Thursday 23 June 2011

Boom in gas use to push world over 2°C target

Adelaide Advertiser
17 June 2011, Page: 72

THE International Energy Agency has warned that an expected boom in the use of gas for global energy needs would make it impossible for the world to meet current commitments to hold global warming to 2°C. Countries, including Australia, have committed to hold warming to 2°C as it is seen as the threshold beyond which climate impacts are likely to be irreversible and devastating.

In Australia, state and federal governments, as well as the gas industry, have been promoting coal seam gas projects planned for Queensland and New South Wales as a crucial part of tackling climate change as gas fired power stations emit less CO₂, than coal fired ones.

In a special report on gas demand out to 2035, the International Energy Agency said indications were that rising use of natural and unconventional gas such as shale oil and coal seam gas would push annual greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would produce a global average temperature rise of more than 3.5°C.

The IEA report said supply and demand factors pointed to gas accounting for more than 25% of global energy demand by 2035. IEA executive director Nobuo Tanaka said: "While natural gas is the 'cleanest' fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change".

Mr Tanaka said that to stay on a path to hold warming to 2°C, the gas boom would have to be accompanied by a rollout of as yet unproven technology to catch and permanently store CO₂, emissions from gas fired power stations in sites deep underground or beneath the sea.

There would also have to be big increases in energy efficiency, but he warned there was a risk the gas boom could steal investment from low carbon energy sources such as solar and wind.

The IEA also said the production outlook of unconventional gas resources, such as coal seam gas, "is uncertain as the use of hydraulic fracturing to produce unconventional gas has raised environmental concerns and tested existing regulatory regimes". It said adhering to best practices in production "can mitigate potential environmental risks, such as excessive water use, contamination and disposal".

But the IEA said unconventional gas produces more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gas.

Australian households call for help on energy savings

Clean Energy Council
20 June 2011

Australian households want more support to save energy and money on their electricity bills but don't know where to turn, according to new research completed by Auspoll for the Clean Energy Council.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Matthew Warren said 95% of those polled said they were very concerned or quite concerned by rising energy costs. "It doesn't have to be this way. With the right support, households can be empowered to make big savings on their energy bills – and without comprising their quality of life," he said.

"The results are encouraging - 89% of people surveyed were willing to take actions to use less energy and 73% wanted more information on energy savings. But 57% of the population had little or no awareness of government programs and about half knew little or nothing at all about key aspects of their energy use. "The most effective way for governments to protect households from rising electricity costs is to implement effective energy savings programs, but these also need to be accompanied by targeted education campaigns," he said.

Mr Warren said introducing a carbon price in Australia was a first critical step towards de-carbonising the economy, but needed to be accompanied by national energy efficiency policies to support households and businesses through the transition. "Almost 90% of those polled said if the Federal Government implements a carbon tax it should make sure the community is supported and able to save on their bills. Australian households will be better off under a carbon price with the right support.

"Importantly, 74% of those polled support retailers being responsible for ensuring households use energy more efficiently. This confirms public support for the establishment of a National Energy Savings Initiative, an initiative which has been backed by a cross section of industry, welfare and environment groups," he said.

The Clean Energy Council has been calling on the Federal Government to implement:

  • A National Energy Savings Initiative, which provides an incentive for energy retailers to deliver energy savings
  • An energy efficiency program for low income households funded by carbon price revenue
  • A co-ordinated education and behaviour change campaign with State Governments, energy retailers and welfare and industry groups to ensure there is a clear message reaching households.
  • A mandatory assessment program for residential buildings.
  • The polling also showed strong support for Government energy savings programs. Even with the intense negative media attention, 82% of people that participated in the Federal Government's home insulation program were happy they were involved.

The key findings from the Auspoll research are:

  • 5% concerned or very concerned about rising energy costs
  • 89% willing to take action to use less energy
  • 73% wanted more information on how they could save energy
  • 57% knew little or nothing about government programs available. 50% knew little or nothing about key aspects of their energy use
  • 74% support energy retailers being responsible for ensuring households use their energy more efficiently
  • 88% said if a carbon tax is introduced, the community should be supported and able to save on their bills.

Price on carbon is a low-cost way to meet emission targets

16 June 2011, Page: 17

The public discussion in recent months has narrowed the range of serious debate about greenhouse gas mitigation in Australia. It is a while since any but the fringe dwellers of Australian public policy debate have denied that there is a warming trend. Nor is there now much serious denial that there is a substantial human contribution to that trend.

