Thursday 29 December 2011

E.ON makes multi-billion green energy investment
21 Dec 2011

E.ON is making another huge leap into green energy with a multi-billion investment of EUR7 billion for three new wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas. In the Baltic Sea, off Sweden's southern coast, E.ON is building Kårehamn wind farm which will become operational in 2013. Kårehamn will have a capacity of 48 MW and is costing around EUR120 million to build.

In the German North Sea, the energy giant is building Amrumbank West – a deepwater wind farm of 80 turbines costing EUR1 billion. It will have a total capacity of 288 MW. The farm will supply green energy to around 300,000 households and enter into service in 2015. Off the UK coast, the Humber Gateway wind farm is costing EUR850 million: this will have 219 MW capacity and enter into service in 2015. Both Kårehamn and Humber Gateway will use the new Vestas 3 MW V112 turbine.

Johannes Teyssen chief executive and chairman at E.ON said: "Renewables are a cornerstone of our strategy, and offshore wind is one of E.ON's growth areas. Going forward, we intend to commission a new offshore wind farm every 18 months. We have invested EUR7 billion in renewables during the past five years, and we will invest further EUR7 billion over the next five years as a substitute for other power generation."

Australian government is 'overstating renewables costs'
22 Dec 2011

The Australian government's draft energy white paper overestimates both the current and future cost of major renewables technologies, claims a new study.

Using data gathered from local and international wind turbine and solar module buyers and sellers, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) claims the official figures overstate the costs of solar power by up to a factor of three and wind power by 50%. The government's errors provide a "distorted view" of the contribution from individual technologies, says lead clean energy analyst Kobad Bhavnagri, author of the study. For example, BNEF estimates the capital costs of large-scale solar PV to have averaged $2.7m/ MW in 2011, and to be declining rapidly as a result of manufacturing economies of scale and technological innovation.

Adjusting for foreign exchange rates and the cost of labour in Australia, this translates to A$2.9m/ MW in the local market in 2011-up to about three times lower than the figures in the white paper, which was released last week. The main reason claimed for the discrepancy is that solar PV prices have been falling consistently for a number of years, and by some 34% since 2009. Using data points that are even a year out-of-date can result in cost assumptions that are too high. "Remarkably, it seems large-scale PV was not considered as a generation option in some white paper scenarios, despite the fact it is already widely used across the world with 11 GW in total installed capacity", adds Bhavnagri.

BNEF's study also suggests that the government modelling may not have taken into account the effects of increasing wind turbine efficiency. "Our expectation is that wind will be one of the least-cost generation options from 2030-50 and that wind power's share of generation will be higher than the white paper projections", BNEF says. A spokesperson for the Australian department of energy would not comment on the veracity of data contained in the white paper.

However, a government source says the draft has been released for "consultation and to encourage discussion", and does not determine Australia's energy policy. "Australia is a market economy, and ultimately it will be the interaction of the energy, carbon and Renewable Energy Certificate markets that will determine the composition of our electricity generation mix. The government does not prescribe specific technology outcomes", the source adds.

In the white paper-open for public consultation until March-the government says it wants to accelerate cleaner energy technologies through market-based mechanisms. But Australian Solar Energy Society chief executive John Grimes has accused it of "seriously underplaying" the importance of solar. Australia risks missing the international boom in small-scale solar, the industry claims, noting that China thinks PV will be as cheap as coal by 2021. In contrast, Australia's draft white paper predicts small-scale PV will cease to grow after 2030.

Wind farm opponents 'aided and abetted' by climate sceptic groups
20 Dec 2011

THE anti-wind farm movement that is gaining influence in the NSW Parliament is being ''aided and abetted'' by climate sceptic groups and some mining figures. The cabinet debated new wind farm guidelines yesterday, with division over whether NSW should follow Victoria and order wind turbines to be set further back from houses. The Shooters and Fishers Party, which shares the balance of power in the upper house with the Christian Democrats, said yesterday it wanted a moratorium on new wind farms.

Industry sources said a US Tea Party-style ''astroturf'' campaign, which mimics grassroots local opposition but is at least partly directed from elsewhere, was being waged against wind power in NSW, which was expected to bring up to $10 billion in investment this decade as it accelerated to meet the national 20% renewable energy target.

Wind farm opponents include a coalition of local groups under the banner ''landscape guardians'', and the Australian Environment Foundation, which sprang up seven years ago from a conference run by the right-wing think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, but is now a separate group. ''Our role is, if you like, aiding and abetting what local communities are doing and helping them voice their disapproval over wind farms,'' said the foundation's executive director, Max Rheese.

While local groups say they believe the inaudible noise and vibration from wind farms affect human health, the foundation does not think humans have a role in causing climate change and therefore believes wind farms are an expensive extravagance. It hosted the British climate sceptic Lord Monckton last year and says it ''questions the whole science behind anthropogenic global warming''. Mr Rheese said the foundation had paid for anti-wind signs at public meetings and lobbied the Shooters and Fishers Party, and the National and Liberal parties in NSW.

The Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak said yesterday the party would wait for the cabinet decision but would use its critical position in the upper house to oppose any pro-wind farm legislation that came to Parliament. The party had discussed wind farms with the foundation but had come up with its own policy calling for a moratorium and public inquiry into wind turbines, Mr Borsak said.

''We do probably see eye to eye with them on this and many issues, but this is a party position that we have finalised internally.'' The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said in August it was his opinion that no new wind farms should be built in NSW, but it is understood there are divisions in cabinet about the issue.

The Nationals MP and Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, said yesterday his anti-wind farm views were well known and he hoped yesterday's cabinet meeting ''addresses the sins of the past''.

''I live at Crookwell; we've certainly come under the brunt of poor planning and lack of community consultation of wind farms in the past,.. It puts friends against friends, neighbours against neighbours.'' The Waubra Foundation is a national group arguing wind farms can cause illness because of the vibrations from turbines. It lodged a submission based on perceived health concerns with the government yesterday.

The chairman, Peter Mitchell, said his opposition to wind farms was based on health concerns and nothing to do with his background as a former director of oil and gas companies. ''The critics here are really playing shoot the messenger, which I find ridiculous,'' he said. The British equivalent of landscape guardians, ''country guardians'', was funded and supported by elements of the British nuclear power industry.

Labor's environment spokesman, Luke Foley, said ''flat earthers'' were running a scare campaign against wind power.

Much angst over wind turbines is just hot air
21 Dec 2011

This year South Australia drew more than 20% of its electricity from wind turbines, while in Victoria the Baillieu government all but gutted the industry by requiring two-km set-backs from houses, ruling out new turbines in vast tracts of the state. As the O'Farrell government considers whether to follow Victoria or South Australia, it is timely to look at the culture of complaint that is hell-bent on demonising wind power.

