Thursday 8 September 2011

Baillieu's wind farm crackdown Industry warns investment will go

30 August 2011, Page: 1

THE clean energy industry has warned it will invest away from Victoria, potentially costing the state $3 billion, after the Baillieu government announced Australia's most restrictive planning laws for wind farms. In a win for anti-wind farm group Landscape Guardians, the government has confirmed it will amend planning laws to give households power to veto wind turbines within two kilometres of their homes.

Turbines will also be banned in the Macedon and McHarg Ranges, in the Yarra Valley, on the Mornington Peninsula, Bellarine Peninsula, and within five kilometres of the Great Ocean Rd and the Bass Coast. In changes that go further than what the Coalition flagged before last year's state election, turbines will also be prohibited within 5 kilometres of 21 regional centres.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy said the changes restored "certainty and fairness" to local communities while leaving 92% of the state open to wind farm development. "It is important that while wind power develops, it does not do so at the detriment of rural and regional Victorians", he said.

But opponents to the change said the 92% figure was valid only if all rural households agreed to farms being built in "no-go zones" around their homes. If they opposed, most of the state was blacked out. The Clean Energy Council said the change would cost hundreds of new jobs in regional areas and billions of dollars in investment. An analysis for the council by consultants Carbon Market Economics before last year's election, estimated that between 50 and 70% of proposed wind farms, worth up to $3.6 billion, would not be developed under Coalition policy.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said the policy meant individual landholders could in effect hold developers to ransom. "If Victoria is prepared to impose mandatory setbacks on technology as quiet, safe and clean as wind turbines,.. what will they do to more imposing infrastructure like roads, fossil fuel power stations, factories or mines?" he said.

The new planning rules affect future wind farm proposals, not those already approved. A total of 1107 turbines, with 2629 MWs of generating capacity, have been approved for Victoria, but not yet built. Renewable energy company Pacific Hydro said it remained committed to building three farms approved under Labor, but it did "not envisage" developing more in Victoria.

"The race for investment in renewable energy and regional job creation is heating up, [but] unfortunately these new wind farm rules will hold Victoria back while other states power ahead", Pacific Hydro general manager Lane Crockett said.

Several other wind power developers declined to comment publicly, but Freehills environment and planning law partner Tim Power said many of the eight firms he represented agreed with Pacific Hydro. "I would say that is representative of the view of quite a few wind farm companies", he said.

Acciona Energy communications director Tricia Kent said it was "unfortunate" the government had not consulted before announcing rule changes. "We will look at our future portfolio on a national basis", she said. Victorian Landscape Guardians president Randall Bell described the announcement as a "starting point", and credited Premier Ted Baillieu a former planning spokesman in opposition with driving the change.

"I'd have to say Ted has picked the logical no-go zones, but unfortunately we've lost quite a number [of sites] already", he said. "Sadly, for landscapes such as Cape Bridgewater and Bald Hills, it is too late". Mr Bell said the introduction of a two-kilometre veto suggested the government accepted the group's claims that wind turbines caused health problems. "I don't know what they are doing it for otherwise".

Mr Guy denied his decision was based on a link between turbines and poor health. "I haven't seen any evidence either in favour or against that's definitive", he said. The National Health and Medical Research Council last year found there was no published scientific evidence linking wind turbines with health problems. The minister said the two kilometre buffer for households was chosen after studying planning schemes in New Zealand and Britain.

He dismissed the claims that the policy would have a multibillion dollar impact on the state. "There are still 1000 turbines permitted in Victoria, there are only 400 built", Mr Guy said. "There is still a long way to go for those turbines to be built and I do not believe that this will scuttle wind investment in the state".

Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said Mr Baillieu had "crushed" wind farm development. "The price will be paid by the loss of regional jobs, the environment and our children who will be locked out of a green future", Mr Tee said.

Greens MP Greg Barber said Mr Baillieu had close links with anti-wind farm groups. He said there was "not a single thing" they had asked for and not been given. "Wind farms are one of the biggest growth areas for regional Victoria over the past 10 years and they would have been for the next 20 years, but he has killed that off", Mr Barber said.

It's time to catch the wind and create jobs

Sunday Telegraph
28 August 2011, Page: 97

NSW simply can't afford to miss the golden opportunity to invest in clean, green energy, writes Liberal backbencher Catherine Cusack

A small minority of our constituents believe immunisation is a plot against children, fluoride poisons our water, and wind turbines make inaudible noise that causes cancer. I accept the sincerity of their beliefs, but none of these ideas are supported by mainstream medical science. Most Australians accept medical advice in relation to fluoridation and immunisation, but in NSW wind power continues to be controversial.

