Saturday 14 April 2012

Feldheim: A hamlet swept by the winds of change
12 Apr 2012

Does the German village hold the key to a nuclear-free future? Tony Paterson reports from a backwater at the heart of a global debate

The burghers of Home Counties Britain would be horrified at the prospect of one of their villages being turned into a Feldheim. The tiny east German hamlet lies in the gently rolling countryside of Brandenburg, south-west of Berlin. It is a landscape of vast fields and thick pine forests, dotted with ancient 13th-century stone churches.

But Feldheim is out of step with its idyllic rural surroundings. Viewed from a distance the village of 37 houses resembles a set from the film version of the H G Wells sci-fi novel War of the Worlds. For around it are 43 giant wind turbines, many of them towering 300 feet above the ground.

The view down Feldheim's largely deserted main street is of whirling turbines. When the wind blows strongly from the east, the residents can hear the whooshing sound of 129 blades cutting through the air. Aesthetically displeasing it might be, but Feldheim, the first community in Germany to meet all its energy needs renewably, is the shape of things to come.

The village has been thrust into the limelight since Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy U-turn last year, when she ended Germany's reliance on atomic power. The move was a response to public anxiety about nuclear power that reached fever pitch during the crisis at Japan's Fukushima plant last year, when sales of personal Geiger counters rocketed in Germany.


Watchdog on trail of power trio
11 Apr 2012

The competition watchdog has agreed to look at complaints from the Greens that three big power companies, AGL Energy, Origin Energy and TRUEnergy, are using their market clout to frustrate the roll-out of competing wind and solar projects. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has written to Greens deputy leader Christine Milne confirming it will consider her claims that the three electricity retailers may be refusing to enter into ''power purchase agreements'' to sell the electricity generated from renewable energy competitors.

The claims came as the Business Council of Australia said the country's long-term energy strategy had become too heavily dictated by climate change policy and relied too much on the assumption that the rest of the world would take firm action on climate change. The council, which is the peak body for chief executive officers of leading companies, wrote in its submission to the government's draft energy white paper that there was now ''an opportunity for a rebalance''.

Senator Milne wrote to the ACCC last month stating that a number of renewable energy companies had privately expressed concern that AGL Energy, Origin Energy and TRUEnergy might be withholding power purchase agreements ''to frustrate the roll-out of competing renewable energy projects''-particularly wind farms. She asked the watchdog to investigate the concerns.

The companies are the only large ''gentailers''-meaning they generate electricity as well as selling it on the retail market. ''Just like the Coles and Woolworths duopoly, I am very concerned that big power companies can potentially abuse their power to not only block the roll-out of renewable energy and energy efficiency, but also drive up power prices to increase their own profit margins,'' Senator Milne said. Renewable energy industry sources say the last-minute collapse of discussions between Origin Energy and the Moree Solar Farm consortium on a power purchase agreement was to blame for the consortium being forced to reapply for government backing under the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships Program.

In a letter to Senator Milne, obtained by Fairfax Media, the office of ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the issue was ''currently being assessed''. Power retailers must get a proportion of their electricity from renewable sources under the nation's renewable energy target of 20% by 2020. Spokespeople for the three big ''gentailers'' said yesterday they were meeting this obligation by investing in renewable energy projects themselves, striking power purchase agreements and buying Renewable Energy Certificates-a form of subsidy for investors in renewable schemes.

The Business Council, meanwhile, stated in its energy submission that ''a key deficiency'' in the draft paper was that it lacked any alternative climate change policy scenarios to that of Treasury's modelling of the Gillard government's carbon price.

Troubled Michigan nuclear plant shut down for maintenance
9 Apr 2012

Washington (CNN)--A troubled Michigan nuclear power plant cited for safety violations has been taken off line for maintenance and refueling, the plant's owner said Monday.

Palisades Power Plant, a 39 year-old facility located near Kalamazoo, has been under increased scrutiny from inspectors after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited the plant for three safety violations. The plant is currently owned and operated by Entergy Corporation.

Officials are bringing in 1,165 additional workers to complete the scheduled maintenance, according to Mark Savage, a spokesman for the plant. Repairs include replacing 64 fuel assemblies, inspecting the reactor vessel head, replacing five control rod drive seals and inspecting steam generators, moister separators and heat exchangers. Entergy also said it plans to rebuild the main feed pump seals.

Violations at the plant included a September 25, 2011, incident in which half of the control room indicators were lost because of an electrical fault "caused by personnel at the site", according to the NRC. A special inspection "determined the plant failed to have adequate work procedures for the electrical panel maintenance work to ensure the job was done successfully", the NRC report said.