The British Acoustics Bulletin has just published what is now the 10th independent review of the evidence on wind farms causing annoyance and ill health in people. And for the 10th time it has emphasised that annoyance has far more to do with social and psychological factors in those complaining than any direct effect from sound or inaudible infrasound emanating from wind turbines.

A few extracts give the flavour: "the degree of annoyance is only slightly related to noise level"; "the fact that someone was complaining was mainly determined by the personality of the individual"; "fear of the noise source can increase annoyance"; and "adverse feelings... were influenced by feelings of lacking control, being subjected to injustice, lacking influence, and not being believed".

Two factors repeatedly stand out. The first is being able to see wind turbines, which increases annoyance particularly in those who dislike or fear them. The second factor is whether people derive income from hosting turbines, which miraculously appears to be a highly effective antidote to feelings of annoyance and symptoms.

Wind companies don't publicise what they pay landowners each year to host turbines, as it varies with topographical conditions and the amount of energy that can be generated. So each price is negotiated. I have heard amounts from $7000 to $18,000. A landowner with ideal topography, such as accessible windy ridges, can drought-proof the farm by turning generally useless land into a major earner requiring zero labour and investment.

Meanwhile, neighbours with unfavourable topography look on with envy and worry about the relative re-sale value of their land. Some worry themselves sick. But this is a story no different to those who envy neighbours with the good luck to have mineral deposits, some tourism advantage or who sell to a developer.

Anti-wind farm groups argue that there are many angry turbine hosts who have signed gag clauses preventing them from speaking out. I've collected blank contract forms from Australian companies and none that I've seen contains such clauses. No contract would indemnify any person being harmed from a claim of negligence, so the silence is telling.

Other indications of the sociogenic nature of "wind turbine syndrome" are the recency and the anglophone nature of the complaints. There are an estimated 120,000-plus turbines globally, with major construction now occurring in India and China. I have lived and holidayed in France where turbines can be seen in many parts of the country. Public health colleagues and neighbours there looked blank when I asked about negative public opinion or health problems. Three friends who recently walked northern Spain's pilgrims trail reported the same mystified conversations.

Complaining about wind farms appears confined largely to parts of Australia, Canada, the US, Britain and New Zealand. And these complaints have accelerated in the past five years, despite turbines having been operational in many locations for more than 20 years. This contagious "wind turbine syndrome" - a condition not recognised by any international disease classification system and which appears not once in any title or abstract in the massive US National Library of Medicine's PubMed database-appears to be spread by the vector of anti-wind farm activist groups.

In Australia, the leading opponents are the Waubra Foundation and the Australian Landscape Guardians, which share a post office box with a mining investment company, Lowell Resources. Australian Landscape Guardians has been totally silent on any other intrusion on the landscape, apparently unperturbed by mining, highway construction or suburban encroachment.

Simon Chapman is professor of public health at the Sydney University. He has no financial associations with any wind power company.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Wind farm firm seeks hearing on noise rules
19 Dec 2011

THE wind farm industry has lobbied the state government to drop the contested issue of possible health impacts from guidelines that will determine the future of wind power in NSW. The draft guidelines are being finalised and may be considered by cabinet as early as today. After a briefing from state Department of Planning officials in July, the wind farm developer Infigen Energy wrote to the department, saying the proposed regulation of ''infrasound'' should be scrapped before public release.

Retaining the regulation would give ''credence to the falsehood that wind farms emit infrasound levels anywhere close to the level that can be perceived by human beings, let alone cause any detrimental health effects'', Infigen Energy wrote. Anti-wind farm advocates claim infrasound-sound emissions from wind turbines in frequencies below human hearing range-can harm the health of nearby residents. In the letter, dated July 22, Infigen Energy also said that following the Victorian government in imposing a 2km buffer between homes and wind farms would lead to ''legalised extortion'' by residents.

Wind energy has been a contentious issue for the O'Farrell government, the Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, directing his department to seek maximum community consultation on new projects. A motion was passed at the NSW Nationals' conference in October for a moratorium on new projects. Up to 19 applications are being frozen while the government decides how to balance competing interests. Mr O'Farrell has said it is his ''personal view'' that no more wind farms should be approved.

The Greens MP John Kaye accused the government of ''frustrating'' the development of the industry, saying some projects were already subject to public exhibition periods up to three times as long as other major projects. The Sapphire Wind Farm, for example, has an exhibition period of 99 days. ''As soon as it got into office, the O'Farrell government translated the hostility of some of its senior ministers into a policy of deliberately frustrating new wind projects,'' Dr Kaye said.

Residents from the anti-wind farm Flyers Creek Wind Turbine Awareness Group will present a submission to the planning department today opposing the new Flyers Creek Wind Farm, presently on exhibition. Another anti-wind farm group, the Landscape Guardians, said the government refused to meet them until October, despite briefing the industry on the draft guidelines in July. ''The democratic process has been turned on its head here where people are subject to wind turbine development because of inappropriate siting that's causing enormous stress and concern in rural communities,'' said Humphrey Price-Jones from the Landscape Guardians.

But a spokesman for the planning department said the July briefing, attended by Infigen Energy and other companies, was to explain the impact on wind farms of the repeal of Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. No lobby groups had seen the draft guidelines, which would be released for public comment before being finalised, the spokesman said. Health impacts had been ''thoroughly researched and considered'' in their development.

An Infigen Energy spokesman, Richard Farrell, said regulating infrasound was nonsensical because ''the government's own acoustic expert has stated it is impossible for a wind farm to exceed the accepted infrasound limit of 85 DB(G) without seriously exceeding NSW's audible noise limit for wind farms''. ''It clearly makes no sense to add expensive regulatory testing requirements that cannot be failed,'' Mr Farrell said.

Court blow to solar power subsidy cut
16 Dec 2011

Government plans to slash solar power subsidies were dealt a blow yesterday, after a High Court judge ordered an urgent hearing into the move. Mr Justice Mitting ordered a judicial review to be held next week into the Government's decision to halve so-called feed-in tariff solar power subsidies after hearing an application by Friends of the Earth. In a joint application with the photovoltaic companies, Solarcentury and HomeSun, Friends of the Earth argued that the Government's decision to introduce the subsidy cut on Monday-11 days before the consultation period ends on 23 December-was illegal.

On Monday, the tariff subsidy fell from 43.3p per kW to 21p, just six weeks after the proposals were announced. After a three-hour hearing yesterday, Mr Justice Mitting said the proposals had given rise to "economic risk" for those individuals and companies engaged in the solar industry, and that the challenge should be heard as a matter of urgency next Tuesday and Wednesday.

