Thursday 11 August 2011

Second wind for city's four new turbines

Hobart Mercury
4 August 2011, Page: 9

FOUR replacement wind turbines may be fastened on to the roof of Hobart's Marine Board building in less than two weeks. The Chinese-built turbines will look similar to those that failed spectacularly in August last year, about a month after they were installed. But project manager Keith Drew, acting for the building's owner Robert Rockefeller, said the turbines' braking systems had been extensively redesigned.

Mr Drew said the electro-mechanical brakes would allow the turbines to turn only when wind conditions were right. "By default the brakes will now be on unless all safety systems are operating properly", he said. Installation contractor I Want Energy yesterday began preparatory roof work. The pedestrian footpath on the eastern side of Mawson Place will be closed next week as the all-new vertical-axis turbines are assembled.

Weather permitting, the turbines will be lifted on to the building on August 14, but Mr Drew said it was not clear how long it would take before they were fully operational. "This new system of check and triple check, along with the redesigned control systems of the wind turbines, means the installation is now as safe as we can possibly make it, but we will only fully recommission the turbines once we are confident they operate as they are supposed to", he said.

Hobart City Council aldermen Ron Christie, Peter Sexton and Marti Zucco said they weren't convinced the new turbines would be safe. They said similar assurances had been given for the previous failed set of turbines. On August 11 last year nearby roads were closed when those turbines spun out of control in 50kmh winds, causing blades to collapse inwards after the brakes failed.

"There could have been a fatality", Aid Sexton said. "How it was that Workplace Standards Tasmania approved it in the first place, that's a very big and important question". He said turbines should not be allowed in cities until there was a certified Australian standard for their installation.

Nothing fair or smart about solar bungling

West Australian
3 August 2011, Page: 20

The only thing saving the Barnett Government from a "pink batts" backlash over its comprehensive bungling of the rooftop solar panels scheme is scale. Luckily, the industry the Government poleaxed this week is smaller than that represented by the home insulation contractors the Rudd government ruined and there are fewer householders directly harmed.

But measuring your disasters against those of the past two Federal Labor governments can hardly be recommended as political best practice. The Liberal Party went to the last State election promising voters they would get a payment of 60¢ for every kW of electricity their rooftop panels fed into the power grid. It was the sort of political greenwash that has now become commonplace in Australian politics, playing on the good nature of those who want to "save the planet".

The essential difference was that this promise made commercial sense to those who liked the idea. It wasn't just green. It offered many people a real opportunity to cut their power bills. But the 60¢ tariff was such a fundamental misreading of the economics of our renewable energy future that it calls into question the Government's ability to deal with the new realities that the carbon tax will foist on the nation next year.

The renewable energy sector confirmed this week that the Australian Photo Voltaic Association told the WA Government in 2007 that a fair feed-in price was between 130-160. Why was that advice ignored? Who came up with the 60¢ tariff and why? When the promise finally made its way into the 2009 Budget, the Government set aside $13.5 million over four years.

By the time Energy Minister Peter Collier axed the program hastily on Monday morning, after this newspaper exposed its imminent demise "within weeks", its cost had blown out to $127 million. That is a massive bungle. And it was despite the fact that the Government had already dudded punters on its original tariff promise by reducing the starting price to 40¢ and then further cutting to 20¢ to try to contain its growth within the 150 MW quota.

Those people not frightened off by the Government's meddling who still want to go ahead with rooftop solar panels will now be offered a 7¢ return by" target="_blank">Synergy Energy or Horizon. That tariff is laughably based on the cost of coal-fired power to the energy retailers and means that new entrants selling their solar electricity into the grid are effectively subsidising the State Government.

Why would anyone pay thousands of dollars for a solar system that feeds cheap electricity into the grid for negligible return while they are at work only to have to pay peak power rates for fossil fuelled energy when they come home in the evening and turn on their air-conditioning? Members of the WA solar panel industry met last week, fearing the 150 MW cap would be reached soon, not knowing whether the Government intended to extend the scheme on the basis of its unrivalled success.

"The Government has failed to consult with the industry on the ensuing changes, and this has made it very difficult for any business to plan effectively" Ray Wills, chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Association, said after Monday's brutal decision. "The renewable energy industry continues to be plagued by government decisions that lead to boom-bust cycles and fail to provide the conditions needed to grow the industry sustainably.

"While the SEA expects solar PV is likely to hit retail grid parity potentially by 2014-15, this interim period without some form of price support is likely to significantly erode the value and capability of the industry. The industry does not seek subsidies, just a fair price to be paid for consumers' exported electricity The provision of a fair price will create greater certainty and restore the confidence of solar installers to invest in growing their businesses, and consumers the confidence to buy". The raw politics of this decision are poisonous for the Barnett Government in the current economic climate.

Not only has it axed a program for being too popular a political non sequitur but it is seen to be stopping people from limiting their exposure to ever-increasing power price rises. Economic rationalists will rightly argue that home solar panels do not stack up in any direct comparison with commercial power generators.

The Productivity Commission found that a medium solar outfit produced power for around $400-$473/ MW compared with coal-fired electricity at $78-$91, combined-cycle gas turbines at $97 and wind turbines from $150-$214. But that doesn't take into account that private individuals are bearing the capital cost of the system and it frees up capacity in the existing low-cost State-owned generating system.