Additionally, the NRC cited Palisades and Entergy for an October 2010 incident in which an operator left his post unattended in the nuclear reactor's control room without permission. The Palisades spokesman declined to provide a timetable for when the work will be completed. "Due to competitive reasons, we do not discuss outage duration or planned time to return to service", Savage said.

Entergy operates nine other nuclear power plants in the United States. The news of a shutdown at Palisades came just days after Friday's report that California's San Onofre nuclear plant would remain shut down indefinitely until the source of problems with two of its generators can be determined.

Thursday 12 April 2012

California nuclear plant shut indefinitely amid hunt to find cause of problems
7 Apr 2012

(CNN), A large Southern California nuclear plant is out of commission indefinitely, and will remain so until there is an understanding of what caused problems at two of its generators and an effective plan to address the issues, the nation's top nuclear regulator said Friday. Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, refused to give a timetable as to when the San Onofre nuclear plant could resume operation. He said only that his agency had "set some firm conditions" as to when that could happen.

"We won't make a decision (to approve the facility's restart) unless we're satisfied that public health and safety will be protected", Jaczko told reporters. "They have to demonstrate to us that they understand the causes, and,.. that they have a plan to address them". The power plant has been shut down since this winter, when a small amount of radioactive gas escaped from a steam generator during a water leak. At the time, federal regulators said there was no threat to public health, though they could not identify how much gas leaked or exactly why it had happened.

The water leak occurred in thousands of tubes that carry heated water from the reactor core through the plant's steam generators. Leaks occur periodically in older units, but plant owner Southern California Edison replaced the four steam generators at San Onofre in 2010 and 2011 as part of a $680 million project. They are in units 2 and 3 of the nuclear facility; unit 1 went out of service in 1992. Each of the 65 foot-tall, 640 ton generators, built by Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, are packed with thousands of narrow tubes that carry hot, pressurized water from the reactors. The heat produces steam in a separate loop that drives the plant's turbines and generators.


Wind power seen surging as custom barges cut set-up costs
11 Apr 2012

Offshore wind-power producers from DONG Energy A/S to RWE AG (RWE) are building custom ships at record rates to reduce the cost of the technology that's three times as pricey as electricity from coal plants.

As many as 20 vessels, some with movable legs that reach the seafloor, will come onto the market in the next few years, reducing chartering costs of as much as 200,000 euros ($261,000) a day, said Marc Seidel, an offshore engineer at Suzlon Energy Ltd. (SUEL), which supplies turbines to Germany's RWE.

A lack of specialized installation ships has forced companies to hire barges designed for oil exploration, holding up work at projects such as E.ON AG's Robin Rigg wind farm off Scotland's western coast. The British government estimates that offshore wind may contribute more than 35 billion pounds ($55 billion) to the economy by 2050 if costs are cut quickly enough.

"Having these vessels is the difference between being able to build the projects that we're all looking at today and not", Paul Coffey, chief operating officer of RWE's Innogy unit, said from Swindon, England. "They allow you to operate in higher water depths, in more inclement water conditions. They allow you to get the job done faster and more safely".

In the early 2000s, developers had to "beg, steal and borrow" vessels from other industries to get projects completed, Coffey said. Essen-based RWE won rights with SSE Plc (SSE), Norway's Statoil ASA (STL) and Statkraft AS to develop the Dogger Bank wind park 100 km (62 miles) off eastern England in the UK's third licensing round. DONG Energy had a similar struggle.


Sun shines on solar sales
9 Apr 2012

More than one in 10 WA households have a rooftop solar installation, according to figures that show the State is second only to South Australia in the take-up of photovoltaic systems. The Clean Energy Council, the renewable energy industry body, has released data showing demand for solar panels soared last year, despite Federal and State governments cutting incentives on offer. The council said almost 83,000 or 11% of WA households had solar installations, equal to Queensland but above the national average of 9%.

South Australia had the highest concentration rate of 14%, while NSW (8.8%), Victoria (5.7%) and Tasmania (3%) were all lower. Ranked by postcodes, the Pinjarra area led the charge, with almost a quarter of houses with a solar power system. The Ellenbrook area was a close second, while the postcode that covers Canning Vale and Willetton had a take-up rate close to 20%. The figures show demand almost doubled in 2011 compared with the previous year, when there were 47,000 solar panels. In 2009, the number was just 13,000.

