Wednesday 8 June 2011

Solar panels idle in race for rebate

Sunday Mail Brisbane
29 May 2011, Page: 12

THE solar panels are on but there's no electricity flowing to the homes of hundreds of families who have rushed to have systems installed before federal rebates are slashed by more than $1000. In a desperate attempt to qualify for extra cash, The Sunday Mail has learned some operators have guaranteed homeowners they will install the panels by the end of June. But operators have told them they will have to wait until the new financial year before the systems are operational.

That's because the homes need switchboard upgrades for the system to work, or checks by state electricity authorities. From July 1, the federal solar credits scheme will be reduced, with the average rebate to households installing a 1.5kW system in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide dropping from $6200 to $5000. The Gillard Government's Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator has confirmed the systems do not have to be operational by July 1 to qualify. They simply have to be on the roof and capable of generating electricity.

Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said that after the debacle of the home insulation scheme and Green Loans, the Government should launch an immediate investigation into the scheme. "We do not want unacceptable delays before the solar panels actually generate electricity", Mr Hunt said. "I call on Climate Change Minister Greg Combet to launch an urgent review into these allegations, to report by June 15. "The review should ensure consumer protection, and investigate whether there is any improper or collusive practice. "We don't want solar panels to go the way of Pink Batts".

Carbon debate appeal

Adelaide Advertiser
30 May 2011, Page: 65

A GROUP of 15 energy companies has called for the urgent introduction of an effective price on carbon. In an open letter to major political parties released yesterday, the Clean Energy Council, which represents the 15 energy companies and others in the renewable energy sector, urged federal politicians to participate constructively in the debate on the final form of carbon pricing.

"Australians want action on climate change and a clean energy future", the letter said. "Business wants certainty to invest in more clean energy projects". Clean Energy Council chief Matthew Warren said there was support for emissions reduction of 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

Energy options ignored

West Australian
27 May 2011 Page: 22

The directions paper released recently by the Department of Energy introduces itself as detailing a smarter energy future for West Australians. Lip service is made about cleaner energy, with use of renewable energy sources. However, renewable energy options are repeatedly dismissed with a bias to maintain the continued burning of fossil fuels.

There is also no mention of the looming onset of peak oil.Gas, which is presented as a major player, is also a significant greenhouse gas contributor and in the short term may be of value only if it gets rid of the polluting use of coal in power stations.

Even more alarming is the invitation of coal seam gas frackers to infiltrate WA as part of the plan. Dangers to our health and environment are becoming all apparent from this vile form of mining in other parts of the world and greenhouse pollution resulting is probably the same as with coal because of fugitive methane emissions. Finally, carbon capture and storage is included as a solution but this technology is unproved, costly and would divert resources from development of renewables.

The recommendation of this paper will lock WA into many more years of fossil fuel pollution. Instead, what is needed is a healthy, secure and sustainable energy future and significant reduction of this State's carbon emissions by 2030.

Greg Glazov, Gnangara.

NSW Solar Changes - Industry response

Clean Energy Council
24 May 2011

The NSW Government's solar power decision today will anger many households, but will save more than 5000 jobs in this vital industry, according to the Clean Energy Council. Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Matthew Warren said the O'Farrell Government had been forced to deal with a diabolical policy problem in cleaning up the oversubscribed Solar Bonus Scheme.

The government announced a support package to help solar households in hardship as part of its decision to reduce the feed in tariff from 60¢ to 40¢ and honour existing applications. "The Clean Energy Council argued strongly for the honouring of existing applications, avoiding any cuts to existing household support and the evolution of a new scheme to continue the success of the solar industry in NSW", Mr Warren said.

"Today's announcement shows the Government is committed to sustaining a viable solar industry, but it comes at a terrible price. "The retrospective reduction in the feed in tariff remains unacceptable for solar households and we remain committed to the retention of the existing rate for those who signed up to the scheme in good faith".

More than 40,000 applications lodged with the government under the scheme were on the line and solar companies had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in stock for these new systems. "Failing to honour these deals would immediately send the industry to the wall", Mr Warren said. "There are still significant uncertainties going forward. The survival of the solar industry in Australia remains at stake. "The challenge remains to quickly develop a new scheme that continues to deliver affordable clean energy to NSW households and businesses and continue to build this vital new NSW industry".

Green energy costs 'out of date'

Sydney Morning Herald
26 May 2011, Page: 7

THE federal government and the power industry have massively overestimated the cost of renewable energy, according to new University of Melbourne research, commissioned by the government's own Garnaut climate change review. Forecasts prepared last year for the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism as it helped plan the future electricity network suggest solar and wind power are far more costly than they actually are.

In some cases, rooftop solar panels are already cheaper than the prices they were predicted to fall to in the year 2030. "If you make the international comparisons to the US Department of Energy and the IEA [International Energy Agency], Australia is really relying on information that's very out of date", said Patrick Hearps, a University of Melbourne research fellow and technical director at the group Beyond Zero Emissions. "If you're looking at how we should be planning energy over the next 10 or 20 years, and you are using the data provided to the government, you are not going to be looking at large scale renewables.