Wind turbines are embraced in Europe, the UK and the US places that have energy strategies planning the mix of energy for the next 10, 20 and 30 years; and secures their fossil fuel and clean energy supplies for future generations. Australia is truly languishing in the clean-energy stakes. We have spent billions on small-scale solar and neglected economically viable largescale renewable. Rather than bore you with statistics about Spain, I have looked closer to home.

New Zealand, with an abundance of hydropower, has 63.8% "low carbon". The US, with substantial nuclear and hydropower, has 26.8%. The UK has 19.5% clean energy. By 2030, a third of their power will be produced by wind. Canada has 72.7% low-carbon energy sources for electricity. Australia has only 6.8% clean electricity. We ranked 29th out of 30 countries. (Poland comes in last with 2.2%.) The OECD average is 35.5%.

We have 1153 wind turbines at 54 wind farms producing 2124 MW of electricity (equivalent to powering 891,000 homes). This represents $5.6 billion in capital investment and has created 6000 direct and indirect jobs. But in NSW, with a third of the population, our share of this is just 9%. We are the worst performing state in the second worst performing country in the developed world. We have only seven wind farms that are incapable of meeting demand for Green Energy. However, in the investment pipeline we have 29 proposed wind farms promising 4,000 direct jobs plus thousands more indirect ones.

At least $6.274 billion of the $10.5 billion price tag would be invested locally. The question is: How much of that can accrue to NSW? The opportunity is huge. Wind turbines are made of steel, BlueScope steel. But if you look at two of our largest wind farms, Capital and Woodlawn near Bungendore, the BlueScope steel from Port Kembla was all sent to Queensland, Victoria and South Australia for fabrication into 90x80m towers.

The bolts and 90 turbine transformers were manufactured in Victoria, and 35km of aluminium cable, some sub-station switchgear, and the steel sub-station control rooms came from Queensland. These components were all trucked back to NSW for installation. Yes, we have a political problem to solve but there is a glittering economic opportunity for regional NSW, and especially for Port Kembla, if we can do it. The solution lies in moving proposed wind farms away from population centres.

This would require some financial subsidy to lengthen the connection to the grid. It would be a fraction of the funds already being spent to upgrade our electricity infrastructure. It would be the only subsidy NSW would be required to make. Large scale wind farms receive no state subsidies.

Secondly we must send a strong investment signal to the industry: that we will assist with planning approvals away from population centres so that our state can have the maximum benefits of the $6.2 billion to create 4000 direct jobs. And with BlueScope shedding 1000 jobs in Port Kembla last week, we simply can't afford to reject this golden opportunity. It's time to shake off the myths, solve the politics and catch the wind.

Renewable energy sells

Summaries - Australian Financial Review
26 August 2011, Page: 11

The expansion of a second desalination plant in Perth will underpin a solar power plant as well as the Macquarie Capital-backed Mumbida wind farm. State-owned Water Corporation will purchase the entire output of electricity for the renewable projects to offset the Binningup desalination expansion Water Minister Bill Marmion announced yesterday.

Shining future for solar power

Daily Telegraph
Friday 26/8/2011 Page: 37

BIG solar is up to the job of powering Australia. The world-leading solar power tower Gemasolar in Spain is exciting and inspiring and it's easy to see why. The plant has only been in commercial operation for a couple of months but has already demonstrated that concentrated solar power can generate an electricity supply that is continuous, reliable and clean. That's right: 24-hour solar power.

Gemasolar uses sunlight to power a steam turbine that is exactly the same as those used in fossil plants. Molten salt tanks that store the sun's heat, much like a big thermos, allow it to generate electricity around the clock for 25,000 households. This mighty combination of concentrated sunlight and energy storage means the plant will run more hours per year than most nuclear and coal power plants. And Spain is not alone.

The US has half a dozen much larger projects in the pipeline that have attracted investment from forward looking companies like Google. America's entry into solar thermal generation means big cost reductions. So, if this great technology exists in countries like Spain and the US, why is Australia not embracing it? Concentrating solar thermal technology is not new. In Australia, clean energy players have been aware of it for many years, but it has taken a while for politicians to catch on.