The figures defy predictions of a meltdown in the industry following moves by governments to wind back subsidies to householders for solar panels. Last July, the Barnett Government halved the rate that it paid homes with solar systems to "export" energy into the grid from 40¢ per unit to 20¢, before scrapping it altogether in August. The decision came after the Federal Government announced it would cut more deeply than expected the rebate offered to householders for the up-front cost of putting solar panels on their roof.

State-owned electricity retailer Synergy Energy still offers small-scale customers 7¢ for every unit of excess renewable energy they produce. CEC acting chief executive Kane Thornton said the popularity of solar panels was driven by falling costs, independent of subsidies. Mr Thornton said many people were also turning to solar systems as a way of avoiding rocketing power bills. "We now have more than half a million solar power systems in Australia but really we are just in the early stages of tapping in to the power of this technology", he said.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Love of a sunburnt country a boon for solar set
7 Apr 2012

THE humble city of Dubbo has emerged as the solar power capital of Australia, with more than a quarter of the houses in one postcode generating their own electricity from rooftop panels. Even as subsidies are slashed, data shows the boom in photovoltaic solar panel continues.

The breakdown of solar use by postcode shows a clear bias towards regional Australia and city suburbs with lower-than-average incomes, industry body the Clean Energy Council says. ''solar panels are fast becoming the Hills Hoist of the 21st century,'' the council's acting chief executive, Kane Thornton, said. In one Dubbo postcode area, 2830, 28% of households have installed solar power. This is slightly ahead of Caloundra in Queensland, with 27.3%.

The second best-performing solar postcode in NSW is number 2477, which covers Alstonville, Rous and Meerschaum Vale on the north coast, where 21.2% of households have installed panels. Most of the other major solar-generating areas are in Queensland, which retains the most generous subsidies, and in South Australia. In NSW, about 8.5% of homes have rooftop solar panels, compared with a national average of 9%.

The figures are skewed towards regional areas that get plenty of sun, those with a high proportion of retirees and some coastal communities. In cities, suburbs with lower incomes, situated near the edges of metropolitan areas, tend to have installed more panels per capita than richer areas. In Sydney, the Blacktown district has the highest concentration of panels. The city's top solar postcode is 2147, covering Seven Hills, Seven Hills West, Lalor Park and Kings Langley.

About 18% of people in the area have rooftop panels, placing it seventh on the NSW list of solar-powered communities. "With the price of panels now about a third of what it was just three years ago, many people see solar power as a way to save on their energy bills as well as do something for the environment", Mr Thornton said.

The data comes from the former Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator, which was amalgamated this week into the federal government's Clean Energy Regulator as part of the carbon price plan. Postcodes with fewer than 3500 people were removed from the list, to avoid skewing the data. Australia has a renewable energy target of 20%, to be achieved over the next eight years. Most of the growth is expected to be made by wind turbines, which are cheaper than rooftop solar panels and large-scale, baseload solar power stations.

£20m wave energy competition unveiled
5 Apr 2012

Companies making devices that generate renewable energy from the ebb and flow of tides and waves around the UK could win a share of a new £20m government prize announced on Thursday. It is hoped the scheme, the Marine Energy Array Demonstrator (Mead), will encourage growth in the industry, which has been struggling to create a commercially viable projects. Ministers believe wave and tidal power could in the future generate up to 20% of Britain's energy needs and create 10,000 jobs in the sector.

The energy and climate change minister, Greg Barker, claimed Mead would help move the industry into the next stage of development. "This will take us one vital step closer to realising our ambitions of generating electricity from the waves and tides, powering homes and businesses across the whole of the UK with clean, green electricity", he said. The prize money will be shared between two winners, who will develop the first wave and tidal devices to sit in array formation-much like clusters of wind turbines create a wind farm.

Pelamis Wave Power, a leading wave technology company based in Scotland, said it intended to enter the competition. A spokesperson for the Scottish-based company said: "The prize will provide much needed capital support to the industry. The increasing activity and utility support demonstrates a real excitement within the sector as the technology matures towards commercial deployments".

As an island situated in choppy waters, Britain is well placed to become a world leader in wave and tidal technology. Of the eight full scale prototype devices installed around the world, seven are in UK waters, and about half of the world's leading marine technology companies are based here. But there is a growing fear that Britain will lose its early lead in the race to harness the power of the sea. In February MPs called on the government to increase their support of wind and wave technology, claiming the UK could be overtaken by competing countries if it did not continue to provide subsidies and support to the industry.

The funding was welcomed by the UK's professional body for the renewable wind and marine industry, RenewableUK. David Krohn, the organisation's wave and tidal development manager, said: "The marine energy industry has the potential to allow us to generate clean electricity using the inexhaustible power of the sea. The Mead scheme will help kickstart the industry".

