uranium to India, the world's second most populous nation, because it is not a signatory to the UN nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

That is despite the fact that Australia supported the special exemption granted to India last September by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which ended the 34-year embargo on nuclear trade with India and paved the way for it to sign a nuclear cooperation and supply agreement with the US.

"Australia's moral position of selling them coal, which is a bloody poison, but not selling uranium doesn't make any sense," Dr Flannery said. "The choice in India at the moment to meet its immediate needs is between coal and uranium, and there's no doubt coal is a much more damaging prospect for India than uranium." The Rudd Government could make it easier for India to make the right choice with a different policy, he said.

Dr Flannery also joined the chorus of world leaders preaching a new morality to the rich, calling on India's business and government leaders to set a modest, environmentally friendly example for the hundreds of millions of Indians aspiring to Western lifestyles. The NSG waiver is regarded as the single biggest step to containing greenhouse gas emissions, given India is expected to soon become the world's third largest emitter after China and the US as its economic growth continues to elevate millions of Indians into the middle classes.

Since the waiver, India has signed intergovernmental civil nuclear co-operation agreements with France, Russia, the US and Kazakhstan. The South Asian giant, which has 15 operating nuclear energy plants and seven under construction, was expected last night to sign an agreement with French nuclear company Areva to build up to six new nuclear reactors in coming years. An estimated 400 million Indians still have no access to electricity supplies.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Carbon control gives crops a helping hand

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 4/2/2009 Page: 31

FARMERS and climate scientists are excited by the potential of "biochar", a type of charcoal, to store carbon in soil and boost crop production at the same time. The high-quality form of charcoal is left over from the production of renewable energy from biomass - woody plant material and other forms of organic waste otherwise sent to landfill.

Former Australian of the Year and environmental scientist Professor Tim Flannery says biochar offers a "unique, powerful solution .. it allows us to address food security, the fuel crisis and the climate problem, and all in an immensely practical manner".

Biochar is a win-win for the climate and for Australian farmers, who often have to contend with poor soils, says CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Evelyn Krull. "If you apply it to very degraded soils like we have in Australia here, preliminary research has shown it actually increases soil fertility," she said.

Dr Krull has funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation to start field testing at Urrbrae. A review of published literature has shown the potential to trap and store carbon in the soil, boost crop yields, retain water and reduce the need for chemical fertilisers.

Biochar is made by heating biomass in the absence of oxygen to capture gases that can be used to produce heat and power. Carbon returned to soil as biochar can be effectively locked away from the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years.

Hot rocks investment

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
Wednesday 4/2/2009 Page: 50

TRUEnergy, owned by utility giant CLP Group, is to proceed with a $57 million investment in the Paralana geothermal project in South Australia. The venture, which includes Beach Petroleum and Petratherm, has won approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board and will supply power to the nearby Beverly Uranium Mine.

Insulation scheme to drive job hopes

Wednesday 4/2/2009 Page: 2

THE Rudd Government is hoping low-skilled unemployed people will be quickly retrained as insulation installers to meet the demand fuelled by its temporary $1600 grant to any home owner needing energy-saving roof insulation. The $2.7 billion insulation program could benefit up to 2.2 million homes, saving them about $200 a year on their energy bills, but falls short of the sweeping ''green jobs" plan advocated by conservation groups and the unions that covered a wider range of energy efficiency measures and commercial as well as private buildings.

The Government said it opted to concentrate on insulation because it was by far the most cost-effective residential energy efficiency improvement; retrofitting commercial buildings was far more expensive and administratively complex. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has advocated tax breaks for energy-efficiency improvements to commercial buildings, but the Government believes its plan will get spending into the economy faster.

We are advised that the single most effective measure in terms of energy efficiency is insulation," Kevin Rudd said. To meet the Government's goal of rapidly stimulating spending, the $1600 grant will be available from July 1, but home owners who install insulation before then will be also be able to claim reimbursement.

And those who do not need insulation could be eligible for the now non-means-tested solar hot water rebate, which has also been increased to $1600, at an additional cost to budget of $507 million over three years. The solar hot water rebate is available only to those replacing electric storage hot water systems and those who have not already claimed the insulation assistance.

Solar hot water wins more cash

Wednesday 4/2/2009 Page: 10

THE Government has added a $507 million increase to the solar hot water rebate to the household sector of its stimulus package. The increase, to be paid over 3'/ years, conies on top of the $3.3 billion to be spent on ceiling insulation in homes. The solar hot water rebate will rise from $1000 to a maximum $1600 until February 2012.

The Government will also remove the means test for the program, previously limited to households earning less than $100,000 a year. The changes mean the program, initially costing $258 million, will now cost $765 million. However, households will have to choose between the insulation and the solar hot water program. While the Government has not given an estimate of the uptake of the solar hot water rebate, it is estimated the $765 million budget can help offset the cost of about 500,000 systems, which retail for between $1400 and $4000.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett told Parliament the overall $3.9 billion in "green stimulus" would provide relief for struggling households and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting household energy use. However, environment groups were generally lukewarm in their reaction to the package. While supporting the insulation program, they wanted more in green economic measures to match other stimulus packages overseas.