If the judge finds the Government behaved unlawfully, the consultation will need to begin again, adding weeks, or possibly months, to the date when a new tariff rate can be introduced. Daniel Green, the chief executive of HomeSun, said: "Having an 'effective date' in the middle of a consultation is not only unlawful but it could set a dangerous precedent for all future government consultations. "It's a bit like having a trial and executing the defendant halfway through", he added.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth's executive director, said: "We're delighted the High Court has given the go-ahead to our legal challenge-we believe government plans to abruptly slash solar subsidies are not only unfair, but illegal. These proposals have already had a disastrous impact on the solar industry". Mr Atkins added: "Fledgling clean businesses have had the rug pulled from under their feet and a shadow hangs over thousands of jobs".

Friends of the Earth warns that between 18,000 and 29,000 of UK solar industry jobs are at risk from the subsidy cuts, along with as much as £230m of annual VAT and income tax revenues. Furthermore, opponents to the subsidy cut argue that the swift and dramatic reduction in solar tariffs has undermined confidence among potential investors across the energy industry who can no longer be sure the Government won't "move the goalposts" in other areas. The decision to hold a judicial hearing into the solar power subsidy cut comes a week after the European Commission threatened its own action over the Government's move.

CGA launches solar power system on Taiping Island
14 Dec 2011

A solar power system on Taiping Island in the South China Sea has been successfully installed and begun operations, according to the ROC Coast Guard Administration Dec. 13. The system is in accordance with a plan outlined last November by ROC President Ma Ying-jeou to transform Taiping into Taiwan's southernmost low-carbon island and to reaffirm ROC sovereignty over the territory, the CGA added. Chang Te-hao, director of the CGA's Southern Coastal Patrol Office, said the electricity on Taiping Island is mostly generated by diesel.

"The solar power system can help cut diesel usage by 125,826 liters and reduce carbon emissions by 329 metric tons per year. It is expected to generate 175,920 kW-hours per year and save NT$4.73 million (US$156,106) in electricity costs annually", he said. According to the CGA, the new power system includes solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems, as well as energy-saving electrical equipment.

"The installation of solar power system on the island will be expanded in the future", Chang said. "Energy-consuming equipment such as air conditioners, indoor lighting, refrigerators, road lamps and water heaters will all be changed into ones that save energy". Located 1,400 km off Taiwan proper, Taiping is the largest of the Nansha (Spratly) Islands. In addition to Nansha, the ROC also exercises sovereignty over the Dongsha (Pratas), Xisha (Paracel) and Zhongsha (Macclesfield) Islands in the South China Sea. (HZW)

Thursday 22 December 2011

Installing 12kW solar power system just got easier, says Soitec
13 Dec 2011

Soitec has expanded its family of concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) products with a model that it claims is the first stand-alone mini-tracker for panels measuring 3m². The target solar power application for the stand-alone mini-tracker, dubbed Plug&Sun, is to supplement or replace existing power generators or other forms of renewable energy in sunny regions with no power grid or unreliable grid connections. The supplier claims efficiency close to 30%. The system uses a two-axis tracker to generate up to 2.3kWp of electricity.

The France-based supplier expects the mini-tracker to be used to bring electricity to an isolated village, to equip a school or a hospital with electrical infrastructure. It can also be used to power RF antennas. "We wanted to make it possible to use our technology in geographical regions where access to electricity is difficult to get", said Andre-Jacques Auberton-Herve, president and CEO of Soitec. "It takes just a few hours to set up three Plug&Sun mini-trackers, which can generate 12kW on a daily basis, the equivalent of the amount of electricity needed for a village", said Auberton-Herve. Soitec has begun taking prototype orders for the Plug&Sun system. Shipments of production units to customers are expected to begin in the course of 2012.

Japan says stricken nuclear power plant in cold shutdown
16 Dec 2011

TOKYO, Dec 16 (Reuters)-Japan declared its tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant to be in cold shutdown on Friday, taking a major step to resolving the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years but some critics questioned whether the plant was really under control. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was wrecked on March 11 by a huge earthquake and a towering tsunami which knocked out its cooling systems, triggering meltdowns, radiation leaks and mass evacuations.

In making the much-anticipated announcement, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda tried to draw a line under the most acute phase of the crisis and highlighted the next challenges: the clean-up and the safe dismantling of the plant, something the government says may take more than 30 years. "The reactors have reached a state of cold shutdown", Noda told a government nuclear emergency response meeting. "A stable condition has been achieved", he added, noting radiation levels at the boundary of the plant could now be kept at low levels, even in the event of "unforeseeable incidents".

A cold shutdown is when water used to cool nuclear fuel rods remains below boiling point, preventing the fuel from reheating. One of the chief aims of the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), had been to bring the reactors to that state by the year-end. The declaration of a cold shutdown could have repercussions well beyond the plant. It is a government pre-condition for allowing about 80,000 residents evacuated from within a 20 km (12 mile) radius of the plant to go home.

Both Noda and his environment and nuclear crisis minister Goshi Hosono said that while the government still faced huge challenges, the situation at the plant was under control. That provoked an angry response from senior local officials, Greenpeace and some reporters even as the Vienna-based UN nuclear agency welcomed "significant progress" at the plant. "We hope that this will be a fresh step towards going back home but it does not change the fact that the path to bringing the crisis under control is long and tough", Fukushima governor Yuhei Sato said, according to the Asahi newspaper website.

Greenpeace dismissed the announcement as a publicity stunt. "By triumphantly declaring a cold shutdown, the Japanese authorities are clearly anxious to give the impression that the crisis has come to an end, which is clearly not the case", Greenpeace Japan said in a statement. Hosono acknowledged that there were some areas where it would be difficult to bring people back and said there could be small difficulties here and there, but he told a briefing: "I believe there will be absolutely no situation in which problems escalate and nearby residents are forced to evacuate".

The water temperature in all three of the affected reactors fell below boiling point by September, but Tepco had said it would declare a state of cold shutdown only once it was satisfied that the temperatures and the amount of radiation emitted from the plant remained stable. Jonathan Cobb, an expert at the British-based World Nuclear Association, said the authorities had been conservative in choosing the timing of the announcement.

"The government has delayed declaration of cold shutdown conditions, one reason being to ensure that the situation at the plant was stable", Cobb said, adding that the evacuation zone should get progressively smaller as more of it was decontaminated. Kazuhiko Kudo, professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University, said authorities needed to determine exactly the status of melted fuel inside the reactors and stabilise a makeshift cooling system, which handles the tens of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water accumulated on-site.

Huge Costs, Anxiety
The government and Tepco will aim to begin removing the undamaged nuclear rods from the plant's spent fuel pools next year. However, retrieval of fuel that melted down in their reactors may not begin for another decade. The enormous cost of the cleanup and compensating the victims has drained Tepco financially. The government may inject about $13 billion into the company as early as next summer in a de facto nationalisation, sources told Reuters last week.

