Friday 12 November 2010

Lights out: solar rebate jobs slashed Industry, unions furious

Canberra Times
Friday 5/11/2010 Page: 8

Thousands of jobs will dry up around Christmas after the NSW Government slashed the solar rebate scheme by two-thirds. Last week, the State Government slashed the payment people with solar panels can get for feeding energy back into the grid from 60¢ to 20¢/kW. It had an immediate impact, with dozens of jobs already lost and solar power films forced to put business decisions on hold, a meeting of furious solar industry and union figures heard yesterday.

But the real impact will be felt around Christmas, when what was left of the current work in the pipeline dried up, the meeting at Sydney's Town Hall heard. John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian Solar Energy Association, predicted 2000 jobs would be lost. "We know of over 10 people who lost their jobs overnight because of this policy change", Mr Grimes told reporters. "[Was 60¢] sustainable? No, it was too high.

But they [the Government] didn't ask us. And now with this knee-jerk reaction they've slashed it to 20¢, which will be lowest feed-in tariff in Australia. "We forecast around 2000 jobs will be lost because of this poor policy decision". He said there was a huge rush of work as people met the deadline for the change last week. "And then the phones stopped ringing".

solar panel installer Ged McCarthy, chairman of the you, said sales staff were the first to go. "We had an immediate stop in phone calls. Some of the members, within 24 hours, started laying off staff. "Mainly the sales staff and the office staff, that's the immediate effect to the industry. "I've had some members basically say, Christmas time they've got work until, but basically giving some of their staff a Christmas present, which is a lay-off notice".

Tim Ayers, secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, called on the Commonwealth to introduce a standard national feed-in tariff. Those at the meeting proposed 45¢/kW. NSW Greens MP John Kaye said his party would introduce legislation to Parliament next week to take the rate back up to 30¢. He said 40¢ would be better, but 30¢ would allow the industry to keep going over the shorter time.

Asked if she would take responsibility for the job losses, Premier Kristina Keneally said, "What I take responsibility for is this Government's decision to cut the tariff, because cutting the tariff has meant that we will avoid an additional $2.5 billion in costs being passed on to households in NSW over the next six to seven years. "That would have occurred if we had allowed the solar scheme to continue operating at the 60¢ tariff", she said.

Ms Keneally said there was work for the industry for "months to come" and the industry would continue to be viable despite the cuts. Opposition climate change spokeswoman Catherine Cusack said cutting the rate had been a debacle for the industry. "One of the few benefits of this fiasco is that we did create a renewable energy industry. "And if the Government does not have a rescue plan for the industry, even this benefit will be lost", Ms Cusack said. The Opposition plans to hold a workshop with industry figures next week to discuss a "crisis plan".

Feed-In Tariff Rates Across Australia

  • ACT - 40.04¢/kW (gross)
  • Northern Territory (Alice Solar City plan) - 51.28¢ (gross), capped at $5 a day
  • NSW - 20¢ (gross)
  • Queensland - 44¢ (net)
  • South Australia - 44¢ (net)
  • Victoria - 60¢ (net)
  • Western Australia - 40¢ (net)

Tariffs can be paid on either a gross or net basis. Gross means payment for all power generated by a consumer, including what they use themselves. Net means payment for excess power after personal consumption.

South Korea to cut coal imports

Sydney Morning Herald
Thursday 4/11/2010 Page: 7

Seoul aims to expand the role of renewable energy.

THE second-biggest importer of Australian coal, South Korea, is set to cut its demand because of climate-change policies. Although there is no global agreement on climate change, South Korea is pursuing an ambitious plan to wean itself off fossil fuels and sharply boost green investment. The "green growth" strategy, to feature at the G20 leaders' summit in Seoul next week, is intended to offer a blueprint for emerging economies wanting to cut carbon emissions without harming their economies.

A senior official from the Presidential Committee on Green Growth, Yeon- chul Yoo, said Seoul's move towards cleaner energy sources would lead to a gradual decline in its imports of coal and other fossil fuels in coming decades. "The portion of fossil fuels [in South Korea's energy mix] will decrease from 40% in 2008 to 30% in 2030. It will take time", Mr Yoo said at a foreign investment conference this week.

Although gradual, the move is significant for Australia because South Korea is the second-largest export destination for thermal coal, with Seoul buying 16% of shipments from Newcastle in the year to October. This could represent a sign of things to come - Seoul's key customers, China and Japan, are also eyeing cleaner energy sources, though it is unclear how this will affect their demand for coal.

