Saturday 12 May 2012

Diageo to end funding of Heartland Institute after climate change outburst
6 May 2012

Firm has 'no plans' to work with thinktank following campaign comparing people concerned about climate to mass murderers

Diageo, one of the world's largest drinks companies, has announced it will no longer fund the Heartland Institute, a rightwing US thinktank which briefly ran a billboard campaign this week comparing people concerned about climate change to mass murderers and terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson and Ted Kaczynski.

On Thursday, a billboard appeared over the Eisenhower Expressway in Illinois showing a picture of Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who in 1996 was convicted of a 17 year mail bombing campaign that killed three people and injured dozens. The caption read: "I still believe in global warming. Do you?" A day later it was withdrawn.

The London-based drinks giant, which owns brands such as Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Moet & Chandon, said this year that it was "reviewing any further association with Heartland" following the release online of internal Heartland documents which revealed its corporate donors as well as a plan to promote an alternative climate change curriculum in US schools. Following the widespread outcry triggered by Heartland's billboards, a Diageo spokeswoman told the Guardian: "Diageo vigorously opposes climate scepticism and our actions are proof of this. Diageo's only association with the Heartland Institute was limited to a small contribution made two years ago specifically related to an excise tax issue. Diageo has no plans to work with the Heartland Institute in the future".

In February, a US scientist, Peter Gleick, admitted obtaining and publishing internal Heartland documents which showed that Diageo had given the thinktank $10,000 (£6,190) in 2010. The documents, one of which Heartland later claimed was a fake, said the thinktank was expecting another $10,000 from Diageo this year.

On Friday, Heartland, which is trying to promote its annual conference for climate skeptics, to be held in Chicago this month, said it was withdrawing the billboard campaign. However, it refused to apologise, claiming the campaign was an "experiment". Its website is still hosting the original press release, which includes the claim that the "most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen".

Microsoft, which has a policy of supplying free software to all non-profit organisations in the US, posted a blog on its website on Saturday distancing itself from Heartland. The thinktank received software from Microsoft worth $59,908 in 2011. The blog said: "Microsoft believes climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate, worldwide attention and we are acting accordingly,..

The Heartland Institute does not speak for Microsoft on climate change. In fact, the Heartland Institute's position on climate change is diametrically opposed to Microsoft's position. And we completely disagree with the group's inflammatory and distasteful advertising campaign". In March, General Motors, the world's largest carmaker, said it was ending its funding of Heartland after 20 years owing to the thinktank's hardline climate scepticism.

As expected, the Heartland Institute is sowing the seeds of its own demise and becoming a further embarrassment to the denialists who continue to ignore science and evidence. How much longer before Nick Minchin, Tony Abbott and Ted Baillieu catch on?

Japan enters nuclear recess as sole working power reactor shuts
6 May 2012

Japan began a recess from nuclear-generated electricity, its first in more than four decades, after its sole operating power reactor was halted for scheduled maintenance last night. Hokkaido Electric Power Co.'s Tomari No. 3 reactor in northern Japan stopped generating electricity at 11:03 p.m, yesterday, and fission ceased at 4 a.m, this morning, said Satoshi Takada, a spokesman for the utility. Closing the 912 MW Tomari unit leaves Japan without an operating power reactor for the first time since May 1970, as plant operators carry out mandatory maintenance or additional safety checks following the Fukushima disaster. The country's 50 nuclear plants provided 30% of its electricity prior to March 11, 2011.

The utilities powering the world's third-biggest economy have been forced to turn to coal, oil and gas-fired plants to keep factories, offices and households supplied with electricity. Buying and importing those fuels is driving up costs and may lead to higher electric bills and a further drag on an economy that's contracted in three of the past four years. Japan may "momentarily" be without atomic power, the Maimchi newspaper cited Industry Minister Yukio Edano as saying on April 15 after he failed to get agreement from local authorities that reactors at the Ohi plant of Kansai Electric (9503) passed safety tests and should resume.

Record LNG Imports
The Ohi atomic plant is located about 95 km (59 miles) northeast of Osaka, the nation's second-biggest metropolitan area. It helps power the Kansai area of western Japan that's about the size of Belgium, has an economy worth $1 trillion--similar in size to Mexico's--and is home to the cities of Osaka and Kyoto as well as the factories of Sharp Corp, and Panasonic Corp. Japan's 10 regional power utilities bought record amounts of liquefied natural gas last year to replace nuclear, or 52.9 million metric tons of LNG in the fiscal year ended in March, up 27% from a year earlier, according to data from the Federation of Electric Power (9501) Companies.