A well-priced feed-in tariff within a well-managed program with a realistic and expandable cap would have ensured a steady flow of privately sourced solar power at a lower cost than the Government could arrange through its own means to meet its renewable energy commitments. It is unlikely that the State will be able to extricate itself from ownership of its energy business any time soon. So its needs to get a lot smarter about how it handles the shift to renewables.

Solar solution missed

Herald Sun
3 August 2011, Page: 29

FLYING into Melbourne recently I was struck by the number of warehouse buildings with possibly thousands of hectares of north-facing roofs. Today I read that New York City is preparing a hyper accurate map to assess the building-by-building potential for solar panel installation.

So here's an idea: Could an entrepreneur, a solar power company and an electricity generator or retailer join forces to install large-scale solar power systems on warehouse roofs? Rental in the form of free or reduced-cost electricity could be paid to the warehouse owner, with excess energy being sold back into the grid. Has anyone done the numbers?

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Barnett axed solar power scheme to kill off a rush

West Australian
2 August 2011, Page: 12

The State Government was forced to shut its popular solar panel subsidy scheme yesterday to prevent a "run" on it from householders who feared they might miss out, Premier Colin Barnett said. A day after saying the feed-in-tariff scheme, which pays households for electricity from rooftop solar panels fed into the energy grid, was "being monitored", Energy Minister Peter Collier suspended it. The West Australian reported yesterday that the scheme would soon hit the Government's 150 MW capacity cap, imposed to prevent the cost getting out of control.

The industry believed the cap would be hit within weeks but Mr Collier, after discussing the issue with Mr Barnett yesterday, suspended it immediately. "The decision had to be made", Mr Barnett said. "It was on the front page of The West Australian. "Once that appeared we had to act, otherwise there would have been a run on the scheme".

The scheme has been slashed twice before and the industry and Opposition said ending it would cost hundreds of jobs. Mr Barnett conceded the Government could not say how much capacity had been approved for the scheme before yesterday, but he believed it had just about reached the cap.

Despite being forced to cancel new applications just 11 months after the scheme began, Mr Collier continued to insist it had been "phenomenally successful". Shadow energy minister Kate Doust said the decision made no sense and the Government had no credibility on the environment. "It's going to put further pressure on families who wanted to cut back on their power bills", she said.

Sustainable Energy Association chief Ray Wills said the scheme was axed without warning and would likely have significant short-term negative effects on the solar installation industry, He said the Government failed to consult the industry and this made it difficult to plan. Professor Wills said the renewable energy industry was plagued by government decisions that caused boom and bust cycles that did not let it grow sustainably.

NZ trading scheme slashes carbon emissions

Tuesday 2/8/2011 Page: 5

NEW Zealand's emissions trading scheme has helped boost investment in renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a review by the country's conservative government. It also appears to have won over a sceptical business community, with 63% of companies saying in submissions to a government panel they backed the climate scheme. Two years ago 78% were opposed.

Speaking in Wellington, New Zealand Climate Change Minister Nick Smith said there had been a "marked and positive shift" in business attitudes to the scheme. "This reflects the value of certainty the fact that critics overstated the costs of the scheme and the careful approach the government has taken to the transitional arrangements", he said.

While support for the scheme has grown, Dr Smith said it should be noted that 60% of businesses still argued the scheme should be slowed down. Only 15% wanted it sped up. He said the New Zealand National Party government hoped there would be a trans-Tasman carbon market with Australia after 2015. "The debate in New Zealand and in Australia on putting a price on carbon has been pretty ferocious, but it is a vital first step to the change we need to make as a society towards a low-carbon economy", Dr Smith said.

The first annual report into the NZ scheme which was largely based on former prime minister Kevin Rudd's abandoned emissions trading system found it had "performed to expectations". Nearly 80% of energy generation last year came from renewable sources a 12-year high that reflected both the impact of the carbon price and increased rainfall allowing greater use of hydropower power. Twelve new renewable energy plants were approved in 2010 five times the annual average across the past decade.

In forestry, incentives to maintain existing forests and invest in new plantations turned a net loss of about 18,000 hectares of trees in 2007 turned to an expected net increase of 5700 hectares this year. Dr Smith said national emissions had fallen for two consecutive years for the first time since 1990. The scheme included forestry from January 2008. Energy plants, large industry and transport were covered from July 2010, but initially pay a discounted carbon price of about $10 a tonne of gas emitted less than half the proposed Australian starting price of $23 a tonne.

Reactor must go - PM for clean power

Sunday Mail Brisbane
31 July 2011, Page: 42

JAPAN'S Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, has pledged a "revolutionary" shift away from atomic power and towards renewable energy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. His cabinet also agreed on a plan to rebuild after the quake and tsunami disaster of March 11, saying reconstruction would cost Y19 trillion ($222 billion) over five years. The embattled premier has been fighting calls to resign amid rock-bottom poll ratings.

He was speaking as more than 180,000 people in Niigata region and Fukushima were moved to evacuation centres after rains triggered floods that left five missing. "We have made a significant decision on energy policy, including nuclear power", Mr Kan said. "As a medium-term revolutionary energy and environmental strategy, we have decided to start a thorough review of nuclear power policy and draw a roadmap for a reduction of the dependence on nuclear power. "The Japanese government will aim for a society that does not depend on nuclear power".

Mr Kan, a one-time environmental activist, has pledged to boost alternative energy sources to 20% of the nation's energy mix by the 2020s. They currently make up about 9%. Medium-term goals until 2020 should include decentralised energy systems, with reduced nuclear use, he said.