Saturday 13 June 2009

Tariff tiff delays start of solar panel scheme

Sydney Morning Herald
Friday 12/6/2009 Page: 6

The NSW Government is set to miss its own deadline for bringing in rooftop solar panel tariffs, which it announced last year as a centrepiece of the state's climate change plan. The delay is causing further confusion for thousands of people considering switching to solar, many of whom learnt this week they had missed out on the Federal Government's solar installation subsidy when the cutoff date was changed.

The NSW Environment Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, pledged in November to decide by January what sort of tariff would be paid to people with solar panels, and to have a scheme running "by the middle of the year". Yesterday a spokeswoman for Ms Tebbutt said a final decision would be made "shortly". Last month, the Energy Minister, Ian McDonald, told parliament a decision on solar tariffs would be made "in the near future", which he said meant "some time shortly".

The reference to the scheme starting this year has since been removed from the Department of Energy's website. The Herald understands the delay is due to disagreement between the departments of environment and energy, and the Treasury over what sort of tariff to adopt. Some in the Department of Environment and Climate Change favour a "gross" tariff, in which people would get a small payment for every kW of energy they generate from the sun and which would do more to stimulate the solar industry in NSW.

The energy department is thought to prefer a "net" tariff, where only surplus power that is fed back into the energy grid attracts a bonus. This would mean far fewer people can take advantage of it. But the Government is concerned that a strong tariff would mean people who cannot afford the installation costs of solar panels would be subsidising those who can, because the tariff would be paid for by a small rise to all electricity bills. However, a study by Access Economics found that even a strong tariff would mean a rise of only about $2 a year on power bills. The gross tariff plan is backed by the NSW Greens, the Property Council and Unions NSW.

Don’t link legislation, Canberra warned

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
Friday 12/6/2009 Page: 5

According to the renewable energy sector, new clean energy projects and jobs could be jeopardised if the Federal Government linked legislation to the emissions trading scheme.

The proposal has generated intense opposition from the Coalition, the Greens and independent Senator Nick Xenophon, prompting behind-the-scenes amendments on the renewable energy legislation. The Clean Energy Council's Matthew Warren has described the government move as 'political brinkmanship', while the Australian Geothermal Energy Association's Susan Jeanes said 'the political wrangling.., over the two pieces of legislation [was] jeopardising Australia's ability to meet renewable energy targets in 2020.'

Elsewhere, the Energy Supply Association of Australia hoped a sensible renewable energy target would not be obstructed by issues linking it with the carbon pollution reduction scheme, while Origin Energy called on both sides of politics to work together to pass the bill.

Push to dump `dud emissions scheme

Courier Mail
Friday 12/6/2009 Page: 10

GREEN groups want emissions trading ditched in favour of direct and immediate action to tackle climate change. Groups representing 400,000 people have put forward an alternative dubbed "Plan B" which includes phasing out coal-fired power stations and an overhaul of public transport.

They say the country has become obsessed with emissions trading and described the Federal Government's planned scheme as a dud. Greenpeace spokesman Jeremy Tager, pictured, said voters thought Prime Minister Kevin Rudd understood climate change, but had not delivered on emissions trading. "This scheme could have been written by the big polluters," Mr Tager said at the launch of the groups' alternative plan in Parliament House yesterday, adding it was time for Plan B.
Their plan includes:
  • Phasing out coal-fired power stations during the coming decade.
  • Green makeovers for millions of homes.
  • Mandatory fuel efficiency standards for cars.
  • More and cheaper public transport.
  • More cycle paths, more car pooling.
  • An end to urban sprawl.
  • Generating 40% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Ending the logging of old growth forests.
As emissions trading was not due to start for two years, politicians could go back to the drawing board and devise an effective, green scheme to halve emissions by 2020, the groups said. Mark Wakeham, from Environment Victoria, said that other measures were ready to go now. "We've become obsessed with the carbon pollution reduction scheme and the debate in Australia," he said. "There are a lot of other things that we could be doing right now."

Organisations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Wilderness Society and state based conservation councils have endorsed the alternative plan, but not all green groups are on board. The Australian Conservation Foundation believes the Government's emissions trading scheme is a good start and should proceed. Government legislation setting up the scheme goes before the Senate next week. Labor does not have the numbers to win parliamentary approval against Coalition and cross bench opposition.

Solar consultation

Canberra Times
Friday 12/6/2009 Page: 4

The ACT Government will seek public feedback this month on locations for a proposed $30 million solar energy plant. Two sites have been flagged: Ingledene Forest and Kowen Forest.

A meeting will be held on June 18 at 12.30pm in the exhibition room of the Legislative Assembly to discuss the merits of both sites, and another at 6.30pm at the Country Comfort Hotel in Greenway to focus on the Ingledene Forest site. On June 24, there will be a discussion on both sites at 12.30pm at the Country Comfort, and the Kowen Forest site will be discussed at 6.30pm at the Legislative Assembly. RSVP through Canberra Connect on 132 281 or email

Hot rocks `cut gas emissions'

Adelaide Advertiser
Friday 12/6/2009 Page: 26

HOT rocks in the state's outback could reduce Australia's emissions by about 10%, a new report reveals. Environment group WWFAustralia has studied the potential for the emerging renewable source to provide emission-free electricity all year, independent of the weather, and be a source of employment.

SA has some of the world's best geothermal resources. The 270C hot rocks, several kilometres below the surface, can heat water pumped underground. The water can be used to generate electricity in a surface turbine before it is pumped below to be heated again. Geoscience Australia estimates using just 1% of the heat resource in the ground would provide enough electricity to produce 26,000 times Australia's annual energy consumption.

The report Power to Change: Australia's Geothermal Future, conducted with the Australian Geothermal Energy Association, found that introducing geothermal energy into the grid by 2050 would reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by electricity by 25%. The saving would lead to an overall reduction of Australia's emissions of 9%. AGEA chief executive Susan Jeanes said geothermal energy could provide all of Australia's electricity sustainably, without greenhouse gas emissions.

More Federal Government funding and policy changes must be made to speed up its implementation, she said. "SA, I suppose, is the heart of the geothermal industry in Australia at this stage.., as 70-80% of the work is happening in SA," she said. The report shows 318 people are employed in the nation's geothermal industry but 3800 jobs could be created by 2020, increasing to 9500 in 2030 and 17,300 in 2050. WWF-Australia chief executive Greg Bourne said the exciting thing about geothermal energy was it could supply power 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Hot rocks 'could create 17,000 jobs'
11th June 2009

More than 17,000 jobs could be created in the geothermal energy industry by 2050, a new report says.

The geothermal industry, which involves extracting heat stored in the earth to generate power, is growing in Australia with almost 400 tenements for projects and around $1.5 billion in projects underway. WWF and the Australian Geothermal Energy Association (AGEA) on Thursday released a report, Power to Change: Australia's Geothermal Future. Paul Toni from WWF says the report is the first in a series looking into the potential of geothermal energy.

"The energy stored in hot rocks near the earth's surface in Australia is a thousand-fold what we use each and every year," Mr Toni said. "We must reshape our economy and our energy sector if we are serious about tackling climate change. "Capable of running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, geothermal energy is one of the vital clean energy resources needed to make this transformation."

