Thursday 29 December 2011

E.ON makes multi-billion green energy investment
21 Dec 2011

E.ON is making another huge leap into green energy with a multi-billion investment of EUR7 billion for three new wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas. In the Baltic Sea, off Sweden's southern coast, E.ON is building Kårehamn wind farm which will become operational in 2013. Kårehamn will have a capacity of 48 MW and is costing around EUR120 million to build.

In the German North Sea, the energy giant is building Amrumbank West – a deepwater wind farm of 80 turbines costing EUR1 billion. It will have a total capacity of 288 MW. The farm will supply green energy to around 300,000 households and enter into service in 2015. Off the UK coast, the Humber Gateway wind farm is costing EUR850 million: this will have 219 MW capacity and enter into service in 2015. Both Kårehamn and Humber Gateway will use the new Vestas 3 MW V112 turbine.

Johannes Teyssen chief executive and chairman at E.ON said: "Renewables are a cornerstone of our strategy, and offshore wind is one of E.ON's growth areas. Going forward, we intend to commission a new offshore wind farm every 18 months. We have invested EUR7 billion in renewables during the past five years, and we will invest further EUR7 billion over the next five years as a substitute for other power generation."

Australian government is 'overstating renewables costs'
22 Dec 2011

The Australian government's draft energy white paper overestimates both the current and future cost of major renewables technologies, claims a new study.

Using data gathered from local and international wind turbine and solar module buyers and sellers, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) claims the official figures overstate the costs of solar power by up to a factor of three and wind power by 50%. The government's errors provide a "distorted view" of the contribution from individual technologies, says lead clean energy analyst Kobad Bhavnagri, author of the study. For example, BNEF estimates the capital costs of large-scale solar PV to have averaged $2.7m/ MW in 2011, and to be declining rapidly as a result of manufacturing economies of scale and technological innovation.

Adjusting for foreign exchange rates and the cost of labour in Australia, this translates to A$2.9m/ MW in the local market in 2011-up to about three times lower than the figures in the white paper, which was released last week. The main reason claimed for the discrepancy is that solar PV prices have been falling consistently for a number of years, and by some 34% since 2009. Using data points that are even a year out-of-date can result in cost assumptions that are too high. "Remarkably, it seems large-scale PV was not considered as a generation option in some white paper scenarios, despite the fact it is already widely used across the world with 11 GW in total installed capacity", adds Bhavnagri.

BNEF's study also suggests that the government modelling may not have taken into account the effects of increasing wind turbine efficiency. "Our expectation is that wind will be one of the least-cost generation options from 2030-50 and that wind power's share of generation will be higher than the white paper projections", BNEF says. A spokesperson for the Australian department of energy would not comment on the veracity of data contained in the white paper.

However, a government source says the draft has been released for "consultation and to encourage discussion", and does not determine Australia's energy policy. "Australia is a market economy, and ultimately it will be the interaction of the energy, carbon and Renewable Energy Certificate markets that will determine the composition of our electricity generation mix. The government does not prescribe specific technology outcomes", the source adds.

In the white paper-open for public consultation until March-the government says it wants to accelerate cleaner energy technologies through market-based mechanisms. But Australian Solar Energy Society chief executive John Grimes has accused it of "seriously underplaying" the importance of solar. Australia risks missing the international boom in small-scale solar, the industry claims, noting that China thinks PV will be as cheap as coal by 2021. In contrast, Australia's draft white paper predicts small-scale PV will cease to grow after 2030.

Wind farm opponents 'aided and abetted' by climate sceptic groups
20 Dec 2011

THE anti-wind farm movement that is gaining influence in the NSW Parliament is being ''aided and abetted'' by climate sceptic groups and some mining figures. The cabinet debated new wind farm guidelines yesterday, with division over whether NSW should follow Victoria and order wind turbines to be set further back from houses. The Shooters and Fishers Party, which shares the balance of power in the upper house with the Christian Democrats, said yesterday it wanted a moratorium on new wind farms.