You are going to be looking at gas as an interim measure". The report Renewable Energy Technology Cost Review, launched last night, says that the "cost curve", dictating that solar, wind and hydropower power becomes cheaper as more people use it, has dipped more sharply than predicted five years ago, suggesting that billions of investment could be misdirected.

It critiques the most recent assessment of the nation's future energy mix late last year by Australia's electricity generators, which used data developed by the Electric Power Research Institute, a non profit US research organisation funded by energy companies. The report found that photovoltaic panels produce energy at a cost of about $300 a MW the cost predicted for 2030.

Wind power today can cost about $130 a MW, but the generator's data said it would not dip to that price until 2030. solar thermal energy, which can directly replace "baseload" coalfired power, is also dropping quickly in price. The Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, said changes to the cost of renewable energy would be noted.

Airlines back biofuels

26 May 2011, Page: 8

The development of commercially viable and sustainable biofuels is essential for the aviation industry to become carbon neutral by 2020, industry players say. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has earmarked 2020 as the year when the industry will achieve carbon neutral growth. It is targeting 2% annual fuel efficiency improvements from now until then.

Boeing Australia and South Pacific president Ian Thomas says initiatives such as lighter, more aerodynamic aircraft, advances in engine technology and better air traffic control systems will help, but aren't enough to achieve the desired result. "That will probably get us to about half way in terms of our goal of carbon neutrality", Dr Thomas said at the launch of a CSIRO report, Flight Path to Sustainable Aviation, yesterday. "The other half of the picture is biofuels sustainable aviation biofuels. "Not taking farm produce off somebody's plate, but really using byproducts of current industries that don't threaten food stocks".

The CSIRO report was commissioned by the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, which includes Air New Zealand, Qantas and Virgin Australia, as well as aircraft manufactures Boeing and Airbus. The report was also prepared with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and The Climate Group. "Sustainable aviation fuels derived from biomass are a feasible option", the report said. "There is sufficient existing sustainable biomass to support a local bio derived jet fuel industry".

The report says Australia and New Zealand are strongly positioned to produce sustainable aviation fuels that comply with social, environmental and economic criteria. This includes not impacting on food security or the environment. CSIRO economist Paul Graham says sources of biomass include crop stubble, forest residues and urban waste. Potential new sources are grasses, Jatropha seeds and algae, among others.

Climate Group global director of energy Rupert Posner says effectively dealing with climate change means finding solutions that maintain or improve people's quality of life. "Not flying is simply not a solution", he said. The report says turning biomass into jet fuel may generate more than 12,000 jobs in Australia and New Zealand over the next 20 years and reduce aviation fuel imports by $2 billion a year. Crude oil prices are about $US100 a barrel.

The development of a local biofuel production industry requires government support, and Virgin Australia executive Merren McArthur is urging Canberra to get on board. The CSIRO report found the global aviation industry was responsible for 2% of annual greenhouse emissions.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Stricter rules for wind turbines than for coal plants

25 May 2011, Page: 4

WHICH would you rather have built near your home: a wind turbine or a coal power plant? Under Baillieu government policy, it appears you have some say about the former, but not the latter. The Coalition last year said that if elected it would return fairness to a lopsided planning system by not approving a wind turbine within two kilometres of a home without a signed contract with the resident. That policy is yet to be fleshed out.

By contrast, the Environment Protection Authority last week applied state law to grant Melbourne company HRL approval to build a 300 MW coal fuelled plant at Morwell. It would be built within two kilometres of about 250 houses. Lobby group Environment Victoria said the Coalition was making it easier for new electricity generation to come from coal than wind, at odds with national and state climate goals. "It obviously sends the wrong signal when we are trying to clean up the energy supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions", campaigns director Mark Wakeham said.

There was a mixed response yesterday from those living within two kilometres of the proposed plant site.. Catherine, who did not want to give her surname, was not happy about it. "It seems to me that the coal plants they are building are coming closer and closer to the township of Morwell, and that will mean that residents will have to move further out from the town to get away from them".

She said her asthma had worsened since she moved to the Latrobe Valley, and blamed air pollution from the stacks visible from her backyard. "If we get a choice of a wind turbine going in instead of another coal plant, that would certainly be the way to go". Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said people in the valley were used to living near coal fired power stations and did not object to a new one.

Doubt remains whether the plant will be built after the EPA approved a plant only half the size of what the company wanted, and The Saturday Age revealed that Australia's four big banks had refused finance. Federal government documents suggest the plant, trialling new coal gasification technology, needs to be at least 400 MWs to be viable.

About 300 people rallied at State Parliament yesterday to protest against the plant's approval, calling on the federal and state governments to withdraw financial backing. A state government spokeswoman said details of a wind turbine buffer policy were still being developed, but it would be specific to wind farms, not to coal or gas plants.