He said the Cooper Basin, which overlaps the borders of Queensland, NSW and South Australia, holds enormous potential for geothermal electricity. AGEA chief executive Susan Jeanes says Australia has the chance to be a world leader in geothermal technology. "This industry provides opportunities for workers to move from industries like coal, oil and gas, into clean energy jobs as much of the technology and expertise is transferable," Ms Jeanes said.

Public sector must lead way on climate finance – China
11 June:

Governments from developed countries must lead the way on finance for climate change adaptation, mitigation and technology transfer, said a negotiator for China today at UN climate talks. Speaking on the sidelines of UN climate talks in Bonn, Zhu Liucai told Environmental Finance that public financing plays "a crucial role" in future funding mechanisms to support developing nations.

"Public finance can play a catalytic role, to leverage the private sector," Zhu said. "If everything depends on the market itself, then why are we here?" China has proposed that 0.5-1% of developed countries' GDP each year be put into a central fund to finance technology transfer, climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, and capacity building in developing nations.

Zhu noted that governments were able to find public funds for economic stimulus packages, to the tune of 1-2% of GDP - more than the cost to fight climate change. Not addressing climate change could cost 5% of GDP each year, he said, citing the Stern Review, a UK-government commissioned study on the economics of climate change. China's proposal "would help with the green recovery", Zhu added.

Meanwhile, a proposal from Mexico, which would see all countries contribute to a central fund based on their historic and current emissions and GDP, seems to be gaining traction in the talks, according to negotiators, although nothing has been ruled out yet.

Norway has put forward another popular proposal, which would see a set percentage of Assigned Amount Units - or whatever allowances are issued post-2012 to governments which adopt targets - set aside for sale, with the money used to support developing nations. "No matter how you twist it, you still see industrialised countries paying 90% of the bill," commented a European negotiator.

The Mexican proposal, said another, is "very well placed in the race - there is no real opposition to the idea, which is everyone pays something". However, the negotiator noted that this proposal is estimated to collect less than $10 billion a year - estimates of the level of finance needed to support adaptation measures range from $10 billion to $100 billion each year. And since the funding would have to be approved by each country's legislature each year, it runs the risk that domestic politics could derail international commitments, he said.

Airlines promise cap on emissions from 2020
11 June:

Airlines have committed to a global cap on their carbon emissions in 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced on Monday, but environmentalists slammed the group's lack of ambition. The association, which represents some 230 airlines, also committed to a 1.5% average annual improvement in fuel efficiency from 2009 to 2020 and a 50% absolute reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 from a 2005 baseline. The emissions would remain capped from 2020 even if demand increased, said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA's director general and CEO.

Quentin Browell, assistant director of environment communications at IATA, said that the association could have to spend approximately $7 billion a year after 2020 to purchase carbon credits, based on an estimate of $65 a tonne in 2020, to achieve its carbon neutral growth. Bisignani said that the airlines' commitment needed to be matched by governments. "Our success will be contingent on governments acting effectively," he said. "The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) must set binding carbon emissions standards on manufacturers for new aircraft. A legal and fiscal framework to support the availability of sustainable biofuels must be established.

Bisignani also called for governments to work with air navigation service providers to push forward projects such as the Single European Sky, an initiative that will eliminate national borders in European airspace and improve air traffic flows. Air transport's carbon footprint is expected to shrink 7% in 2009, the IATA said, with 5% attributable to the recession and the other 2% directly related to efficiency gains.

However, Bill Hemmings, policy officer at the European Federation for Transport and Environment, said the plan was far below what is necessary considering the scale of carbon emissions: "The statement is a slight move forward for IATA in relation to its previous positions, but it is neither bold nor a commitment - merely a statement." Hemmings said that the EU was proposing to cut emissions 20% by 2020 from 1990 levels, and possibly by 30%, and added that cuts of 50% to 80% by 2050 relative to 1990 levels are widely expected to be necessary, to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, the Aviation Global Deal (AGD), a coalition of leading international airlines, aviation sector companies and international NGO The Climate Group, proposed three different emissions reduction scenarios on Tuesday, including a carbon neutral growth target, a 5% reduction and a 20% reduction in emissions through to 2020, using a 2005 base-year - reflecting the range of views from industry, government and NGOs. Under all the scenarios, the airlines would actively participate in international carbon markets to meet their emission targets more cost effectively, the AGD said. Airlines in the AGD include Air France, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

Time to stop playing politics with clean energy jobs

Clean Energy Council
11 June 2009

NATIONAL: Australia's clean energy industry should not be used as a bargaining chip in the high stakes game of political brinkmanship on climate change policy. The Rudd Government's Renewable Energy Target (RET) bill released this week links key elements of the scheme to the passage of the carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS).

The Clean Energy Council (CEC) wants to see both pieces of legislation pass. All major parties have indicated their strong support for legislation to immediately deliver 20 percent of Australia's energy from renewable sources by 2020. CEC Chief Executive Matthew Warren implored all major parties to find agreement on the RET legislation when it enters parliament next week or risk sabotaging the clean energy industry they all claim to strongly support.

"The lack of certainty created by this emerging political impasse may already be enough to trigger accelerated retrenchments across the solar PV industry, which now can have no confidence in the timely deployment of a new solar scheme to replace the rebates that were halted on Tuesday," Mr Warren said. "Unless parliament can reach agreement on this bill, AU$28 billion of new clean energy projects which would otherwise have made an immediate and substantial dent in Australia's greenhouse emissions will remain in limbo."

Mr Warren said policies to drive accelerated deployment of clean energy technologies and energy efficiency should be at the vanguard of Australia's accelerated response to climate change and not compromised by political brinkmanship. The CEC has commissioned urgent legal advice to draft the necessary amendments to repair this and other flaws in the bill and will provide these to all major parties at the start of next week.

Friday 12 June 2009

Hot and cold: giant wind for high country

Canberra Times
Thursday 11/6/2009 Page: 1

A $700 million windfarm proposed for south of Cooma will turn 150ha of beautifully timbered bushland into an industrial site, a neighbouring farmer says. Fourth-generation sheep and cattle grazier Richard Taylor said he appreciated the project could power 130,000 homes with renewable energy but fears 127 towers, standing 85m high and supporting 50m blades, would forever blight his views.

The rugged and remote country is being assessed for rare lizards, bats, moths, birdlife and flora. Studies have identified stone fencing dating back to the mid- 1880s, associated with Chinese workers, and Aboriginal stone artefacts. The proposed windfarm includes 68km of new roads, two concrete batching plants, rock crushing, a large substation, facilities building and 75km of underground cabling.

Depending on planning approval and financing, construction will start next year, employing 80 people, and should be finished by 2012. Developer Wind Prospect says the windfarm will save about 690,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Development director Ed Mounsey said after concerns from some landholders the original site on nine properties was moved north of the Maclaughlin River and expanded to 127 turbines on 17 separate properties.

In nearby Nimmitabel, a village of 280, general store owner Ziggy Yeoman and his customers think the windfarm is a brilliant idea, as does Bombala Mayor Robert Stewart, because roads to the vast site on the edge of the Great Dividing Range will be upgraded. Cooma Mayor Vin Good was unaware the original 73 towers had nearly doubled and would spill across the boundary into his shire. Mr Taylor said the windfarm adjoined his property Bellevue and he would see every tower.