Industry sources said a US Tea Party-style ''astroturf'' campaign, which mimics grassroots local opposition but is at least partly directed from elsewhere, was being waged against wind power in NSW, which was expected to bring up to $10 billion in investment this decade as it accelerated to meet the national 20% renewable energy target.

Wind farm opponents include a coalition of local groups under the banner ''landscape guardians'', and the Australian Environment Foundation, which sprang up seven years ago from a conference run by the right-wing think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, but is now a separate group. ''Our role is, if you like, aiding and abetting what local communities are doing and helping them voice their disapproval over wind farms,'' said the foundation's executive director, Max Rheese.

While local groups say they believe the inaudible noise and vibration from wind farms affect human health, the foundation does not think humans have a role in causing climate change and therefore believes wind farms are an expensive extravagance. It hosted the British climate sceptic Lord Monckton last year and says it ''questions the whole science behind anthropogenic global warming''. Mr Rheese said the foundation had paid for anti-wind signs at public meetings and lobbied the Shooters and Fishers Party, and the National and Liberal parties in NSW.

The Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak said yesterday the party would wait for the cabinet decision but would use its critical position in the upper house to oppose any pro-wind farm legislation that came to Parliament. The party had discussed wind farms with the foundation but had come up with its own policy calling for a moratorium and public inquiry into wind turbines, Mr Borsak said.

''We do probably see eye to eye with them on this and many issues, but this is a party position that we have finalised internally.'' The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said in August it was his opinion that no new wind farms should be built in NSW, but it is understood there are divisions in cabinet about the issue.

The Nationals MP and Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, said yesterday his anti-wind farm views were well known and he hoped yesterday's cabinet meeting ''addresses the sins of the past''.

''I live at Crookwell; we've certainly come under the brunt of poor planning and lack of community consultation of wind farms in the past,.. It puts friends against friends, neighbours against neighbours.'' The Waubra Foundation is a national group arguing wind farms can cause illness because of the vibrations from turbines. It lodged a submission based on perceived health concerns with the government yesterday.

The chairman, Peter Mitchell, said his opposition to wind farms was based on health concerns and nothing to do with his background as a former director of oil and gas companies. ''The critics here are really playing shoot the messenger, which I find ridiculous,'' he said. The British equivalent of landscape guardians, ''country guardians'', was funded and supported by elements of the British nuclear power industry.

Labor's environment spokesman, Luke Foley, said ''flat earthers'' were running a scare campaign against wind power.

Much angst over wind turbines is just hot air
21 Dec 2011

This year South Australia drew more than 20% of its electricity from wind turbines, while in Victoria the Baillieu government all but gutted the industry by requiring two-km set-backs from houses, ruling out new turbines in vast tracts of the state. As the O'Farrell government considers whether to follow Victoria or South Australia, it is timely to look at the culture of complaint that is hell-bent on demonising wind power.

The British Acoustics Bulletin has just published what is now the 10th independent review of the evidence on wind farms causing annoyance and ill health in people. And for the 10th time it has emphasised that annoyance has far more to do with social and psychological factors in those complaining than any direct effect from sound or inaudible infrasound emanating from wind turbines.

A few extracts give the flavour: "the degree of annoyance is only slightly related to noise level"; "the fact that someone was complaining was mainly determined by the personality of the individual"; "fear of the noise source can increase annoyance"; and "adverse feelings... were influenced by feelings of lacking control, being subjected to injustice, lacking influence, and not being believed".

Two factors repeatedly stand out. The first is being able to see wind turbines, which increases annoyance particularly in those who dislike or fear them. The second factor is whether people derive income from hosting turbines, which miraculously appears to be a highly effective antidote to feelings of annoyance and symptoms.

Wind companies don't publicise what they pay landowners each year to host turbines, as it varies with topographical conditions and the amount of energy that can be generated. So each price is negotiated. I have heard amounts from $7000 to $18,000. A landowner with ideal topography, such as accessible windy ridges, can drought-proof the farm by turning generally useless land into a major earner requiring zero labour and investment.