The excellent Productivity Commission report has settled the question of whether other countries are taking action to reduce the risks of dangerous climate change. It has also played a significant role in what is now a decisive victory for carbon pricing over regulatory intervention in the battle of ideas. Carbon pricing happens to be the low cost way to meet national targets, but if some countries want to shoot themselves in the foot by doing things in an expensive way, they are free to do so.

But in this world, in which each country is reducing emissions in its own way, how do we work out what is a fair contribution from each? The Productivity Commission was not asked, and did not seek, to answer that question. A few commentators who sought to draw an implication that the commission's report contradicted my statement that Australia was a laggard were wide of the mark.

My 2011 review update proposes that Australia should not seek to be a leader in global emissions reductions. We are too far behind many countries for that to be a realistic aspiration. I suggest we aim to be in the middle of the developed countries, so long as developing countries broadly contribute their fair shares.

To determine the middle for developed countries and a reasonable contribution from developing countries, we need some clearly defined principles for allocation. I have proposed a "modified contraction and convergence" formula that would require gradual movement from current levels of emissions per person to equal emissions per person in the middle of the century.

This formula is consistent with emerging international approaches. It is likely to draw widespread international support so long as it is backed by measures for adaptation and mitigation in lower income developing countries. Its provision for larger entitlements with population growth makes it as good for Australia as plausible alternatives. The allocation relates to entitlements that can be traded among countries.

Australia stands out for the modesty of our ambition, with our bipartisan unconditional target of reducing emissions by 5% by 2020. We also stand out for how much our emissions are increasing relative to our modest unconditional target. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency estimates that, with all the existing policies in place the mandatory renewable energy target, solar programs and other measures our emissions will grow by 24% by 2020.

Since those estimates were made on 2020 emissions under current policies we've had several gas liquefaction projects announced that would take that number higher still. If the world were to take effective action towards the agreed objective of holding temperature increases to about 2° above pre industrial levels, our fair share under the review's formula would require reductions of emissions by 25% by 2020 and 90% by 2050. Our share would be lower for less ambitious global action.

Could you compare effort in other ways, for example by looking at carbon prices across countries? All countries do not have carbon pricing, so we cannot compare actual carbon prices. The Productivity Commission report demonstrates that it is impractical to compare "implicit" carbon prices. It's hard to calculate because there are so many different policies.

It's also difficult because policies that reduce emissions often have many motives. The Productivity Commission describes how China has reduced emissions greatly from where they would have been through its forced closure of small, environmentally and economically wasteful power generators, and replaced them with technologically superior plants. This is called the "Large Substitute for Small" scheme.

The commission excludes actions under this scheme because they are profitable and so should have been taken independently of concern for climate change. It is only this exclusion that allows the judgment that Australia's effort in the electricity sector is comparable with China's: include it, and our effort is much smaller than China's.

Similarly, the commission excludes energy efficiency measures because they should be undertaken without concern for climate change policy. Yet in many countries, including China, climate change has been a central reason for raising the priority of energy efficiency. There's another complication of using price to measure comparable effort. You can do things that are expensive but that do little to reduce emissions. If you count the cost of a program then it might put its up fairly high in terms of effort but in terms of the effect on emissions it's fairly low.

Photovoltaic electricity has a great future but policies we have used to promote it in Australia are exceptionally expensive. Again, what matters is the effect on emissions. We don't want to give countries credit through implicit pricing for a lot of expensive action that's not reducing emissions.

What matters is the reduction in emissions. This drives us back to looking at what is really happening to emissions against some standard for allocating the emissions reduction task among countries. By this standard, Australia is a laggard. Carbon pricing and support for innovation in new technologies will allow Australia to catch up without putting prosperity at risk.

Ross Garnaut is author of the Garnaut Review 2011: Australia in the Global Response to Climate Change.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Chevron told to cut its gases

16 June 2011, Page: 5

Chevron has been told to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and give greater consideration to whale migrations if it wants to proceed with its Wheatstone LNG project off Western Australia's north west coast. The recommendations were among several delivered by the WA Environment Protection Authority as it granted conditional approval to the massive project. EPA approval was one of the main hurdles between Chevron and development of the 25 million tonnes a year gas project, expected to reach a final investment decision before the end of this year.