Wind Prospect had addressed his concern about towers interfering with aerial crop dusting from two airstrips on the property by changing sites. He was concerned about what would happen at the end of the windfarm's lease. "There's no option to take the turbines down," he said. "I estimate that would cost about $100 million and there is little incentive to do that. We have no assurances other than they say they will be taken down for scrap."

Mr Mounsey said when the windfarm's 25-year leases with farmers lapsed, the equipment would be renewed or removed. "The precedents set in Europe where there are longer-term projects now reaching the end of their warranty is they have been taken down and the value of the components in terms of steel alone and the copper is more than enough of an economic driver to be doing so."

Infigen Energy's Capital Windfarm north of Bungendore, due for commissioning in August, also has 25-year lease agreements for 67 turbines. Spokesman David Griffin said after that the turbines would likely be refurbished and repowered or taken down. "It depends on the economics, we don't know the answer but expect they will keep going."

Hundreds more wind turbines are coming to Canberra's high wind region and at an annual leasing fee of $10,000-$15,000 a turbine, will be welcomed by cash strapped farmers battling a prolonged drought. Upper Lachlan Shire's first windfarm comprising eight turbines was built in 1996. Another 15 are nearing completion on the Cullerin Range near Gunning and more are planned elsewhere in the shire, where a recent poll found 70% of the population favours them.

Woodlawn WindEnergy proposes 25 turbines near Tarago. Mr Mounsey said legislating the mandatory renewable energy target approved by the Council of Australian Governments of 20% renewable energy by 2020 would give financiers the necessary certainty to hind the windfarm. After environmental assessments were completed, the state significant project would be lodged with Planning NSW for approval.

Green split on emissions

Thursday 11/6/2009 Page: 7

A RIFT within the environment movement will widen today when a dozen green groups call on Canberra to discard the emissions trading scheme and move to Plan B on climate change. Rejecting the argument that a flawed scheme is better than nothing, the coalition of groups representing more than 400,000 members will warn that the current model fails to address climate science that is tracking beyond worst-case predictions.

Groups including Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth will urge the Government to introduce policies they say could be set up within two years and put Australia on a path to cut emissions in half over the next decade. It would provide time to rethink how to put a price on greenhouse emissions.

The call comes as the emissions trading bill faces an unlikely path through a hostile Senate and puts the groups at odds with other green organisations that last month called for the Government's proposal to be passed into law. The Climate Institute Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF Australia have given the Government qualified support after it opened up the possibility of a 25% cut in emissions below 2000 levels by 2020.

The Plan B report, backed by nine conservation groups, argues the scheme "perversely rewards big polluters and will result in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise" as it allows an unlimited number of carbon credits to be bought offshore by cutting emissions in poor countries. Greenpeace campaign director Steve Campbell said: "We need to take the complementary measures now and put in an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax once we sort the problems out."

The proposals include:
  • Using available technology to cut energy use in manufacturing, commercial building and homes by 30%, with an average payback time of four years.
  • Minimum seven-star rating for new Bones and five-star for commercial buildings, schools, hospitals and warehouses.
  • Adopting an emissions intensity target for new cars of 130 grams per kilometre by 2012 and investing in electric vehicles and public transport.
  • A moratorium on new coalfired power stations.
  • The creation of nearly a million "green jobs".

Nuclear energy must be debated: scientist

Adelaide Advertiser
Thursday 11/6/2009 Page: 45

THE role of nuclear energy must be more widely debated as Australia grapples with climate change, the CSIRO said yesterday. "There is a remarkable silence in the country at the moment," CSIRO chief executive Megan Clark said yesterday. She told the Australia- Israel Chamber of Commerce the reality was Australia would supply up to 38% of the world's uranium. "We are a substantial player in the global nuclear market," she said.

Dr Clark described the huge changes needed to try to cut greenhouse emissions to slow climate change. These included phasing out coalfired electricity generation and increasing gas generation as a transition to renewables. She was not disturbed by scientists, such as geologist Ian Plimer, publishing alternative views. "One of the strengths of science has been the robustness of debate," she said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had brought together 500 scientists who rigorously discussed the issues. While the global financial crisis had diverted attention, one of the surprising fallouts had been an increase in spending on research and development. "There was a lot of strategic thinking going on," she said of companies coming to grips with a changing world. "There was a sense of 'how do we emerge from this stronger?'."

Companies gave serious consideration to operating in a world where carbon has a value, water was scarce and bio-diversity was threatened. "CSIRO's phones ran hot in February because there was a sense that we need innovation, that R&D is a strategic investment." she said.

Clean, green and mean - Rudd weathers public rage over axed solar rebate

Adelaide Advertiser
Thursday 11/6/2009 Page: 9

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has stood up to a growing public backlash over the Federal Government's snap decision to remove its generous solar panel rebate scheme, supporting the money-saving move. Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett announced on Tuesday that the $8000 rebate for all household solar panel systems would be canned at the end of the day, three weeks before the original cut-off date of June 30.

Mr Garrett has received widespread criticism for the sudden move, which will effectively halve the amount of financial assistance for the popular one kW solar panel system for South Australian residents. By late yesterday, an Adelaide- Now poll showed 68% of 720 respondents thought it was not fair to scrap the scheme early and at short notice.

But yesterday Mr Rudd joined Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Mr Garrett in publicly defending the decision. Mr Rudd said it was announced late last year that the new system would be introduced by the middle of this year. "We think that's the right course of action," he said. Adelaide's The Solar Shop has been inundated with complaints in the past two days that the rebate ended with just eight hours notice.

Managing director Adrian Ferraretto said the Government should have given consumers and the industry proper warning. "Rather than promoting the benefits of domestic solar, once again we have to react to bad government policy," he said. He said the Government had received 11,000 rebate applications, totalling more than $80 million, in the week of the Federal Budget alone, because of fears then that the rebate would be scrapped early.

Mr Garrett said the new rebate scheme would allow households which could not apply for the previous rebate to receive financial assistance. The old rebate was unavailable to households with a combined income of more than $100,000 a year. He said the number of applications now being processed would give installers nationwide enough work for a year.

"The Government believed that the rebate had fulfilled its task admirably but, at this particular stage and point in time, given this additional expenditure and the support that we've provided, it's time to bring solar credits in," he said. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said there were 60,000 rebate applications being processed which the Government would honour.

Coromandel Valley resident Richard Goddard, 57, was yesterday relieved his application was lodged before the $8000 rebate was abolished, but questioned the sense in scrapping it. "The grant was put there to encourage people to do this," he said. "Some of the other things they are spending money on, this is one thing they really need."

Google Aims to Produce Cheap Renewable Energy

Google continues to invest in companies and research with the goal of producing renewable energy cheaper than coal, according to its "green energy czar." Google has touted its environmental consciousness, with CEO Eric Schmidt even pushing a national energy plan designed to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by 2030.

Google is aiming to produce renewable energy cheaper than coal, both through its own research and by investing in outside companies, with the goal of having such a system operational within a few years. "In, you know, three years, we could have multiple MWs of plants out there," Bill Weihl, green energy czar for Google, said in an interview with Reuters. "We'll see whether we or us in combination with other people are prepared to fund much, much bigger facilities, or if we want to get a few more years' experience before we really start to scale it up."