Yet Krohn claimed more money would still be needed if marine technology was to reach its full potential. "Our research shows that £120m of capital support is required to overcome barriers to commercial development and unlock our share of this global industry", he said. "It is important to recognise that this is only the beginning of the road to building marine energy into a fully commercial industry".

Pelamis Wave Power agreed further support was needed. "To truly support marine renewables through to commercialisation will require project investors to be able to access substantially larger amounts of Government support over the coming years". Companies can enter the competition online via the Decc website. The closing date for applications is 1 June 2012.

Japan must reduce reliance on nuclear power - minister
5 Apr 2012

(Reuters)-Japan should reduce its reliance on nuclear power from pre-Fukushima crisis levels as soon as possible, Trade minister Yukio Edano said on Friday, as the government debates whether to restart reactors taken offline since the accident. The government is in the process of crafting a new energy mix in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, with options for atomic energy ranging from zero to 35% of the nation's electricity supply. nuclear power accounted for about 30% of Japan's electricity supply before the Fukushima plant was wrecked in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, triggering radiation leaks that caused mass evacuations and widespread contamination.

Pickens reviving plans for Texas wind power at smaller scale
5 Apr 2012

Billionaire T. Boone Pickens is building a 377- MW wind farm in Texas, three years after shelving plans for a project about ten times as big that would've been the world's largest. Mesa Power Group LLC, the Dallas-based renewable energy company Pickens created in 2007, is co-developing the Stephens Bor-Lynn wind farm with Wind Tex Energy LP, according to a statement today.

Pickens will connect the farm to a transmission line that's due to be completed in early 2013. Mesa announced plans for the 4 GW Pampa wind farm in the Texas panhandle in 2007. Two years later, it put the project on hold citing a lack of adequate power lines. The company will provide 233 1.6 MW General Electric Co. (GE) wind turbines purchased through a contract linked to the earlier plan.

"This is all part of the same deal", Lindsay Theile, a GE spokeswoman, said today in an e-mail. Mesa in 2008 agreed to buy 667 1.5- MW GE turbines for the Pampa project and halved the order in 2010. Mesa said later that year it would use some of the 333 turbines at projects in Minnesota and Canada. The contract was revised again for the Stephens Bor-Lynn project, Theile said. She wouldn't give a price for the turbines.

Equity Stake
Mesa purchased a majority equity interest in Stephens Bor-Lynn, Jay Rosser, a spokesman for Pickens's BP Capital LLC, said by e-mail. The project will deliver power on a transmission line being built by Wind Energy Transmission Texas LLC, a joint venture between Brookfield Asset Management Inc. (BAM/A) and Isolux Corsan Servicios SA, according to the statement. Wind Energy Texas is one of several developers planning to add $5 billion of transmission lines in the state by 2015 to carry wind power, according to its website.

Mesa and Wind Tex expect to receive financing in the second half of the year for Stephens Bor-Lynn, about 50 miles (80 km) south of Lubbock, Texas. It will begin producing power next year. Mesa is seeking a buyer for the project's power. Stephens Bor-Lynn is the company's only Texas project, Rosser said. Wind Tex has developed four wind farms in Texas that generate 6% of the state's wind power. Texas has more than 10,330 MWs of installed wind capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the most in the US

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Crystal Brook wind farm plan shelved
5 Apr 2012

Origin Energy says it will not proceed with a planned 40-turbine wind farm in the mid-north of South Australia. It said it could not make a business case for the development to proceed at Crystal Brook and it would focus on other projects. Anne Beinke from a local action group opposing the wind farm said it was good news for many residents. "We do understand that there will be people in our local community who don't welcome the news and that has been part of the problem all along that this is such a divisive issue for local communities," she said. "But I think it's clear now from right around Australia that there's growing concerns about where these things are being sited and the lack of knowledge and the lack of research into their impacts."

Why isn't WA harnessing wind power?
4 Apr 2012

New research reveals while Perth is the third windiest capital in the world, it is in the doldrums when it comes to wind power. Perth is an international hotspot for windsurfing and the destination of choice for the ISAF Sailing World Championships. If you thought Western Australia was a leader in wind power, think again. New research reveals while Perth is the third windiest capital in the world, it is in the doldrums when it comes to wind power.