Most would hear the words "solar power" and picture the more familiar rooftop solar panels. While rooftop solar is a wise investment to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, it is not able to provide utility scale baseload power. solar thermal holds excellent potential for our country.

Not everyone is happy about this. Vested interests seem intent on running a scare campaign against renewable energy, saying commercial-scale baseload solar is impossible, that other countries are not making the transition so Australia shouldn't either, or that renewable energy is too expensive, and so on.

But once our politicians actually see this technology up and running in other countries, that it works and is rapidly coming down in price, it becomes much harder to continue to pass up the opportunity for Australia to capitalise on some of the world's best solar resources. A renewable energy future is within Australia's grasp we just need the political will.

Victorian wind policy to send jobs and investment interstate
29 Aug 2011

Hundreds of new regional jobs and multi-billion dollar investment in regional Victoria are the real casualties of the Victorian Government's 2km wind setback policy posted online over the weekend. Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Matthew Warren said approximately $3 billion in investment would be lost to Victoria as a result of its new planning policy.

"Carving out large areas of the state as 'no-go zones' sends a clear message that Victoria is closed for business when it comes to future wind power," Mr Warren said. "More than half of future wind farms proposed in Victoria will not be built as a direct result of this policy.

"The Victorian Government is sending jobs and investment interstate and will effectively drive up electricity prices in Victoria. Individual landholders can effectively hold developers to ransom under this policy by refusing to sign up to an agreement."

Mr Warren said all developers of major infrastructure in Victoria should be nervous today. "If the Victorian Government is prepared to impose mandatory setbacks on technology as quiet, safe and clean as wind turbines without consultation, then what will they do to more imposing infrastructure – like roads, fossil fuel power stations, factories or mining projects?" he said.

In addition to the 2km setback policy, the government has also prohibited wind power investment in large areas of the state, such as the Macedon and Yarra Ranges. Mr Warren said the setback policy was not based on science and were "completely arbitrary". "The government has effectively introduced major changes to the planning system overnight with no industry consultation and many areas of great uncertainty still exist in relation to the implementation of this policy," he said.

Monday 5 September 2011

Solar-thermal plants generate power day and night

Canberra Times
25 August 2011, Page: 16

The sun doesn't shine at night, the wind doesn't always blow. So John Coochey (Letters, August 17) jumps to the obvious, but wrong conclusion that these sources of energy can't provide baseload electricity. In Europe and the United States, large-scale, solar thermal plants generate baseload electricity 24 hours a day, every day. Mirrors focus energy from the sun on to a vessel containing salt.

The salt is heated to 600° Celsius during the day and the molten salt stores the heat through the night. This heat is used to produce steam, which drives conventional turbines to produce electricity. The Melbourne-based research group, Beyond Zero Emissions, shows in a report ( how this technology could form the basis of a new electricity-generating system to meet Australia's future needs. BZE's plan includes wind and biomass, and could be broadened to use tidal and geothermal sources.

New generating stations and transmission lines are expensive. But the days of cheap electricity from fossil fuels are over. Oil is already in short supply. When costs and risks associated with climate change are factored in, renewables are the safe and sensible solution. Worldwide, new investment in electrical power generation from renewables now exceeds that from fossil fuels, according to United Nations figures. With abundant renewable energy sources, Australia has an unparalleled opportunity to invest in technically proven and commercially available options as the basis of our future energy security.

David Teather, Reid

Uncertainty clouds solar company's future

25 August 2011, Page: 2

A BRITISH solar power company says it will scrap plans to expand into four regional Victorian centres, creating up to 120 jobs, if the Baillieu government substantially cuts a household subsidy scheme for rooftop panels. Mark Group chief executive Rob Grant said a decision to open offices in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley had been put on hold until the announcement of changes to a program that pays households a premium rate for energy fed into the power grid.

A plan to hire about 100 electrical, installation and sales staff for his Melbourne office based in Tullamarine had also been delayed. Electricity companies in Victoria pay households 600 per kW generated, but the premium rate is limited to the first 100 MWs installed. That threshold has nearly been reached. The Baillieu government is yet to announce the scheme's future, but says it is considering "interim policy measures" to apply into next year while the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission examines the situation.

Mr Grant said Mark Group opened its Australian operation in 2009 after being courted by government agencies, including the federal government's Austrade and Invest Victoria. He said attempts to build the business had been frustrated by uncertainty over whether renewable energy programs would survive. The company employs 25 people in Victoria.