Google has invested in advanced geothermal, wind and solar thermal; the latter involves concentrating solar energy via mirrors in order to power steam-turbines.

"We are looking at ways of cheaply getting to much higher temperatures and also making the heliostats, the fields of mirrors that have to track the sun, reflect the sun, keep it focused on the target we are trying to heat up," Weihl told Reuters. "I think we've made some really interesting progress in the last six to nine months."

Google has long attempted to position itself as a Green IT leader. In May 2009, Google moved quickly to refute claims that its data centers and products were energy inefficient, posting data on its blog that showed it would take 3.1 million Google searches to equal the electricity consumed by the average U.S, household in one month.

"Our engineers crunched the numbers and found that an average query uses about 1 kJ of energy and emits about 0.2 grams of carbon dioxide," Urs Holzle, senior vice president of Operations at Google, wrote in a May 11 corporate blog posting.

It was the second time this year that Google reacted strongly to claims that it contributes mightily to the nation's overall carbon footprint; the first came after a Harvard University physicist announced in January 2009 that two Google searches on a computer can generate nearly the same amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) as boiling a kettle. In addition, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has pushed a national energy plan that cuts greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by 2030. During a March 2009 environmental conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal, Schmidt suggested that such a plan would save $4.4 trillion over that period.

"What's really first at Google is about changing the world, in a positive way," Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray at the time. "Can we make a difference? In our case, we're huge energy users, so a relatively straightforward solution to our energy costs goes right to the bottom line."

Thursday 11 June 2009

Chaos as solar rebate chopped

Courier Mail
Wednesday 10/6/2009 Page: 4

A PREMATURE change to solar energy rules created havoc and confusion yesterday as customers were given just eight hours to complete and post their applications to claim an $8000 Government rebate. Customers thought they had until the end of the month to claim for solar panels but Environment Minister Peter Garrett announced in the morning they would have only until the end of the day.

Solar retailers reported a chaotic day as home owners scrambled to make the new deadline before a new policy came into force which would give customers less money back. Murry Craig, owner of Solar Centre at Darra, said: "It came right out of the blue. There had even been an indication that the old rebate scheme might be extended."

Stewart McAllister, 62, of Albany Creek, missed the deadline. "It sucks," he said. "I was hoping for solar electricity to cut my bill and reduce my carbon footprint." He said under the old rebates he would have been $3766 out of pocket but now he would have to find $9500. The old rebate, claimed by more than 80,000 people since December 2007, was open only to households earning under $100,000 per year and was not available to businesses.

The new system removes the means test, includes businesses and aims to boost solar energy sales by giving extra credits, known as renewable energy certificates, to offset upfront costs. Rupert Posner, director of not-for-profit organisation The Climate Group, said the problem with the old solar rebate scheme was that "it could not afford to be successful".

Garrett pulls plug on solar - Stampede for panels as rebates set to end

Wednesday 10/6/2009 Page: 1

TENS of thousands of households will miss out on an $8000 solar panel rebate after the Federal Government abruptly ended the program three weeks early. The Government's decision left solar retailers scrambling to push through thousands of rebate applications yesterday after they were given just eight hours' notice that the scheme would be finishing prematurely.

From today the rebate will be replaced with a far less generous solar credits scheme that solar retailers say will typically net Victorian households about $4000 for a 1kW solar panel system. This will be reduced over time to about $800. A 1kW system typically costs about $12,500. But while the new scheme offers less cash back, more people will be able to access it because it will not be means tested and small businesses will not be excluded.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett blamed the sudden decision on a cost blowout, from an original estimate of $150 million to $750 million a year, due to its unexpected popularity. Mr Garrett set aside a further $271 million in the May budget to fund the rebate scheme until June 30, but it is understood that money has been almost entirely consumed by 30,000 applications in the past month.

Mr Garrett said there was a backlog of 63,000 solar systems to be installed under the $8000 rebate that will take the industry a year to fulfil. Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the rebate scheme was a victim of the $58 billion budget deficit. "The Government has again sent the solar industry into chaos with this ill-thought-out move," he said.

While solar retailers had been expecting the scheme to finish early due to oversubscription, many of those contacted yesterday were angry they had been given only until the close of business yesterday to send off customer applications. Chris Fernandez, of Abbotsford-based retailer State Solar Services, said his employees were scrambling to post 4000 applications before last night. He said up to 1400 people who thought their applications had been lodged might miss out because they would not be posted in time.

Solar Shop Australia managing director Adrian Ferraretto said his company was processing 1000 applications yesterday. "If we had another week we would probably be sending off 5000 applications," he said. Mr Ferraretto was only a little surprised by the abrupt end given the rebate had been oversubscribed, but said the Government's handling of the issue had been "less than perfect". "They promised there would be a smooth transition. Today is not a very smooth day," he said.

Simon McCloskey, of Surrey Hills, had been putting off signing on for the rebate but rushed in yesterday afternoon after learning the scheme was about to end. "I was a bit puzzled: why cut it off three weeks early?" Clean Energy Council chief executive Mathew Warren said the council would help retailers deal with problems created by the Government's decision.

Yesterday's announcement means the Government is starting the new solar credit scheme before legislation is passed through Parliament. Mr Warren said it was now important that the renewable energy target, which includes the solar scheme and requires that 20% of all energy come from clean sources by 2020, be passed when it is introduced next week. Both the Greens and Opposition are sympathetic to the policy, and are likely to support it.

Hot rocks helping cool the planet
June 08, 2009

GREEN-energy developer GeoDynamics is hungrily eyeing emerging moves by major data processors - such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and financial institutions - to slash their carbon footprint.

Demand for data centres - large facilities housing computer and telecom processing and storage systems - is estimated to be growing by 10-15 per cent a year. Such centres compete for space in urban areas and their emissions equal about one-third of the carbon emitted by the global aviation industry. Enter Brisbane-based GeoDynamics, now sitting on the world's largest reservoir for hot-rock geothermal energy at a site it has developed in South Australia's Cooper Basin.

It and joint venture partner Origin Energy aim to have a commercial-scale geothermal power plant running in 2011 with capacity to continuously supply up to 50,000 households, then expand the number of plants tenfold. Unlike coal-fired and most gas-fired power plants, these plants wouldn't be a drain on Australia's water supplies or pump out planet-warming gases.

In preparing the business case for plant investment, GeoDynamics has been looking at supplying power to consumers located nearby and has had positive signals about demand for a data centre for one or more tenants near its production site.

"We went to (Queensland IT consultants) Strategic Directions Group and said, 'we've got a left-field idea - if we're crazy, throw us out now and we'll put cold flannels on our foreheads'. Three hours later they said, 'you're not crazy, this will work'," GeoDynamics managing director Gerry Grove-White said.

Strategic Directions is doing a feasibility study for a geothermal-powered data centre at the site and will identify potential partners and recommend a preferred model. "We'd picked up a trend of big companies looking to locate data centres where the energy was green or had no carbon exposure. We road tested this with one of the major names (I won't say who) and they said yeah, that works," he says.

Major information and communication technology companies would be eyeing the benefits of a greener image with consumers as well as lower future costs. Many countries, including the US and Australia, soon will have a market-set price on greenhouse gas emissions. Such schemes will first target high-polluting industries but eventually will be extended to less-polluting industries.

