Thursday 17 March 2011

Clean energy industry warns of boom bust

Monday 14/3/2011, Page: 7

AUSTRALIA'S clean energy industry is facing a boom bust cycle as depressed green energy prices forced the owners of the nation's biggest baseload renewable energy project to call in receivers. New South Wales Sugar Milling Co-operative chief executive Chris Connors has blamed lower renewable energy prices from the government's "botched" renewable energy legislation for the financial failure of the joint venture cogeneration project between Sunshine Renewables and Delta Energy.

Nationwide, wind farm projects have been stymied by low prices for the Renewable Energy Certificates that are supposed to be a key income stream for the projects sparking fresh warnings of a boom bust cycle related to the government's renewable energy target scheme of 20% by 2020. Critics say the RET is "simply a government created market".

Underlining this, International Power Australia estimates 61% of the 1400 MWs of wind generation that have been built or promised since 2008 will be used to help meet contracts with state governments, often for taxpayer funded water desalination plants. Mr Connors said green energy prices were depressed because the solar credit scheme which subsidises households that install solar panels had led to a glut of 30 million RECs. Ferrier Hodgson, appointed receivers and managers two weeks ago, said the plants would run as normal and there would not be a large number of job losses as they were mostly automated.

On Friday, RECs prices were almost $36, well below the price of $45 to $50 that renewable energy companies say is needed to underwrite new investments in the absence of a carbon price. This is despite the government's move to deal with the glut of RECs last year by splitting large scale renewable projects and small scale projects into two separate markets. National Generators Forum executive director Malcolm Roberts said the RET was "simply a government created market" that required retailers to buy more expensive energy.

Pacific Hydro corporate and government affairs executive manager Andrew Richards said there was a significant backlog of shovel ready wind farm projects, but developers struggled to lock in the power purchase agreements needed to finance them. There would be a need to build new projects in the future, because while energy retailers have been banking the glut of cheap RECs, these are expected to be used by about 2014 to 2015. "We just hope the industry is still here and able to deliver", Mr Richards said. "You don't want a situation where you bottom out in the cycle as we are now and everybody has to build wind farms in a hurry, because that's going to shoot the prices up".

It was unfortunate "that's been the history of the industry, the boom bust cycle", while industry wanted sustainable growth. Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said uncertainty about the carbon price was weighing heavily on RECs prices. But he did not expect a boom-bust situation "at this stage" as industry knew what its needs would be. A spokesperson for Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the RET was always designed to complement a carbon price to drive clean energy investments.

AGL to build $45m plant for Vic polymers maker

Canberra Times
Saturday 12/3/2011, Page: 8

AGL Energy says it will build a $45 million cogeneration plant in Victoria for polymers maker Qenos. The cogeneration plant is expected to reduce emissions from Qenos by 100,000 tonnes a year, equivalent to taking 24,390 cars off the road, AGL Energy said yesterday. AGL Energy will secure a 15 year operating and maintenance agreement on the plant with options to extend to 25 years.

AGL Energy also will become the sole supplier of natural gas to the site, expected to be 4.5 petajoules a year. "This represents the largest investment in industrial or manufacturing cogeneration in over 10 years", AGL Energy, Merchant Energy group general manager Anthony Fowler said. "It also helps Qenos remain competitive as Australia prepares for a carbon constraint". Qenos is the only Australia manufacturer of polyethylene and polymers, which are used to make plastics such as milk bottles, packaging, pipes and water tanks. The Altona plant will have a capacity of 21 MWs and produce 88 tonnes of steam per hour.

Cogeneration facilities work by capturing waste heat to produce electricity through a turbine generator. "As this form of energy production is more efficient, it produces less greenhouse gas emissions and is often highly economic for businesses", Mr Fowler said. Shares in AGL Energy were down 21¢ at $14.01. Qenos says it adds value to Australia's oil and gas reserves by creating "innovative products that promote sustainability across Australian industries".

Money the antidote

Friday 11/3/2011, Page: 13

THE most extraordinary missing detail among allegations that wind farms make people ill, is that money is the antidote to all symptoms said to arise from exposure ("wind turbines bad for health, says US doctor", 10/3). Landowners with suitable topography are paid from $7000-$10,000 per turbine per year by energy companies. Miraculously, the arrival of this money in one's bank account has a complete preventive effect on symptoms, with only those who miss out on the money being still affected.