"There is a burgeoning green-collar industry being created here and we want to invest and employ, but we need consistent policy for it to happen", he said. "I think anything below a tariff of 40¢ is probably going to be problematic. If the scheme is significantly changed, the regional operations will not go ahead and the growth in Melbourne will be significantly curtailed".

Opposition energy spokeswoman Lily D'Ambrosio accused the government of stifling investment and killing new jobs. "It is a sad day when one of the world's largest renewable energy companies looks set to abandon Victoria because of the Baillieu government's dithering on solar", she said. A government spokesman said it was aware businesses needed certainty. He said the commission inquiry would focus on ensuring future feed-in tariffs took a "sustainable and economically responsible approach".

The Mark Group warning comes amid a wider debate about solar feed-in-tariff schemes, which are usually paid for by all households through increases in electricity bills. Federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has said solar subsidies should be wound back once a carbon price was introduced as they were an inefficient and at times inequitable way to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The new New South Wales Coalition government closed what was widely considered an overly generous scheme that paid for all power generated, whether used at home or fed into the grid, triggering what the industry says has been a collapse in demand for panels. Western Australia recently ended its scheme once it reached its cap. In Victoria, the cost to household power bills of the premium scheme is capped at $10 a year. The Clean Energy Council has called for it to be continued for two years, possibly at 35¢-40¢.

Chinese firm a turbo-charged leader in energy sector

24 August 2011, Page: 6

A COMPANY from the restive far-western Chinese province of Xinjiang, which has been the recipient of billions of dollars in central government funds in the past two years, is emerging as one of the leading suppliers of wind turbines to Australia. Xinjiang Goldwind Science and Technology is one of a burgeoning group of state-owned or sponsored companies from China that are keen to become leading suppliers of clean and green energy equipment.

As well as wind, this includes solar and nuclear although that industry's future is more clouded after the reactor disaster in Japan and there are mountains of subsidies available. The Chinese government is handing over billions of dollars in subsidies to green energy companies as it attempts to limit the growth of its carbon emissions.

Goldwind is in a sweet spot for government support in China: as well as being in a target growth sector, it is in a target growth region, as the Chinese government spends up big to develop its poorer central, western and northeastern provinces. Xinjiang was the scene of riots in July 2009 when almost 200 people were killed and has seen a number of violent attacks, one by police on protesters, this year. As such, it has been a particular target of government support in an attempt to create jobs and ease social pressures.

In April, Goldwind hit something of a jackpot, winning two new orders in the US of five 1.5 MW direct-drive permanent magnetic wind turbines to be installed in two wind farms in Ohio and on Rhode Island. "Goldwind has achieved marvellous results in tapping the world market since our American arm was established a year ago", Goldwind America chief Tom Rosenweig said at the time of the deal.

Singapore embraces clean technologies

Weekend Australian
20 August 2011, Page: 8

WHILE Australia continues to haggle politically about how we intend to confront the issue of a cleaner energy future and whether we should lead or wait to follow, many of the world's largest corporations, such as GE and Schneider Electric, have decided to push on regardless. At the same time, Singapore has decided to lead and embrace clean technologies not just for its own future but to also position itself as a clean energy hub for business and innovation globally.

The Singapore government has heavily backed the clean technology industry in recent years with the goal of creating 18,000 jobs and generating $S3.4 billion (S2.7bn) towards the nation's GDP by 2015. According to the deputy CEO of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, Armin Aberle, this includes 7000 skilled jobs in the engineering sector within cleantech. German-born Aberle worked for more than a decade at the University of New South Wales in research and development before he was attracted to Singapore's strong emphasis on cleantech a couple of years ago.

He says the skilled jobs coming online in the clean energy sector which include solar power, fuel-cells, wind power, energy efficiency and carbon services offer excellent the opportunities for engineers and scientists. "Things are developing rapidly and the prospects of achieving the 2015 targets are good. Singapore is always interested in attracting and grooming global talent", Aberle says.

He says Southeast Asia is booming and poised to continue to do so for many years, largely as the result of an emerging well-off middle-class that drives demand for services and goods. "The fundamentals for manufacturing are also steadily improving in the region, and thus the prospects for continued growth are good. He says Singapore is a late starter in cleantech, but if the government sees the potential in an idea, things move quickly. "While four years ago the renewable energy sector in the country was almost non-existent, the cleantech sector is now a key pillar of the economic agenda.