The EPA found the project would produce about 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, which would increase Australia's emissions profile by just under 2%. Chevron was told to improve its emissions profile to match those achieved by rival Woodside Petroleum at the Pluto LNG project. The EPA also found Chevron had given insufficient attention to the project's effect on some protected species, and told it to take extra measures to reduce the impact of noise on humpback whales and of light on turtles. The EPA said environmental damage could be kept to acceptable levels if the precautions were heeded.

Big support for 100% green energy

Adelaide Advertiser
16 June 2011, Page: 6

A MAJORITY of Australians want the nation to move towards 100% renewable energy, a survey suggests. Renewable energy campaigners spent three months door knocking and meeting people at shopping centres to secure 14,000 responses. They found that 86% want Australia to be powered entirely by renewable energy and 91% want the Government to drive the movement. Greens deputy leader Christine Milne accepted the survey on behalf of the multi party climate change committee.

Leadership is needed to build low carbon future

Sydney Morning Herald
15 June 2011, Page: 14

It is time Australia developed a long and lasting solution to climate change. Our nation needs to act now to build a better, cleaner and more sustainable future for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

It is time to move forward in a constructive way that helps Australia reduce its greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining our quality of life. Australia's per capita emissions are the highest in the OECD and among the highest in the world. It is our responsibility to find a solution. We abrogate that responsibility and leadership when it's said we must wait for others before acting.

Doing something to tackle climate change in Australia is poised at a critical point. Progress has been stalled before and might be thwarted again. Delayed action is a backward step and a costly one for all Australians. There is a range of actions we must and can take to reduce our emissions. Many of these opportunities can be undertaken now, using existing technologies and without changing our lifestyle.

A price on carbon is fundamental to substantially reducing emissions and driving the development and growth of a low carbon economy. We are a country of innovators and given the incentives new sustainable industries will flourish. We are asking all Australians to demand leadership on this issue so together we can take the first steps towards building a low carbon future.

Professor David de Krester, Ian Kiernan, Dr Fiona Stanley, Dr Pat McGorry, Peter Cundall, Sir Gus Nossal, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Infigen sells German wind assets

15 June 2011, Page: 41

Infigen Energy has agreed to sell its wind power assets in Germany to a European fund for 154.6 million ($210m). The wind farm developer was awaiting German regulatory approval that could take 30 days, it said.

The company said it would provide more details on the sale of the assets, which have a capacity of 128.7 MWs, when the transaction was completed. Infigen Energy scrapped a plan in April last year to sell the German assets and later that month abandoned an effort to sell its US wind power business after failing to attract high enough bids.

The company, formerly known as Babcock and Brown Wind Partners, is focusing on Australian wind power projects as Canberra moves towards a target of generating 20% of the nation's power from renewable sources by 2020.

The renewable energy developer, whose shares have dropped 62% in Sydney trading in the past 12 months, would not pay a dividend in the 2012 and 2013 financial year ends in order to help fund its expansion in Australia, Infigen Energy said in a separate statement. The company would give an update on future distributions be fore the end of 2013, according to the statement.

It still expected to complete construction of the Woodlawn Wind Farm at Tarago, 250km south of Sydney, by this year. Energy generated by the project could power 23,000 homes and help NSW meet rising electricity demand, it said. The company is also competing for funding from Australia's $1.5 billion solar initiative. Infigen Energy and Suntech Power Holdings Co of China are among companies picked to advance in the contest.

Numbers don't lie, but they can be used and abused

The Saturday Age
11 June 2011, Page: 12

It's a healthy sign that the numbers in Australia's ever simmering climate change debate are being disputed less and less. It used to be that these things went in cycles as soon as it became temporarily untenable to argue that the world had been getting cooler since 1998, someone else would start banging on about the uselessness of computer climate modelling, or maybe the urban "heat island" effect fooling our thermometers.

But now that carbon price legislation is looming, the real argument is about how people frame the numbers.Take the old chestnut of Australia's role in reducing global emissions. We pump out roughly 1.3% of human generated greenhouse gas emissions.

It is easy to make this number seem small. When broadcaster Alan Jones chanted "Oh, oh, oh, oh, point one eight of a% give me a break, Doc!" to climate scientist Professor David Karoly on radio a couple of weeks ago, it may have been wrong but it was an efficient way of delivering a rhetorical point.