Phil Freeman from the Australian Conservation Foundation pointed to newly elected US President Barack Obama's $820 billion stimulus plan, containing $115 billion in green stimulus, which Mr Freeman said was far broader than Australia's efforts. The Rudd Government is still a bit piecemeal in their approach to green economic packages," he said. Mr Freeman also noted a report by HSBC released last month that showed the average share of "green stimulus" in the 15 other countries with stimulus packages is 14%.

Green stimulus made up 9% of the package announced yesterday. Greens leader Bob Brown said his party would seek to ensure that total of almost $20 billion in other housing and construction investment announced in yesterday's package would come with energy efficient conditions. The insulation program will insulate 2.2 million homes free and double the rebate for rental properties to $1000 for another 500,000 homes. The insulation industry welcomed the measures and expected the program will prop up falling demand in the sector.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Reaping the wind powers new jobs

Adelaide Advertiser
Tuesday 3/2/2009 Page: 38

Reaping the windTHE Southern Flinders Ranges has emerged as the windfarm capital of Australia, providing a serious windfall with a surge in jobs and economic activity. The region's windfarms are expected to approach a similar capacity to the Torrens Island Power Station and Port Augusta within the next few years. Southern Flinders Regional Development Board chief executive Mark Malcolm said the Southern Flinders, Yorke Peninsula and Mid North regions had proved an ideal location for the current wave of wind farm investment.

The north-south running ranges that capture good wind and are close to the ElectraNet high voltage grid running from Port Augusta to Adelaide have been important factors in its success. The region has four windfarms which extend into its boundaries: AGL Hallett 1 and 2, TrustPower at Snowtown and Pacific Hydro has just started the Clements Gap Wind Farm. Transfield is also well advanced on its Barn Hill proposal between the Snowtown and Clement's Gap.

Mr Malcolm said that 311 MWs of power had been installed or was under construction with a further 126 MWs approved ready to start. He estimates that with projects in the pipeline, that amount could double in the next few years.

"Adelaide people would be really surprised at the growth and size of the industry," Mr Malcolm said. "It's a really good news story for SA because this is where its happening in Australia and the industry has taken us all by surprise." Mr Malcolm said the Port Pirie economy had experienced significant growth in the past few years. "We've just enjoyed the three best years in Port Pirie for three decades, but we are realistic about growth prospects for 2009 due to the continuing drought and the global financial situation" he said.

"From 2002-2008 we halved our unemployment rate and we've had the highest property development rate for decades." Nyrstar Ltd, the world's largest lead smelter, continues at full production despite a serious downturn in the resource sector, he said. "A big part of our economy is agriculture which is struggling under the effect of drought," he said. "A return to average production this year will help buffer the downturn in other parts of our economy.

"Long-term, the future for the north of the state looks terrific once the economy picks up and things get started again." Mr Malcolm said the Port Pirie and Southern Flinders Ranges economy was a little more diverse than the Whyalla and Port Augusta economies because it didn't rely so much on the mining sector.

Millner leads way with `green' hall

Northern Territory News
Tuesday 3/2/2009 Page: 17

Millner leads way with `green' hallA Darwin school will this year undergo an energy revolution by making its own electricity and growing trees to help cool buildings. Millner Primary School already has what principal Terry Quong says is the first "low-energy enclosed hall in the Territory", and the coming solar panels to be placed on its roof are expected to help save the school a pretty penny in power bills. "We have applied for, and will construct, a 4.7kW solar energy system comprising 22 panels," Dr Quong said.

He said the school expected the panels to save about $1400 a year. Meanwhile, the upgrade of the school's old halI - which opened at the end of Term 4 last year-was designed so kids could keep cool without air conditioning. It has been built to a tropical design with loads of louvres and two 9m fans. Dr Quong said by going for a "green" hall, the school had saved an estimated $25,000 a year in air conditioning costs. He said the next stage of the project involved plugging the hall into a "low energy cooling system" - or in normal terms, a garden.

A "transpiration" garden of tiny plants is growing next to the hall, and eventually air ducts in the hall will suck in the cooled air from the trees and move it to the giant fans. They will then push the cooler air down into the hall. "We believe (the hall) will serve as a pilot of what is possible in the design of school halls," Dr Quong said.

Both the hall and the solar panels will also be used as subjects in students' studies. Year 2 students Kaelah White, 6, and Gabriel Wells-Kelly, 7, said the hall should be a good place to escape the heat. Gabriel said it was "exciting" to have the revamped hall without air conditioning. "Air conditioning wastes electricity," he said.