Use of petroleum, which includes crude and fuel oil, more than doubled to 23.3 million kiloliters (147 million barrels), according to the federation's data. Petroleum consumption was the highest in at least 10 years. Fuel costs at the nine regional utilities that have atomic plants--Okinawa Electric Power Co, is the exception--may more than double to about 7 trillion yen ($87.7 billion) in the year ending March 2013 if reactors remain shut, according to an April 9 report by the industry ministry. Kansai Electric's fuel bills may rise by 800 billion yen to about 1.1 trillion yen, it said.

Power Shortages
Kansai Electric's output without nuclear power may be 16.3% short of peak demand this summer if Japan experiences a heat wave similar to the one in 2010, according to the government's April 23 forecast. The utility would need to turn on half of its 11 reactors to avoid the shortages forecast under the government's worst case scenario, according to Tomoko Murakami, a Tokyo-based nuclear analyst at the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan. Restarting that number of reactors is very unlikely, she said last month.

Stress Tests
The Ohi reactors would be the first to come back online since Japan adopted so-called nuclear stress tests or computer simulations to assess each plant's ability to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis and to supply backup power to keep reactor cooling systems running. Power companies usually take about 10 days to start an idled reactor, according to Tomoe Sugimori, a spokeswoman for Kansai Electric. The failure of backup power at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station on March 11 last year caused the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986, and radiation fallout that forced the evacuation of about 160,000 people.

Japanese experts warn Indonesia on nuclear energy
4 May 2012

Japanese experts have warned the Indonesian government to be very careful when deciding whether to generate power from nuclear power, arguing that the archipelago is prone to natural disasters. Japanese experts Heizo Takenaka and Yoichi Funabashi said that even their own country, which is among the most technologically advanced in the world, still has problems in dealing with the double whammy of last years tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown that followed.

Takenaka, a former internal affairs and communications minister, said Japan dealt with a massive crisis after the quake struck the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011. Funabashi said that it was the worst crisis the country had faced since World War II. Funabashi led an independent investigation team, established by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, to review how the Japanese government and other agencies responded to the disaster. Responding to Indonesia's plan to have its own nuclear plant, Takenaka said that although each country could decide its own energy policy, Indonesia should consider the fact that it is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, making it prone to disaster.

Radiation will have a lasting impact, so you have to take into account a lot of things before building a power plant. You have to think about the cost of its management, its security and its restoration should anything happen. Its very costly, time consuming and risky, Funabashi said. There are no nuclear plants in Indonesia, but the government has expressed interest in building one. The country has two agencies overseeing nuclear issues: The National Nuclear Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Regulator Agency and Institute of Nuclear Technology.

Morgan Stanley backs solar energy leases for clean power finance
3 May 2012

Morgan Stanley (MS) and Main Street Power Co, are providing funds that will enable Clean Power Finance Inc.'s customers to install as much as $300 million in residential solar power projects. The equity investments, along with debt from lenders led by Zions Bancorporation (ZION), will finance rooftop photovoltaic systems on homes in California and Arizona, Clean Power Finance said today in a statement.

The closely held San Francisco-based company has developed software that connects investors and solar installers that may lack resources to provide financing for their own customers. "We're constructing a platform, or as I think of it, a conduit between the capital markets and the installers", Kristian Hanelt, senior vice president of renewable capital markets for Clean Power Finance, said in a phone interview. Morgan Stanley "is investing for the tax benefits", including a 30% investment tax credit for solar, while Main Street will be the long-term owner of the systems, he said.

The MySolar fund is the company's third and the industry's largest for non-military installations, Hanelt said. SolarCity Inc.'s $1 billion program to install solar panels on military houses is the largest. It's backed by $350 million in loans from Bank of America Corp, and an undisclosed amount of tax-equity financing from US Bancorp. "We've brought together a group of parties who all are interested in participating in the explosive growth that's happening in residential solar", Hanelt said.

Enabling Solar
Other companies enabling residential solar, including SolarCity, SunRun Inc, and Sungevity Inc., finance installations for homeowners through leases or long-term power purchase agreements that allow them to install systems at little to no upfront cost to customers. The companies pick the installers or do the work themselves. Clean Power Finance says it's working with more than 1,500 installers in every U.S, state. "We don't actually take equity in these projects ourselves", Hanelt said. "We think that's a bad use of venture capital dollars and that we'd be better off spending the Kleiner Perkins and the Google Ventures venture capital on building our business itself", he said.

Including the latest fund, Clean Power Finance has raised about $500 million to finance installations for its customers, according to the statement. Google Inc. (GOOG) created a $75 million fund in September. The size of the company's initial fund and the investors wasn't made public, Alison Mickey, a Clean Power Finance spokeswoman, said by e-mail.