But there are other ways of framing this same set of numbers. Australia's contribution to global emissions, from an environmentally conscious and thinly populated country of 22.6 million, is about 40% the total of the greenhouse bill of the entire continent of Africa. Africa has a billion people, it contains teeming, polluted cities and its resource sector has no lack of emissions intensive, trade exposed industry. Suddenly, 1.3% starts to sound a lot bigger.

Compared with Africans, Australians don't have a great deal to complain about. The Productivity Commission report released by the federal government this week makes it crystal clear that we are not exactly surging ahead when it comes to emissions abatement.

Nevertheless, sections of Australian industry continue to harp on about Australia's special brand of first world problems. We heard from the Minerals Council of Australia that the "gaping hole" in the Productivity Commission's work was the lack of a clear comparison with international competitors, such Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and South Africa.

The Australian Coal Association "assured" us that no other competitor nation was imposing costs on the fugitive emissions from its coalmines. How much additional cost would a $20 carbon price impose on a tonne of coal again? It's about $1.60 a tonne for thermal coal that sells for $120 a tonne, and the same for metallurgical coal that sells for about $300 a tonne.

But there was one example of climate change rent seeking this week that deserves a closer look. It happened in New South Wales, where an alliance of solar panel installers was able to convince the state government to perform an impressive backflip on its plan to retrospectively slash the state's solar feed in tariff from 60¢ to 40¢. NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher said it had left a $759 million hole in future budgets. In the interests of responsible fiscal management, it would have to go.

In retaliation, the industry got the government's figures audited by a respectable source, Ernst & Young. The government counter attacked with a surprise warning about the safety of the state's solar panels. Then the solar industry did some cross checking and found that the safety risk had been extrapolated from a single survey in northern NSW, based on flaws found in just three sets of panels. The government just looked silly. The solar installers prevailed by framing the debate around the numbers.

Australia now has the Productivity Commission report as a frame of reference for comparing the numbers on greenhouse gas cuts. It shows what most in industry have been talking about for years that a carbon price is the simplest, cheapest way of getting us back in the race.

Court action clouds new power plant

Herald Sun
11 June 2011, Page: 30

CONSTRUCTION of a new brown coal and gas power plant for Victoria could be on hold for a year as environment groups launch legal action. The Environment Protection Authority last month allowed HRL Dual Gas to go ahead with its dual brown coal and gas demonstration plant at Morwell in the Latrobe Valley. The plant was granted partial approval for a 300 MW plant, not the 600 MW plant HRL had proposed.

EPA chief executive John Merritt said the project would produce electricity with a 30% improvement on current greenhouse gas emissions from coalfired power stations, a "significantly better environmental outcome than other plants". The Environment Defenders Office launched an appeal against the EPA decision at VCAT on Friday, on behalf of Environment Victoria and climate action group Locals Into Victoria's Environment. They argue that the plant does not meet best practice standards for electricity generation because it was compared with other coal fired power stations, rather than cleaner technologies.

The challenge also argues that approval of the plant is inconsistent with state and federal environmental policies, including a Victorian Government target to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020. Environment Defenders Office lawyer Felicity Millner said the legal process could take up to a year, during which time construction of the plant could not go ahead. Ms Millner said the case was an important test of how well the law was protecting the environment in regard to climate change.

"There is no judicial precedent in relation to how the EPA should approach best practice, whether it should compare it against brown coal or all forms of electricity generation", she said. "There is also nothing saying how much weight the EPA has to give to state and federal policies on climate change when they are making their decision. "The Act is directed at pollution we were concerned about 40 years ago, it's not really well equipped, I don't think, to deal with issues like climate change".

Environment Victoria campaign director Mark Wakeham said the law had not caught up with the 21st century and the plant should be rejected. At the time of the plant's approval, HRL signalled a possible appeal, issuing a written statement that it had concerns with the EPA's 300 MW alternative. HRL did not return calls yesterday and the EPA declined to comment.

Monday 20 June 2011

Committee set to call for wind farm location restrictions

Canberra Times
14 June 2011, Page: 2

A Senate committee report into the social and economic impact of wind farms, to be issued today, is expected to call for greater restrictions on where turbines can be built. The inquiry, established last October by the Independent senator Steve Fielding, attracted 900 submissions the majority of which support rural wind farms and renewable energy in general.

But about a third of the public submissions argue wind turbines have adverse health affects on people living nearby, and point to "wind turbine syndrome", under which some people report having headaches and nausea as a result of the sound of spinning turbine blades.