Dr Quong said the school had received $1 million as part of its 40th anniversary last year to refurbish the hall, and money for the solar panels came from a Federal Government grant.

History suggests clean coal is a risky strategy

Hobart Mercury
Tuesday 3/2/2009 Page: 23

THE straight faces of Kevin Rudd, his ministers and other MPs when they talk about "clean coal" show how deeply this very dubious concept is now embedded in the official Australian book of facts on climate change. Mr Rudd announced last year that Australia would spend $100 million a year supporting the coal industry's research into carbon capture and storage (CCS), or to use the shorthand terns. "clean coal" aiming to make this process commercially viable over the next decade.

In preparation for its planned 2010 emissions trading scheme, the Government has also released "uncertain but plausible" assumptions about the scheme by Treasury - assumptions that include availability of commercial-scale CCS technology before 2020. Australia relies heavily on coal to generate electricity here and (through export) abroad, so it's a tough call for political leaders to question CCS research and development.

But the coal industry's poor record on CCS roll-out along with continually-rising global emissions tell us we'd be foolish to put all our eggs in such a basket. Look at the history. Twelve years ago, promising that we'd have commercial "clean coal" within a decade, the Australian coal industry got a lot of government money while renewable technologies languished for want of investment. Yet the industry still says commercial CCS is a decade or more away.

We know it's possible to capture carbon dioxide from coal-burning, compress it, transport it and store it. But we've also learned that CCS requires more coal to be burned for the same energy output as standard systems while releasing more acid causing gas into the atmosphere. We've learned that retrofitting existing power stations with CCS technology is extremely expensive, as are the pipeline systems needed to transport carbon dioxide from power stations to underground or under-sea repositories.

Suitable storage sites are hard to find, and usually distant from coalfields. Pipelines will often need to run for hundreds and perhaps thousands of kilometres. We know that pure carbon dioxide can kill people, making pressurised long distance piping a public health issue. If the pollutant is to be freighted, there's a substantial transport energy cost.

The 100,000 tonnes sequestered under Bass Strait in Australia's only completed CCS project is less than 1% of Victoria's emissions in a single year. Vastly larger capacity will be needed for the enormous year-on-year tonnages emitted by Australia's coal power generators. We have yet to see commercial scale CCS work anywhere, but to hear political and industry leaders talk you'd think it was a done deal.

If they're stalling for time by delaying the hard decisions, they're doing no-one any good, least of all the industry itself. Like the rest of us, the coal industry needs a planned phase-out to adjust to a new, renewable order.

We know that reducing our carbon emissions demands above all that we deploy low and zero emission technologies and become more efficient in the way we use energy, and that increased emissions will be the likeliest outcome of prolonging our use of coal. But the only certain outcome of Mr Rudd's "clean coal" policy is just that - prolonged use of coal. Looked at this way, it's a risky, even reckless, use of precious public funds. It may turn out to be downright dangerous.

Blow for energy proposal

Sydney Morning Herald
Tuesday 3/2/2009 Page: 3

THE state's first industrial biomass energy plant is under a cloud after major electricity companies have decided not to recognise it as an accredited supplier of renewable power. A woodchip mill near Eden plans to build a biomass plant on site, burning waste wood to create electricity both to run the mill and supply the local power grid. Opponents argue that burning wood to create power is no cleaner than burning coal, and more inefficient.

South East Fibre Exports, the company which operates the mill, hopes to pay off the $20 million project by creating renewable energy certificates, which can be sold to businesses which need to compensate for their pollution. It believes that burning wood waste - which would otherwise rot on the ground and release methane into the atmosphere - is a "carbon-neutral" way of generating power.

But Country Energy confirmed in a letter to an environment group, the South-East Regional Conservation Alliance, that it did not regard the proposed power station as "green power". The utility said it does not intentionally buy wood waste renewable energy certificates". Origin Energy has also decided not to recognise wood waste as a form of green power.

"The project is still going ahead," said Peter Mitchell, the mill's general manager. "If we had every group in the country saying it wasn't renewable energy, we might have a problem then. But ... we will find someone to buy certificates." Plans for the 5MW power pilot plant will be submitted to the NSW Government for planning assessment this year. "We have the waste wood just sitting around and we burn it off anyway, so we might as well use it to generate power that we can use," Mr Mitchell said.

About 70% of the fuel will come from native forests around Eden, and environment groups believe it will provide an excuse for the forestry industry to cut down more trees while giving the impression it is fighting climate change.

When the carbon-absorbing qualities of trees and undisturbed soil were taken into account, burning them can create more greenhouse gases than coal, said NSW Greens MP John Kaye. "[The] mill owner is desperate to find a new way to continue to harvest those subsidies," Mr Kaye said. "Trying to break into the renewable energy market is [the company's] lifeline."