Anti turbine advocates argue that those with turbines on their land are gagged by contract hush clauses. But common law rights to seeking redress for having one's health harmed are not extinguished by such contracts. The self published wind turbine alarmist Dr Nina Pierpont may like to prescribe turbines to her patients as a way of alleviating their complaints.

Professor Simon Chapman, School of Public Health, University of Sydney

Tuesday 15 March 2011

The science is good, the media bad, the situation worse: Garnaut

Friday 11/3/2011, Page: 6

GOVERNMENT adviser Ross Garnaut has criticised media treatment of climate change, suggesting it has undermined support for action by giving equal weight to mainstream peer reviewed science and sceptical views not backed by published evidence.

The latest update to Professor Garnaut's 2008 climate change review, launched in Hobart last night, finds that the world is continuing to warm. He also found that the evidence that human greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause has strengthened beyond the high level of certainty of three years ago.

Despite this, public confidence in climate science seemed to have weakened in Australia, in part due to media coverage of the issue. "If you take our mainstream media, it will often seek to provide some balance between people who base their views on the mainstream science and people who don't", he said. "That's a very strange sort of balance. It's a balance of words, and not a balance of scientific authority".

Professor Garnaut said the decline in public acceptance of climate science came amid increasing suggestions in scientific literature that large damage could start at a lower level of warming than the threshold of 2° above pre industrial levels recognised by the United Nations. The globe has warmed by about 0.9°. The latest Garnaut update the fifth of eight to be published before the end of March finds that not only is the globe warming, but that most physical and biological systems are changing at least as quickly as predicted.

The pace at which sea levels are rising has accelerated. While the likely increase this century remains uncertain, Professor Garnaut said credible estimates ranged up to 1.9 metres. The climate change department estimates up to 247,600 existing homes worth up to $63 billion are at risk of inundation from a sea level rise of 1.1 metres.

"It is an awful reality that no major developments in the science hold out realistic hope that the judgments of the 2008 review erred in the direction of overestimating the risks", Professor Garnaut said. He said he feared scientific projections to date might have been overly conservative.

Professor Garnaut's criticism of media coverage came as prominent Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull angrily rejected suggestions from Sydney talkback radio host David Oldfield, formerly involved with One Nation, that he was undermining Tony Abbott's leadership and pressing cross benchers to support the carbon tax. "He's just basically made that up", an angry Mr Turnbull said. "There is no basis in fact".

Hot rock power producer pounded

Courier Mail
Thursday 10/3/2011, Page: 55

GeoDynamics, Australia's biggest listed geothermal energy developer, will be ejected from the ASX 300 Index this month after hitting record lows and spearheading the losses that have plagued the sector. Shares in all the larger listed geothermal companies, including Brisbane based GeoDynamics and Panax Geothermal, and South Australia's Petratherm, are all at or close to record or 52 week lows.

Shares in GeoDynamics, which has the largest market capitalisation at $109 million, rallied in November after it said a 50 50 venture with Origin Energy to exploit shallow geothermal energy sources in South Australia's Cooper Basin was set to yield initial results before the end of June. Despite the effects of recent weather, the company still expects those initial results by June. But its shares have slid since February when its first-half net loss widened to $8.3 million from $5.5 million.

GeoDynamics' focus is its 70% owned project (Origin Energy owns the other 30%) in the Cooper Basin, which aims to tap heat in 4km deep granites to produce continuous, 24 hour power supply but without the greenhouse gas emissions and heavy water consumption of coal and gas fired power plants. The 50 50 venture targets heat at shallower depths and is less risky, so may bring geothermal power on line more quickly. But it could deliver only hundreds of MWs of power supply, while the deep venture has potential to produce thousands of MWs.

GeoDynamics, whose Jolokia 1 well is the hottest of its kind known in the world, is a global pioneer in hot fractured rock technology and a well blowout in 2009 delayed until 2013 a final investment decision on a 25 MW demonstration plant. Research firm Morningstar this week kept its "avoid" rating on GeoDynamics shares and urged clients to await more technological development progress before making any new investment in the stock. Morningstar cited concern over the company's rapid rate of cash outflow.