An official advisory panel estimates Tepco may have to pay about 4.5 trillion yen ($57 billion) in compensation in the first two years after the nuclear crisis, and that it will cost 1.15 trillion yen to decommission the plant, though some experts put it at 4 trillion yen ($51 billion) or even more. Japan also faces a massive cleanup task outside the east coast plant if residents are to be allowed to go home. The Environment Ministry says about 2,400 square km (930 square miles) of land around the plant may need to be decontaminated, an area roughly the size of Luxembourg.

The crisis shook the public's faith in nuclear power and Japan is now reviewing an earlier plan to raise the proportion of electricity generated from nuclear power to 50% by 2030 from 30% in 2010. Japan may not immediately walk away from nuclear power, but few doubt that nuclear power will play a lesser role in future. Living in fear of radiation is part of life for residents both near and far from the plant. Cases of excessive radiation in vegetables, tea, milk, seafood and water have stoked anxiety despite assurances from public officials that the levels detected are not dangerous. Chernobyl's experience shows that anxiety is likely to persist for years, with residents living near the former Soviet plant still regularly checking produce for radiation before consuming it 25 years after the disaster.

EON invests $9 Billion in renewables as Germany drops nuclear
16 Dec 2011

E.ON AG, Germany's biggest utility, said it's investing 7 billion euros ($9.1 billion) in renewable energy projects over the next five years as the country drops nuclear power generation. E.ON plans to build at least three offshore wind projects, including the 1 billion-euro Amrumbank West farm in the North Sea, Dusseldorf-based E.ON said in an e-mailed statement today. Siemens AG, Europe's biggest engineering company, will supply the the 288- MW plant with 80 of its turbines.

"Renewables are a cornerstone of our strategy, and offshore wind is one of E.ON's growth areas", Chief Executive Officer Johannes Teyssen said in the statement. "We intend to commission a new offshore wind farm every 18 months". Germany, Europe's biggest economy, seeks to install 10,000 MWs of sea-based wind turbines this decade as it raises the share of renewables and phases out atomic energy. Utilities including E.ON and RWE AG (RWE) are selling assets and cutting jobs to lower costs and boost profit margins as the nuclear exit removes revenue streams.

E.ON is cutting as many as 11,000 positions and announced a 64% slide in nine-month profit, in part because of the phase-out. The utility plans a 219- MW wind farm off the U.K, and a 48- MW facility off Sweden's southern Baltic Sea coast. Both projects, which have a combined cost of about 970 million euros, will use turbines supplied by Vestas Wind Systems AS, E.ON said. Japan's Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster in March spurred Chancellor Angela Merkel's government to revise its nuclear power policy with a plan to shut the country's 17 reactors by 2022.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Uranium stocks looking ugly post-Fukushima as short-interest rises
12 Dec 2011

Uranium markets are still on the ropes, even nine months after the terrible natural disaster that caused a partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Market sentiment has turned even more negative, as short-interest in uranium mining equities has increased substantially as of late, according to Data Explorers.

The nuclear power industry has been under fire after the Japanese disaster, with uranium markets taking much of the hit. The Global X Uranium ETF (URA), which acts as a proxy for the sector, is down more than 58% this year to $8.56, while spot uranium prices have tumbled from highs near $75 per pound to around $52, according to TradeTech and the Ux Consulting Company, which prepare the two most widespread uranium price indices.

Investors violently shorted uranium miners via the URA after the accident, with demand to borrow URA shares surging 10% since March. Short-covering in August, which happened to coincide with a global sell-off in equity markets, brought the short-interest to a nearly insignificant level, Data Explorers explained. But investor sentiment remains skewed against uranium miners. Short-interest has moved from the URA to individual stocks. Looking at the top 10 holdings of URA, "average short-interest has increased 25% over a three month period to 6% of total shares", wrote analysts at Data Explorers.

Uranium Energy Corp, and USEC have been among the most heavily shorted stocks in the group. Short-interest in USEC peaked in July at 26% of shares outstanding, falling to 16% by December, as the stock fell to yearly lows. USEC is down 79% this year despite "the highest level of institutional ownership of funds who lend" at about a third of market cap, said the Data Explorers. "Short interest and long flow in Uranium Energy Corp, has reduced at a rate of 5%", explained the analysts, even though it still stands high at 15% of shares outstanding.

Moving on to Cameco, the world's largest uranium producer, short interest appears low at 3%. But given a $7.1 billion market cap and a marked 40% increase in borrowing demand for its shares over the last three months, it appears that negative sentiment is on the rise. Short interest in Cameco stood at 3% of shares outstanding as the share price continues to bounce along the bottom of its yearly range.

Within the uranium industry, some are trying to convince themselves of a bullish long-term trend for prices. TradeTech notes that despite a 9% drop in uranium demand between now and 2025 (given the German and Swiss plans to phase out nuclear power and Italy's plans to abandon nuclear power, among other delays), a potential supply/demand gap could provide support for prices, "While the Fukushima crisis is clearly a setback for nuclear, the industry shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the overall trend in demand is moving upward, due in large part to projected nuclear power growth in China and other nations around the world", said TradeTech president Treva Klingbiel. The outlook in the short-term, though, remains very bleak.

Fire breaks out at waste facility of Tsuruga nuclear plant
13 Dec 2011

TSURUGA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A fire broke out Monday evening at a waste disposal facility of a nuclear power plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, but no one was injured and there was no environmental impact, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said. The fire started at 7:50 p.m. on power-supply equipment of the waste disposal facility for the No. 1 reactor of Japan Atomic Power Co.'s plant, the agency said. The reactor is currently offline due to regular checkups. The incident followed similar fire accidents that occurred at the plant on the Sea of Japan coast since May.

Korean nuclear reactor stops operation
14 Dec 2011

A nuclear reactor in South Korea stopped operating Tuesday for unknown reasons, a state-run nuclear power plant operator said. The Unit-1 reactor with a capacity of 1-million kW in Uljin, 330 km southeast of Seoul, came to a standstill at around 8 p.m., according to the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. The plant operator said it is working to find the cause of the stoppage. In October this year, another nuclear reactor at the same plant stopped operations due to a malfunction of the coolant pump.

Monday 19 December 2011

Three Gorges to invest $269 million in China Power for renewables
12 Dec 2011

China Three Gorges Corp., operator of the nation's biggest dam, agreed to pay HK$2.1 billion ($269 million) for a 29.1% stake in renewable energy producer China Power International New Energy Development Co. (735) China Power International New Energy will issue 3.2 billion new shares at HK$0.65 each to China Three Gorges, the Hong Kong-listed company said in a statement to the city's stock exchange today. China Power International New Energy said it will use the proceeds to fund power generation projects.

China is pushing its companies to increase power generation from alternative sources including wind and hydropower as it seeks to cut reliance on coal and oil to reduce pollution. China Three Gorges, which operates the world's largest hydropower power dam, will become the biggest shareholder in China Power International New Energy. The purchase will create "opportunities for the company's further expansion through leveraging the hydropower power capabilities and expertise" of China Three Gorges, China Power International New Energy said in the statement.