Climate change repair bill: 1$72 trillion'

Canberra Times
Tuesday 3/2/2009 Page: 4

Leaders told to use recession to `shake out' energy sector
World leaders must adopt a more ambitious approach to clean energy technologies, and end the perverse subsidies that reward utilities for pumping out dirty energy, the World Economic Forum says. In a 300-page report outlining the key challenges discussed at the five day summit of world political and business leaders in Switzerland, the forum urged governments and investors to create "a level-playing field" for clean energy.

The economic forum called for a global investment of $US45 trillion ($A72 trillion) in green energy to redirect public and private investment to cleaner technologies. "Sustainable energy is here to stay and should no longer be called 'alternative' energy," the forum's global agenda statement said. It estimated sustainable energy could provide more than 50% of the world's energy needs within 40 years, but "substantial obstacles remain in the form of perverse subsidies and other policy distortions that favour incumbent, usually dirty form of energy".

The forum stressed the need for governments to commit to reducing world greenhouse emissions by up to 85% by 2050 to limit the global average temperature rise to 2 degrees. It warned that failure to address climate change within current efforts to address the financial crisis would be catastrophic, causing "irreversible changes to our planet's ability to sustain human development".

The forum also said the financial crisis could force a "useful shake-out" in the energy sector, leaving a stronger, more vibrant, clean technology sector in its wake, with the economic downturn already creating a "brain drain" away from the IT industry to energy innovation. "The volatility in fossil fuel prices may even lead to investors and governments seeing value in renewable energy sources as a useful longterm hedge on energy prices," the forum report said.

United Nations World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran told the forum, "The carbon-based energy paradigm of the last century, upon which we have grown rich, now looks increasingly unsustainable .. .

But the financial crisis and "looming world recession offer an opportunity for a structural change in how we manage our world economy, and not just in terms of our international financial institutions", she said. Extraordinary economic growth had been achieved over the past 50 years by "systematically under-pricing the goods and services we derive from our planet's natural resources", she said.

The forum's council on biodiversity estimates ecosystems are being damaged at an unprecedented rate, with forest clearing alone accounting for losses of "natural capital" worth $A7.2 trillion a year.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Energy without an end

Monday 2/2/2009 Page: 9

The environment and the economy would benefit if the Government showed leadership on solar energy, write Muriel Watt and lain MacGill.

AS SOUTH-EASTERN Australia sweltered last week with consecutive days of 40-plus temperatures, electricity was rationed and rail lines buckled. In such a climate, it seems incredible that this country trails so far behind others in its attitude to power supplies. We have huge solar energy potential, our coal-dominated electricity industry is among the most greenhouse intensive in the world, yet we are half-hearted about adopting the former and spend a great deal of effort bolstering up the latter.

In an increasing number of other countries, solar technologies provide power for homes, offices, farms and factories. The rest of the world is embracing the very solar inventions stemming from Australian research to enable them to secure 21st-century industries and jobs, while Australia clings to its fossil fuel past.

Australia was one of the early leaders in solar heating and electricity. This leadership was built upon outstanding research and development within CSIRO and the universities, along with early markets provided by government-led organisations such as Telecom Australia. As a result we were, for a time, one of the world's leading manufacturers of solar hot water systems and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Now, however, and despite continuing with world-leading research in some areas, Australia is a very minor player on the world scene.

The global PV industry has been growing at 30-50% a year in the past decade. Billions of dollars are being invested in solar technologies internationally with Hundreds of manufacturing facilities being established in countries as diverse as Norway, Germany, Spain, Japan, the US, China, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. These plants are employing hundreds of thousands of people, and helping deliver a more sustainable energy future.

In contrast, a series of Australian governments has squandered the promising early solar energy industry that developed here. Many of our technology breakthroughs now look as though they will be commercialised and deployed seemingly everywhere but here. Australia's only solar cell manufacturing facility - run by BP in Sydney - will close in April. How did this happen and what can be done? In short, the key problem has been a lack of government leadership. And the solution, unsurprisingly, hinges on government leadership.

First the good news. Australian governments have provided significant support for solar research and development and we have some world leading solar technologies including, for example, high efficiency solar cells, concentrator PV systems and stand-alone remote area power systems. We also continue to be global leaders in solar education, training and standards development.

The problem is that we haven't supported this with coherent and consistent industry development and market deployment policies that bring technologies out of the lab through to commercial success. Innovation and change always involves risk and often needs government support, particularly in the energy sector, which is dominated by entrenched, politically connected, vested fossil fuel interests.

Stop-start market policies pandering to short-term political positioning and yearly budget cycles don't build sustainable industries. This is the key difference between Australia and those countries with expanding solar industries, such as Germany, Spain and Japan. Governments here have seemed far more focused on trying to retain and expand Australia's fossil fuel energy industries than on supporting the sustainable energy industries of the future.

The Federal Government's embrace of carbon capture and storage to clean up fossil fuels is vital for our own, and the world's, energy future. However, even if technical progress in this area is highly successful, it can only ever be one part of the solution. The International Energy Agency, for example, foresees a greater role for solar than carbon capture and storage over the coming decades in protecting the climate.