A report into the syndrome by the National Health and Medical Research Council found last year there was "no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects", and other government studies have reached the same conclusion.

But these reports were attacked during a Senate hearing in March for relying on government and industry data. The inquiry also addressed questions about the impact on rural property values, job opportunities and faun income. While some advertisements for properties with turbines are now including the revenue as a selling point, many of the submissions say that turbines ruin the character of an area, and drive away tourists.

Former television chef Peter Russell Clarke has been campaigning against the development of a wind farm near Tooborac, north of Melbourne. "The social impact is horrendous", Mr Russell Clarke said in his submission. "The economic impact in an area which depends on tourists is shattered by the intrusion on the landscape of 300 feet [91m] wind turbines,., Medical teams are cataloguing evidence of the adverse effect of noise and vibrations emitted by wind turbines on people who live near them".

Of the 900 submissions received, about 54% were supportive of wind farms, 39% negative and 7% confidential or neutral. The Clean Energy Council, a body which represents many of the major wind farm industry players, said it had encouraged its members to make submissions to the inquiry.

Across the nation, there are 54 wind farms with a total of 1092 turbines, with many more planned and being assessed by state planning bodies. As of this month, the combined output of all existing wind farms during the course of a year is 1993 MWs, enough energy to power 800,000 average Australian households for a year.

Carbon price delay slows projects

14 June 2011, Page: 6

AUSTRALIAN institutional investors, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, are trailing their European counterparts in funding projects to tackle climate change because of delays getting a carbon price established. In a global survey of 90 firms owning and managing assets of $12 trillion Australian respondents said they were eager to develop an approach to climate change in their investment decisions but the uncertainty around domestic policy was an impediment.

Chief executive of the Australian based Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC), Nathan Fabian, said yesterday that his members were "actively preparing to invest [in climate projects]. But there is no doubt a lack of clarity over a carbon price is impeding investment".

Of the total assets managed or owned by the firms surveyed for the report, on average 0.3% were invested in climate change projects such as renewable energy and clean technologies. European firms led the way, investing 0.5% of assets in climate change related projects, with Australian firms following on 0.3% and US firms lagging behind on 0.1%.

The survey conducted by three international climate change investor networks, including the IGCC also found that Australian firms had a growing recognition of the physical impacts of climate change exacerbated by the recent droughts and flooding, especially in real estate and major infrastructure investments.

The investor report follows last week's Productivity Commission review showing Australia falling behind Germany and Britain in investing in carbon abatement from the power sector, but roughly in line with China and the US. A domestic carbon price is being negotiated between the government, Greens and independents, with more meetings between the groups expected this week.

The government will also hold a meeting with its business roundtable on climate change on Friday as it hammers out a compensation package for industry under a carbon tax. The Gillard government will today release a snapshot of potential climate change impacts in Victoria. The snapshot warns that climate change could drive days over 35° in Melbourne from the current nine a year to up to 26 by 2070.

In Mildura, days over 35° may increase from 32 days currently to 76. The extra hot days could drive up heat related deaths but would decrease deaths related to cold weather, more prevalent in Victoria. Rising temperatures could also drive more days of high and extreme bushfire risks, the snapshot shows.

Origin leaves green council

Adelaide Advertiser
8 June 2011, Page: 66

Origin Energy has decided against renewing its membership of the nation's peak clean energy industry body, but a spokeswoman says the company remains committed to the deployment of renewable energy technologies. The spokeswoman for the company said Origin Energy "has not at this stage renewed its membership of the Clean Energy Council" but "will continue to explore avenues of involvement with the Clean Energy Council in the future, and support its initiatives".

The Clean Energy Council says it is the peak clean energy industry advocacy group with more than 500 members. Its 18 top tier sponsoring members, including TRUEnergy, AGL Energy, BP Solar, Beacon Lighting and Pacific Hydro, pay $48,950 a year to join. This membership gets them a place on the council's key policy and advocacy advisory committee along with seats on up to five CEC directorates and 20 annual general meeting votes. Origin Energy is a large investor in renewable energy, including solar, wind and geothermal, and lower emission gas is also a key part of the company's portfolio.

It is still a member of other energy industry groups, the Energy Supply Association of Australia and Energy Retailers Association of Australia, but has also withdrawn from the National Generator's Forum. The CEC's primary focus is to advocate policy development at the federal and state levels of government.