GeoDynamics recently secured a $90 million federal grant that underpins its operations up to the targeted commissioning of the 25 MW power plant in early 2015, Analysts also say the planned carbon price is likely to aid investment in Australia's gas producers but it will take other measures, such as national feed-in tariffs and more research and development support, to boost market support for renewable energy developers including geothermal and solar companies.

Investment research firm Bakers Group is more positive on the outlook for Panax Geothermal, recently rating its stock a "strong buy" but with high volatility likely. It said Panax Geothermal, unlike GeoDynamics, was focused on conventional geothermal technology for its projects in Australia, Indonesia and India. Bakers Group said because the technology was conventional, it was lower risk, and Panax Geothermal had several projects in advanced development stages. Panax Geothermal yesterday closed down 4% at 4.7¢. GeoDynamics was down 3% at 31.5¢.

We must face the facts

West Australian
Tuesday 8/3/2011, Page: 22

At first it seemed like a parody, but then it became clear that the letters published in The Weekend West (5/3) were from people who really believe in what they write. I agree on one point: the carbon tax in its current form is not really adequate to address all the issues we are facing globally This should not detract from the science behind global warming it is anthropogenic.

The only thing that nature has done is to throw in the occasional spanner in the form of a volcanic eruption which reduced the temperatures briefly The carbon emitted from volcanoes is ridiculously little when compared with human production. Volcanoes have always erupted, but the level of CO₂ increase in the atmosphere has been almost exponential since we started industrialisation.

All the letters have one common theme: let's put our head in the sand, ignore the science, hold on to the status quo for as long as we can because we hate change. And people in WA in particular have shown that we would really like things to continue on for ever, just the way they are, so we don't have to change.

It appalls me that people will ignore what is staring them in the face until it hits them and then there will be complaints about why nothing was done sooner. To say that our contribution to the problem is small is, to some extent, correct; but finger pointing has never led to change and in reality is an argument used to avoid necessary change we'll do something if the great polluters do something.

We are facing catastrophic changes. Have people not seen the news about flooding in Queensland? Have people not heard about the driest winter on record? The longest period of high temperatures which we just had? Are we really that ignorant or do we just don't want to know because it would force us to do something about it?

Let's face the facts: climate change is happening whether we like it or not. We can try to ignore it, but it is still happening and our actions today will determine how we are going to live in this country over the next generations. If a tax is required to force people to change their energy consumption habits and to force people to invest in renewable energy, then this is something that in the long run will benefit all of us.

Karsten Winter, Nollamara.

Monday 14 March 2011

Clean steel a blast from the future

Sydney Morning Herald
Tuesday 8/3/2011, Page: 5

PAUL O'MALLEY'S claim that a significant breakthrough in cutting steel making emissions is 20 to 40 years away appears to put little faith in imminent technologies. Climate Action Network Europe, the well regarded non government organisation, reports some technologies for cutting emissions, while costly, may not be that far away.

Last week Blue-Scope Steel's chief who is fast becoming the industry's figurehead against the federal government's carbon tax said 80% of Blue-Scope Steel's emissions come from steel making. "There is no technology available anywhere in the world that can see virgin iron produced from blast furnaces without CO₂ emissions. We are probably 20 to 40 years away from that kind of breakthrough", Mr O'Malley said.

According to the European report, however, there are four technologies that could reduce emissions significantly. The closest to being introduced is the Fastmelt process, using a redesigned blast furnace to reduce iron ore more efficiently. Adding carbon capture and storage (CCS) could reduce emissions in steel making by 55%, the report says. Top gas recycling, recently demonstrated in Sweden, is expected to be in use by 2020. It reuses the energy of blast furnaces, reduces coke consumption and separates CO₂, for sequestration.

The HIsarna steelmaking process, Climate Action Network says, is "the most promising route to low carbon steel making at the moment". It uses a cyclone converter furnace rather than a blast furnace, skipping the process of making pig iron pellets. It can provide an 80% reduction in emissions with CCS, or 20% without. Tata Power Steel in Europe, formerly Corus IJmuiden, has advanced in the pilot stage but deployment could still take until 2025.