New dye will lead to more efficient solar energy technology
12 Dec 2011

A North Carolina State University invention has significant potential to improve the efficiency of solar cells and other technologies that derive energy from light. Dr. Ahmed El-Shafei's research group invented a new "sensitizer", or dye, that harvests more ambient and solar light than any dyes currently on the market for use in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs).

"A third-party solar power company compared our new dye, NCSU-10, against the state-of-the-art dye on the market. Our dye had 14% more power density", says El-Shafei, an assistant professor in the Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science department. "In other words, NCSU-10 allows us to harvest more energy from the same amount of light".

The new dye should significantly boost the efficiency of DSSCs, which have a host of applications. Indoors, these DSSCs can be used in technology to power cellular phones, laptop computers and MP3 players using ambient light. Outdoors, they could be used in conventional solar arrays or in improved energy-driven applications for building-integrated photovoltaic products including, but not limited to, windows, facades and skylights. Compared to the state-of-the-art dye on the market, NCSU-10 can absorb more photons at lower dye concentrations, and can therefore be used to create more effective solar cells on windows and facades while still allowing the windows to be highly transparent.

DSSCs are made of inexpensive and environmentally benign materials including a dye, an electrolyte and titanium dioxide (TiO2)-the white component used in toothpaste. DSSCs work by absorbing photons, or discrete packets of light energy, from incident light (or direct light that falls on a surface) to create free electrons in nanoporous semiconductors such as TiO2, in the cell. These electrons travel to the outside circuit to generate an electric current. Owing to their independence on the angle of incident light and high response to low level of lighting conditions, DSSCs outperform conventional silicon photovoltaic by 20 to 40% under diffuse light, on cloudy and/or rainy days, and in indoor ambient light, which make DSSCs a unique class of photovoltaics.

A patent is pending on the new dye, and the university is in communication with potential industry partners about licensing use of NCSU-10, as well as funding additional research in this area.

Thousands caught out by solar panel deadline
12 Dec 2011

One of Britain's largest solar panel installers, Homesun, said 2,500 of its customers who had missed today's deadline to avoid a 50pc cut in subsidy for self-generated electricity. In a sudden decision last month, the Government said it would halve the amount it would pay those who generate electricity from photovoltaic panels.

Daniel Green, chief executive of Homesun, said the company would aim to help these people, who will be significantly disadvantaged by the cut. He indicated that they could be offered free or deeply discounted panels. "We have paid a lot to have this relationship with these people and they have invested a lot of time", he said.

Consumers had rushed to register their panels before the deadline expired. The Microgeneration Certification scheme said it had provided installers with up to 9,000 certificates for the panels every day in the past week, compared to volumes of about 500 a day before that. After today, those who install and register solar panels will see a 50pc fall in the amount they receive for every kW generated, with the total per unit falling from 43.3p to 21p per kW. The "export" tariff, which is the additional 3.1p per kW for any electricity sold on to the grid, will not change.

Customers who had already signed contracts for panels have scrambled to register their installations before the date, with some fearing that they will lose out. The timing of the move has been criticised by environmental campaigners and the green energy industry. They claim that the decision will cost thousands of jobs.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Plugging into the electric-car era
12 Dec 2011

AS ELECTRIC cars trickle on to Australian roads, companies that operate recharge facilities are gearing up for big business. Electric car infrastructure company Better Place is valued at $2.25 billion and plans to create the world's largest electric car network in Australia. ''By the end of 2013 we are looking at hundreds of battery-switch stations across Australia and tens of thousands of locations where people can recharge,'' Better Place Australia head of strategy Ben Keneally said.

The next stage is the eastern seaboard, with similar infrastructure in the pipeline for Melbourne. ''We are in discussion with many property owners about where we will place the battery-swapping stations. It will start with a few dozen in Melbourne but will expand over time. We have to have enough so that they are in the locations people want to go as the cars become more commonplace,'' Mr Keneally said. ''Range anxiety''-a fear of electric cars running out of charge on a journey, is a key barrier to mass adoption of electric cars, he said.

''For most people, plugging in at night is all you need to do; that will give you 100 to 200 km of range. For those occasions when you are driving further, you need a way of quickly recharging and continuing.'' Battery-swapping stations provide the ideal solution. Motorists swipe a membership card, pass through boom gates and park on an automatic track similar to a car wash. A metal arm reaches beneath the car, removes the 280kg battery and replaces it with a recharged one. The process takes about four minutes.

The company recently secured $200 million in funding from investors and partners including General Electric and global banking group UBS. In the next few months it will launch a commercial electric car network in Israel and Denmark. Mr Keneally said Australia was an ideal location for an electric car network because petrol was expensive.

''Petrol is the single most hated purchase in people's lives. Because we live in suburbs, are very car dependent and drive larger cars than people in Europe, our average petrol bills are quite high.'' He said access to off-street parking also made Australia suitable for an electric car network. Better Place has been in talks with local, state and federal governments about regulatory issues involved in rolling out the network. ''There are a lot of laws and regulations we never anticipated,'' Mr Keneally said. The company, which will use 100% green energy, also must negotiate with councils that own kerbsides.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

First atlantic floating offshore wind turbine deployed
7 Dec 2011

New Hampshire, USA--The offshore wind industry passed a milestone recently with the installation of the world's first floating offshore wind turbine off the coast of Agucadoura, Portugal. The WindFloat project consists of a 2 MW semi-submersible wind turbine that can be deployed without heavy machinery. Principle Power, Inc., a Seattle-based offshore wind developer, and Energias de Portugal, a Portuguese utility, worked with more than 60 other vendors in the WindPlus JV group. The turbine was assembled onshore in a controlled environment before it was transported to the sea and towed more than 217 miles to open water.

CEO of Principle Power Alla Weinstein said in a written statement, "In a way we are making a similar leap towards new energy resources as the Oil & Gas industry did in the 1970's when it began using floating structures". The structure will undergo trial operations, commissioning and startup procedures over the next few weeks. These procedures will include a full production capacity test. The WindFloat technology decreases wave and wind-induced motions, which allows a large turbine to be placed in waters with depths of more that 164 feet, where it is able to capture stronger winds. The platform allows for the use of any off-the-shelf turbine.

"The (deep) ocean is the next big energy frontier", said Antonio Vidigal, CEO of EDP Inovacao, in a press release. "Deep offshore wind technology, in particular the WindFloat, will allow us to harness stronger and more stable winds, and in the medium term deliver sustainable energy into our electrical system. Now is the time for extensive testing and validation, moving forward in the development of this promising technology. The WindFloat positions EDP on the leading edge of offshore wind exploration".