Monday 6 June 2011

Climate for change

Adelaide Advertiser
25 May 2011, Page: 23

While Australian politicians variously run hot or cold on global warming, our UK motherland is putting its foot down. Carbon emissions there will be halved by 2025, British Prime Minister David Cameron promised last week. This puts our proposed 5% cut in the shade and our bickering very much in the spotlight. Prime Minister Julia Gillard is struggling to get her Parliament to agree global warming is real, never mind what to do about it.

She wants a tax on carbon; Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says that's "toxic" and he wants to plant more trees. Climate Change Minister Greg Combet was gushing after the UK announcement and probably more than a little envious. "The Australian Government welcomes efforts by the UK to increase the level of action it is taking to combat climate change", he said.

University of Adelaide climate change Professor Barry Brook says it would be a good idea to examine the UK energy policy and see how they hope to achieve such steep cuts in emissions. "Britain has come out with an extremely ambitious plan", he says. "They are going to have to have some strong policy underpinning that. "They're going to be picking technologies to drive forward. "One is to build a whole bunch of new nuclear power stations, as well as a large deployment of offshore wind (turbines)".

Australia, on the other hand, has set weak short term targets and stronger longterm targets, in the hope energy policy will be sorted out in the meantime. "There's the climate science imperative and then there's the reality of what Australia can do right now", Professor Brook says. "The White Paper on energy still hasn't materialised and until the carbon tax comes in, an energy plan isn't worth a lot really. "Australia seems to be waiting for all these things to happen before it does anything".

The British Government's 50% target is one giant step in its legally mandated commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030, and 80% by 2050. Most of the world's major economies have given undertakings on what they hope to achieve by 2020. For Australia, it's a 5% reduction on its 2000 emissions. The European Union promises between 20 and 30% on its 1990 levels, Japan and Russia are going for 25% over the same timeframe and the US is aiming for a 17% reduction on 2005 emissions. Britain's energy intensive industries, such as steel manufacturers, are warning the country risks making itself uncompetitive unless other European countries follow its lead.

They have pressured the Government to put in an escape clause that allows for the target to be dumped as early as 2014 if Britain's European partners fail to implement their own CO₂, cuts. Mr Cameron agrees. "It doesn't actually help climate change if you simply drive an energy intensive industry to locate in Poland rather than Britain", he said last week. "We believe that Europe should follow our lead and go for a 30% reduction".

Because Europe yet has to make the same commitment, Mr Cameron has sanctioned a review in 2014 "to make sure that if they are not on that pathway, then we shouldn't put ourselves on it too". The European Union's Climate Action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, says Britain's pledge is "an outstanding example of strong willingness to act despite difficult economic times". On Monday, Australia's Climate Commission declared evidence of global warming "beyond doubt". The commission's report advocates a different "pathway" to emission reductions which would support initially small targets, such as Australia's 5%.

"The budget approach sees far more flexibility so that your emissions might be far larger now, but with a payoff in the future and that's allowed for", says Professor Will Steffen, a climate science expert and the executive director of the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, said. "You could be a big emitter but it's because you are building new infrastructure which in 10 years will see a big reduction in emissions. "It allows more flexible strategies".

Time for physicians to step up campaign on climate change

Canberra Times
Tuesday 24/5/2011 Page: 10

Tony McMichael ("Folly to ignore climate change dangers on health", May 20, p17) is absolutely right in criticising the Royal Australasian College of Physicians for their myopic failure to support a carbon tax. The college is a champion of evidence based medicine in the treatment of individual patients. It also favours increased cigarette pricing for the prevention of tobacco related diseases.

Yet the evidence for human induced climate disruption through increased greenhouse gas emissions from our prodigious combustion of fossil fuels is no less compelling than the links between smoking and disease. Potential climate effects both globally and in Australia are far more widespread and dangerous than tobacco toxicity. The tremendous political and financial clout of the fossil fuel industry promotes misinformation about scientifically well established facts on the impact of CO₂, pollution on the environment, including loss of biodiversity and the health of humans.

The good state of human health and life expectancy, at least in industrialised countries, is predominantly due to the infrastructure of public health measures introduced in the 19th century and immunisation procedures during the 20th century. It is regrettable that the RACP, supposedly an independent professional organisation, is failing to provide leadership on the mitigation of the greatest public health hazard facing Australia and the world in the 21st century, namely anthropogenic global warming.

Bryan Furnass, Hughes

Renewables are key to the future

Tuesday 24/5/2011 Page: 10

THE elephant in the room, or rather the elephant absent from the room where they develop Australian climate policy, is any government declaration of renewable energy programs ("Climate science audit slams skeptics", The Age, 23/5), While the US, Europe, China and India are making firm commitments to renewables through tax and fiscal policies, Australia is reticent, coy or just plain terrified of the fossil fuel bullies when it comes to talking up large scale solar, wind and tidal power generation.

That there has yet to be any commitment as to how the other 50% of the collected carbon tax will be deployed should suggest that it will be used to compensate the same polluters who are causing the problem. That there is not one renewable energy expert on Greg Combet's six person Climate Commission also suggests that the government is window dressing a product that it has no intention of selling.

John Ashton, North Fitzroy