Governments have been too ready to continue supporting well-established and politically powerful industries, such as those built around fossil fuels. Or electrical appliance retailers for that matter. It's far too easy for government in the current global financial crisis to look for ways to put money back in the hands of these interests and try to shield them from the inevitable changes that a carbon - constrained world will bring.

When government ministers tell the Australian people to use their "economic stimulus" handouts to buy imported, energy-hungry plasma TVs, rather than, say, locally made solar water heaters, you know they are not serious about making changes. This is not leadership. What takes real Government leadership is to support promising sustainable industries of the future that aren't already entrenched or politically well-connected; to build sustainable green jobs for the future, rather than desperately trying to preserve existing jobs, regardless of how unsustainable they might be; and to develop a clear transition strategy from the existing to the new. This is a true test of leadership and the only way to build a sustainable Australian economy and society for a carbon constrained future.

Dr Muriel Watt is project manager with IT Power Australia and lain MacGill is a senior lecturer in energy systems at the University of New South Wales.

PG&E Connects With Wave Power
Jan 29 2009

California's renewable energy outlook caught a rising tide today as the California Public Utilities Commission approved $4.8 million in funding for a major program to develop and demonstrate emerging wave power technology. The study, called WaveConnect, will be led by PG&E off the coast of Mendocino and Humboldt counties. The program will receive an additional $1.2 million from the Department of Energy.

PG&E's first step will be to conduct meetings with local stakeholders and agencies to learn about their issues and concerns. After completing appropriate environmental reviews and permit applications, which could take a couple of years, PG&E then plans to build an undersea infrastructure, including power transmission cables, to support wave energy demonstration projects. The utility will then invite manufacturers of wave energy devices to install them offshore for testing and comparison.

Ultimately, the demonstration will help promising technology companies find funding and guide PG&E (and other utilities) in choosing which wave power developers to partner with.

There are many different approaches to choose from. Some systems take their power from surface waves, others from pressure changes below the surface. Some bob up and down with the waves, others let waves wash over them. Some even rest on the sea floor. WaveConnect will help sort out the technology whales from the minnows.

"The anticipated cost of wave power compares favorably to the early days of solar and wind," says William Toman, a renewable energy project manager at PG&E. "It will take several stages of design evolution to lower costs and increase reliability." Last October, the CPUC rejected a 15-year contract signed by PG&E to purchase 2 MWs of wave power from Finavera Renewables.

The commission said the power was too expensive and the technology too experimental for prime time. (Finavera has since refocused on the development of wind energy in Canada and Ireland.) But many experts believe wave power remains a highly promising new source of energy for California. Our 745-mile coastline could produce more than a fifth of the state's energy needs if--admittedly a big if--economic, environmental, land use and grid connection issues don't stand in the way, according to the California Energy Commission.

Making ocean power technology work reliably and at a competitive price will be the first big challenge. Serving offshore installations with power transmission lines will be another economic and engineering hurdle. Finally, ocean power developers must also convince local communities and government regulators that their installations will not destroy marine life, cause boating collisions or navigational hazards, or degrade ocean views.


EC proposes €1.75 bn CCS, renewables boost
Paris, 29 January:

European Union energy projects, including carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and offshore wind farms, could receive a €3.5 billion ($4.6 billion) cash injection under plans proposed by the European Commission on Wednesday. The Commission proposed spending the majority of the €5 billion left over from last year's EU budget on "key energy infrastructure projects" that will "deliver a much needed stimulus to the EU economy in the short term...[and] target strategic goals such as energy security".

The plan calls for €1.75 billion to be spent on gas and electricity interconnection projects, €1.25 billion on CCS technology and €500 million on offshore wind projects. The Commission said the investments were necessary to improve energy security in Europe. "In the current economic and financial climate, projects are finding it particularly difficult to access investment," said Brussels, claiming that the proposed support would "put these projects back on track".

Five CCS projects - in the UK, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland - will be supported by the plan, each with an investment of €250 million. "All the projects are at an advanced state of readiness so as to ensure the beneficial effects of the investment as soon as possible," said the Commission. It proposes €500 million to finance an offshore wind energy programme that will focus on "providing support to large-scale offshore new demonstration projects ... and possibly up-scaling existing ones".

It said support would be given to projects "already at a reasonable state of development", with "cross-border significance, situated in deeper waters (up to 50 metres) and further from shore (up to 100 kilometres) to reap benefit from high wind resources potential". Wind farms in the Baltic and North Sea will each receive €150 million for grid integration projects.

Alpha Ventus/Bard Offshore, off Germany and Poland, the Aberdeen offshore wind farm, off Scotland, and Thornton Bank, off Belgium will receive €150 million, €40 million and €10 million respectively. Part of the €1.75 billion set aside for strategic gas and electricity interconnections will be used to help fund a North Sea offshore grid.

Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association, said making Europe's interconnectors more efficient and improving the electrical grid would "help speed the development of offshore wind energy". However, Green member of the European Parliament Claude Turmes said the proposal was "inadequate [and] unbalanced", with a "bloated €3 billion for coal and gas and a meagre €500 million for wind energy". The Commission said it hoped the proposals would be agreed by EU ministers and the European Parliament by the EU spring summit in March.

Renewables lobby takes cheer from House stimulus vote
London, 29 January:

Voting along party lines, the US House of Representatives approved an economic stimulus package that includes substantial investments in the renewable energy sector and critical adjustments to its tax credit structure. By a 244-188 vote with no support from Republicans, the House passed an $819 billion economic stimulus package yesterday that includes $54 billion dedicated to upgrading the US transmission grid, improving energy efficiency, and research, development and loans for renewable energy projects. The Senate is expected to debate its version next week.

Both the House and Senate bills would extend the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy projects through 2012 and for biomass, geothermal and other renewables through 2013 at a cost of about $13.1 billion over 10 years. The bills would also allow investors in projects that begin operating in 2009 and 2010 to claim the investment tax credit (ITC) rather than the PTC, giving potential investors more flexibility. The PTC is payable over a 10-year period while the 30% ITC for solar facilities can be taken the year the facility enters commercial operation.

Instead of taking the tax credits, though, the House bill proposes that project developers can apply for a Department of Energy grant for up to 30% of the costs of certain renewable energy projects coming online in 2009 or 2010. While renewable energy advocates praised these provisions, they are still pressing Congress to go even further in restructuring the tax credits to make them refundable - that is, allow developers with low or no tax liabilities to claim a government refund of their credit. "I think you'd find a lot of entities would continue to be active in the marketplace under those conditions," said Matt Cheney, chief executive officer of project developer MMA Renewable Ventures in San Francisco.

The House bill would provide loans totalling $8 billion to fund renewable energy generation and transmission projects while the Senate version provides $10 billion. The loans are critical for the solar industry because debt in solar financing deals tends to be expensive, Cheney said. But if the government is providing loan guarantees, debt financiers will be reassured that they will be repaid, lowering rates and improving market liquidity, he said. "It could and will cause debt to be available to solar developers where it otherwise wouldn't be available," said Cheney, whose company recently secured a $200 million financing commitment for new solar projects, despite tight market conditions, using a combination of investment from tax equity player Wells Fargo and debt financing from National Consumer Cooperative Bank.

The House bill devotes $11 billion for research and development, pilot projects and federal matching funds to modernise the electricity grid while the Senate proposal pledges $4.5 billion to improving the grid. The differences in the bills are relatively minor and will likely be resolved when members of both legislative branches meet to craft a compromise bill, said Shelley Fidler, a principal and managing director of the environmental and governmental resources group at law firm Van Ness Feldman in Washington, DC. Congressional leaders hope to have a bill ready for Obama's signature by mid-February.

AGL poised to act on BG deals

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
Monday 2/2/2009 Page: 13

AGL Energy could buy two Queensland gas fields, Lacerta and Polaris, from BG Group based on an agreement made in last October. AGL had agreed to trade its stake in Queensland Gas Company as part of BG Group's friendly takeover plan. AGL could also acquire BG Group's Condamine power station. Funds generated from the sale of Queensland Gas Company and an Exxon-MobilExxon-Mobil-operated Papua New Guinea liquefied natural gas project has been put towards a string of acquisitions including a gas lease in New South Wales Gloucester Basin from AJ Lucas and Molopo Australia, coal seam gas assets from Tristar Petroleum and wind farm sites. AGL has also struck a joint venture with Cooper Basin oil and Innamincka Petroleum and launched a takeover bid for Sydney Gas. AGL is aiming to increase 2P gas stocks to 2000 petajoules.

Heat is on backward government energy policies

Monday 2/2/2009 Page: 8

We should use the sun's power to stop blackouts, instead of causing them.

THE sun's energy has seldom made itself felt so fiercely as in the past week. Anyone who stepped outside immediately felt the intense heat and light, with a total energy far beyond anything generated in our power stations. The week brought home the burning irony of our predicament: at the very time air-conditioner use drove peak electricity demand to record levels, the matching solar energy peak was almost entirely untapped. As a result, the electricity grid could not meet demand and tens of thousands of hones suffered power cuts.

All this coincided with a series of Age reports that spelt out the costly consequences of decades of government neglect of solar energy, a field in which Australia once led the world. Our researchers have made their mark, but mostly in places such as Germany, Spain, Japan and California (where a $3 billion program aims to cover 1 million roofs with solar panels). Factories and supermarkets are turning over their vast roof spaces to photovoltaic panels that provide clean, reliable, fixed-price electricity for a generation to come.