Brazil's wind power growth draws international investors
9 Dec 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec. 9 (UPI)--Brazil's burgeoning wind power industry is drawing international investors to northeastern regions of the country, the hub of most tangible growth in the sector. Wind power use is taking off worldwide and a new impetus was given to this key renewable energy sector with the emergence of new do-it-yourself turbines for running household appliances. In northeastern Brazil, industry planners said they expect industry standard wind power capacity to grow eight-fold by 2014. Current wind power capacity is estimated at 1,400 MWs.

By 2025 that installed capacity will likely rise to 31.6 GWs, industry analysts said. Brazil is Latin America's largest wind power market. Lower production prices, government incentives and Brazil's soaring electricity demand have attracted a number of significant foreign players. France's Alstom opened a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Bahia, which has attracted investors because of its high wind speeds and low incidence of storms. The rise of cheaper wind power has enabled the service providers to compete successfully for a share of Brazil's national supply of electricity.

Wobben Windpower, a subsidiary of German group Enercon GmBH, set up the first wind turbine factory in Brazil in the 1990s and the company expects to install 22 wind farms with a total capacity of 554 MW by the end of 2012. Enercon GmBH, which has headquarters Aurich, Germany, is the market leader in Germany since the mid-1990s and the fourth-largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world. The lucrative wind power market has drawn other players, including Spain's Gamesa, Argentina's Impsa, Germany's Siemens and Denmark's Vestas, the world biggest wind turbine manufacturer, GE Wind from the United States and India's Suzlon Energy.

French engineering giant Alstom inaugurated a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Bahia's industrial complex of Camacari near Salvador, Bahia's state capital. Alstom said it would try to match its 40% market share in the Brazilian hydropower plant sector, Brazil's main source of electricity generation. Meanwhile, consumer interest in wind power is growing and manufacturers are responding with products that households can use. Oklahoman firm Bergey Windpower said its best-selling BWC Excel 10 wind turbine is the first to receive full certification to a new AWEA Small Wind Turbine Performance and Safety Standard.

"This new standard is the most significant milestone in the history of the small wind industry because it provides, for the first time, third-party verification of real world performance and a highly technical review of a turbine's strength and safety", said Mike Bergey, president of Bergey Windpower and the 2011 president of the Distributed Wind Energy Association. The Bergey Excel 10 is a 23-foot diameter horizontal-axis turbine designed to provide the annual energy requirements for homes, farms and small businesses. More than 2,000 Excel turbines have been installed in 46 states and more than 50 countries. It has only three moving parts, requires no annual maintenance and was the first small wind turbine to carry a 10-year warranty. Bergey Windpower introduced a new 5- kW turbine in September and it is undergoing certification testing at the Alternative Energy Institute in Texas.

A Tougher and lighter wind turbine blade design
11 Dec 2011

A researcher from Case Western Reserve University has designed a stronger and lighter wind turbine blade design. First, a little insight into the issue of blade strength: As superior as large wind turbines are where cost and performance are concerned, the weight of their blades can cause problems. It is difficult to make such long (more than 200-feet in diameter) blades strong enough to bear their own weight, and especially at high speeds.

There is a tendency of objects in general to resist a change of speed (velocity)-called inertia. It affects everything that moves. When the wind turns a wind turbine blade, the rest of the blades are forced to move with it since they share the same hub (the rotating part at the center of the turbine). However, the weight of the blades impedes that by holding them back.

It is almost as if there is a force pulling back on the blades, and this force actually bends the blade a little, but the problem with this is the blades are not really flexible--therefore, instead of bending, they break. This force (inertia) is the same one that you have to overcome when you first start running, and when you are trying to accelerate your vehicle. This is why vehicles burn additional fuel to accelerate. Weight adds to this inertia problem, which is why heavier objects (such as vehicles) are harder to stop and harder to get moving. Typical wind turbine blades are designed to withstand the stress that normal operation would cause, so they don't break often.

This is why the same problem of inertia can be improved by making wind turbine blades both lighter, to reduce inertia itself, and stronger, to better withstand the inertia they are subjected to,.. and of course at a reasonable cost. Lighter wind turbine blades are easier to turn, and hence more efficient. So this is also important to their performance. Back to the new blade design: The researcher from Case Western Reserve University designed the 29-inch blades for a 400-watt turbine using polyurethane (a polymer) and reinforced it with carbon nanotubes.

"The idea behind all this is the need to develop stronger and lighter materials which will enable manufacturing of blades for larger rotors", Loos said. "Results of mechanical testing for the carbon nanotube reinforced polyurethane show that this material outperforms the currently used resins for wind blades applications", said Ica Manas-Zloczower, professor of macromolecular science and engineering and associate dean in the Case School of Engineering. "They will be used to emphasize the significant potential of carbon nanotube reinforced polyurethane systems for use in the next generation of wind turbine blades". Carbon nanotubes are still very expensive, but can be extremely lightweight and very strong compared to all-metal and composite materials.

Whisper on wind farm
6 Dec 2011

THE State Government is expected to announce today that work will start immediately on the long-awaited Musselroe wind farm in the state's North-East. The Mercury can also reveal that giant Danish wind generator company Vestas has won the contract to supply the turbines for the venture. Up to 200 people will be employed during the construction of the $400 million wind farm.

Musselroe will have 56 x 3 MW turbines, which will make it the biggest wind farm in Tasmania. The Musselroe wind farm has been planned for seven years but its original proponent, Hydro-owned Roaring 40s, folded in April. Hydro Tasmania chief executive Roy Adair has repeatedly said higher electricity prices caused by a carbon tax would see the Musselroe Bay wind farm developed. Last month he said the company was committed to wind farm expansion to complement its generation assets, which made it Australia's largest renewable energy generator.

The financial partner in the Musselroe project is expected to be announced soon. In the meantime, the project will be funded on Hydro Tasmania's balance sheet pending the outcome of the divestment process of Woolnorth wind farm assets, announced by Hydro Tasmania in September. The two Woolnorth wind farms are located on the far north-west tip of the state on the Woolnorth grazing property. Vestas also built the turbines on the Woolnorth farms.

Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark toured the Macarthur wind farm with Vestas CEO Ditlev Engellate last month during his official visit to Victoria with Princess Mary. Musselroe will be eclipsed in size if the $500 million, 100-turbine Cattle Hill wind farm, near Lake Echo in the state's Central Highlands, is approved. Approval for the development is yet to be granted by the Central Highlands Council and the Federal Government.

Monday 12 December 2011

Enel Initiates two new Spanish wind farms
5 Dec 2011

Enel Green Power has initiated two new plants in Spain: the 38 MW Los Llanos wind farm, located in the Castilla y Leon Region, and the 24 MW Granujales wind farm, located near Cadiz, in Andalusia. The plants, with a combined capacity of 62 MW, are expected to produce over 151 GW annually, enough to power more than 55,700 households and reducing CO₂ emissions by 112,000 tons.