While it cuts coal consumption, resource-poor South Korea aims to expand the role of renewable energy from less than 5% of its energy mix to 11% in 2020, and nuclear from 26% in 2008 to 40% in 2030. The country's use of gas - a growing Australian export - would keep increasing until 2050, Mr Yoo said.

As part of the green growth plan, South Korea also aims to invest the equivalent of 2% of its annual gross domestic product in coming years in green industries, which range from the manufacturing of wind turbines to electric cars. Embracing green growth is a sharp change in tack for South Korea's "Asian tiger" economy, whose rapid expansion since the 1960s has depended on carbon intensive heavy industry.

This also highlights shifts engulfing Australia's biggest markets for coal. Japan, the biggest buyer of our coal, has also promised to join developed countries in slashing its carbon emissions to 25% of 1990 levels by 2020. The International Energy Agency has predicted that if the world committed to significant reductions in carbon emissions, Japan's coal demand in 2030 would slump by 60% from 2008 levels.

Even China which is still building coal-fired power plants this year threatened to shut down parts of heavy industry that were not meeting strict efficiency targets. Despite signs that key trading partners are looking to wean themselves off coal, the domestic industry remains confident clean-coal technologies will ensure overseas coal demand remains strong for decades to come.

Wind power is a competitive source of clean, green energy

Canberra Times
Thursday 4/11/2010 Page: 18

John McKerral (Letters, November 2) claims that using wind power, with gas back-up, in the electricity grid will cost $1149 to avoid a tonne of CO₂. This is a completely nonsensical figure. In fact, wind power costs about $70/MW of power generated, compared with about $40 from coal. As this use of wind rather than coal avoids almost a tonne of emitted CO₂, the cost of avoiding emissions is perhaps $40 a tonne, not $1149.

Wind power needs back-up, generally from other grid sources of power, and for this reason it probably has a limit of, say, 20% in a grid system. However, up to that limit (which we are far below at present) it is a thoroughly competitive, virtually non-greenhouse gas emitting, source of electricity. Brian Hatch (Letters, November 2) claims that "accurate CO₂ records back to 1812 show that for at least three periods CO₂ was higher than now, including a spike in 1940".

He doesn't make it clear whether he's talking about a spike in the concentration level of CO₂ in the atmosphere, or a spike in emission levels, but either way there isn't the faintest scientific evidence for what he claims.

What the scientific record shows is that both concentration levels of CO₂, in the atmosphere, and the level at which we emit CO₂, from our unprecedented burning of tens of billions of tonnes of fossil fuels each year, are much higher in recent years than at any other period in the last 200 years, (and indeed are far higher than for hundreds of thousands of years).

Paul Pollard, O'Connor

Thursday 11 November 2010

Canary in the NSW coal mine

Business Spectator
Tuesday 2/11/2010 Page: 1

Even as the NSW government is cracking down on subsidies for renewable energy generation such as rooftop solar, it is ramping up the level of subsidies provided to its coal-fired power stations by ensuring the cheap supply of coal for the next few decades. Securing a cheap source of coal has been one of the key issues for the NSW government as it seeks buyers for its energy assets and tries to keep a lid on energy costs - something that is set to emerge as a major issue in the upcoming state election.

But its decision to retain ownership of the Cobbora coal project in order to guarantee long-term fuel supplies at well below market price has sounded alarm bells, and could translate to a subsidy that is worth more than $1 billion a year - or even as much as $3 billion. Professor Ross Garnaut said in a speech in Canberra last week that the move could undermine the impact of a carbon price. "Media reports that New South Wales is considering allocation of coal to electricity generators, on the condition that the coal is not sold on the open market, are of note and concern", Garnaut said. "The implicit subsidy to coal-based generation within these arrangements could work against a carbon price, and be much larger than the highest carbon price that has been suggested in the Australian policy discussion".

Garnaut's review into carbon pricing and climate change in 2009 suggested that the price of carbon emissions would need to rise to around $40 a tonne if Australia were to meet its share of the abatement required to cap global emissions at 450 parts per million. The review said the price of carbon would likely move well beyond that over time.