Contact Singapore's executive director Ng Siew Kiang says that as "cleantech gains prominence and popularity on a global scale, we expect there will be more qualified professionals with the necessary skills who will not only fill these new jobs, but will also be catalysts who continue to drive the industry forward".

According to Aberle, SERIS is set up like a research company and needs to secure a large part of its annual budget from industry and via public R&D grants. As such, SERIS collaborates closely with industry and has been able to secure millions of dollars of research funding every year.

"We have attracted large contracts from industrial clients in Singapore, the Asia Pacific and Europe", he says. Collaborative work has included projects with the Norwegian company Renewable Energy Corporation, which operates a world-class integrated solar manufacturing plant in Singapore for the production of silicon wafers, solar cells and PV modules.

In one project, RECs set about further enhancing the efficiency of its silicon wafer solar cells with future-oriented processing technology and techniques together with the scientific support of SERIS. "As a result of the technical innovations from this R&D project, RECs also expects to achieve significant production cost reductions, which will help bring down solar module prices and speed up the development of solar markets", Aberle concludes.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Sustainable building system can cut carbon emissions

Weekend Australian
20 August 2011, Page: 1

CHRIS Bamett's claim that his homes have "twice the insulation of a normal house and can reduce heating and cooling needs by two-thirds" would be impressive enough, but when you learn he's talking about a two-thirds reduction on the existing five-star benchmark you really sit up and take notice. Habitech is a sustainable building system designed to create custom designed homes with an energy efficiency rating of 7.5 stars or more.

This is energy efficiency at the cutting edge of new house building design and building and its modelled on the modular housing innovations the US and Europe have been undertaking for a number of years (if you're a fan of the British TV series Grand Designs you'll have seen beautiful homes built using equivalent systems from Germany).

More than that though its also a glimpse at house construction systems that mean carbon tax cost pressures direct and indirect are simply a moot point because there's substantially less carbon emissions in its construction than conventional housing in this country and, if attached to photovoltaics generating its own solar power, a house built using such systems can sell electricity back to the grid.

The brainchild of architect-trained Barnett, Habitech Systems is a Melbourne-based venture that aims to make locally fabricated, environmentally sustainable, quick and easy-to-build homes that are modern and good value in the mid-market price range. Barnett says Habitech is the result of a two-year research and development process to create "better outcomes with current technology".

His demonstration building is an extension to a post-war cottage on the Mornington Peninsula, at Shoreham, east of Melbourne, and was built to the lock-up stage in 21/2 weeks. Much of the home was built in the factory and trucked in, but Barnett says this doesn't make it a "prefabricated building, our whole mentality is based on a component-based build". That is a system that allows homes to be custom-designed, rather than having to conform to a limited range of shapes and dimensions as many factory built options are, which can be factory built and assembled on site.

The technology builds houses that cut emissions by 70%, Barnett says, and have low embodied energy (minimal energy used in construction). As for the cost Barnett says, "our initial offer is three-quarters of the traditional architect-designed process". He adds that the company can "quantify the cost of the building fabric super accurately". This means no surprising cost blowouts in the structure of the building, although other costs, like how much you spend on the internal finishes, appliances, kitchen and bathrooms is up to the client.

Barnett quotes a figure of "about $2200 a m²" for the building cost. By comparison a mass-produced home now comes in at about $800-$900/m²; a draftsman designed master built home at $1500-$2500/m² and an average architect-designed home at $2500-$3500/m² (or more, depending on the quality of the materials, inclusions and finishing). "We're cheaper than architecture and our building fabric is much higher quality", says Barnett. "With volume we hope to drive the price down to $1800/m² in the future".

Put Victoria first

The Saturday Age 20 August 2011, Page: 23

 Ted Baillieu has shown himself to be a Liberal politician first, Victorian Premier second. Bizarrely, the Deloitte "research" he presented didn't include the generous compensation for consumers or for Victoria's brown coal-fired power sector. It was a textbook example of the way the Coalition will misuse information to get the headlines it wants. Instead of jumping on Tony Abbott's bandwagon, Baillieu should be facing up to the fact that Victoria has one of the dirtiest power generation sectors in the developed world.

As emissions begin to be priced around the world, the financial burden of running stations like Hazelwood power station and Yallourn W power station will only increase. Having reneged on his commitment to reduce Victoria's emissions by 20% by 2020, and with his stymieing of wind farms, Baillieu no longer has a strategy to deal with climate change.

 Andrew Bray, Ballarat