Meanwhile, neighbours with unfavourable topography look on with envy and worry about the relative re-sale value of their land. Some worry themselves sick. But this is a story no different to those who envy neighbours with the good luck to have mineral deposits, some tourism advantage or who sell to a developer.

Anti-wind farm groups argue that there are many angry turbine hosts who have signed gag clauses preventing them from speaking out. I've collected blank contract forms from Australian companies and none that I've seen contains such clauses. No contract would indemnify any person being harmed from a claim of negligence, so the silence is telling.

Other indications of the sociogenic nature of "wind turbine syndrome" are the recency and the anglophone nature of the complaints. There are an estimated 120,000-plus turbines globally, with major construction now occurring in India and China. I have lived and holidayed in France where turbines can be seen in many parts of the country. Public health colleagues and neighbours there looked blank when I asked about negative public opinion or health problems. Three friends who recently walked northern Spain's pilgrims trail reported the same mystified conversations.

Complaining about wind farms appears confined largely to parts of Australia, Canada, the US, Britain and New Zealand. And these complaints have accelerated in the past five years, despite turbines having been operational in many locations for more than 20 years. This contagious "wind turbine syndrome" - a condition not recognised by any international disease classification system and which appears not once in any title or abstract in the massive US National Library of Medicine's PubMed database-appears to be spread by the vector of anti-wind farm activist groups.

In Australia, the leading opponents are the Waubra Foundation and the Australian Landscape Guardians, which share a post office box with a mining investment company, Lowell Resources. Australian Landscape Guardians has been totally silent on any other intrusion on the landscape, apparently unperturbed by mining, highway construction or suburban encroachment.

Simon Chapman is professor of public health at the Sydney University. He has no financial associations with any wind power company.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Wind farm firm seeks hearing on noise rules
19 Dec 2011

THE wind farm industry has lobbied the state government to drop the contested issue of possible health impacts from guidelines that will determine the future of wind power in NSW. The draft guidelines are being finalised and may be considered by cabinet as early as today. After a briefing from state Department of Planning officials in July, the wind farm developer Infigen Energy wrote to the department, saying the proposed regulation of ''infrasound'' should be scrapped before public release.

Retaining the regulation would give ''credence to the falsehood that wind farms emit infrasound levels anywhere close to the level that can be perceived by human beings, let alone cause any detrimental health effects'', Infigen Energy wrote. Anti-wind farm advocates claim infrasound-sound emissions from wind turbines in frequencies below human hearing range-can harm the health of nearby residents. In the letter, dated July 22, Infigen Energy also said that following the Victorian government in imposing a 2km buffer between homes and wind farms would lead to ''legalised extortion'' by residents.

Wind energy has been a contentious issue for the O'Farrell government, the Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, directing his department to seek maximum community consultation on new projects. A motion was passed at the NSW Nationals' conference in October for a moratorium on new projects. Up to 19 applications are being frozen while the government decides how to balance competing interests. Mr O'Farrell has said it is his ''personal view'' that no more wind farms should be approved.

The Greens MP John Kaye accused the government of ''frustrating'' the development of the industry, saying some projects were already subject to public exhibition periods up to three times as long as other major projects. The Sapphire Wind Farm, for example, has an exhibition period of 99 days. ''As soon as it got into office, the O'Farrell government translated the hostility of some of its senior ministers into a policy of deliberately frustrating new wind projects,'' Dr Kaye said.

Residents from the anti-wind farm Flyers Creek Wind Turbine Awareness Group will present a submission to the planning department today opposing the new Flyers Creek Wind Farm, presently on exhibition. Another anti-wind farm group, the Landscape Guardians, said the government refused to meet them until October, despite briefing the industry on the draft guidelines in July. ''The democratic process has been turned on its head here where people are subject to wind turbine development because of inappropriate siting that's causing enormous stress and concern in rural communities,'' said Humphrey Price-Jones from the Landscape Guardians.

But a spokesman for the planning department said the July briefing, attended by Infigen Energy and other companies, was to explain the impact on wind farms of the repeal of Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. No lobby groups had seen the draft guidelines, which would be released for public comment before being finalised, the spokesman said. Health impacts had been ''thoroughly researched and considered'' in their development.

