Tuesday 30 August 2011

Councils join wind revolution

Sunday Tasmanian
21 August 2011, Page: 14

SEVERAL well known locations near Hobart have been identified as having the right conditions for a southern Tasmanian wind farm proposal. They include Mt Wellington, Collinsvale, Eaglehawk Neck and Nubeena, where wind speeds are considered to have suitable strength and consistency. Other locations were identified in the state's South but are unlikely to be seriously considered because of their remoteness. They include Maatsuyker, Maria and Tasman Islands, Cape Bruny, Hartz Mountain, Scotts Peak Dam and Liawenee. All of the locations are listed in a report conducted by Environ Australia for the Hobart City Council.

HCC alderman Bill Harvey described the report as an ABC of wind farms compiled to get southern councils thinking about the possibility of a jointly-owned wind farm. A farm with seven two MW wind turbines would be needed to offset the greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity consumption of all southern councils. Three turbines of the same size could offset the HCC's electricity consumption, while one turbine would offset the impact of street lighting. Sites within a 120km radius of Hobart were considered. To be suitable for an efficient wind farm, a site should have an average annual wind speed of at least 5.5m/s at ground level.

The Environ Australia report says a council-owned wind farm is economically feasible for the South, mainly because of the projected increase in the price of Renewable Energy Certificates beyond 2014. However, it points to the need for community acceptance of any wind farm proposal, the capacity of the electricity grid to accommodate the development, planning and infrastructure constraints and the impact of the wind farm on council resources.

Ald Harvey said the next stage of planning would be more specialised and include a more specific search for a likely location. "This is a good initial report, especially to give to other councils to encourage them to be part of it", he said. Ald Harvey said it would be difficult for Hobart or any other council to go it alone on a wind farm. "One of the main points we need to consider is that if we want to get federal funding, especially funding associated with the carbon tax, we need to be looking at this project as a region", he said. "If we do it individually, it doesn't have the same clout. We hope the other councils realise it's important to do it as a region".

Ald Harvey said the successful placement and construction of a wind farm would rely on gaining community support, particularly from residents in the area where the facility was constructed. "It comes down to what's the best location with regard to threatened species, wind resource and community acceptance. They are the main factors we need to be considering", he said. In July the Hobart City Council posted letters to other southern councils asking them to commit to further investigation. Glenorchy Mayor Adriana Taylor said her council was supportive of the idea, but could not currently spare any money for wind farm studies.

However, Ald Taylor said this could change if more federal funding for renewable energy projects became available after the introduction of the carbon tax. "We really commend Hobart City Council for taking the lead on this, because we think it's a great idea, but at the moment we don't have money in our budget to support it financially", she said. Kingborough Mayor Graham Bury said his council supported further investigation into a wind farm, but would not contribute any money for further reports yet.

Southern Midlands Mayor Tony Bisdee said he could see the potential of a councils'-owned wind farm which could bring benefits to rural areas. This week, the Tasman Council will vote on a motion to support the Hobart City Council's investigations. Mayor Jan Barwick said she thought councillors would vote in favour of joining a working group to delve further into the proposal. With three sites within her coastal municipality identified as having a usable wind resource, Cr Barwick said the siting issue on any wind farm would be a complex local process.

Geraldton to go solar

West Australian
23 August 2011, Page: 13

Most Geraldton homes could be powered by solar power as early as 2014 if a proposed $200 million hybrid solar and diesel power station is given the go-ahead. Investment bank Investec Bank has submitted a planning application for a station 10km east of the city that would be one of Australia's biggest solar plants outside the Federal Government's $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program. The facility is expected to generate 100,000 MWs of electricity each year, or enough to power about 18,000 homes.

Mark Schneider, from Investec Bank, said it made sense to invest in solar power in Geraldton because the city required more power and also supported sustainable development. Mr Schneider said a decision on whether to proceed with the project is due next year. He said the carbon tax would help make the project more viable but the biggest driver was the Federal Government's renewable energy target of 20% by 2020.

IKEA U.K. Buys Scottish Wind-Power Plant

18 August 2011

IKEA is beginning to act almost Google-like in its far-reaching pursuit of sustainability. The worldwide home-furnishing retailer, already big on rooftop solar, has now bought itself a wind-power plant in northern Scotland as part of its "IKEA Goes Renewable" initiative.

IKEA UK's newly purchased12.3 MW ( MW) capacity wind-power producer is in Huntly, Aberdeenshire. The plant consists of seven wind turbines, each rated at 1.75 MW. Annual production is pegged at 24.7 million kW hours ( kW) of electricity, the equivalent to the electricity consumption of five IKEA stores, or 30% of the company's total electricity consumption in the United Kingdom.

IKEA is also investing close to £4 million in fitting over 39,000 photovoltaic solar panels to the rooftops of 10 IKEA stores in the UK The panels will provide, on average, 5% of each store's electricity needs, or almost enough energy to power around half of one of the company's 18 UK-based stores with solar power alone.

The solar installations are expected to be completed by March 2012. The solar panels will generate around 1,600,000 kW per year, enough to power 492 homes. Built to operate effectively for 25 years, it is anticipated that the solar panels will reduce IKEA UK's CO₂ consumption on average by 662 tons per year during this first 25 years of the installations' operation.

