Saturday 5 May 2012

Origin's opportunistic RET resistance
3 May 2012

Origin Energy made big news in the Australian renewables sector yesterday by signing onto the biggest renewable energy power purchase agreement ever contracted in this country-the 270MW Snowtown II wind farm in SA. It represented an almost perfect rebuttal to criticisms by others in the renewable energy sector that the company was playing games to undermine the Renewable Energy Target by holding off on entering into PPAs to create the impression the target could not be met.

But on the same day, Origin Energy CEO Grant King undid this favourable publicity by delivering a presentation where he suggested the level of the RET be reduced by more than a fifth-from 45,000 GWs to 35,000 GWs in 2020. In the chart reproduced below, King argued that because electricity demand growth has dropped dramatically, we need far less renewable energy than initially projected to achieve the 20% by 2020 renewables target.

The implications for the large-scale renewables sector from following King's line of argument would be devastating. The current target for large scale renewables (LRET) such as wind and biomass is 41,000GWh by 2020, which he suggests should be lowered to 27,000GWh. Based on current legislation, Green Energy Markets estimates that we need to connect 1000MW of large scale renewables to the grid in 2014 (equivalent to about 4 Snowtown II's) and then 1500MW for each subsequent year to 2020. This adds up to a total of 10,000 MWs.

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Swim centre power station
2 May 2012

THE roof of Hobart's Aquatic Centre could become a big community-owned solar power station, says a Greens alderman. A meeting of local residents had already shown strong support for the idea and Alderman Bill Harvey said he wanted to see co-operatively-owned wind farms and solar installations installed around the city and further afield. Not every home was suitable for a solar panels and buying a share in a larger venture was a good way for residents to get involved with green energy, he said. Such projects carried the possibility of a financial return if the project was commercially viable, he said.

"There seems to be really strong interest in community-generated energy", Alderman Harvey said. "It's a green energy source, it's kudos for the council (and) it keeps money in the community, rather than paying a retailer on the mainland. "And 2012 is the year of the Co-Op, so it seems an appropriate time to be looking at these things". He said the Aquatic Centre site would be ideal for a large-scale solar system which would be able it to operate on a carbon neutral basis and provide a return for investors. "It's got a substantial roof negotiating with the council would be easier than negotiating with a business potentially", he said.

Melbourne-based community power advocate Embark has expressed an interest in helping the Aquatic Centre project get off the ground. Embark executive director Mary Doughety said a similar scheme for wind power in central Victoria attracted $10 million from 2000 mum and dad investors and was generating the power needs of a small town while providing returns of 8 to 10%.

"As an individual you can't invest in renewable energy", she said. "It's an easy way for people who rent or people who don't have the appropriate roof space or a suitable site for their own panels. "We believe an energy transformation has to take place over the coming decades. The premise is about making sure communities benefit". Alderman Harvey said he planned to hold further community meetings to shape the project in the coming months.

Thai firm to spend $US600m on Aust energy
30 Apr 2012

Thai energy company Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Plc is planning to invest US$600 million (A$572 million) in new wind turbine plants in Australia, tripling its local wind-power output to 300 MWs. The expansion by Ratchaburi's subsidiary, Ratch-Australia Corporation, is aimed at staying in step with Australia's future energy policies, Ratchaburi Electricity chief executive Noppol Milinthanggoon said. The planned investment comes as Ratchaburi Electricity is moving to complete a $US813 million acquisition of Transfield Services Infrastructure Fund in raising its stake to 80% by June 2012.

Noppol said Ratchaburi Electricity is to invest a further $US30.5 million in Ratch-Australia to meet the 80% target from a current stake of 68%. A spokesperson for the company said the Australian offshoot will lead the expansion as part of the company's offshore investment plans. Ratch-Australia operates three wind power plants in Victoria at Starfish Hill, Toora and Windy Hill.

The Toora operation has 12 turbines with a production capacity of 1.75 MWs, meeting the power needs of 6600 families. "We have a goal to invest in at least three wind power projects with a total production volume of 200 MWs from an existing 100 MW capacity", Noppol said. He said the company was also looking to overhaul and expand the production capacity at Ratch-Australia's existing plants. Ratch-Australia Corporation currently oversees three natural gas power plants, two coal power plants and three wind power plants with a total production capacity of 1,126 MWs. The company says it has firm agreements covering 90% of the generated electricity to be purchased under contract over the next 11 years.

Friday 4 May 2012

WA to launch world-first wave energy project
1 May 2012

The first wave energy project in the Southern Hemisphere is set to commence operation in Western Australia next year, with the federal government announcing almost $10 million in funding today. WA-based energy company Carnegie Corporation will begin construction of Australia's first commercial scale grid-connected wave project next year, which will be located on and around Garden Island, with power delivered by the end of 2013. Energy Minister Craig Ferguson today announced the federal government would contribute $9.9 million as part of the Emerging Renewables program, with the state government contributing $5.5 million under the Low Emissions Energy Development program.