Thermal coal, which is used for electricity generation, is currently attracting prices of around $100 a tonne on the export market, nearly triple the amount the generators are believed to currently pay for their coal supply. In an effort to shield the power stations "from the march to export parity", as one spokesman described it, the NSW government sought to have Cobbora developed by private companies that could guarantee a cheap price for the NSW power stations. However, negotiations with the likes of Whitehaven Coal broke down because Whitehaven wanted a price of at least $55 a tonne.

The NSW government, conscious of electricity price rises caused mostly by the upgrade of transmission and distribution networks, announced three weeks ago that it had decided to retain ownership of Cobbora and "pursue alternative development strategies in order to deliver greater certainty of long-term fuel costs for electricity generation". The government is likely to bring in a contractor to deliver the coal at an agreed price and not allow any of the Cobbora production onto the export market, thereby seeking to insulate the project from market forces.

By deciding to retain ownership, the government forgoes the possibility of generating revenue from the sale of the mine and it is not clear what, if anything, the generators will contribute towards the development costs of the mine. According to the NSW government website, Cobbora is located near Dunedoo in western NSW, and it is proposed that the mine will provide 30 million tonnes of coal per annum for use in the state's power stations to generate electricity.

The government will not reveal the price it will guarantee to the power stations, but even at $45 a tonne it represents a potential $300 million annual saving for the generators over the price proposed by Whitehaven, and some $1.5 billion a year below export price levels. These are numbers that dwarf the subsidies offered renewable energy developers. As one CEO lamented this week: "The more you emit, the more subsidies you get".

This article first appeared in Climate Spectator on November 2.

More wind power

Herald Sun
Wednesday 3/11/2010 Page: 26

TWO wind farm projects south of Ballan have been given the planning go-ahead. The $750 million Moorabool wind farm involves 107 wind turbines able to produce up to 321 megawatts of energy, enough to power more than 125,000 homes. The $130 million, 14-turbine Yaloak South wind farm will pump out 29MWs, enough energy to power 11,400 homes. The two projects are expected to create up to 260 jobs during construction.

Energy gobbling buildings fail vital eco-test Tank-tank' home woes

Hobart Mercury
Tuesday 2/11/2010 Page: 16

AS YOU read this, the chances are you're sitting inside a building. At an office desk, maybe, or the tea-room, or the dining table at home. With four walls around you and a ceiling above. And the chances are you've given none of that a moment's thought. The buildings that we inhabit are so much a part of our lives that we're inclined to take them for granted.

They don't move, or talk. They sit there day and night, enabling us to work, play and sleep in comfort, shielding us from sun and wind and rain and any other undesirable elements. At least, that's what they ought to do. But most buildings in Tasmania aren't nearly as good as they should be at sheltering us and our chattels. Take the houses where we spend most of our lives.

The standard 20th century Tasmanian home was clad with weatherboards under galvanised iron, with inner walls and ceilings of plaster and nothing between but studs, battens and, if you were lucky, a bit of thin foil insulation. In the second half of the century we replaced our timber window frames with aluminium: shiny, maintenance-free and a wonderful conductor of heat and cold. Not that it mattered, because we had cheap, abundant electricity to drive all those fans, radiators, air conditioners and heat pumps.

Our offices and factories were constructed in much the same carefree spirit. Using carbon-intensive materials and processes like cement, and air conditioner technology to offset poor design, we produced a generation of "Yank-tank" energy-hungry buildings. And so it goes on today. As if poor building design wasn't bad enough, human ingenuity kept turning out flashy new gizmos for all known needs plus others we never knew we had, constantly on standby or charger.

Our homes and workplaces became energy dispensaries serving an endlessly rising appetite for power, and the electricity flowed in only one direction out. The Prime Minister's Task Group on Energy Efficiency, set up by Kevin Rudd in March and reporting last month to Julia Gillard, estimated that a fifth of Australia's energy is consumed within buildings. With the energy used to construct and demolish them added on, they're the source of about a quarter of our carbon pollution. What's more, the built environment offers a huge scope for reducing emissions.

The Task Group estimated that making our buildings sector more energy efficient could cut Australia's annual emissions by 30 megatonnes (5%) by 2020, but unlocking this potential wouldn't happen without support from government and business. Energy-efficient buildings make good business sense, especially when they meet other attributes of a "green" building as defined under Australia's voluntary "green star" system of accreditation, such as good maintenance regimes, use of natural materials and low-carbon operation.