Monday 29 August 2011

Seam gas: CEO still uncertain

19 August 2011, Page: 8

ONE of Australia's top energy chiefs has conceded that there is still significant uncertainty about emissions from coal seam gas, as controversy continues to plague the fledgling industry. The concession by Origin Energy CEO Grant King came amid disputed claims over carbon emissions released by CSG, and as a gas conference in Sydney was marred by protests.

Greens MPs have challenged the conventional wisdom that gas gives off about half as much greenhouse gas as coal when burned for fuel. They claim the release of "fugitive" emissions under coal seam gas extraction renders gas almost as polluting as coal once the "full life cycle" is considered.

Mr King said there was no doubt that conventional gas was less polluting than coal, but conceded that evidence about the pollution rates from CSG was "less readily available". "This is in part because interest in the issue has only arisen recently and in part because actual results will vary according to specific plant and equipment being used by different owners and operators along the supply chain", he said.

Woodside Petroleum chief executive Peter Coleman said he was yet to see a business case that could lure the Perth company into alternative forms of gas such as CSG. But after years working in the US for Exxon-Mobil, Mr Coleman said he had noticed that communities were less hostile to alternative forms of gas when landowners shared in the rewards. WA Premier Colin Barnett has suggested that close to half Australia's power needs should be generated by gas, but Mr Coleman said that was unlikely to happen until the domestic market was willing to pay as much for gas as export markets were.

Solar energy cost hits par with coal fuel

Sydney Morning Herald
18 August 2011, Page: 1

THE cost of solar power in parts of NSW has for the first time crept below that of coal-fired electricity seen as a key tipping point for the expansion of renewable energy. New data shows solar power is edging towards "grid parity", after which it becomes cheaper than fossil fuel-generated energy such as coal and gas, even taking into account the upfront cost of buying rooftop solar panels.

But it was one of the few bright spots for an industry suffering from a 93% drop in rooftop panel installations since the boom late last year at the peak of the NSW bonus scheme. Workers at Australia's only commercial solar cell maker, the Silex Systems plant at Homebush in Sydney, were told yesterday that cell production would be outsourced to China.

Nevertheless, the flow-on effects of the subsidies have helped achieve grid parity across wide areas of rural NSW. For the first time, the amount paid to households feeding power to the electricity grid passed 280 a kW, which is the equivalent of buying coal-fired power from a utilities company Andrew Blakers, the director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University, said: "If you look at the prices being paid today, we have already reached grid parity in a lot of places except Melbourne and Hobart".

In Sydney, the price paid for solar power fed back to the grid depends on the agreement between the household and the provider, and whether a household agreed to the state government's feed-in tariff in time to take advantage of high rates of payback. The Australian Photovoltaic Association said that while some areas had reached grid parity, it could be several years before solar electricity was worth more than coal-fired electricity in most of NSW, and that depended on state and federal policy.

"A 1.5 kW system in Sydney is probably going to be cost effective next year or the year after, depending on whether we get a carbon price", said Muriel Watt, the chairwoman of the association and a senior lecturer in renewable energy engineering at the University of New South Wales. The amount of solar power generated in NSW has surged above the cap imposed by the previous state government.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal said thousands of households were still waiting for their panels to be installed under the $1.9 billion solar bonus scheme, which would drive up the overall cost to the taxpayer. As of this week, up to 71 MWs worth of solar systems had yet to be fully installed, taking the total amount of power generated under the scheme to 371 MWs.

When the former government halted new applications last October, it received 38,000 applications on the final day, the tribunal said. This year, the government was forced to abandon moves to cut retrospectively the tariff applied under the bonus scheme, to limit profiteering. As a result, the state government is seeking the tribunal's assistance in setting tariffs for household systems.

Yesterday the solar industry called on the government to introduce interim measures to pay households at market rates for the power they produced until the tribunal's review of subsidies is completed next year. The Australian Solar Energy Society said 416 jobs had been lost since the industry spiked in November, and a quarter of the state's solar installation businesses had closed.

At the Silex Systems plant yesterday, about 30 people were told they would be made redundant and others would be redeployed because the company could no longer afford to compete with cheaper, imported solar cells. The panels will still be made at the plant. The chief executive, Michael Goldsworthy, said: "This type of silicon flat panel technology was actually invented here in Sydney at the University of New South Wales,.. that's the sad thing. Now it's all gone offshore". The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said many of the workers had previously worked in the same plant with BP Solar, and were being made redundant for the second time.

Imports blamed as solar plant closes

Summaries - Australian Financial ReviewI
18 August 2011, Page: 8

In a blow to the Federal government's attempts to promote its carbon price scheme, Silex Systems, Australia's only maker of solar cells for roof-top panels will shut its Sydney solar cell facility. Silex Systems chief executive Michael Goldsworthy said, "We have a flood of cheap Asian imports". He also said it was "ironic that the silicon-based technology was invented at the University of New South Wales". A spokesperson for Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the closure and the loss of 30 jobs reinforced "the need to legislate the clean energy package without delay".

However, Liberal shadow environment minister Greg Hunt said it made a "mockery of the government's clean energy future mantra". Australian Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said, "Where is the outcry over yet more job losses in the solar sector?" Australian Manufacturing Workers Union NSW secretary Tim Ayres said the Federal government "needs to make sure we maintain the clean energy technology we have got in difficult circumstances". Dr Goldsworthy also noted that the over the last few years most of the benefit of the state government feed-in tariffs had gone to offshore panel manufacturers. Silex Systems will continue to make solar PV panels.