Google Australia spokeswoman Lucinda Barlow said the US-based internet giant has a few data centres elsewhere in the world powered by hydroelectricity and an Australian geothermal power source "sounds like an interesting idea".

Google this week proudly showed off the green credentials of its new national HQ in Sydney, inviting Governor-General Quentin Bryce to formally launch what it said was a first for Australia in being a Six-Green-Star commercial building. Steve Hodgkinson, an analyst at advisory and consulting firm Ovum, said green power at present was 20-40 per cent more expensive so it would require a specific environmental policy setting to cause a company to wear such a cost rise.

"If you look at Google for example. Most people regard it as being pretty much best practice in terms of reducing energy and water consumption. But if you look at their five-step stated energy strategy, not anywhere in the five is "buy green energy". In practice, it's more expensive. These companies believe they can have a bigger impact by reducing the industry's energy consumption, rather than buying green energy," Mr Hodgkinson says.

But GeoDynamics says it has a compelling offering for companies with major data processing needs. "What we're offering is the ability to lock in green, long-term power supplies. We can do it economically because the power purchaser won't have to pay the transmissions and distribution costs because that's available to us as a margin. We can price our power to make it economically attractive not to build in the centre of Brisbane but in the Cooper Basin," Mr Grove-White says.

"Energy costs for companies with major data-processing requirements are about the largest single-line item in their revenue budget. We can offer a perfect hedge against the barrel of oil and the cost of carbon. We can offer 20-year certainty on their energy costs whereas a data centre on the east coast is facing renegotiation of their power contracts each one, two or three years at best."

Obama seeks global uranium fuel bank
June 8, 2009

WASHINGTON - As part of a new strategy to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, President Obama plans to seek the creation of the first-ever international supply of uranium that would allow nations to obtain fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but limit the capacity to make bombs, according to senior administration officials.

Many arms-control specialists consider the idea of a "fuel bank" controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency a key way to test the sincerity of Iranian leaders, who maintain that their enrichment program is only for civilian use and necessary because they cannot be assured of energy supplies from other countries.

Many specialists believe an internationally managed fuel bank could also remove the "peaceful use" justification for other nations that might be trying to use a civilian nuclear program as cover to make nuclear weapons.

"We want to give the Iranians an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peaceful nuclear energy and serve as a new model," said a top administration official involved in crafting arms-control policy. "What we can do is create a system of incentives where, as a practical matter for countries that want nuclear energy, the best way to obtain their fuel and to handle fuel services is through a new international architecture."

The IAEA, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, is also pursuing the fuel-bank idea, and in a pair of reports Friday highlighted the urgency of the issue. It said that Iran has expanded the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, making it more difficult for UN inspectors to keep track of the nation's disputed nuclear program. The agency also said it had discovered traces of processed uranium at a second site in Syria, where Israel in 2007 bombed a North Korean-designed reactor that US intelligence says was meant to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Obama has outlined a goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons and has pledged to reduce the US arsenal and take other steps toward that long-term vision. In his closely scrutinized speech to the Muslim world last week, he declared that "we have reached a decisive point" on the Iran nuclear weapons issue and that he is committed to "preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path."

But he also said that "any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear energy" if it follows nuclear weapons nonproliferation agreements. The uranium fuel bank is a key building block of Obama's overall strategy, which is aimed at helping limit the further spread of the technology needed to build nuclear weapons - the same technology that provides nuclear energy.

The basic idea is to have a relatively small, but guaranteed supply of low-enriched uranium available as a backup should a country's supplies of civilian nuclear fuel from other nations be cut off for political or other reasons. Of the dozen or so countries that now can enrich uranium, several - such as Brazil and South Africa - do so to guard against such disruptions, not to build nuclear weapons.

The most advanced proposal calls for the IAEA to maintain a uranium supply for purchase by member states. The agency has already received $150 million in pledges from various countries and the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonpartisan arms-control advocacy group. The agency's 35-member board of governors is scheduled to begin debating the issue at a meeting later this month.

Russia and Kazakhstan have offered to house an agency-supervised fuel bank, while Germany has called for the creation of a multinational enrichment company under the auspices of the IAEA.

"This is an idea that has pretty broad support," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. "It addresses a problem that has been around for a long time. Nations that can make low-enriched uranium for nuclear energy can use the same industrial capacity to make highly enriched uranium" for nuclear weapons.

Obama's support for the idea dates to his days as a senator from Illinois, when he cosponsored legislation calling for a US commitment to a fuel bank. The senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations, said Obama plans to discuss the issue with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a summit in Moscow next month. But there remain significant political and economic hurdles to the fuel bank's creation, according to several US and European officials and nonproliferation specialists.

For example, some sectors of the nuclear energy industry fear losing customers or profits if there is a new international provider of uranium. There are four main providers that sell nuclear energy fuel, one in Russia, one in the United States, one in France, and a German-British-Dutch consortium. But they can sell only to countries approved by their governments.

"Some in the industry are concerned that the material in the fuel bank may take away clients from them or the material could be dumped on the market [and] temporarily depress prices," said a European diplomat directly involved in the IAEA deliberations who was not authorized by his government to speak publicly. Proponents, however, insist that at any given time the international supplies would be quite small and would have no measurable impact on the market.

For example, the Russian proposal calls for a supply of 120 tons of low-enriched uranium, according to IAEA documents obtained by the Globe, while the IAEA plan calls for between 60 tons and 80 tons - amounting to about a three-year supply for a 1,000-MW light water reactor, the most common type around the world, which produces enough electricity for about 1 million homes.

There is also skepticism from some non-nuclear nations who fear the move is designed to deprive them of their right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to develop their own civilian nuclear energy industries. But an IAEA official insists the fuel bank would not have that effect. "No one is talking about restricting the rights of any country," said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.

Indeed, many specialists predict Iran will still insist on enriching uranium even with an international supply available for its nuclear reactors. But such a decision by Tehran would be new evidence that it has military uses in mind for its nuclear program and help build more international pressure to punish it. Iran's refusal to take advantage of the fuel bank "may give the US and other countries a stronger argument that Iran's program is really designed to give them a nuclear weapon potential," Kimball said.

'Land of the Rising Sun' promotes solar energy.
Jun 08, 2009

Eager not to lose its long-held position at the leading edge of solar cell technology to foreign competitors, Japan is promoting the further development of the technology, which is regarded as one of the strategically important industries of the future. "We can already feel the effects. Sales are increasing," said Tetsuhiro Maeda, vice-president and general manager of the solar division of Sanyo Electric Co.

The company, which is soon to merge with electronics giant Panasonic Corp, hopes to recover market share lost in recent years and is to a large extent pinning its expectations on the German market. "Both the government and we, the companies, are working hard so that Japan gains ground in the solar energy field again," Maeda said.

After the oil crisis in the 1970s, Japan was among the first countries to promote the use of solar energy for producing hot water and electricity, turning the Land of the Rising Sun into the world's largest producer of solar cells in the process.

Giving in however, in recent years, Japan's government has given into the demands of electricity providers opposed to being required to buy solar-generated electricity at higher-than-market prices. When subsidies were scrapped in 2005, the market tanked. Suddenly, Japan lost ground to the competition abroad, with the German Q-Cells group replacing Japan's Sharp Corp as global market leader for solar cells.