A spokesman from the Independent Market Operator, which oversees the Wholesale Electricity Market in WA, says wind power made up just 4.33% of total electricity generation in the 12 months prior to October 2011. That's compared to a fresh and gusty 26% in South Australia. The latest quarterly report from energy economics group EnergyQuest reveals that in SA electricity generated by wind has grown from just one% five years ago to the highest in the country in 2012. With an average wind speed of more than 27km/h and twelve operating wind farms lining the coast from Coral Bay to Albany, WA could be leading the nation.

Online social commentator and writer David Clarke says government reluctance to build and maintain the high-capacity electricity transmission lines needed could be slowing down WA's wind power. "WA has some big wind farms, but for some reason growth is slow. The presence and status of high capacity power lines could be an important factor". Shadow Minister for Energy Bill Johnston says the government can do better. "I don't think the Minister for Energy has got any plans to create a more dynamic future for the energy system in this state. He's fixated on the past, on government control over the energy system".

Mr Johnston says the government push to re-merge State-owned energy companies Verve Energy and Synergy Energy will crush innovation by private investors. "The Northern Reinforcement Line, which will run up to potential wind power sites near Geraldton, is four years late and way over cost already. "The state government doesn't seem to be prepared to invest in the infrastructure that private investors in the wind power sector would need".

Renewable energy is big news across the world. This week, the Danish Government announced new targets that would see 35% of Denmark's electricity coming from renewable resources by 2020, and 100% by 2050. Mr Clarke says there is no reason that WA could manage wind power at the levels achieved by SA. "It seems that WA has an excellent wind resource... I'm sure that if there was a will for it WA could get at least 30% of its electricity from wind power". The Minister for Energy was not available to comment.

Yambuk couple happy living with wind farms
5 Apr 2012

RESIDENTS situated near wind turbines along the south-west coast near Yambuk have dispelled concerns that the renewable energy generators cause health problems. Pacific Hydro linked up the Codrington wind farm to the power grid in 2001, the first of its kind in Victoria and a harbinger for the numerous larger developments that have now dotted the district. While health issues emanating from turbine noise have been raised by community members in other parts of the state, residents surrounding the Codrington site claim any medical fears are unfounded.

Codrington Gardens owner Geoff Tonks said many tourists passing along the Princes Highway dropped by to observe the turbines. He said residents surrounding the site were largely supportive of the wind farm and believed there were no discernible health issues emanating from the turbines. "No, I think those type of claims are unfounded really", Mr Tonks told The Standard. "People who have lived within only a short distance of the turbines have had children grow up here and they've never raised any issues. "By and large, the wind farm has been good for the community and it's something that has also attracted tourists to the region. Even though we have other wind farms across Victoria, people are still keen to have a look at the original one in Codrington".

An independent study into wind farms released last year measured Yambuk residents' health and found there was no link between exposure to turbines and health problems. University of Adelaide professor Gary Wittert used data from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to compare medical prescriptions of people living in areas with and without turbines. His study involved 12,000 people living within a 10-km radius around wind farms in Yambuk, Waubra and two sites in South Australia. Professor Wittert was unavailable when contacted by The Standard yesterday.

Apple plans nation’s biggest private fuel cell energy project at N.C. data center
31 Mar 2012

Apple plans nation's biggest private fuel-cell energy project at N.C, data center North Carolina will be home to the nation's largest private fuel-cell energy project, a nonpolluting, silent power plant that will generate electricity from hydrogen. Apple (yes, that Apple) filed its plans with the N.C. Utilities Commission on Thursday to build the 4.8 MW project in Maiden, about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. That's where Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple has built a data center to support the company's iCloud online data storage system and its SIRI voice-recognition software.

The fuel-cell project, the nation's largest such project not built by an electric utility company, will be developed this year. It will be located on the same data complex that will host a planned 20 MW solar farm-the biggest ever proposed in this state. But it's the fuel-cell project that's generating buzz, eclipsing anything ever dreamed of in California, the nation's epicenter for fuel-cell projects. "That's a huge vote of confidence in fuel-cells", said James Warner, policy director of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association in Washington. fuel-cells generate electricity through an electro-chemical process and are compared to batteries that give out power as long as they have a source of hydrogen.


Monday 9 April 2012

Lion's share for coal plants before the carbon tax bites
March 31, 2012

Victoria's dirtiest coal-fired power plants have snared the lion's share of $1 billion in energy industry carbon tax compensation-a concession that will protect jobs but slow the shift to renewable energy. Yesterday's announcement came as outgoing Future Fund chairman David Murray slammed the carbon tax as the worst piece of economic reform he'd ever seen in Australia.

Latrobe Valley's brown coal stations Hazelwood, Yallourn, Loy Yang power station A and B, and Energy Brix are the major winners from the government's $1 billion Energy Security Fund, which compensates the most greenhouse-intensive power generators for the loss of value to their assets under the carbon tax, due to start on July 1.

