Saturday 4 June 2011

Paid to pollute

Adelaide Advertiser
24 May 2011, Page: 19

ACCORDING to my reckoning, if you are a large electricity utility generating electricity from polluting fossil fuels, then you can legally and uncritically command anywhere up to $10 per kW. However, if you are an SA homeowner generating electricity from clean solar power, you are being outrageous if you expect to get 54 cents for the same amount of electricity (The Advertiser editorial, yesterday).

The real problem is that whereas electricity retailers pay up to $10 to the big polluters, they pay no more than 10 cents to the small clean producers, with the taxpayer forking out any difference between the Government's solar feed in tariff and the retailers contribution.

If retailers paid the solar generators the same price as fossil generators, this would have no impact on electricity prices because it would be simply replacing one generator by another without any difference in the unit cost of the electricity supplied. What is needed is a level playing field with solar electricity getting no more or less than fossil electricity. This would produce better competition and greater certainty for all concerned.

Dennis Matthews, Ironbank

Turning jobs green

Adelaide Advertiser
21 May 2011, Page: 1

Sustainable industries will provide some of the biggest opportunities for employment growth in the next 10 years, industry research predicts. Modelling commissioned by the Clean Energy Council shows that renewable energy jobs are expected to grow to about 55,000 by 2020, with a large part of these figures in solar power.

Clean Energy Council spokesman Mark Bretherton says there are huge long term employment opportunities for solar power, which are tempered by challenges over the next couple of years. "Years of stop start policy from governments of all sizes has led to a series of boom bust cycles that the industry has endured at regular intervals since the middle of the last decade", Mr Bretherton says.

"These well meaning initiatives have vastly underestimated the appetite among the public to install solar power, protecting themselves from rising electricity prices and taking individual action on climate change. The only thing we know for certain at the moment is that Australians love solar power".

He says incentive schemes still are required in the short term to support the industry and rough patches will gradually smooth out as the cost of solar continues to fall and support is ramped off. A recent survey of solar panel and solar hot water installers from around Australia finds most are optimistic about the performance of their business and their position within the industry in the next year.

solar panel and inverter installer Sun Connect operations manager James Strahan says many companies are keen to put on extra staff and nearly all expect positive financial returns. "From our collated responses of more than 100 solar businesses, it looks as though solar companies are on target to add jobs at a greater rate than the majority of business sectors in the economy", Mr Strahan says.

"In August 2010, the Australian solar industry employed an estimated 11,500 solar workers and over the next 12 months, our research shows that 89% of solar firms expect to add jobs while only 3% expect to cut workers. "You don't have to have a degree in solar engineering to work in this field. It's similar to how you can be a great salesperson in retail or insurance or medical equipment; with the right training you can use your skills to sell anything".

He says that their research finds manufacturing, wholesale trade and installation are the primary sectors poised for growth. "Within each group, there are a variety of jobs, including solar installers or technicians, plumbers with specific skills in solar installations, production workers, marketing and legal staff, finance staff, supervisors, production managers and operating workers", he says.

Another company within the solar industry is Zen Home Energy Systems, which has increased its staff numbers by more than 50% since the beginning of the year. Zen Home Energy chief executive Richard Turner says his company has taken on 27 new employees since January, taking the total number to 75. "Many of Zen Home Energy's latest recruits are new to the solar industry and bring with them a wide range of knowledge and skill sets", he says. "The solar industry is proving to be an attractive career choice for people of all ages, demographics and at all stages of their working lives.

Some of the newly created positions are in sales, management, reception, marketing, human resources, accounts, ICT, administration and IT". One of Zen Home Energy's new recruits, water systems manager Tim Ielasi, says his career has been a natural progression. "The first manufacturing company I was with about 10 years ago was into plumbing and gas. They made a natural progression into the solar industry and so did I", Mr Ielasi says.

"I oversee the product development and testing and approval procedures of all of our water product, including solar hot water and rainwater, and we are looking at getting into pool and underfloor heating. "It is still a relatively new industry. "There are up to 750,000 hot water systems sold in Australia yearly and only 8% of the market is solar hot water, and that figure will only go up. "As we push towards renewable energy, there is a lot more focus on the homeowner to push into being sustainable in their own home.,.. however small the industry may seem at the moment, it is ever growing and will continue to mature".