Mr Ferguson commended the project for showcasing innovative Australian technology, and said the by-product of emission-free desalinated water was a "welcome bonus". "This is where I see Australia growing into renewable energy jobs of the future", he said. As well as being the first such project in the Southern Hemisphere, the project also uses Australian-owned and developed CETO technology, which is the only of its kind in the world. Developed in WA over the last 10 years at a cost of $60 million, CETO differs to other wave energy technology by operating out of sight and underwater, where it is anchored to the ocean floor and generates electricity onshore, rather than offshore.

The CETO units move with motion of passing waves, driving pumps which deliver pressurised water to shore via a pipeline, which in turn drives hydroelectric turbines. In addition to generating zero-emission electricity, the pressurised water delivered ashore can also be used to supply a desalination plant. The unique Australian technology has already been snapped up by the world's largest electricity generator, French company EDF Energy, for use on Reunion Island. The project's onshore power generation facility will be located at Australia's largest naval base HMAS Stirling, and is expected to produce 2 MWs of electricity by 2014, with later expansion to 5 MWs.

A CSIRO study last year found Australia's wave energy alone was capable of providing three times Australia's annual energy consumption, which was 50,000 MWs. Carnegie Corporation chief executive officer Dr Michael Ottaviano said the project provided a unique opportunity for Australia to become a "technology provider rather than technology taker". Australia could rival Scotland, Dr Ottaviano said, which was trying to capture the wave energy industry by virtue of its offshore engineering experience and good wave resources.

"We've got just as much, if not more, competent offshore engineering experience from the oil and gas industry and our wave resources are some 20 times greater than Scotland", he said. State and federal government funds will comprise half of the project's $31.2 million cost, with New York-based investors Lind group also providing funding. Carnegie Corporation has signed memorandums of understanding with the Department of Defence and West Australian retailer, Synergy Energy.

Coal or wind in your backyard?
30 Apr 2012

If you're going to 'pick winners' from the energy market, you at least want to choose wisely. So it's hard to see why Victorian laws treat coal and coal seam gas more favourably than renewable energy. The Environment Defenders Office (Victoria) (EDO) released a report last week that finds Victoria's laws give the mining industry privileged treatment that few other industries enjoy. In particular, they now make it easier to obtain approval for a coal mine than a wind farm in Victoria.

The planning rules for wind farms introduced by the state government last year are some of the toughest that apply to any type of development anywhere in the country. No new wind projects have been proposed in Victoria since they have been introduced. At the same time, the government has moved to relax the laws that apply to new mining projects, developing a strategy to encourage brown coal export in Victoria, and initiating a Parliamentary Inquiry to identify and remove barriers to further 'Greenfields' minerals exploration and mining. That Parliamentary Inquiry is due to table its report tomorrow. Let's hope it considers the following differences between the treatment of coal mines and wind farms in Victoria:

  • A wind farm cannot be built within two km of a person's home without their consent. But a coal mine can be opened within 100 meters of a home without the owner's consent.
  • Wind farms are now excluded from 'no go' zones stretching across the state. But coal mines face no such 'no go' zones: the only place they are excluded from is national parks (for now).
  • All wind farms require planning approval from the local council. Coal projects, on the other hand, can avoid the need to obtain certain planning approvals at all in some cases.
  • Wind farms must comply with environmental laws like any other project. Coal projects, on the other hand, are exempt from parts of key laws like the Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic).

This treatment is obviously at odds with the scientific need to make a rapid transition out of polluting energy sources, like coal and gas, and into renewable energy. It is at odds with Victoria's abundant renewable energy resources, and their potential for growth in investment and jobs. It also represents a formidable distortion to the Victorian energy market. The carbon price and other Clean Energy Future policies will drive billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy, but that investment will not go to Victoria so long as these regulatory barriers are in place.

It reflects an assumption that the public benefit of extracting minerals is greater than any costs that may arise from doing so. However, the Industry Commission noted in 1991 that this is not necessarily the case--an argument which seems even more true now that more is understood about the impact on the health and safety of regional communities, the environmental impacts of mining (especially for coal and coal seam gas), and the macroeconomic costs of the mining boom for other economic sectors.

Why then should wind power be subject to more restrictive laws than coal and coal seam gas? For example, if wind farms are subject to 'no go' zones, why shouldn't coal mines be? The EDO report calls for a strategic planning process to identify sensitive areas (for example, those with valuable groundwater resources, or prime agricultural land, or high conservation value areas) and protect them from mining altogether through 'no go' zones closed to mining.