Government policies have driven rapid growth in solar industries - global uptake has grown at 30-50% a year for a decade. Billions of dollars have been invested, with hundreds of manufacturing facilities set up, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and turnover of more than $30 billion a year. With the economies of scale created by such growth, some places are eyeing grid parity - the point at which the solar price equals the grid electricity price - within years.

Meanwhile, back in sunny Australia, which has more consistently usable radiation than most other countries, solar energy has almost stood still. While Germany was adding 1300 MWs of solar energy a year by 2007, Australia managed just 10 MWs. The German industry employs 57,000 people; Australia's only 3500. The only local maker of photovoltaic panels will shut down in April, a victim of government policies, tariffs and institutional structures that effectively protect traditional generators. As The Age reports, several European companies considered investing in Australia but went elsewhere, citing policies and markets that still favour fossil fuel sources.

The Rudd Government's renewable energy policies represent some advance on its predecessor's, but its reductions of solar rebates (restricted to households, which use about a quarter of the nation's electricity), and limits on the output of eligible systems are hardly the stuff of an energy revolution. And that is what is needed in a carbon-constrained world of climate change.

Power companies make money selling energy, not saving it, and governments have largely left the urgent business of smart, renewable energy use to individuals. Victoria shares the Commonwealth's reluctance to embrace the tariff model calculated on gross feed-in to the grid, one adopted by more than 40 countries as recommended by the International Energy Agency. As The Age reported, a memo to cabinet warned that the limited system adopted in Victoria would not increase the uptake of solar panels. The effect is to protect coal-fired generators, which leads one to wonder about the Government's agenda and any undisclosed contractual obligations to the privatised industry's operators.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment memo put the cost of its model - covering households, businesses, farms and community groups to "create a thriving solar industry" - at $18 a year per household. One can be confident most Victorians would be happy to pay that to secure power supplies and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Other benefits of the proposal included solar investment worth $2.5 billion and 2500 new jobs. (That is roughly on a par with the Latrobe Valley power industry workforce, which has fallen from 8500 in 1990.) Energy Minister Peter Batchelor has yet to explain the costings he cited to reject the gross feed-in model. These costings almost certainly do not include the multibillion-dollar capital investment in conventional generation (plus costs of increased water use) needed to meet predicted demand growth of 20% in a decade.

To secure the energy and jobs of a sustainable future, Australian governments must do better than their reactionary, crisis-driven policies to date. Vowing to "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories", US President Barack Obama has earmarked a big part of his economic stimulus package for developing clean energy. In these times of heatwave and drought, Australians also need leaders with the courage and vision to transform our energy sources and use.

Carbon newest trading risk

Adelaide Advertiser
Monday 2/2/2009 Page: 9

CARBON trading is at risk of becoming the next "sub-prime" investment, European leaders have been warned. Some companies have been cashing in their emissions trading scheme carbon credits, obtained for free, causing the global price of carbon to plunge by more than half. This has been compared to the sub-prime home loans, largely blamed for triggering the current global recession.

The emissions trading scheme was created to tackle rising industry greenhouse gases, with pollutant companies able to trade their permits with other companies and countries in a move designed to encourage fewer emissions. But the world-wide recession has led to a drop in production and therefore lower carbon footprints for companies prompting some, particularly in the metals industries, to cash up by selling their carbon credits. Hedge funds are now trading unwanted carbon credits creating an artificial stock and price.

French-owned gas and electricity group EDF Energy chief Vincent de Rivaz said some certainty had to be brought into the scheme if it was to work. "We are at the tipping point where we should wonder if we have in place the right balance between government policy, regulator responsibility and the market mechanism which will deliver the carbon price," Mr De Rivaz said.

"The carbon price has to become simple and not become a new type of sub-prime tool, which will be diverted from what is its initial purpose - to encourage real investment in real low-carbon technology." A spokesman for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said carbon prices were affected by many factors, including overall economic activity. "As there is not yet a carbon market in Australia, a low carbon price in the EU does not have immediate ramifications here," she said.

Monday 2 February 2009

Kelpies, utes, solar panels: a vision for the countryside

Friday 30/1/2009 Page: 2

Kelpies, utes, solar panelsDON Chambers' blood has been boiling this week, and the heat isn't the cause. With temperatures in his home town of Rutherglen hovering around 45 degrees and power blackouts dogging Melbourne, it is the lack of solar panels to make use of the rays and keep air-conditioners and fridges running that has made him angry.

"Governments in Australia should be grabbing solar and running with it," said the member of the local Chambers wine dynasty and former Indigo Shire mayor. "They talk a lot of bulldust about how they are going to reduce greenhouse gases.

Here is something real that the whole community can do. And we're not doing it." As southern Australia sweltered, Mr Chambers, a longtime National Party member and former Sustainability Victoria board member, was more perplexed than ever over why solar panels are not as ubiquitous as kelpies and utes in the Australian countryside.