Origin opts for smart meter trial

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
23 May 2011, Page: 17

Origin Energy has said it will trial energy efficiency technology, including software from US company Tendril, in 5000 homes this year. The technology will give customers information on changing electricity use to lower bills and greenhouse gas emissions. Tendril, based in Colorado, is backed by a number of venture capital investors and GE. Victoria is the leader in introducing such technology, with all homes to be fitted with smart meters by 2013.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

Climate science audit slams skeptics

23 May 2011, Page: 3

THE government established Climate Commission has dismissed the skeptics and warned of dire consequences if adequate action to cut emissions is not taken in this "critical" decade. In a review of the scientific evidence, released today, the commission says: "We know beyond reasonable doubt that the world is warming and that human emissions of greenhouse gasses are the primary cause". It also says this year's Queensland and Victorian flooding "raised the question of a possible link between the floods and human induced climate change".

The government, embattled over the carbon tax, will use the report to bolster its case for action and to discredit critics. Prime Minister Julia Gillard set up the independent commission to give the public information as part of her move to price carbon. The audit of the science was done by one commissioner, climate scientist Will Steffen, and extensively reviewed by other experts.

Professor Steffen hit out at skeptics yesterday, telling The Age that Australia and the United States were "the two parts of the world where there is still significant media debate about the science". There was no debate within the credible scientific community. Professor Steffen, of the Australian National University, said the deniers were making a very emotional attack on the science it was not a rational criticism. "A lot of people who understand psychology say vocal denialism has less to do with the science but is more about a world view", he said.

Commission chairman Tim Flannery would not be drawn on the report's political implications, in particular between the Gillard carbon tax and Tony Abbott's direct action: "It underlines the need for a carbon price; it doesn't talk about the mechanism used to deliver that". But he stressed the need for a robust policy. fossil fuel emissions had to be dealt with directly it would not be adequate just to allow polluters to offset their emissions into agricultural sequestration, such as forestry and soil carbon, he said.

The report says the impacts of climate change are already being felt in Australia and elsewhere, with less than 1 degree of global warming; the economic, environmental and societal risks of future change are serious. "Minimising these risks requires rapid, deep and ongoing reductions to global greenhouse gas emissions. We must begin now if we are to decarbonise our economy and move to clean energy sources by 2050". The report also canvasses a "budget approach" to reducing emissions as an alternative to the present targets and timetables approach. This would set an amount of emissions consistent with a certain level of containment of global warming.

It "allows more flexibility in the economic and technical pathways to emissions reductions", it says, but warns "the fact that we have already consumed over 30% of our post 2000 budget means that much of that flexibility has been squandered if we wish to avoid the escalating risks associated with temperature rises beyond 2°". Highlighting the problems for Australia, the report points out that in the past 50 years, the number of record hot days has more than doubled, increasing the risk of heatwaves and associated deaths.

GE wants carbon price to kick in

Weekend Australian
21 May 2011, Page: 8

AUSTRALIA needs to move quickly and implement a price on carbon, and industry will follow. That's the message from global energy leviathan GE. And GE is not alone, with companies from a range of industries joining it, including AGL Energy, Linfox, Fujitsu, BP, Better Place, IKEA, Kell & Rigby, Alstom, Pottinger, ARTC and Pacific Hydro all backing a carbon price.

Speaking in late February at the clean energy lunch "Moving Australia towards a clean energy future", GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt suggested Australia's strong economic situation makes us ripe for change and ready to implement a price on carbon. "You just can't make a move that is this controversial when you have got wind in your face. You can make the move when you have got wind at your back", Immelt said.

GE's energy country executive for Australia and New Zealand, Tim Rourke, recently told The Australian that GE believes there has to be a price on carbon and an appropriate regulatory regime that will allow companies to invest in the clean energy space with some certainty. "Most companies want that certainty, and as soon as certainty is delivered, industry can move forward and there will be a faster uptake of clean energy", he says.