The fourth technology is electrolysis, which would reduce iron ore by adding electrons to iron from electricity. "This theoretically allows for complete carbon neutral steel production if the applied electricity is produced without generating CO₂, emissions", the network said of the process, which is in only its pre pilot phase.

An Australian company, Wasabi Energy, is using Kalina cycle technology to capture waste heat from steel making and generate electricity, cutting emissions through energy efficiency measures. Dominique La Fontaine, the principal climate change consultant for Tasmanian group Pitt and Sherry, said the federal government needed to tailor compensation for steel makers to encourage the uptake of new technologies.

"It is a tough challenge from the point of view of the steel industry", he said. "But how much is this due to technological barriers and how much is it because of commercial issues such as asset renewal strategies?" Andrew Purvis, Blue-Scope Steel's vice president environment, said the company was working on finding a solution with rival OneSteel and the CSIRO as part of industry "CO₂, Breakthrough" programs.

Renewable energy not powering electricity bill hikes
7 March 2011

Sharp rises in household power bills are being driven by rising network costs and retailer margins not renewable energy according to new analysis released today. In a new report by independent energy market analysts ROAM Consulting, renewable energy schemes were found to only contribute between 4 and 7% to power bills, at the same time delivering Australia's main response to the economic threat of climate change.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Matthew Warren said rolling out clean energy around Australia was the start of the transformation required to clean up Australia's electricity supply without imposing major costs on households. "Electricity bills are going up, but renewable energy is not to blame", Mr Warren said.

"While we are finalising the design of a carbon price, the national 20% renewable energy target remains the single largest greenhouse gas abatement program in Australian history. "Over the next decade it will cut Australia's greenhouse emissions by around 380 million tonnes of greenhouse gases as the contribution of renewable energy increases year on year", he said. Network costs, retailer margins and wholesale electricity prices account for more than 90% of power bills, with necessary investment in network upgrades being the biggest single driver of power price hikes.

The report for the Clean Energy Council by ROAM Consulting, "Impact of renewable energy policies on retail electricity prices", showed the combined cost of large and small scale renewable energy schemes and state based feed in tariffs from 2011 -  2020 would make up 4.7% of electricity bills. According to the report: "Even in the most aggressive scenarios the combined renewable schemes are likely to contribute less than 10% of retail electricity tariffs".

To access the full report, click here.

Wind power reduces price of electricity

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
7 March 2011, Page: 51

The hidden costs of nuclear power are often overlooked, and they include the high cost of waste disposal, liabilities and insurance costs, costs which in international experience have been borne by taxpayers. Wind power, on the other hand, is cheap to set up and maintain, and as recently witnessed in South Australia, can supplement the grid at times of peak demand. The Australian Energy Market Operator reported last year that wind power in South Australia generates 'enough reserve power into the grid to safeguard Adelaide's supply.' (Andrew Richards is the executive manager of Government and Corporate Affairs for Pacific Hydro.)

Iceland set to harness powers from below

7 March 2011, Page: 9

REYKJAVIK. ICELAND EUROPEANS left stranded at airports last year as an Icelandic volcano spewed ash across the continent may soon benefit from the power that seethes beneath the remote north Atlantic island. Iceland is doing a feasibility study into building a 1200 kilometre power cable to Scotland to transport as much as 18 terawatt hours of geothermal and hydropower a year enough to fuel 5 million homes.

"Icelanders live with earthquakes and volcanic activity, but the benefits are that now we can monetise these powers", said Valdimar Armann, an economist at Reykjavik based asset manager GAMMA, who estimates yearly clean energy exports could reach about a 10th of the island's $Al2 billion economy.

The nation is trying to emerge from Europe's biggest banking meltdown this century to restyle itself as one of the continent's main sources of renewable energy. The power cable, which would be the longest of its kind, would come as the EU strives to reach its target of 20% clean energy by 2020. Landsvirkjun, a state owned utility that produces 75% of Iceland's electricity, is driving the feasibility study for the $2.1 billion power cable project.

While investors are already more upbeat about Iceland's prospects of recovery, the island still has a long way to go before it can restore its former wealth. Its 2008 banking crisis sent the krona down 80% against the euro offshore and shaved almost a fifth off disposable incomes the following year. Iceland may be unable to realise its geothermal dreams without some form of foreign investment.