The carbon tax aims to make such plants uneconomical in favour of cleaner power sources such as gas, solar, wind and geothermal energy. But Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said in a statement yesterday that the cash payments to nine power stations were needed to ''ensure secure energy supplies as the nation transforms to a low carbon future''.

Hazelwood power station, Yallourn W power station and Energy Brix are also applying for a separate pot of money under which the heaviest polluting stations will be paid to close down by 2020. Coalition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said: ''They tax the power stations, then they give the heaviest polluting power stations in the country $1 billion to keep the lights on, and then they'll give them another $2 billion to turn the lights off. You couldn't dream up a sillier system.''

Environmental critics meanwhile say the compensation is too generous and will retard the transition to cleaner energy sources. ''It clearly reduces their incentive to cut their pollution,'' said Mark Wakeham from Environment Victoria. ''These are large amounts of money that could be used to insulate households against price rises through investments in energy efficiency.'' The Greens also opposed the compensation, with acting leader Christine Milne saying the party bid the government down from a larger pool of funds. Heavy-emitting power stations will also receive $4.5 billion in free carbon permits through to 2016-17.

Meanwhile, Mr Murray, who finishes as Future Fund chairman on Monday, delivered the government a blast on the carbon tax. ''It is the worst piece of economic reform I have ever seen in my life in Australia,'' he told ABC radio. Mr Murray has in the past questioned the science of man-made climate change, saying here was ''no correlation between warming and CO₂''. Treasurer Wayne Swan hit back at what he described as Mr Murray's ''well-known'' opposition to climate science. ''Big reforms like this are tough reforms,'' he told the ABC. ''They're never easy, and you will get vested interests and people like Mr Murray out there opposing them.''

Against the wind
31 Mar 2012

THE rocky hills of the great divide south-west of Heathcote in central Victoria are picturesque and, for the most part, unnoticed. The McHarg Ranges have no heritage listing, house no threatened species and rate not a mention on the Tourism Victoria website. As far as officialdom is concerned, they barely exist at all.

But what they do have is wind. And it is this rapidly moving air that has created friction between clean energy developers and a small but well-connected group of locals. These include Lady Marigold Southey, a one time lieutenant governor of Victoria, stalwart of the Baillieu/Myer family and owner of an 800 hectare farm and vineyard near the one-store hamlet of Tooborac. Lady Southey is also Premier Ted Baillieu's second cousin and an active opponent of a proposal for an 80 turbine wind farm in the area.

In 2010, she embarked on a letter writing campaign to the management and board members of Transfield Holdings, the construction company behind the proposal. Her confidential letters, seen by The Saturday Age, were polite, but warned of a possible ''drawn out and acrimonious conflict'' if her concerns were not addressed.

The following November, the Coalition returned from the political wilderness with a promise of strict new wind farm regulations, Australia's toughest. They included an effective right of veto for individuals living within two km of proposed turbines, a ban on turbines within 5 km of 21 regional centres, and ''no-go'' zones including the Great Ocean Rd, Mornington Peninsula, Wilsons Promontory, the entire Macedon Ranges shire and the McHarg Ranges.

Its inclusion had industry leaders and government officials scratching their heads, largely because no one had heard of them. The designation of McHarg Ranges as a ''no-go'' zone for turbines lies at the heart of a bigger question: what motivated the government to introduce Australia's toughest wind farm laws, and how did they choose which areas would be excluded?

The Saturday Age does not suggest that Lady Southey has done any more than exercise her right to oppose a development, or that her lobbying was the deciding factor in the ban on turbines neighbouring her property. But the Coalition has been criticised for offering little in the way of explanation for the new rules. It has previously said that while it supports wind power, it was committed to returning certainty and fairness after the previous Labor government had imposed wind farms on reluctant local communities.

While Planning Minister Matthew Guy delivered it publicly, it is understood in business circles that it is the Premier who has driven both the policy and its implementation. The Coalition's approach to wind development has raised concerns across business, planning and local government circles. The Australian Industry Group, which represents more than 60,000 businesses across the country, says it is costing the state billions in investment. Victorian group chief Tim Piper says he raised his concerns, primarily about a lack of flexibility, with the government but was told the laws would not be changed.

''We know investment has been lost, and we know there have also been unintended consequences,'' he says. ''We have companies that have wanted to put up small turbines on industrial plants well away from homes and they have been prevented because of these regulations.'' Michelle Quigley, SC, one of Victoria's most senior planning lawyers who has represented several energy companies, says the idea of individual householders having veto over development would have once been anathema to the party of the free market.