For GE, what sets Australia apart is its diversity of options: not only is it generously endowed with coal and gas resources, it also has excellent wind and solar resources. Hence it can deliver the ultimate energy portfolio approach. These options reflect GE's own energy philosophy. "We're technology agnostic.

We take a portfolio approach and innovate in different technologies", Rourke says. This helps the company maintain its leadership in energy innovation. GE has a SUS45 billion (S41.2bn) footprint in the energy space and it will invest $US5bn in clean energy over the next three years. Its commitment to clean energy is part of its so called Ecomagination philosophy.

According to Immelt, the initiative kicked off in 2004 and it's about investing in clean energy technology and making it profitable. "We started in 2005 by investing SUS700 million a year, we ended the decade investing SUS1.5bn a year in R&D", he says. Rourke says Australia has a great opportunity to become a global leader.

"We have plenty of options and we can exploit improving technologies, as Australians are relatively quick to embrace new technologies", he says. "We really are better placed than most countries". GE has cut its own emissions by 20% since 2005 and its renewable energy business has quadrupled in size to $US20bn in revenue.

Britain surprises with carbon plan

The Saturday Age
21 May 2011, Page: 13

THE British cabinet debate is said to have been furious, pitching the Prime Minister, David Cameron, against his own Chancellor, George Osborne. But this week, the Tory led, Coalition government surprised itself and Europe by committing to a radical "carbon budget" to halve CO₂ emissions by 2025. While Australia continues to wrangle over a carbon tax and the possible effect on the price of Weet Bix Britain, led by the Conservatives, has become the first country to set legally binding commitments through into the 2020s.

Under the plan, the 50% cut in emissions to be averaged out across the years 2023 to 2027 and benchmarked against 1990 levels will be enshrined in law. The targets, described as the most ambitious on greenhouse gases of any developed nation, were outlined by the Energy and Climate Minister, Chris Huhne, in Parliament on Tuesday, delighting environmentalists and sparking dire warnings from British industry.

In fact, this is the UK's fourth so called carbon budget since 2008, with emission targets established on the advice of the International Committee on Climate Change. The original starting point for measurement was 1990, when Great Britain produced 783 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. Since then, big reductions have been achieved with emissions down to 603 million tonnes during the past, five year cycle a 23% cut on the benchmark.

This next target point is the toughest: "As advised by the Committee on Climate Change, the level we propose setting in law would mean that net emissions over the Fourth Carbon Budget period should not exceed 1950 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalent a 50% reduction from 1990 levels", Mr Huhne told the House of Commons. The cuts, he said, should be viewed as an economic stimulator, a boost and signal of confidence to the nation's green technology companies from wind power to electric cars to solar power placing them at the "leading edge of the global low carbon revolution".

Britain's environmental movement which had gloomily warned as late as last weekend that Mr Cameron would renege on the next round of targets appeared genuinely taken aback and quickly welcomed the move. However several key spokespeople have since pointedly highlighted the fact that the government's post credit crunch austerity drive has seen it slash funding for significant clean energy technologies, including solar power and carbon capture ventures.

As well, the new Green Bank proposed and pushed by the previous Labour government and seen as imperative to secure private investment in the renewal and replacement of Britain's ageing power stations will not be able to borrow for renewable energy projects for another four years. The bank is expected to raise money in the same way as regular banks but will use the profits to fund clean energy and low carbon projects.

It has been widely reported too that there was a concerted, backroom attempt by the UK Treasury to stymie the plan amid arguments that British industry would be curtailed and the frail first shoots of economic recovery stymied. The greatest fear is that other EU nations will not embrace such ambitious long term targets, dramatically reducing Britain's ability to compete.

Mr Cameron told the Parliament that that his Business Secretary, the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, and others "had very legitimate concerns about energy intensive industries and how we should try to put together a package to help them, because they are being affected, not just by the carbon budget but by also changes to the electricity market and other costs.

"It doesn't actually help climate change if you simply drive an energy intensive industry to locate in Poland rather than Britain. That was one sticking point", he said. Some concessions were won for high energy consumption industries such as steel that provide special tax breaks to help compensate for the expected rise in electricity prices.