But as the Task Group found, the building market has been slow to recognise this. It has failed to grasp that energy efficiency and other green-star attributes actually translate into real long-term value with a significantly better return on investment. The Task Group also found a knowledge gap. Australia has too few people with the skills needed to make our buildings more energy efficient, in both construction of new buildings and retrofitting of existing ones, especially where emerging technologies and systems are involved.

Tasmania's political leadership has so far failed to engage with the issue. Last year Tasmania was the only state to opt out of a national scheme to phase out old energy intensive hot water storage systems in favour of new, low-energy heat exchange and solar technologies. The government appears to have acted on advice from the home construction sector, which expressed alarm that the measure would put up house prices and place an undue burden on the economy. The result is that in a country whose own national building sustainability standards are well behind Europe's. Tasmania lies at the bottom of the class.

We in this "clean, green" state need to wake up. We have the wherewithal to contribute usefully to a national push to make our built environment more sustainable. We need to get business engaged in this challenge, and to begin addressing the skills shortfall identified in the Task Group report. Making our buildings work better at lower cost, while also being better for the environment, is a focus of three connected Hobart events later this week. Award-winning Irish architect Paul Leech will be the 2010 Richard Jones Memorial lecturer on Thursday evening at 6.30 pm, at the Stanley Burbury Theatre, University of Tasmania.

The theatre's foyer space will feature displays on some of Tasmania's sustainable buildings and designs. At the same venue starting at 9am on Friday will be "Sustainable Buildings: Opportunities for Tasmania", a forum being organised by Future Tasmania, a group promoting transition toward sustainable futures. Leech will be one of the forum's many key voices from the building industry. State and Federal Government, the research community and the not-for-profit sector. At the newly refurbished Princes Wharf Shed, the annual Sustainable Living Expo will kick off at 10 am on Saturday with a full two-day program of exhibits, talks and workshops.

Call 62345566 for more information, or

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Turning waste into renewable energy

Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday 30/10/2010 Page: 15

YOU may remember the biochar specialist Crucible Carbon from early last year, when the then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull visited its Newcastle base and touted the potential for biochar to draw down CO₂ from the atmosphere. In July Crucible Carbon won a $680,000 grant from Commercialisation Australia, to prove up its Pyrolysis technology - converting biomass into gas and char by slowly burning it, without oxygen.

At the Vales Point power station of its partner Delta Energy, on Lake Macquarie, Crucible Carbon's demonstration facility will take waste from timber mills - shavings, sawdust and bark - to generate renewable energy. Next year will be the company's year of commercialisation. "It'll make us sales-ready", says its chairman, Joe Herbertson, helping it through the cashflow "valley of death" that kills off many start-ups.

Crucible Carbon turned down a substantial venture capital investment. "Once you scratched beneath the surface it was ugly", Herbertson says. They wanted management rights and 'drag and tag' rights [allowing them to sell the whole company]". Crucible Carbon's business model is to work with partners to make power and heat from agricultural residues and wastes-sugar, cotton, wheat... and wood.

"The forest and timber industry is very big for us", Herbertson says. 'We're certainly not going to be chopping down forest for the sake of it [but] along the forest and timber value chain we can generate a lot of electricity or gas for industrial heat and power".

In Eden lies knowledge of trees

Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday 30/10/2010 Page: 14

Clearing forests may enrich those who are doing it, but over the long run it impoverishes the planet as a whole". That's not tree-hugging blather, but a leader in The Economist a few weeks ago. The magazine wants governments to "move fast" to save the world's forests, describing them as "purveyors of water, consumers of carbon, treasure-houses of species... ecological miracles". "Without a serious effort to solve this problem", the leader concluded, "the risk from climate change will be vastly increased and the planet will lose one of its most valuable, and most beautiful, assets. That would be a tragedy".

A map of the world, inside the magazine's special report, coloured Australia bright red - one of a handful of countries, including Brazil and Indonesia, losing more than 500,000 hectares of forest a year since 2005. As climate change accelerates, it makes no sense to be chopping down native forest - the cheapest, largest scale carbon sequestration available. Land-use change (mostly deforestation) accounts for about 15 to 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than all the world's ships, cars, trains and planes.

Afforestation, reforestation and reduced agricultural emissions could, the magazine reported, sequester 40 parts per million of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere by 2050. (We are at 450 ppm and rising; we need to get back to 350 ppm.) Old growth forest maybe especially significant in its ability to suck up carbon. Which is one reason there has been an ecstatic reaction to the peace deal negotiated this month to phase out native forest logging in Tasmania.