The Los Llanos wind farm has 19 wind turbines of 2 MW each, while the The Granujales wind farm has 12 wind turbines of 2 MW each. Enel Green Power is also adding an additional 4 MW to the Alvaiazere wind farm in Portugal, which is already operational. The expanded wind farm will have an estimated production of 50.2 GW, enough to power 18,900 households while saving 37,100 tons of CO₂.

Enel Green Power chief executive officer, Francesco Starace, explains, "The launch of new wind capacity in the Iberian peninsula reinforces Enel Green Power's commitment to the development of the Spanish and Portuguese markets. Our aim in these countries is to start operating our pre-registered projects, in line with the established timing schedule and projected sector growth".

Enel Green Power develops and manages power generation from renewable sources at the international level, as well as a presence in Europe and the Americas. Enel Green Power's installed capacity exceeds 6,100 MW, produced by more than 620 operational plants located throughout the world, with a generation mix that includes wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass.

Wind farm firm to take permits stoush to VCAT
30 Nov 2011

The proponent of a 15-turbine wind farm in the Moyne Shire will ask the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to overturn a council decision against extending planning permits for the project. The Moyne council says NewEn Australia will have to reapply for permits for the Salt Creek wind farm, near Woorndoo, and must comply with new shire and State Government planning guidelines.

However, the company's managing director, Ernst Weyhausen, says the Government does not require projects that had already been given planning permission to comply with the new rules. "The State Government said it doesn't apply to existing permits and that existing permits can be extended through to March of next year", he said. "The council introduced its own policy back in August that also requires a two-km exclusion zone. However, that policy was never communicated to us".

Sunday 11 December 2011

Origin Energy buying electricity from Gunning Wind Farm
23 Nov 2011

Origin Energy has expanded its renewable energy portfolio, entering into a long-term power purchase agreement to buy electricity from ACCIONA Energy's Gunning Wind Farm. Under the deal, Origin Energy will initially purchase federal government issued Large-Scale Renewable Energy Certificates (LSREC) from ACCIONA Energy for a period of two years, beginning January 2012. From January 1st 2014, the agreement allows Origin Energy to buy both the LSRECs and the power generated by the wind farm for a further eight years; with an option to extend.

Origin Energy spokesman, Frank Calabria, said that with over half a million green energy customers, the deal would help ensure the company meet its commitment to Australia's Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target. "As an investor in the renewable energy industry, this agreement demonstrates Origin Energy's ongoing commitment to supporting a broad range of renewable energy sources and options to reach our renewable energy target while also helping to meet customer demand for GreenPower"."

The Gunning Wind Farm is located 70 km north-east of Canberra, close to Origin Energy's own Cullerin Range Wind Farm. The $147 million wind farm has been exporting clean energy to the national grid since April this year. Built on privately owned property that is predominantly cleared pastoral land, the facility consists of 31 ACCIONA Energy Windpower 1.5 MW wind turbines, capable of generating 140-150 GW of electricity each year-enough to power 23,250 households while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 162,750 tonnes annually.

100 manufacturing and installation jobs were created during the construction phase, with nine operations and maintenance staff overseeing the operation of the wind farm currently. With a global workforce of over 30,000 employees, ACCIONA Energy is a powerful force in the sustainable infrastructure industry and has invested over $630 million in Australian renewable energy projects since 2002. ACCIONA Energy Generation Director, Brett Wickham said this strong global position allowed the company build and operate the Gunning farm without a power purchase agreement during the global financial crisis.

Wind farms supported by Bendigo conference
22 Nov 2011

MORE voices are to join the protest against wind farm bans after a conference on community-owned energy projects voted to write to the state government over the issue. About 130 delegates from across Australia attended the two-day Community Power conference in Bendigo last week, to discuss community-run renewable energy projects.

City of Greater Bendigo councillor Keith Reynard said the participants voted unanimously to support the motion for conference conveners to write to the Victorian government over the wind farm policy Amendment VC82, which bans wind farms from being built within 5 km of regional centres and from land bounded by the McIvor Highway and the Calder Highway.

Among the community wind projects at the national Community Power conference was the successful Hepburn Wind co-operative, which chairman Simon Holmes a Court said would have difficulty being built under the present wind farm planning laws. Conference convener, Cr Reynard said the restrictive wind farm laws threatened regional development, as well as stopping individual landholders from putting turbines on their properties.

Cr Reynard said the City of Greater Bendigo could follow the lead of Mount Alexander shire council and write to Premier Ted Baillieu about the issue, with a motion seeking approval at the next council meeting. The so-called wind farm 'no go zones' directly impacted plans for one and two-turbine wind farms in Macedon and Castlemaine. The conveners of the conference will also push for funds from the federal government's Clean Energy Fund to be set aside for community-owned energy projects.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Giant turbine blades arrive for Macarthur farm
17 Nov 2011

ENORMOUS turbine blades are now making their way to the Macarthur wind farm. The 56-metre blades have been supplied by Danish company Vestas and imported through the Port of Portland. When assembled each turbine will have a generation capacity of three MWs. The $1 billion Macarthur project--set to be among the southern hemisphere's largest--is a joint venture between AGL Energy and Meridian Energy. A workforce of about 350 people is presently based at the project site, which extends across 5500 hectares of freehold agricultural land.

AGL Energy spokeswoman Karen Winsbury said the wind farm's first turbine was due to be assembled in coming weeks. "Construction of the Macarthur wind farm is progressing within schedule, with the first tower section being erected last Thursday", she said. "The Tarrone North Road upgrade was completed two weeks ago and the Macarthur-Hawkesdale Road is complete subject to some remedial work being required and ongoing maintenance". Portland's Keppel Prince Engineering is supplying 80 of the wind farm's towers, while the remaining 60 are being built by Adelaide-based RPG Australia. Ms Winsbury said AGL Energy appreciated the community's patience during the construction phase. The 420- MW wind farm is due to be finished by early 2013.

Win for $477m Hawkesdale, Port Fairy projects
18 Nov 2011

TWO major south-west wind farms are to become reality after a green light from the state government. Union Fenosa Wind Australia has secured planning permit extensions for projects at Hawkesdale and Ryan Corner, about 10 km north of Port Fairy. Planning Minister Matthew Guy's decision to grant the extensions goes against the wishes of Moyne Shire Council, which agreed in August the developer should not be given more time. Early construction works on the $477 million wind farms is now due to begin by next March.

Before making his decision, Mr Guy had asked Moyne councillors for their views on a permit extension. While shire mayor Jim Doukas could not be contacted for comment yesterday, in August he described the five-one vote to oppose extra time as a wake-up call for renewable energy proponents. Mr Guy granted permit extensions in line with transitional arrangements that form part of amendment VC82. The amendment, gazetted in August, established no-go zones for wind farms and prohibited turbines from being placed closer than two km to a house without permission from its owner.