Sanyo Electric suffered the same fate. While holding seventh position in 2007 in terms of solar cell production with a market share of 4.4 percent, Sanyo Electric's market share fell to 3 percent and the company's global ranking dropped several notches to 12th one year later. Adding to the solar cell industry's misery is the global economic downturn, which has hit the country's entire electronics sector hard. In the business year ended March 31, Sanyo Electric, the world's largest producer of rechargeable batteries, was in the red.

Net losses for the business year were ¥93.22 billion (US$968 million) following a net profit of ¥28.7 billion the year before. In the current business year, Sanyo Electric aims to be back in profit again. By focusing on rechargeable batteries and solar energy, the company hopes to make a profit of ¥7 billion.

For the business year beginning next April Sanyo Electric wants to increase its market share in solar cells to 8 percent and raise it to 10 to 15 percent in the subsequent years. "For us, Germany is the market with the biggest potential," Maeda said. The German market is attractive for Japanese companies, as high quality and reliability are appreciated there, he explained.

Sanyo Electric still sees "much space" to expand capacity at its European production site in Hungary, and while it does not plan any further plants in Europe, a factory is being expanded in Mexico. Both sites are expected to churn out solar cells at full capacity by next year or 2011, Maeda said. By 2014 or 2015, according to the ambitions plans, production is planned to reach more than 1 gigawatt of solar cell production.

But to reach that goal, further production sites are needed, Maeda said, but stressed that Sanyo Electric was still focused on its core markets in Europe, Japan and North America. China, for the time being, is not central to the company's strategic considerations.

Even if the Chinese market were to grow this year, it would be unlikely to exceed 100 or 200 MWs. Moreover, the market is already covered by large Chinese producers. "We doubt that we can gain a foothold there," Maeda said, because the Chinese government is subsidizing the domestic market.

Meanwhile, Sanyo Electric is busy cutting costs, increasing further the efficiency of its products and expanding domestic production capacity, by enlarging its biggest Japanese plant, located in Shiga prefecture. Early next year, the plant will run at its full 100-MW production capacity, Maeda said.

Levy on international air travel could fund climate change fight
7 June 2009

Britain and other rich countries will be asked to accept a compulsory levy on international flight tickets and shipping fuel to raise billions of dollars to help the world's poorest countries adapt to combat climate change.

The suggestions come at the start of the second week in the latest round of UN climate talks in Bonn, where 192 countries are starting to negotiate a global agreement to limit and then reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The issue of funding for adaptation is critical to success but the hardest to agree. The aviation levy, which is expected to increase the price of long-haul fares by less than 1%, would raise $10bn (£6.25bn) a year, it is said.

It has been proposed by the world's 50 least developed countries. It could be matched by a compulsory surcharge on all international shipping fuel, said Connie Hedegaard, the Danish environment and energy minister who will host the final UN climate summit in December.

"People are beginning to understand that innovative ideas could generate a lot of money. The Danish shipping industry, which is one of the world's largest, has said a that truly global system would work well. Denmark would endorse it," said Hedegaard.

In Bonn last week, a separate Mexican proposal to raise billions of dollars was gaining ground. The idea, known as the "green fund" plan, would oblige all countries to pay amounts according to a formula reflecting the size of their economy, their greenhouse gas emissions and the country's population. That could ensure that rich countries, which have the longest history of using of fossil fuels, pay the most to the fund.

Recently, the proposal won praise from 17 major-economy countries meeting in Paris as a possible mechanism to help finance a UN pact. The US special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern, called it "highly constructive". The Bonn meeting is the first climate meeting at which countries are discussing texts. These cover greenhouse gas reduction and financing developing countries' efforts to combat climate change.

Analysts said last night that the talks were most likely to stall over money. Developing countries, backed by the UN, argue that they will need hundreds of billions of dollars a year to adapt themselves to climate-related disasters, loss of crops and water supplies, which they are already experiencing as temperatures around the world rise. Yet so far, as a Guardian investigation revealed back in February, rich countries have pledged only a few billion dollars and have provided only a few hundred million.

"Developing countries will no longer let themselves be sidelined. In the past, they have been brought on board [climate negotiations] by promises of financial support. But all they got was the creation of a couple of funds that stayed empty. Developing countries will not settle for more 'placebo funds'," said Benito Müller, director of University of Oxford's institute for energy studies.

Saleemul Huq, of the International Institute for Environment and Development, said that until rich countries made serious pledges, the rest of the negotiations would suffer because it would be impossible to agree actions without knowing how they would be funded.

Last week, a US negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, said that the US had budgeted $400m to help poor countries adapt to climate change as an interim measure. But that amount was dismissed as inadequate by Bernarditas Muller of the Philippines, who is the co-ordinator of the G77 and China group of countries.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Coal seam water a big challenge

Courier Mail
Tuesday 9/6/2009 Page: 56

QUEENSLAND'S coal seam gas industry, seen as a key energy and economic source for the state, is being asked how it will deal with the Sydney Harbour-sized amount of potentially hazardous water it could produce each five years. Agricultural businesses, fearing damage to waterways and crop land, have been seeking an end to coal seam gas companies' main practice of leaving untreated in large pools the highly salty, poor quality water displaced during CSG extraction.

The Queensland Government has begun to respond to those concerns with a ruling last month that coal seam water was an environmental hazard for which safe disposal was needed "There are significant ecological risks associated with disposal of (CSG water) and, without treatment, the Government believes the beneficial uses of CSG water are limited," a Queensland infrastructure and planning department discussion paper said in May.

In a 2006-07 report, members of the Independent Audit Group for Salinity appointed to review progress on implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Salinity Management Strategy asked Queensland to assess the salinity and chemical risks from coal seam water to land, groundwater systems, vegetation and surface water in the Condamine-Balonne catchments.

Nevertheless, 12.5 billion litres of coal seam water was produced in Queensland in 2007 and most went into evaporation ponds that range in size from one to 100 hectares. The Government's May discussion paper said there were "generally widespread concerns about evaporation ponds and the long-term legacy associated with salt stored in them".

It said disposal of an annual volume of 100 billion litres of coal seam water based on some estimates of the potential size of a liquefied natural gas industry using CSG in evaporation ponds would require a 100sq km area within 15-30 years. Sydney Harbour contains about 500 billion litres of water.

The Queensland and federal governments are encouraging the development of coal seam gas for export and for domestic gas fired electricity sources that would emit less greenhouse gases than coalfired facilites. But in March the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering called for the Federal Government to find out and discuss with the public the best ways to power homes and businesses when impacts on human health, crops, biodiversity and the climate are quantified and included in the costs of the different sources of electricity generation.

The Queensland Government has now suggested the CSG industry co-operates to develop and fund a CSG water aggregation and disposal system to deal with coal seam water in the Bowen and Surat basins in central and southern Queensland. CSG Producer Queensland Gas Company spokesman Hedley Thomas said it was investigating the options for dealing with its coal seam water in an "acceptable, sustainable manner" and couldn't yet give cost estimates.