A lot of detail needs to be fleshed out, and there is plenty of scope for backsliding, but the immediate focus has switched to the mainland. Can a similar coup be achieved here? Talks are beginning, but it looks hard. At Eden, on the NSW south coast, the Japanese-owned South East Fibre Export woodchip mill is locked in a 40-year fight for survival against conservationists.

Its chief executive, Peter Mitchell, says that SEFE, unlike Gunns, does not have the option of switching to plantation. Too much nearby forest is protected, or is state forest which cannot be converted to plantation. Woodchip prices are down. A value-adding pulp mill is not an option-the region does not have enough water and, at roughly a million tonnes a year, throughput is too small to justify the investment needed. The mill is a major employer in the Eden area, whose economy the federal Labor MP Mike Kelly - also the parliamentary secretary for forestry - describes as tenuous. Parliamentary library research he's done confirms SEFE can't move to a wholly plantation base.

A bright spot for SEFE was a proposal, now before the NSW government, to build a 5MWs biomass plant to burn so-called fines - residues from their own mill, and from nearby sawmills - to generate renewable electricity. At the moment the residues either help power the Bega Cheese factory or are sold as mulch and carted away. Some is wasted. The plant would power the mill and, if excess power was sold on and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) generated, it could be a nice little earner.

SEFE estimates that on top of turnover of about $70 million a year, if the biomass plant generated its forecast 31,000MWh a year, sold on at $80/MWh (based on a REC price of $35 and a wholesale electricity price of 5.50/kW) it would pull in about $2.5 million.

Which is not make-or-break. SEFE will survive if the plant does not getup. A key question is whether the local retailer Country Energy, the only logical buyer, will buy power from a controversial project. Mitchell says Country offered SEFE an indicative price a year ago. "They'll buy it", he says, "but they wouldn't sell it as Green Power". Country dodged the question this week, saying it has all the renewable energy it needs for now.

Conservationists fear the Eden biomass proposal is a test case, the thin end of the wedge, which would provide avast new market to prop up native forest logging, just as the economic case for traditional woodchip operations is unravelling. It may seem crazy to log native forest for renewable energy now, but if a carbon price is brought in, and it rises as expected, dragging REC prices up with it, what now seems uneconomic could soon become a major industry. It is a deal breaker for the environment movement if native forest can be burnt to generate "renewable" energy.

"It's the number-one conspiracy theory we get thrown at us", says Mitchell, adding that the REC regime incorporates a "high value test" that prevents logging for the primary purpose of generating energy. NSW environment protection laws prevent use of forest residues for power generation. Mill residues are OK.

Kelly, whose seat of Eden-Monaro takes in both the Snowy Hydro scheme and Infigen Energy's Capital Wind Farm at Bungendore, wants the region to be Australia's renewable energy flagship and is working with the Clean Energy for Eternity movement, which promotes a "50/50 by 2020" emissions reduction target. Kelly is a cautious supporter of the SEFE project as long as it does not use native forest waste, although he supports native forest logging in the region.

The forestry division national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Michael O'Connor, is equally guarded. The union's position will depend on the outcome of collective agreement negotiations at SEFE. "We're not going to support any employer... if they don't have good, safe union jobs. It's a bit like someone you live next door to. If they're rude to you, you're less likely to help them out".

Knee-jerk reaction

Saturday 30/10/2010 Page: 10

THE other states and territories would be wrong to follow New South Wales's lead and slash their renewable energy policies.

While it may be true that the NSW feed-in tariff was set too high, the claim that feed-in-tariff policies are driving energy price rises is absurd. Victoria's feed-in tariff adds less than $1 per year to average electricity bills. The vast majority of price rises are due to investment in infrastructure required to deliver mostly coal-fired power to the grid, which will require $42 billion of investment over the next five years.

CSIRO research shows that solar panels on roofs can cut the cost of electricity by reducing the burden on transmission infrastructure and deferring expensive upgrades. The NSW decision is a knee-jerk overreaction to a flood of misleading media reports on the cost of feed-in tariffs, and will jeopardise hundreds of jobs in the renewable energy industry. Globally, Australia is already at the bottom of the pile when it comes to climate change policy. Let's not dig ourselves in deeper.