Monday 7 May 2012

Wind farm has plenty of puff
4 May 2012

YOU just have to look at the trees.. Then, says Hydro Tasmania chief executive Roy Adair, it's easy to see why the Cape Portland property on Tasmania's far north-east tip, is considered one of the best wind farm sites in Australia. "The configuration of the trees and the way that they are heavily leaning to one side", he said.

The 550ha beef, dairy and former woolgrowing property is home to the 56 turbine Musselroe wind farm, now under construction after an eight year gestation. Mr Adair said the delays, as Hydro Tasmania waited for finalisation of the Federal Government's Renewable Energy Target Scheme, had been a blessing. The green light for the $400 million project coincided with Europe's financial debacle-an opportunity for Hydro Tasmania to pull off a great turbine deal, with hard-pressed Danish builder Vestas Wind Systems. The wind turbines will stretch 18km across the Cape Portland property from east to west.

They will be connected to a control building by 60km of underground cable. Mr Adair said buying the property in 2009, rather than working with an existing owner, enabled Hydro Tasmania to put its giant turbines with hub heights of 80m and a 45m blade radius and each producing 3 MW of power where it wanted. He said Hydro Tasmania wasn't troubled by Aboriginal heritage, environmental and ecological dilemmas which had plagued recent Tasmanian developments.

He said there had been several situations where turbines, as well as the 50km transmission line to Derby, had been on a collision course with sensitive sites. "We just moved them", he said. Project manager Justin Cooper said the construction workforce was this month ramping up to a peak of 200, temporarily tripling the size of Gladstone, the nearest town. Premier Lara Giddings, who yesterday visited the site, said 200 jobs over 18 months was a welcome boost for an area hit hard by the forestry downturn.

South Korea approves emissions trading system
3 May 2012

South Korea approved a cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions as President Lee Myung Bak seeks support from factories and power plants in the fastest-growing producer of greenhouse gases among industrialised democracies. The National Assembly passed a bill to establish a cap-and-trade system in the country by 2015 with the backing of both ruling and opposition parties, according to the assembly's webcast of the main session yesterday.

"The bill is needed to cope with global climate change and, domestically to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas efficiently", Kim Jae Kyung, a member of the ruling New Frontier Party, said in the assembly's plenary session before voting. The bill was passed in a 148 0 vote, with 3 abstentions. President Lee Myung Bak is struggling to sell the plan at home after pledging in December 2009 at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen to cut carbon emissions by 30% from forecast levels by 2020. The country's largest companies said the plan will hurt competitiveness.

Korea's decision follows an agreement at climate talks in December among about 200 countries including the US and China to wait until 2015 to sign a global accord on emission reductions that would take effect as late as 2020. "Korea becomes an early adopter in Asia" of a cap-and-trade program, Kang Hee Chan, a senior researcher at the Korea Environment Institute, said by phone. "Korea joins Australia and China, which plan to introduce the program in 2015".

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Japan assesses older nuclear plants

TOKYO--Japan is grappling with the question of whether older nuclear reactors are more prone to spinning out of control when a disaster hits, as the nation pushes to restart units for the first time since last year's accident in Fukushima.

The Japanese government, which has held a series of hearings on the matter this year with an expert panel, concluded age wasn't a factor in the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. All three reactors went online in the 1970s. The government said bolts, pipes and other important parts used in safety equipment such as cooling systems had been regularly replaced, making the age of the reactors less relevant.

A number of critics have expressed concern with the findings, saying that the government's investigations weren't broad enough, and that it ignored comments even from critical members of the panel. The government has been pressing to avert expected energy shortages over the summer by restarting some of Japan's 50 reactors, nearly all of which are now shut down while it reviews their safety. Some 60% of those reactors started operations in the 1970s or 1980s--a similar proportion to that seen globally.

On Wednesday, the government said it expects electricity shortages in Tokyo as well as in the Kansai and Kyushu regions this summer, which is shaping up to be the country's first peak-demand season without nuclear power since 1965. nuclear power generated 11% of Japan's power supply this past August, according to industry data. The loss of that power makes the potential for shortages greater this year than last, despite efforts by utilities to boost non-nuclear generation.

In a preliminary report, the government's national policy unit projected a 5% shortage for Tokyo and 4% shortages for Kansai and Kyushu. The forecast is based on data from last summer and on supply-capacity figures submitted by utilities. It takes into account the possible resumption of power-saving programs in place last summer, which were estimated to have trimmed typical demand levels by around 10%.

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