Santos spokesman Matthew Doman said it was spending an initial $50 million to use coal seam water on forestry projects, a method it says should take care of most of the water it produces. Rural lobby group AgForce said it was a given that coal seam water must be treated but there were also issues with treated water.

"You can create a new environmental set of conditions by putting unusually large amounts of water in an existing waterway so there are still some issues with that," AgForce president John Cotter said. "The Government's move to look at this in a strategic way is good. Evaporation ponds and the sludge they produce have been a key concern for agricultural producers and local communities. "We've seen mine overflows from disused mines, so there's all sorts of issues with this water sitting there and the last thing you want is that overflow getting into the Condamine Basin." he said.

Bid for green energy outfit

Tuesday 9/6/2009 Page: 17

A PRIVATE-equity consortium headed by Sydney firm Archer Capital has launched a takeover bid for clean energy company Energy Developments. The Energy Developments board is still trying to decide on the bid's value, but it is thought to be more than the market value of $240 million. Energy Developments' biggest shareholder New Zealand's Infratil announced yesterday that it had granted Archer a call option over 19.99% of Energy Developments' shares at an unspecified price.

The private equity bid is described by Energy Developments as being highly conditional and incomplete. One partner in the Archer-led consortium is understood to have run the ruler over Energy Developments when it put itself on the auction block last July. But that plan fell apart when global markets went into meltdown shortly after.

Since then, shares in Energy Developments, which has James Packer's Consolidated Press Holdings, BT Financial and Macquarie on its register, have lost more than half their value. Shares have slumped partly because of concerns the federal government's proposed emissions trading scheme will scrap a NSW gas abatement scheme, meaning a big loss of income for Energy Developments.

The company is lobbying for compensation and wants the coal methane it collects from east coast coal mines included in the ETS. Archer may be speculating that any amended scheme put in place by the federal government will not penalise a company dedicated to low greenhouse gas emission power. The call option granted to Archer becomes effective only if a strike price is agreed and a takeover bid from Archer becomes unconditional.

Infratil claimed this would allow it to sell the rest of its 32.1% stake in Energy Developments into the bid. According to Energy Developments, the option agreement contained complex provisions, but appeared to expire in about 10 weeks if an agreement had not been reached on an acceptable price for a takeover bid or scheme proposal.

It provides also that Infratil will pay a cost reimbursement to Archer of twice Archer's bid costs, up to $5m, in certain circumstances. Energy Developments' independent directors are considering the proposal. If the bid goes through, it is said to be the biggest private-to-public deal in Australia in the past 18 months. Energy Developments gets three-quarters of its earnings through Australian landfill, coal mine gas, LNG and compressed gas operations, but has businesses in Europe and the US.

Energy Developments announced in March that it had been unsuccessful in selling its European landfill business. The company has total power-station capacity of about 600 MWs from 74 power stations. As well as landfill and coalmine gas, Energy Developments owns the West Kimberley Power project in Western Australia's north, which includes a 200 tonnes-a-day LNG plant. And it runs a compressed natural gas power station that powers the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory.

Energy Developments shares closed at $1.56 on Friday, down from a high of $3.03 last August.

Business blows through the roof

Sunday Tasmanian
Sunday 7/6/2009 Page: 28

WHEN the winds of change blow, Rob Manson wants to catch them with a turbine. Rob runs two businesses under one roof in North Hobart I Want Solar and Electricians Shed. He reckons at the pace the solar industry changes, there is always a new technology to get excited about. "We have diversified into wind turbines it's a big part of our future," he said. "Vertical access wind turbines can be positioned on a building, which will enable businesses to sell back to the grid and offset their electricity bills."

Rob said street lights with solar panels are the next big thing in the solar industry. I Love Solar has secured a trial in Sheffield, in the State's north. They are also in negotiations with the Hobart City Council. "Hybrid systems that combine wind and solar technologies are the way forward," Rob said. With the Federal Government's $8000 solar grant due to run out in a month, Rob is flat out with inquiries for photovoltaic solar panels. "There is a frenzy of interest," he said.

Rob has worked in the electrical wholesale industry his whole life. About eight years ago he moved to Hobart. At 45-years-old, he had an epiphany: it was time to start his own business. Electricians Shed is an electrical wholesale business. It started small with Rob selling power points from his backyard shed. He sourced Chinese-made products that were affordable and of the right quality for the Tasmanian market.

But it was not an overnight success, local tradesmen needed some convincing. "With my first shipment of power points in hand, I called the electricians with the 10 biggest ads in the Yellow Pages I got nine nos and one yes," Rob said. "In sales, you can't get to first base without striking out a few times."

Soon the industry recognised that Rob's imports were the real deal and within a year-and-a- half he had to relocate to a bigger site. Two years ago, he moved again to his current location in Burnett St and may soon relocate again to better cater for his booming business. Rob recognised the need to have a specialised supplier of solar and alternative energy systems in Hobart and I Want Solar was born in 2005. "Hydro was the catalyst," he said. "They needed monitoring systems for their dams in remote areas."

In just a few short years, Rob's typical solar customer has changed dramatically. "It went from being something for the wealthy and hardcore greenies, to attracting academics and self funded retirees all in the space of a year. "Another year later, and now everyone is interested." Rob said Tasmania is perfectly located to make the most of solar and wind technologies. "We enjoy more sun than Spain or Germany. "Yet they are the world's number two and three biggest users of solar grids."

Clean power in the wind

Weekend Australian
Saturday 6/6/2009 Page: 7

Renewable energy projects could create thousands of construction jobs, writes Keith Orchison
ONE of Australia's leading renewable energy companies says the enlarged zero emissions power generation target proposed by the federal Government will stimulate about $25 billion in infrastructure investment and create tens of thousands of jobs in the next decade, many in regional areas.

Rob Grant, chief executive of Pacific Hydro, which has plans for 600MW of projects costing $2 billion, says its own developments alone will "create thousands of jobs" in areas such as road building, concreting, steel fixing and steel fabrication. He says the jobs that can be created if the Government's RET legislation is processed quickly are those that may be now under pressure because of the global financial crisis and are "easily transferable" from sectors such as mining.

The Government proposes a new target for renewable energy of 20% of Australian power consumption by 2020 and aims to support the scheme with a $65,000 per gigawatt hour charge on energy retailers who fail to take up their quota of the target.

On the basis that national electricity demand will rise to 300,000GWh a year by 2020, and allowing for 9500GWh of supply under the Howard government's MRET scheme, plus 15,000GWh of generation by hydro-electric plants (which don't benefit from the scheme), the target for new renewable energy will be about 35,000GWh annually at the end of the next decade.

Support for the view that this, and other carbon policy plans, will lead to a surge in renewable energy development comes from the latest electricity review published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics. The ABARE study reports the present policy situation saw just two windfarms completed in the past year: Pacific Hydro's $130 million addition of 58MW to its Portland operations in Victoria and Acciona Energy of Spain's $400 million project.

The 192MW Waubra development is the largest in the southern hemisphere and contains 192MW of turbines spread over 170 sq km of rural Victoria. ABARE also reports that seven more windfarms are at an advanced stage of development in South Australia, Tasmania, NSW (to feed electricity to Canberra) and Victoria. They will have a total capacity of 603MW and cost up to $1.5 billion.