Paul Murfitt, Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd, Brunswick

Wind farm project cut back

Saturday 30/10/2010 Page: 5

VICTORIA'S largest wind farm proposal has been scaled back after the state government accepted evidence it would damage the view from a heritage-listed property. Planning Minister Justin Madden approved a bid by energy company Origin Energy to build a $1 billion wind farm at Stockyard Hill, between Beaufort and Skipton, about 35 kilometres west of Ballarat. But the 157-turbine farm will be more than a third smaller than the 242-turbine one initially proposed. Origin Energy struck out 30 turbines during public hearings and the government refused another 55 based on the advice of a planning panel.

Fourteen turbines were refused on the grounds they would have diminished the view from Mawallok, a historic homestead with gardens crafted by 19th-century landscaper William Guilfoyle. It is the first time wind turbines have been rejected because of their impact on the outlook from a heritage property. Another 41 turbines were rejected due to their impact on a local Brolga population.

Cassie Franzose, a member of the Mitchell family that owns Mawallok and spokeswoman for anti-wind farm group the Landscape Guardians, was unhappy any turbines had been approved but "pleasantly surprised" the government had accepted the panel's recommendations. "Given there are so few gardens of that era it would have been a significant loss. The turbines would have been at the front of the vista", she said.

She said Mawallok's owners had won about three-quarters of what they were fighting for. Despite this, she has left the property due to concern about the health effects of living near turbines. The government says there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that wind farms cause health problems. The wind farm still needs federal government approval.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

WA energy policy 'bad for wave power'

West Australian
Monday 1/11/2010 Page: 10

The head of a leading local renewable energy company says WA could lose one of the world's foremost wave energy initiatives because Australia is behind Europe in financial returns on green energy. Carnegie Corporation Wave Energy chief executive Michael Ottaviano unveiled the latest development of his company's proposed Garden Island wave farm last week a 20 tonne buoyant actuator, or buoy.

But he said WA could lose the potential wealth of energy from wave energy to Ireland, Portugal and other European nations because of its uncompetitive policy "That shouldn't surprise anyone, that commercially driven companies will go where they are going to get the best return on their capital", he said. Carnegie Corporation is about to attach its first CETO unit to the seabed near Garden Island and its wave farm will eventually have up to 20 units and produce 5MW.

A CETO unit has a 20 tonne buoy connected to a pump on the sea floor. As the buoy moves in the swells, it drives a piston and pumps water into a turbine. Dr Ottaviano said Australia was not doing enough to entice renewable energy players. "It would cost us the same to build a power station (in Europe) but we'd get three to four times more revenue in Ireland, the UK, Portugal and Spain. If you go to Scotland it's even higher", he said. Dr Ottaviano said WA's renewable energy target should be broken down into specific types because it was aimed towards wind power.

Answers are blowing in the wind

Courier Mail
Monday 1/11/2010 Page: 29

RESEARCH issued this week by HSBC shows Australians are increasingly pessimistic about whether climate change can be arrested and are less confident that their leaders are tackling the problem. But there are communities and groups developing plans to bring within reach a switch from planet-warming coal-fired and gas-fired power stations to clean energy from the sun, wind, waves and underground heat.

Beyond Zero Emissions last week held the Queensland launch of its plan to switch Australia entirely to zero emission electricity sources by 2020, while earlier this month, Embark, a group chaired by Simon Holmes a Court, was launched to help communities obtain project financing and specialist advice to build community-owned renewable energy projects such as wind farms.

Holmes a Court is the founding chairman of Hepburn Wind, which raised more than $11.6 million to start building a wind farm at Leonard's Hill in Victoria this month. Scientists say carbon emissions need to peak by about 2015, then fall sharply, to give a 50-50 chance of holding the average temperature rise to 2C. So it's quite urgent that new coalfired energy generation is avoided and existing coal plants used less. But many of Australia's political leaders and power companies remain in the thrall of coal and gas.

As Victorian Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings visited the Leonard's Hill site to mark the start of construction of what is Australia's first community-owned clean-energy project, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was in Clermont praising Rio Tinto's newest thermal coal mine, which will feed coal-fired power stations in Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand for years.

Queensland Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson recently told a public meeting any new investment in renewable energy came down to whether voters would tolerate higher power bills. This view, however, was contradicted by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who said recent power bill rises were caused by state governments not investing enough in power networks. Meanwhile Origin Energy, which spends $170 million a year on gas and oil exploration, has spent just $100 million on solar research over 10 years.