''From a political or policy point of view, this amendment seems totally inconsistent with Liberal philosophy,'' she says. ''It is an arbitrary and prescriptive approach which does not apply to any other use or development of land in Victoria.'' At a council level, the Mount Alexander Shire has passed a resolution opposing the blanket ban on turbines in its shire, while the Greater Bendigo council has written to the government asking for it to explain its reasoning.

Bendigo Cr Keith Reynard says it sets a dangerous precedent. ''Imagine if the government had to get 100% approval in Parliament for everything it wants to do, the state would be at a standstill,'' he says.


This article clearly proves that Ted Baillieu is not governing for Victorians but only for a few close mates and some vested interests who are more interested in short-term gain.

Mexico buoyed by renewable energy boost, aims for solar project
March. 29, 2012

MEXICO CITY, March 29 (UPI), Mexico, buoyed by success in wind power expansion, is launching a giant solar power project that sees a U.S, firm's role in its primary development. Soaring crude oil prices have skewed national budgets throughout Central and Latin America and the ongoing row between Argentina and Spain's YPF Repsol is an indication of tension over rising energy costs. Mexico will aim to circumvent the challenge of punishing oil prices by installing high-capacity solar power generation systems, company data indicated.

Californian solar systems provider SolFocus, Inc, said Thursday it joined with Mexican land and real estate developer Grupo Musa and U.S, energy developer Synergy Energy Technologies LLC to work on a landmark solar power plant in Baja California, near Tecate, Mexico. The plant is planned to have a 450 MW capacity but will be built in 50 MW phases. Construction on the first phase will begin this year and that part of the plant will be operational next year. The plant will use the SolFocus Concentrator Photovoltaic equipment, but will be owned and operated by SolMex Energy S.A, de C.V., a new Grupo Musa and Synergy Energy Technologies company focused on solar power in Mexico.

Officials said Mexico's solar power aims met with the objectives of both Mexican and U.S, energy planners. "The project is in direct alignment with the Mexico and U.S, bilateral clean energy agenda", said David Munoz, director general of the Baja California State Commission of Energy. "The countries share a common goal of achieving strong economic growth and energy security while addressing climate change and increasing the reliability of energy infrastructure", Munoz said. "Mexico has been successful with wind power, and now this large solar project will support our energy infrastructure and economic development efforts in the very near future", he said.


Floating windmills in Japan help wind down nuclear power: Energy
31 Mar 2012

Japan is preparing to bolt turbines onto barges and build the world's largest commercial power plant using floating windmills, tackling the engineering challenges of an unproven technology to cut its reliance on atomic energy. Marubeni Corp. (8002), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (7011) and Nippon Steel Corp. (5401) are among developers erecting a 16 MW pilot plant off the coast of Fukushima, site of the nuclear accident that pushed the government to pursue cleaner energy. The project may be expanded to 1,000 MWs, the trade ministry said, bigger than any wind farm fixed to the seabed or on land.

"Japan is surrounded by deep oceans, and this poses challenges to offshore wind turbines that are attached to the bottom of the sea", Senior Vice Environment Minister Katsuhiko Yokomitsu said at a meeting in Tokyo this month. "We are eager for floating offshore wind to become a viable technology".

The world's third-biggest economy is struggling to diversify its energy mix after last year's earthquake and tsunami crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station. A few countries including Britain, the U.S, and South Korea are testing windmills that float, a technology far more expensive than most fossil fuel or renewable energies. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and its partners are positioning themselves for future contracts to develop gear that so far isn't used in commercial electricity production.


Silverton’s windy prospect
29 Mar 2012

IT'S home to only 40 people, but Silverton in the NSW far west could one day be home to the biggest wind farm in the world, after AGL Energy purchased development rights for a 598 turbine project from Epuron last week. Broken Hill mayor Wincen Cuy said the region was iconic as a pioneering frontier and it was exciting that it could become a notable renewable energy hub.

Home to more than 3000 in the 1880s, Silverton, 25 km north-west of Broken Hill, could be given fresh impetus with up to 300 workers during construction of the wind farm and up to 15 permanent jobs. "Given our history of innovation and our role in industrialisation, as the foundation of BHP Billiton (Broken Hill Proprietary Limited, which is now BHP Billiton), it would be terrific if we can go into the future with wind farm and solar power and become world renowned for renewable energy", Cr Cuy said. "I think 85% of residents are in favour of it. From an economic point of view, most people think it's an opportunity. "One concern is how it'll look on the landscape, with our wide open space, but AGL Energy is keen on community consultation and getting people involved", he said.