They would be, he said, with the slightest of encouragement to farmers. But there had been no sign of that encouragement coming from the State Government. Mr Chambers said farmers were increasingly interested in solar energy's potential to help the environment and be a possible money-spinner. Awareness of solar energy has been heightened by the experience of German farmers cashing in on a solar boom. Mr Chambers, who has solar panels on his home, said the State Government was squandering the chance to start such an industry in Victoria.

In 2000, Germany introduced a subsidy for the gross amount of solar energy generated, including the power those with solar panels use themselves. Just about everyone with a solar panel is eligible: residents, businesses, farms and community groups. The State Government is preparing to introduce its own subsidy, but only households will be eligible. And the payment will only cover power fed back into the electricity grid after solar households have used what they need.

Yesterday The Age revealed grave doubts within the Government about the proposed scheme. A leaked memo from a senior state bureaucrat said Labor's plan would do nothing to boost the take-up of solar panels in Victoria. Mr Chambers is not surprised. He said the German model made it easy for people to calculate how much they can earn from solar energy and when the system will pay back their investment.

Victoria's opposition parties are discussing strategies for dealing with Labor's scheme, due to be tabled in the first half of the year. Greens upper house MP Greg Barber said yesterday that if the scheme were not vastly improved by the time it was tabled, it was likely to be amended or thrown out.

Matching smart move on power, water with fillip for the economy

Friday 30/1/2009 Page: 8

An edict to install solar panels and rainwater tanks in every house would create jobs, writes Michael Short.

DESPITE the economic fear and loathing brewing across the land, most Australian households are financially better off than they were as recently as six months ago. A seven-year series of interest rate increases has been unwound at a desperate pace, a process all but certain to continue next week, and the price of oil has plunged by two thirds.

So, millions of household budgets have been boosted by hundreds of dollars a month. The problem is, this fillip is a paradoxical part of the transition from global financial crisis to global economic crisis. The transition is ending. Australia has about 500,000 people officially unemployed. That number might swell to about 800,000 by the end of the year. Hundreds of thousands of households are about to be hurt.

Having pumped half its $20 billion surplus into the economy late last year in a bid to stimulate demand, particularly at the cash register, our Federal Government is examining further ways to ameliorate the impending social and economic crunch. The fall in consumer demand (consumption accounts for about $6 in every $10 of our economy) needs to be offset by greater spending elsewhere, and we need to generate new areas of employment.

Other policy imperatives include the drought and the need to take the economy towards renewable energy and reduced emissions. Dealing with a recession that the International Monetary Fund and so many others predict will be historically profound is the immediate focus, but it is occurring in the context of the longer-term need to confront climate change.

While climate-change sceptics remain, a sensible consensus has emerged that it would be imprudent not to act. The best analogy refers to insurance: most of us do not believe our houses will burn down, but most of its have insurance against that very eventuality The question is the cost of the premium and the nature of the insurance, not whether we ought to act.

A further element of Australia's public policy picture is that the federal budget is clearly headed into deficit. This is a good and natural thing, and is a source of the economic stimulus required to compensate for private spending by households and businesses.

Despite having been given a filthy reputation by the fiscal ineptitude of governments, such as the former Victorian ALP administration, there is nothing wrong with budget deficits per se. Problems come when politicians generate deficits by spending too much of our money on short-term items, even to the point of covering the interest bill on state debt, as was the case in Victoria. But if the money is spent on the right intergenerational assets, our legislators are doing what we employ them to do.

So, given the present constellation of circumstances, might it not be worth doing something like installing solar panels and a water tank in as many houses as we possibly can? Using present and future taxes this way would stimulate the economy, generate jobs, move us away from reliance on fossil fuels and end the ridiculous failure to harvest rainwater in such a dry land.

Would we really need to be spending billions on unpopular projects like a pipeline and a desalination plant were we harvesting rainwater effectively? The cost of panels and tanks on such a scale would be huge. So would be the benefits. As is evident from the response of democratic administrations around the world, the immediate issue is getting the right policies in place, rather than being shackled by angst about the cost. That is not to say the cost is not crucial - it is our money - but that inaction in the face of challenge and opportunity is not a particularly bright option.

As always, the devil is in the deficit detail, but God is in the big picture, and perhaps we have an opportunity to be bold and do something now that will help present and future generations live in a sustainable and smart economy. In Victoria, new houses are required to have either a rain tank or a solar panel, but that covers less than 10% of Melbourne residences. Established houses are only bound by sustainability rules when alterations are made.

In his recent report to the Victorian Parliament, Victorian Sustainability Commissioner Dr Ian McPhail called for regulations forcing home owners to upgrade water and energy standards before selling their homes. Why not go further? Public policy is all about incentives and disincentives that render certain behaviours rational. Is there really any compelling reason why we do not have, as part of our crisis response, a supercharged effort to get panels and tanks into every Australian household? Sure beats counting jobs as they evaporate.