The US could light the way for Australian politicians and power firms. California's BrightSource Energy makes solar thermal power stations able to supply power day and night using energy storage technology. It will soon start building the world's largest solar power plant, the Ivanpah project. US policy settings bolstered BrightSource Energy, while Australia's only significant existing clean-energy policy helps wind farm developers but leaves geothermal and solar in the wilderness.

Beyond Zero Emissions says switching to zero-carbon power by 2020 will require a $370 billion capital investment, which would add $8 a week to household power bills. But also to be counted are the huge economic opportunities for Australia from building its own clean technology industries, given analysts estimate the global marketplace will be worth $2.2 trillion a year by 2020.

Turbine upgrade plan - It's full steam ahead for wind

Hobart Mercury
Friday 29/10/2010 Page: 3

NEW improved wind turbines will be installed on the Marine Board building next year.

The architect behind the installation of the turbines said they would be superior to the turbines that controversially failed in August Keith Drew, architect for Marine Board building owner Robert Rockefeller, said improvements to safety and productivity of the turbines would mean they would not be operational until the second week in January.

The new timeline would mean plans for installing turbines on Mr Rockefeller's ANZ building in Hobart's CBD Energy would be set back a few months after the Marine Board ones. Mr Drew said Mr Rockefeller was working with I Want Energy, the company that installed and supplied the turbines, to ensure the new ones are safe. In August, a braking mechanism on two turbines failed causing them to collapse and cause $100,000 damage.

After the incident Workplace Standards Tasmania ordered all the turbines to be switched off until it was satisfied they were safe. "Robert [Rockefeller] is just saying do whatever you have to do to make sure this type of thing can never happen again", Mr Drew said. I Want Energy has sought improvements on the turbines before having them manufactured and shipped to Tasmania. Mr Drew said. "When the turbines are reinstalled on the building they will be a new version of the turbine, they will look exactly the same but there will be some manufacturing improvements that will be implemented as well, as part of the review process", he said.

He said the new model was being tested in a wind tunnel this week. Once the tests are passed the turbines will be built and shipped to Tasmania, arriving in December. Mr Drew started working in 2009 to explore ways in which Mr Rockefeller's many Tasmanian properties could establish more sustainable energy options. "We explored the solar panel option and the wind power option and the wind power option won hands down in terms of feasible technology and financial payback", he said.

Mr Drew said despite some public concerns about safety after the incident in August the overwhelming response from the public about wind turbines in Hobart had been positive. The issue had not stopped Mr Rockefeller from exploring a wide range of energy efficiency options for his other Tasmanian buildings, Mr Drew said.

Monday 8 November 2010

Slashing solar won't stop electricity price rises

Clean Energy Council

HOUSEHOLDS in NSW still face big electricity price increases while the state's solar power industry will be devastated by the NSW Government's decision to slash its Solar Bonus Scheme. The changes proposed today by the NSW Government - cutting the solar bonus scheme by two-thirds from midnight tonight - will seriously damage the state's solar panel industry.

"This is a repeat of the boom-bust cycle the solar industry has been trying to avoid", said Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren. "A year ago we welcomed the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme, but warned the government it was too generous. More recently we advised the best way to fix this was to ease the scheme down and provide more long term certainty. "Instead they have compounded their first problem with an even bigger problem.

Damaging the solar industry in NSW won't stop big electricity price increases but it will cost jobs and damage confidence in this important clean industry. "Today's announcement is just a knee jerk reaction. Reducing the gross tariff to 20¢/kWh makes NSW one of the lowest rates in Australia".

The clean energy industry has recommended a lower gross feed in tariff of 45¢/kWh and extended over a longer time period to provide certainty to consumers and to installers. The proposed 2012 review and an end date of December 2016 did not provide the industry with adequate certainty or support, Mr Warren said.

"The cost of improving the electricity network in NSW will cost more than $14 billion over the next five years. By comparison, based on 100MW installed capacity, the cost of the solar bonus scheme is less than 8% of this. "The NSW Solar Bonus scheme has effectively built a clean energy power station across the rooftops of NSW households. This new generation capacity has been co-funded by all electricity users and the households themselves. "We just needed to get that funding balance right, not effectively shut the scheme down",Mr Warren said.