AGL Energy general manager for business customers and power development Scott Thomas said although approval was in place for up to 598 turbines, the project would proceed in stages and AGL Energy would take on board community feedback about issues such as turbine numbers, size and placement. "I'd like to think what makes us different to other developers is that, as an energy retailer, we hope local residents will be our customers, and we see ourselves as being in that community for a long time", Mr Thomas said.

Sunday 8 April 2012

South Australia busts wind myths
29 Mar 2012

This week's charts of the week illustrate how wind is making a major contribution to South Australia's electricity needs and reducing consumption of fossil fuels and CO₂ emissions. South Australia represents an unintentional real-world laboratory, testing how large a role wind could play in our future electricity supply. Wind represents 20% of South Australia's electricity generation, and it is one of the highest levels of wind penetration in the world according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). So far the experience in South Australia has helped to bust a number of myths about wind power.

The chart immediately below illustrates sources of power generation in South Australia last Friday (March 23) as a percentage of total demand over the period midnight to 5.35pm. For almost all of this period wind power was the dominant source of power, and averaged about 50% of total consumption. It should be noted that there are extensive periods where the percentages of all sources can sometimes add up to more than 100%. This is because there were large exports of power from SA to Victoria over the period illustrated due to wind reducing South Australian prices to levels below those in Victoria.


TEPCO decides to ask govt for $12bn injection-Kyodo
28 Mar 2012

(Reuters)-Tokyo Electric Power Co, troubled operator of the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant, formally decided on Thursday to ask the government to inject 1 trillion yen ($12.06 billion) in tax money to keep it afloat, Kyodo news agency reported, amid doubts about the future of Japan's nuclear power policy.

The government is expected to obtain an initial majority stake in the struggling utility in return for the fund injection, with an option to boost the stake to two-thirds if the firm, known as TEPCO, drags its feet on corporate reforms, a source with knowledge of contentious talks on the matter said. Trade Minister Yukio Edano, who is responsible for approving a public fund injection, has said he wants the government to have a significant say in managing TEPCO, but the two sides have been squabbling over just how big the government stake should be.

The request paves the way for TEPCO and a government-backed bailout body to finalise a business turnaround plan to be submitted to Edano soon. Submission of the plan has been delayed by the search for a new chairman, who will face huge hurdles to restore TEPCO's profitability, including doubts over whether it can restart off-line reactors amid public concerns over nuclear safety. Last year's earthquake and tsunami caused reactor meltdowns at Fukushima, triggering a radiation crisis that resulted in mass evacuations and widespread contamination. A TEPCO spokesman said there had been a board meeting but could not confirm a decision had been made.

Suzlon, Guangdong Nuclear in 800-Megawatt world wind power plan
Mar 28, 2012

Suzlon Energy Ltd., India's largest wind turbine maker, and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group Co. plan to develop 800 MWs of wind farms around the world. The companies are exploring sites in Brazil, South Africa, China and India, and plan to complete the projects over the next three years, according to an e-mailed statement from Suzlon Energy.

Guangdong Nuclear unit, CGN Wind Energy Co., has installed 3,000 MWs of wind capacity in China. It has no operating wind farms overseas, according to its website. Suzlon Energy has plants in China and India and sells turbines to most major markets including the U.S, and Europe, according to its website.

Wind turbines that learn like humans
27 Mar 2012

ScienceDaily--Depending on the weather, wind turbines can face whispering breezes or gale-force gusts. Such variable conditions make extracting the maximum power from the turbines a tricky control problem, but a collaboration of Chinese researchers may have found a novel solution in human-inspired learning models.

Most turbines are designed to produce maximum allowable power once winds reach a certain speed, called the rated speed. In winds above or below the rated speed, control systems can make changes to the turbine system, such as modifying the angle of the blades or the electromagnetic torque of the generator.

These changes help keep the power efficiency high in low winds and protect the turbine from damage in high winds. Many control systems rely on complex and computationally expensive models of the turbine's behaviour, but the Chinese group decided to experiment with a different approach.

The researchers developed a biologically inspired control system, described in the American Institute of Physics' Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, that used memory of past control experiences and their outcomes to generate new actions. In simulations, the controller showed initially poor results, but quickly learned how to improve, matching the performance of a more traditional control system overall. The memory-based system is attractive because of its simplicity, the researchers write, concluding that "the human-memory-based method holds great promise for enhancing the efficiency of wind power conversion".