If regional communities can 'veto' wind farms near their property, why shouldn't they have the same rights for coal mines? The Victorian Farmers Federation has called for this right of veto. The EDO report also calls for regional communities to have the right to appeal mining approvals, and to enforce breaches of the law, in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

There are good reasons to think that renewable energy should be treated more favourably than fossil fuels, and given further support from the Victorian government. But at the very least, the government should level the playing field. After all, giving privileged support an industry as questionable as the coal and coal seam gas industry is stretching the limits of the phrase 'picking winners'.

Michael Power is a Law Reform Lawyer at the Environment Defenders Office (Victoria), an independent not-for-profit centre dedicated to public interest environment law.

Dhursar solar project commissioned
28 Apr 2012

FirstSolar, Inc, has announced the commissioning by Reliance Power Ltd, a Reliance ADAGroup company, of a 40 MW ground mounted solar photovoltaic power plant in Rajasthan that will provide clean energy to Mumbai. The project was built in just five months. Comprising some 500,000 FirstSolar thin-film modules, the power plant is spread over 350 acres near Dhursar village in Jaisalmer district.The plant is expected to generate more than 60 million units (kW) of clean solar power a year,making it one of the country's largest photovoltaic power plant in terms of electricity generation.

Covering 350 acres, it is 23 times the size of Calcutta's famous EdenGardens cricket grounds and is expected to satisfy the annual electricity needs of more than 70,000 average Indian households. It will displace more than 60,000 tonnes of CO₂ emissions per year,the equivalent of taking more than25,000 cars off the road. The Dhursar project is the first of several that Reliance plans to build with FirstSolar modules as part of a 100 MW module order placed last year.

Thursday 3 May 2012

UK launches North Sea renewable energy hub
25 Apr 2012

  • Major utilities, manufacturers sign up to partnership
  • E.ON awards offshore cable contract to Balfour Beatty
  • Two UK biomass plants reach milestones

LONDON, April 26 (Reuters)-More than twenty companies have signed a partnership agreement to turn the North Sea into a major renewable energy hub focusing on offshore wind power, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron is to announce on Thursday. Major utilities, such as Britain's Scottish Power and Norway's Statoil, manufacturers from Siemens to Gamesa Corp and supply chain companies are supporting the initiative, provisionally named Norstec.

"Our commitment and investment in renewable energy has helped to make renewable energy possible. Now we have a different challenge. We need to make it financially sustainable", Cameron will tell ministers from 23 countries who are attending a two-day clean energy summit in London. Further details about the operations of the network will be releaved at an offshore wind conference in London in June. Britain has an ambitious target of installing 18 GWs of offshore wind power capacity by 2020, compared with around 2 GW in operation in British waters at the moment.

German utility E.ON is also on Thursday expected to award a 736 million pound cable installation contract to British construction firm Balfour Beatty to connect its Humber Gateway offshore wind farm to the electricity grid. The 230 MW wind farm will be located 8 km off the coast of East Yorkshire and its 73 turbines will produce the equivalent of electricity used in 150,000 homes.

Two UK biomass power plants also reached major milestones on Thursday, with Helius Energy close to securing a finance deal to fund its 300 million pound Avonmouth plant and a construction start at the ECO₂ 38 MW biomass plant in Sleaford. British Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said earlier this week Britain would also sign clean energy cooperation agreements with Brazil, Germany, South Korea and the U.S, as part of the international summit. On Monday, Britain announced a partnership with the U.S, to support the development of floating wind turbines which can tap stronger wind forces.

Japan recommends preferential price rates for renewable energy
25 Apr 2012

Japan will require power utilities to pay above market rates for electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, based on recommendations announced today by a government panel. The preferential rate, known as a feed-in tariff, for solar power was recommended at 42 yen (52 U.S,¢) a kW for 20 years, compared with the current rate of 13.65 yen a kW for industry and commercial users, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Wind-generated power was recommended at 23.10 yen a kW for plants with the capacity of 20 kWs or more and 57.75 yen for smaller ones, both for 20 years. For geothermal, the panel recommended 27.30 yen a kW for plants with the capacity of 15,000 kWs or more and 42 yen for smaller plants, both for 15 years. Japan currently gets about 9% of its electricity from renewable energy.

Pending approval by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the feed-in tariffs will be introduced in July to spur investment in solar, wind geothermal, biomass and hydroelectric power generation as Japan plans a shift away from atomic power after the Fukushima disaster. In August, Japan's parliament approved legislation for the feed-in tariffs to help diversify its energy mix following the devastating accident at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in March 2011. Atomic power provided about 30% of the country's electricity before the Fukushima crisis.

Nuclear Free
Japan is set to be nuclear free for the first time in more than four decades next month as the last of its 50 operating reactors is scheduled to be shut for maintenance. All the reactors are being kept offline pending safety tests and government approval for restarts. The price recommendation for solar is in line with that earlier proposed by the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association. The Japan Wind Power Association had suggested a wind tariff of up to 25 yen over 20 years for bigger producers. The Japan Geothermal Developers' Council had recommended 25.8 yen a kW for 15 years for bigger suppliers.