These arguments were ultimately overridden by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, which crafted the rhetoric to push the boost to Britain's long term economic projects provided by investment in green technology. However, the British government has managed to sneak in an out clause for itself: in 2014, a review can be ordered of the targets to see just how the rest of the EU stacks up against Britain. However any move to lower them would need ICC consultation and according to Chris Huhne "it would be almost impossible to renege on the commitment". Just a year before an election, that might just be true.

Monday 30 May 2011

Waste plant contract goes to Landfill Gas

Courier Mail
20 May 2011, Page: 94

Landfill Gas Industries has won the race to build Brisbane City Council's new waste-to-energy generation plant. The company has been given the go ahead to construct the facility at 369 Sherbrooke Rd, Willawong. The company will operate the plant with Diamond Energy for at least the next 10 years. Landfill Gas Industries beat AGL Energy Services , Landfill Gas and Power, LMS Generation and Integrated Waste Resources to win the tender, after the council called for expressions of interest in November last year.

The plant will be on a remediated landfill site that closed in the 1990s. The site has an underground well and piped gas harvesting systems already in place to release methane gas created by the landfill. It currently has a flare burning methane gas. The Landfill Gas development will be the second renewable energy facility for Brisbane, with the Rochedale landfill waste-to-energy facility generating power since 2004.

Cables going underground

Herald Sun
19 May 2011, Page: 27

POWER cables to a three turbine wind farm in Chepstowe will be put underground to protect birdlife. Planning Minister Matthew Guy announced his approval of the wind farm yesterday after "calling in" the proposal. Mr Guy said Department of Planning and Community Development officers had conducted an investigation and met all parties associated with the VCAT proceeding. "This approval responds to concerns raised about potential impacts to local Brolga populations and proposes to locate all potentially hazardous power cables underground", he said. "Importantly, the proposal meets the 2010 noise assessment standards".

Britain leaves Australia in its wake as it commits to 50% emissions cut

Canberra Times
19 May 2011, Page: 4

The British Government has vowed to slash Britain's greenhouse gas emissions by half within 15 years, dwarfing Australia's target of a mere 5% by 2020. Britain's Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huline outlined the ambitious goal to the British Parliament yesterday, saying carbon emissions between 2023 and 2027 would be cut by 50% of 1990 levels. The proposal would put Britain on course for an 80% emissions reduction by 2050, but would only be pursued if other European countries took similar action.

Mr Huhne said the decision would give investors the certainty they needed to invest in clean energy options and would place Britain at the leading edge of a new global industrial transformation. "Under this carbon budget, Britain in 2027 will be a different place and transformed for the better with warmer homes powered by green energy, many more cars powered by electricity and far less reliance on fossil fuels to drive our economy", he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the move would keep the promise his coalition of Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats had made to be the greenest government ever". "The transition to a low carbon economy is necessary, real and global", Mr Cameron said. "By stepping up, showing leadership and competing with the world, the UK can prove that there need not be a tension between green and growth". The news has delighted the Australian Greens, who are growing increasingly frustrated that in Australia both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott are happy with a target to cut emissions only 5% of 1990 levels by 2020.

Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said Britain had set an example Australia should follow. "The United Kingdom has left the rest of the world far behind overnight, making the science based and achievable commitment to cut its carbon pollution to 50% below 1990 levels as soon as 2025", Senator Milne said. "What is remarkable is that the plans, which would put the UK at the forefront of the global transformation to a cleaner, healthier economy, are being criticised as too weak. "Tony Abbott would do well to reflect on the efforts of British Conservatives instead of looking to the American extreme right for guidance".

Environment groups have also seized on the announcement, describing the British targets as embarrassing for Australia. Climate Active Australia spokesman David Spratt said the British target put Australia's aspirations in a "very poor light". "The question for Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott is why they are allowing Australia to fall so far behind", he said. Climate Change Minister Greg Combet did not comment on Australia's target, but he welcomed the British proposal as evidence that countries around the world were taking climate change seriously.

"The UK experience demonstrates that market mechanisms drive reductions in carbon pollution at least cost while creating new economic opportunities and jobs", he said. Shadow climate minister Greg Hunt said the Opposition would carefully review the British announcement. "I understand there is bipartisan support for Australia's targets to cut emissions". he said.