The Clean Energy Council is the peak body for renewable energy in Australia, representing approximately 450 companies.

Company rides the wind to take out capital's top award

Canberra Times
Friday 29/10/2010 Page: 19

Spectacular global growth over the past four years has enabled an ACT company to ride out uncertainty around a carbon price and win Canberra's top business accolade. Technology developed in Canberra has made Windlab Systems a world expert in measuring wind and one of Australia's fastest growing businesses. The company locates economically, socially and environmentally acceptable sites for wind farms in Australia and overseas. Last night Windlab Systems received the Canberra Business Council's business achievement award for 2010.

Chief operating officer Luke Osborne said company turnover was growing by 100% annually, but it hadn't escaped the impact of political uncertainty in environmental policies. "We're subject to the slight vagaries of the political pendulum around carbon pricing and so forth. "We have been lucky to grow into a lot of markets so we can smooth those booms and busts out that unfortunately has characterised the industry on the back of government He said legislation for large scale renewable energy targets supported Windlab Systems's operation. "Even without a carbon price, we're investing in Australia, it's a good place and a carbon price will help. It will make our dirty competitors less competitive".

Windlab Systems is expanding from information technology into preparing wind farms for construction. From only three staff in 2004 its Canberra headquarters now has 14 staff. It has other offices throughout the world. Windlab Systems prospects for and develops wind power sites in Canada, the United States and South Africa, as well as Australia. A computer cluster in Windlab Systems's Barton office continuously performs atmospheric calculations which help locate viable wind sites around the world.

Mr Osborne said the wind farm industry was risky because only one in 10 sites investigated was ever constructed. The biggest risk was the wind resource and Windlab Systems was the best at understanding the resource. Windlab Systems's development portfolio has more than 5000MWs of projects at various stages of development around the world. Mr Osborne did not expect the company's spectacular growth to continue as it developed a wider base, but it would develop into a substantial business.

The business achievement awards, sponsored by The Canberra Times and ActewAGL Energy, recognise ACT and regional businesses that demonstrate business excellence and make a positive contribution to the ACT and regional economies. Business council chief executive Chris Faulks said Windlab Systems had a strong presence in Canberra, with technical services and research and development divisions.

"Together with the other finalists, Windlab Systems demonstrates that Canberra is uniquely positioned as Australia's smartest city with an extremely innovative, export-oriented business environment", Ms Faulks said.

Blowout sparks fears over solar schemes

Friday 29/10/2010 Page: 6

THE states are resisting pressure to radically overhaul their solar panel schemes after the NSW government slashed its program. Master Electricians Australia yesterday called for uniform solar feed-in tariffs, arguing that inconsistency between the states and sudden changes discouraged electrical businesses from installing solar power systems.

"Many businesses have spent a significant amount of time and taxpayers' money training their staff to install solar panels, and all that investment could be wasted if demand dries up as a result of sudden government decisions", said chief executive Malcolm Richards.

The call came as the solar industry reeled from the NSW government's announcement on Wednesday that it would slash its solar bonus scheme in response to a massive blowout. Distributors and installers said once the backlog of orders ran out staff cuts would be inevitable. The NSW scheme had paid 60¢/kWh for all power generated but will now pay 20¢/kWh, prompting warnings the solar industry was in jeopardy.

Energy Retailers Association of Australia executive director Cameron O'Reilly said if the states were going to continue to have the schemes, they should make them more consistent: "Stop the contest between the states and territories, get them to rethink this whole approach". NSW and the ACT have "gross" schemes that pay households for all electricity they produce, while the other states have "net" schemes that pay for surplus power exported to the grid. Victoria's scheme pays 60¢/kWh for electricity returned to the grid, Queensland's 44¢/kWh and Western Australia's 40¢/kWh.

The Council of Australian Governments agreed in November 2008 to a set of principles for feed-in tariffs in a bid to encourage national consistency. But Mr O'Reilly said there were questions as to whether such federal-state deals had much weight and that National Competition Policy style payments should be used to encourage the states to adhere to them.

"If we want to see any federal/state reform, we have to see financial incentives to realise them, particularly when they are politically contentious", he said.

Both Victoria and Queensland said yesterday there were no plans to review the tariff, with the Queensland government saying its scheme "gets the balance right" as a net scheme that only pays households for the surplus energy they feed back into the grid.