Looking ahead, ABARE says there are 9.4GW of renewable energy plants on the drawing boards for Australia in various stages of feasibility study. More than 8.2GW of this capacity will be constructed in windfarms: 11 in NSW, 20 in Victoria, two each in Queensland and Western Australia and 15 in South Australia. The largest in this category is the Silverton Windfarm near Broken Hill in NSW, with a planned capacity of 1GW, proposed by German developer Epuron, and, if built, it will cost $2.2 billion. If it goes ahead, it will be one of the largest in the world and easily the biggest in the southern hemisphere.

Another big development is under consideration for Cooper's Gap in Queensland by AGL Energy and Windlab Systems. Located 65km south of Dalby, it could have a capacity of 440MW, operating as many as 250 turbines, and cost $1.2 billion.

A critical factor in the delivery of this massive increase in remote generation over the next 10 years will be the capacity to build new high-voltage transmission lines to connect the wind turbines and other renewable plants to the grids delivering power in eastern Australia and the southwest of Western Australia, where the main loads are found. It is estimated that some $4.5 billion will need to be spent on transmission, also creating hundreds more jobs.

Mark Diesendorf, deputy director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales and a prominent advocate of renewable energy, has expressed disappointment that the federal budget made no provision for new and strengthened transmission links to support windfarms and other clean energy developments.

If the federal Government upgraded the transmission lines linking South Australia to NSW and Victoria," he says, "wind energy capacity could be greatly augmented, and a commitment to a new high-voltage line to link the geothermal region in north-east South Australia to the main grid would also he valuable."

Touched by sun stroke

Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday 6/6/2009 Page: 6

Taxpayers subsidising household solar power just doesn't add up, argues Mark Davis.

It's the great solar rip-off. Sales of rooftop panels that turn sunlight into electricity are soaring because energy sources that emit no greenhouse gases are seen as a big part of solving climate change.

Pity then that rooftop solar energy is so environmentally tokenistic and economically inefficient. It is one thing spending your money to achieve small amounts of greenhouse gas abatement; quite another demanding subsidies from everyone else because you chose one of the least effective renewable energy technologies. The arithmetic is unassailable.

A typical NSW family spends about $1200 a year buying 8000 kW hours (kWh) of electricity, which results in about 7.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. Installing a 1 kW photovoltaic system costs about $12,000. Over its 20-year working life, the $2000 inverter will need replacement at least once.

The system typically generates 1400 kWh a year, less than a fifth of the household's electricity consumption. This would reduce the well-meaning family's emissions by 1.3 tonnes a year and its annual power bill by $250. Over 20 years, 26 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions will have been avoided at a net cost of $9000 (upfront cost less power-bill savings). That's about $350 a tonne, far more than the carbon price envisaged under the Federal Government's proposed emissions trading scheme.

But the cost would be a lot more if you factored in the time value of money, which works against solar because of the upfront cost and likely future improvements in the emissions intensity of grid power. In short, there are better ways of tackling climate change. If a household spent the same amount buying wind energy for 20 years, emissions would be cut by 95 tonnes.

The big swing to solar is because taxpayers foot the bill, at least most of it. In 2000 the Howard government wanted to show its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change did not mean it didn't care about the environment. So it started paying rebates to households installing solar panels and, before the 2007 election, increased rebates to a maximum of $8000. That means a $12,000 solar system costs the family only $4000.

Unsurprisingly, more than 3000 systems are installed a month - six times the rate a year ago - spreading to taxpayers the adverse environmental economics of solar. Now the solar industry wants an extra subsidy. Our typical solar household generates 1400 kWh a year, but during daylight, when many houses use little power. With the solar system connected to the grid, excess electricity can be used elsewhere. Several states have introduced feed-in tariffs worth three to four times the retail price of electricity.

The NSW Government is finalising such a scheme. One contentious design issue is whether it should be a net feed-in tariff (which pays for the solar energy a household feeds into the grid, production minus consumption) or a gross tariff (where the solar household is paid the higher rate for all the electricity generated by its rooftop panels). feed-in tariffs improve pay-back periods for solar panels by giving the household a stream of payments on top of the savings on their power bills.

But advocates rarely mention that these payments are funded by increasing electricity bills for non-solar households. A report to the Victorian Government by the consultants Firecone Ventures concluded that a gross feed-in tariff would be inefficient and divert funding away from more efficient renewable energy technologies such as large-scale solar thermal, large-scale photovoltaic and solar hot water.

Victoria is going ahead with a 60 cents-a-kWh net feed-in tariff conceding that the power bills of non-solar households will rise by 1%, an average of $10 a year, to pay a typical solar household a $237 annual subsidy. Nonetheless, Greens in Victoria's upper house want these cross subsidies made even more generous. Rebates and feed-in tariffs for solar panels are atrocious public policy.

Since early 2000, the Federal Government has spent more than $200 million on rebates for 29,000 household solar panel systems. Over their 20-year lives, these panels will abate just 950,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, costing taxpayers $210 a tonne. If feed-in tariffs were adopted nationwide, they would add $100 million to the cost of subsidies over 20 years - another $133 from the pockets of non-solar households for every tonne of emissions abated.

By contrast the Government's Green Building Fund has spent $29.5 million on measures that will reduce emissions by 1.3 million tonnes over the next 25 years, at a cost to taxpayers of $18 a tonne. Insulating the ceilings of 120,000 houses will abate 7.9 million tonnes of emissions over 40 years, the Federal Environment Department says.

And the now-closed Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program delivered $77 million in grants for industry projects expected to reduce emissions by 19 million tonnes until 2012, at a taxpayer cost of $4 a tonne. Costs and benefits of government emissions reduction programs should face greater scrutiny now Canberra wants emissions trading to be the main vehicle for inhibiting climate change.

Roger Wilkins, the former head of the NSW Cabinet Office, reported to the Government that all programs should be made to spell out their cost per tonne of abatement. The Wilkins report said solar electricity would probably not be commercially viable until the carbon price was $300 a tonne. It recommended solar subsidies be phased out as the Government's expanded renewable energy target scheme is implemented.

But subsidising photovoltaics is bad for the environment as well as bad economics. Each dollar spent on rooftop solar is a dollar that could be spent more effectively. The industry's boosters justify this with a traditional rent-seeker's rationale: subsidies will help solar achieve technological breakthroughs and economies of scale that will eventually bring costs down.

A California economist, Severin Borenstein, found these arguments wanting. Panel costs have fallen significantly over recent decades as production expanded, Borenstein found, but mostly as a result of crystalline silicon solar technologies achieved by the US space program and semiconductor industry.

Wind, geothermal, biomass and central station solar thermal power generation, Borenstein says, will be commercially viable without improved technology before today's newly installed solar panels turn 20.

Far from driving technological innovation, rooftop solar rebates in Australia are encouraging local suppliers to shave the costs of existing technology. That can mean sourcing the main component - silicon" target="_blank">silicon" target="_blank">polysilicon - from environmentally questionable factories in China. The Washington Post reported one Chinese manufacturer dumping toxic byproducts in fields around its Henan factory.

Hard cell... solar panels can cost your neighbour. Photo: Paul Jones Want to do your bit to save the planet? Sign up to your electricity utility's GreenPower option, which sources renewable energy mainly from wind generation. You will make larger cuts to your greenhouse emissions without ripping off your neighbours.