App shows green power flows to German consumers
25 Apr 2012

(Reuters) - Power users with "green" leanings in Germany now can put into practice what they preach by switching on electrical devices at times of high renewable energy production. A new app offered by German utility Vattenfall Europe provides short-term information about the share of power derived from renewables such as wind or solar within the overall power mix. Stromwetter (power weather), the smartphone app which was developed by the firm, displays in green colour any share of renewable power exceeding 10%, or 8 GW of usage out of the maximum power load on the transmission grids of roughly 80,000 MW, Vattenfall said on Wednesday.

"If you prefer to use power from wind and solar power sources, then that is the time period on which to focus your consumption," said Helmar Rendez, managing director of Vattenfall Distribution. "By using the app, power customers can voluntarily support the strategy shift towards renewables, independently of where they are buying their power and at what tariff it is priced," he added. Wind power accounted for 38% of renewable power output last year and solar power for 16%, with biomass accounting for 30% and hydroelectric power the rest.

Stromwetter will derive the data from Leipzig power exchange EEX, which collects and relays aggregated production figures from German and Austrian power companies in 15-minute intervals. Germany has embarked on a shift toward renewables and away from nuclear power in the wake of Japan's Fukushima disaster in March 2011. It derived 20% of power from renewables last year. It wants 35% by 2020 and 80% by the middle of the century.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Ryan resists mining veto calls
23 Apr 2012

The Victorian Government is resisting calls to give landholders the power to veto mining activity on their land. Households can currently veto wind farm projects within a 2 km radius and the Victorian Farmers Federation says the laws should also apply to mining projects. It says farmers are particularly concerned about the risks associated with coal seam gas projects. However, Deputy Premier Peter Ryan says the current environment laws provide adequate protection.

"Through the laws that govern our mining regime in this state, anybody who wants to explore, for let alone actually mine coal seam gas in this state, will have to comply with the most rigorous laws in this nation", he said. He says coal seam gas projects do not pose a risk to the state's agriculture industry. "We have the best laws in Australia to make sure that not only is exploration very, very heavily monitored but to then make the next stage to mining is a huge quantum leap", he said. "We are very, very protective of all the environmental issues, particularly around the watertables".

Wind farm ecologist defends bird safety
24 Apr 2012

An ecologist says there is no evidence wind farms are threatening the future of native bird populations. A dead wedge-tailed eagle has been found not far from the base of a wind turbine at the Waterloo wind farm in the mid-north of South Australia. Dr Cindy Hull, who works for renewable energy producer Hydro Tasmania, says some birds fly into blades but wind farms do not affect habitats or migration patterns.

"There's been a lot of work trying to assess whether it's impacting on the fate of the species and it isn't", she said. "The wind industry is actually the only electricity generators that monitor their impact on wildlife, no-one else does. "So just because nothing's been reported from the other types of electricity generation, doesn't mean impacts aren't occurring, they're just not being measured".

Environmental consultant Travis How of consultancy company EBS Ecology says there are wedge-tailed eagles and peregrine falcons at the proposed Stony Gap wind farm site, south of Burra. "We've worked with TRUEnergy to then design infrastructure around that so potential habitat and the known populations aren't impacted upon at all", he said.

Study claims tourists 'not put off' by wind farms in Scotland
24 Apr 2012

Tourists visiting Scotland do not see wind farms as a problem, new research has suggested. In a survey commissioned by tourism agency VisitScotland, about 80% said a wind farm would not affect their decision about where to take a holiday. The study follows claims by US tycoon Donald Trump that wind farm developments would kill off tourism. He is expected to tell MSPs that the Scottish government's policy of promoting wind power is a mistake.

Nearly half of those questioned in the VisitScotland survey said they would be interested in visiting a wind farm if it had a centre included. Most of the 3,000 people questioned in the study neither agreed nor disagreed that wind farms spoil the look of the Scottish countryside. A similar number neither agreed nor disagreed that they would avoid an area of the countryside if there were a wind farm. The Scottish government said the survey proved that wind farms were not a problem for most visitors. The study came as Mr Trump prepared to appear at a Scottish parliament committee which is looking into green energy.

Earlier this year, Mr Trump-who is objecting to a planned offshore wind development near the site of his £1bn Aberdeenshire golf resort-accused First Minister Alex Salmond of being "hell bent on destroying Scotland's coastline". He has also attacked Scottish Natural Heritage and VisitScotland for "remaining silent on the issue". Mr Salmond hit back at the criticism ahead of Mr Trump's appearance before MSPs. He told the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Inverness that investment in Scotland did not "imply ownership of Scotland". He added that energy policy would be set by the Scottish people and parliament, and not by others.