An Infigen Energy spokesman, Richard Farrell, said regulating infrasound was nonsensical because ''the government's own acoustic expert has stated it is impossible for a wind farm to exceed the accepted infrasound limit of 85 DB(G) without seriously exceeding NSW's audible noise limit for wind farms''. ''It clearly makes no sense to add expensive regulatory testing requirements that cannot be failed,'' Mr Farrell said.

Court blow to solar power subsidy cut
16 Dec 2011

Government plans to slash solar power subsidies were dealt a blow yesterday, after a High Court judge ordered an urgent hearing into the move. Mr Justice Mitting ordered a judicial review to be held next week into the Government's decision to halve so-called feed-in tariff solar power subsidies after hearing an application by Friends of the Earth. In a joint application with the photovoltaic companies, Solarcentury and HomeSun, Friends of the Earth argued that the Government's decision to introduce the subsidy cut on Monday-11 days before the consultation period ends on 23 December-was illegal.

On Monday, the tariff subsidy fell from 43.3p per kW to 21p, just six weeks after the proposals were announced. After a three-hour hearing yesterday, Mr Justice Mitting said the proposals had given rise to "economic risk" for those individuals and companies engaged in the solar industry, and that the challenge should be heard as a matter of urgency next Tuesday and Wednesday.

If the judge finds the Government behaved unlawfully, the consultation will need to begin again, adding weeks, or possibly months, to the date when a new tariff rate can be introduced. Daniel Green, the chief executive of HomeSun, said: "Having an 'effective date' in the middle of a consultation is not only unlawful but it could set a dangerous precedent for all future government consultations. "It's a bit like having a trial and executing the defendant halfway through", he added.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth's executive director, said: "We're delighted the High Court has given the go-ahead to our legal challenge-we believe government plans to abruptly slash solar subsidies are not only unfair, but illegal. These proposals have already had a disastrous impact on the solar industry". Mr Atkins added: "Fledgling clean businesses have had the rug pulled from under their feet and a shadow hangs over thousands of jobs".

Friends of the Earth warns that between 18,000 and 29,000 of UK solar industry jobs are at risk from the subsidy cuts, along with as much as £230m of annual VAT and income tax revenues. Furthermore, opponents to the subsidy cut argue that the swift and dramatic reduction in solar tariffs has undermined confidence among potential investors across the energy industry who can no longer be sure the Government won't "move the goalposts" in other areas. The decision to hold a judicial hearing into the solar power subsidy cut comes a week after the European Commission threatened its own action over the Government's move.

CGA launches solar power system on Taiping Island
14 Dec 2011

A solar power system on Taiping Island in the South China Sea has been successfully installed and begun operations, according to the ROC Coast Guard Administration Dec. 13. The system is in accordance with a plan outlined last November by ROC President Ma Ying-jeou to transform Taiping into Taiwan's southernmost low-carbon island and to reaffirm ROC sovereignty over the territory, the CGA added. Chang Te-hao, director of the CGA's Southern Coastal Patrol Office, said the electricity on Taiping Island is mostly generated by diesel.

"The solar power system can help cut diesel usage by 125,826 liters and reduce carbon emissions by 329 metric tons per year. It is expected to generate 175,920 kW-hours per year and save NT$4.73 million (US$156,106) in electricity costs annually", he said. According to the CGA, the new power system includes solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems, as well as energy-saving electrical equipment.

"The installation of solar power system on the island will be expanded in the future", Chang said. "Energy-consuming equipment such as air conditioners, indoor lighting, refrigerators, road lamps and water heaters will all be changed into ones that save energy". Located 1,400 km off Taiwan proper, Taiping is the largest of the Nansha (Spratly) Islands. In addition to Nansha, the ROC also exercises sovereignty over the Dongsha (Pratas), Xisha (Paracel) and Zhongsha (Macclesfield) Islands in the South China Sea. (HZW)