Union Fenosa said the new policy also ensured that approved and advanced projects like Ryan Corner and Hawkesdale could progress to the construction stage. Company spokesman Thomas Mitchell said the wind farms would not be subject to new setback rules as they were approved before VC82 was introduced. Early construction works will include VicRoads-approved entrances to the sites from public roads, compounds for site management team offices and some internal access tracks.

Portland's GR Carr Construction is to deliver the package at both the 31-turbine Hawkesdale wind farm and the 67-turbine Ryan Corner project, which will together generate 196 MWs of electricity. Planning permits for the wind farms were first granted in 2008 and were due to expire in August. The extensions provided by Mr Guy expire in mid-March next year. Mr Mitchell said Union Fenosa's early works package would trigger a six-year window for project completion at both sites.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Coal seam gas may not help climate fight
19 Nov 2011

The federal Minister for Energy, Martin Ferguson, is often criticised but he's right about this: the coal seam gas industry has grown too fast. We have not done our homework before issuing approvals for this $50 billion-plus export industry-on the possible groundwater and land-use impact, on what to do with the millions of tonnes of salt left over, or the impact on Gladstone harbour and the Great Barrier Reef. Crucially, we have rushed to develop coal seam gas reserves as a cleaner alternative to coal, assuming it will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change. But will coal seam gas reduce emissions? By how much? We don't actually know.

Recent research into fugitive emissions, including peer-reviewed articles by Cornell University's Robert Howarth and the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research's Tom Wigley, both published in Climate Change Letters, have found unconventional plays like coal seam gas or shale gas may deliver no greenhouse benefit at all, or even make things worse.

If that turns out to be right, gas may be an obstacle rather than a bridge to a decarbonised future. With the International Energy Agency warning this month that the energy infrastructure we build over the next five years will determine whether the world is able to limit global warming to 2°, it's hard to think of a more critical climate policy question-or one with more money riding on it. Early this year the oil and gas industry lobby group, the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), commissioned research by engineering consultancy WorleyParsons on the life cycle emissions of coal seam gas versus coal when exported and burned in China.

APPEA did something strange. It only released the executive summary. Why? Because, according to some of its members, there were scenarios which showed how coal seam gas might emit more greenhouse gasses than coal. At worst, if burned in the least efficient ''peaking'' open-cycle turbines, coal seam gas was up to 44% dirtier than the newest, most efficient coal-fired plant. Some inside Worley-and the better coal seam gas companies, too-were unhappy with the association's handling of the report. There was pressure to get it out. The executive director of the think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, Matthew Wright, got wind of the industry disquiet and had an idea: commission a separate study by Worley-in fact, widen its scope-and get the results into the public domain that way. A contract was drawn up and a price agreed: $50,000. Wright believes the work was done and the report drafted. Somewhere, things went off the rails.

Cold feet at Worley, perhaps? All week, starting in Monday's Age and on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program and running from there, the accusations have flown thick and fast. Worley says it and Beyond Zero mutually agreed to drop the contract, no fee being payable. Instead, the same research would be published in a peer-reviewed journal, Energies. Wright flatly denies he ever agreed to that-he still wants the report he commissioned-and claims Worley is suppressing the report to stay on side with the coal seam gas industry which gives it contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Worley rejects that outright and says everything Beyond Zero commissioned-''the full box and dice'', a spokesman told me-will be in the Energies paper. How, asks Wright, when his report had a broader scope than the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association's 80-odd page document, and what peer-reviewed journal would publish all that? As it happened, a fortnight ago APPEA did finally release its own full, original report by Worley. Some media took APPEA's line, saying it proved gas was cleaner; others focused on the previously unreleased information, including less flattering gas-versus-coal scenarios. It's now online.

On Tuesday the Merrill Lynch oil and gas analyst David Heard weighed in with a six-page note to clients titled: ''Green gas debate: who is hiding the fugitives?'' It pulls the APPEA report apart. For a start, the report assumes coal seam gas/liquefied natural gas projects apply best practice in greenhouse gas and environmental management, especially to prevention of venting and leaks in upstream operations. Extreme scenarios for coal seam gas venting and leakage were excluded. Extreme was defined to mean ''other than best practice''. But Heard records his personal observation of a Santos drilling operation in the Cooper Basin (not a coal seam gas well, as it happens) where after fracking and in the flow-back phase ''the well vents a mixture of fracking fluid and gas direct to atmosphere in an unconstrained manner for days''. Heard's colleagues in the US have found likewise.

Then Heard noted how our National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System (NGERS) allowed the coal seam gas companies to rely on a 2004 US industry-derived document, the American Petroleum Institute's Compendium of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Methodologies for the Oil and Gas Industry, which explicitly stated it was ''neither a standard nor a recommended practice for the development of emissions inventories''. The compendium contains generic assumptions, Heard noted, which may be outdated given the rapid development of unconventional gas extraction, and inapplicable in an Australian context.

APPEA's report admits, on page eight, ''the large-scale CSG/LNG industry in Queensland is new and emissions are only projections subject to high uncertainties in some areas''. Under our emissions trading scheme, carbon price liability is determined according to the emissions reported under NGERS system, including fugitive emissions. Ferguson says leave it to the market, guided by the carbon price. But relying on the Compendium could lead companies to understate emissions and ignore any carbon price signal. If, for example, the coal seam gas companies just use a rule of thumb-a broad average at the end of the year by some junior accountant asked to 'multiply the number of wells we've drilled by a number in a 2004 US document'-there is no price signal.

We need better science on the emissions from coal seam gas and, ultimately, Heard's note backs Wright, expressing concern at the alleged suppression of Worley's report for Beyond Zero, and concluding such a thorough independent expert assessment of full life-cycle emissions would be worthwhile. This week Ferguson ruled out the government commissioning any such report. A spokesman for the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, conceded the NGERS probably relied on an estimation approach to emissions from coal seam gas extraction, but said the system allowed for annual updating of estimation methods as new science came in. Lastly, Heard's note criticises APPEA's assumption that gas substitutes for inefficient coal in baseload generation in China. This may not be correct, he writes, ''gas is not really competing with coal at all''.

Heard's concern, on his clients' behalf, is not so much that the coal seam gas companies could face higher-than-expected carbon price liabilities if we had a truer picture of emissions. Rather, it's that amid an increasingly nasty debate on the roll-out of coal seam gas in Queensland and NSW, and given these projects are on thin ice politically as they push east coast gas prices higher by linking us to international markets, the last thing the industry needs is to lose the one thing it had going for it: an apparent benefit in tackling climate change. The gas projects are counting on expansion, to build second and subsequent liquefaction ''trains'', and approvals may prove harder to come by. If the greenhouse benefit claims turn out to be false, it's bad news for the coal seam gas companies.
Twitter: @gpaddymanning