Wednesday 21 November 2012

100 jobs at risk as turbine maker misses contract
16 Nov 2012

THE head of Keppel Prince in Portland has warned that up to 100 jobs are at risk after developers for a planned $260 million wind farm near Ballarat tendered the project to an overseas company. Company general manager Steve Garner told The Standard he was informed last weekend that project managers REpower Systems, representing energy-giant Meridian Energy, had chosen a South Korean-based manufacturer because their turbines cost $100,000 less.

News of the development has sparked calls from across business, trade unions and politics to protect the manufacturing industry from cheaper overseas imports. "We have been advised that all 64 towers for the Mount Mercer wind farm will now be coming from a company in Korea", Mr Garner said. "We were banking on it, but they (Meridian Energy) decided to go for cheap imports".

Keppel Prince is now only one of two builders of turbines in Australia following last month's collapse of RPG Australia, which produced turbines from sites in South Australia and Queensland. But Mr Garner warned the company only had enough work to go through until April next year and was now reliant on winning a contract to build 90 turbines in Snowtown in South Australia. "I'm fighting for whatever I can get", Mr Garner said.

The company head has been outspoken after a previous contract was awarded to a foreign producer, but he said the issue had become urgent. "We'll certainly be looking at shutting down our wind section of the business", he said. While praising energy companies AGL Energy and Pacific Hyrdo for supporting local industry, Mr Garner hit out at Meridian Energy and REpower Systems for selecting overseas companies. "We would love to see tariffs imposed on this so we can have Australian-made jobs", he said.

Keppel Prince previously lost a tender for another wind farm development for Gunning in New South Wales in 2009. It is currently building 17 turbines for a project in Gullen Range, however the remainder of the 73 turbines are being made by another company in China.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Mark Solly said members at Keppel Prince were still stunned by this week's news. "This is just a kick in the guts for the workers in Portland--there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel", Mr Solly said. "This whole renewable energy thing was meant to be a saviour". The union leader said staff at the site were bewildered by the news. He said union and community meetings were likely to take place in Portland next week.

Solar funding round leaves Mildura in the dark
12 Nov 2012

A huge solar power farm intended for the north-western Victorian town of Mildura is in doubt after the EnergyAustralia-backed project again missed out on federal government funding. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today unveiled its investment plan for 2012 15 and its general funding strategy aimed at promoting the development of renewable energy, particularly in regional Australia.

ARENA, which was launched in July, increased the funding available for investment, including for the Solar Flagships Program it inherited, from $1.7 billion to $2.2 billion. Even so, the agency had to make "tough decisions" on its allocation, Greg Bourne, chair of ARENA, said in a statement. ARENA decided not to commit funds to EnergyAustralia's proposed Mallee Solar Park, costing as much as $700 million to develop, because of its "broad similarity" to a thin-film solar photovoltaic project being built by AGL Energy and FirstSolar.

"We are obviously disappointed with the decision", a spokeswoman for EnergyAustralia, formerly TRUEnergy, said. "We believe we submitted a strong and competitive proposal that would have provided economic and environmental benefits to the State, however we understand we were up against some other good projects", she said. "We will continue to assess what funding options are available".

The federal government has already committed $129.7 million and the NSW government $64.9 million to the AGL Energy-FirstSolar's sites in Nyngan, west of Dubbo, and Broken Hill. "We are also continuing discussions with Moree Solar Farm and Infigen Energy-Suntech Power on potential projects based on their short-listed Solar Flagships Program applications", Mr Bourne said. the Mallee Solar Park had missed out on a previous flagship grant. The Baillieu government had pledged funding for the project if it succeeded in securing federal funds after the Brumby government had promised to tip in as much as $100 million.

The 600 hectare solar park would reportedly have been 180 MWs in size and created as many as 200 jobs. John Forrest, the Federal MP for Mallee, described the $700 million project as potentially "be one of the largest solar power stations globally" that would be "a project of both State and national significance", according to a report on his website.

Also ruled out for ARENA funding was the 250 MW Solar Dawn Project solar thermal project proposed to be built near Chinchilla in south-western Queensland. That venture aims to construct a solar field of mirrors, steam boiler tubes and a "power block" over 450 hectares.

ARENA plans
ARENA has $3.2 billion funding locked in until 2020 to help renewable energy technologies move from research, development and demonstration to commercialisation, although some of the funds are already earmarked for projects support by the Australian Solar Institute and other government bodies that will be rolled into the agency.

Among its list of priorities released today, ARENA said the majority of its funds over the next three years will be directed to energy generation projects "that are closest to commercial viability and where investment will accelerate this outcome".

"We have around about $2 billion yet to be allocated", Mr Bourne told Fairfax Media. Solar, which along with geothermal technologies, received much of the assigned funding, is likely to be remain a priority. "On a world stage we do actually have pretty much world leadership still in the solar photovoltaic area", he said. "That's very, very hard to say about any other technology in the pie-charts that are around".

Beyond the identification of technologies where Australia has an edge or the prospect of grabbing one, the agency will also work on removing obstacles to their take-up. "Is it possible to set up conditions (enabling) a cascade of change to occur?", Mr Bourne said".It may be that we can make a small in investment in the removal of some of those roadblocks".

Among the agency's activities will be efforts to explore the opportunities of off-grid and near-grid energy generation. The funding may also extend to identifying potential for renewable transport fuels. The Energy White Paper released by the government last week, forecast the share of Australia's power generation will double to 20% by 2020 and double again to 40% by 2035 and reach a half share by 2050. The latter target may require as much as $200 billion in investment to achieve, the report said.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Cordillera power blowing in the wind
11 Nov 2012

(Philippines)--A wind power plant in Mountain Province will add 15 MWs of electricity in Cordillera highlands over the next three to five years, making the region a major source of green energy. PhilCarbon Inc, chairman Rufino Bomasang says his company is committed to help generate electricity without harming the environment and the host communities. "We plan to build 25 wind turbines along the Pilao-Langsayan ridge", he tells Manila Standard, referring to the location across Sagada and Besao towns. "Each turbine is designed to generate 600 kWs".

Bomasang notes the increased economic activities in the highlands due to the influx of locators and visitors and as the transient population continue to ratchet up energy demand more than the present supply level can meet. PhilCarbon president Ruth Yu-Owen says the host community will be entitled to a royalty of one centavo per kW generated with the aggregate amount to be divided among the barangay, with 25% share; town, 40%; and province, 35%.

"Our company will be paying its business permit and real property taxes to the municipal governments", she says. "We hope that with our operations, Sagada and Besao will be elevated from fifth class to fourth class towns". PhilCarbon says the project is covered by service contract 2011 12 048. The company, accredited by the Energy Department, undertakes concept, feasibility and finance packaging in renewable sources for power generation related to the trading of carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol.

The country's first wind power plant of 20 turbines generating 33 MW was completed in August 2008 in Bangui, Ilocos Norte, facing the West Philippine Sea with a loan assistance from the Danish International Development Agency. A second wind farm is rising along the Verde Strait in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental, designed for 48 MW with turbines supplied by Eolica S.L. Unipersonal of Italy.

Scientists unlock nature's hydrogen secrets
10 Nov 2012

Professors Rob Stranger and Ron Pace from the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian National University (ANU) have used computer modelling to reveal the molecular structure of the photosynthesis reaction site in plants. Professor Pace says the discovery takes a leaf out of nature's handbook, for the first time identifying the specific water molecules in a plant's photosystem that are converted into oxygen. "Nature very early on in the evolutionary process on Earth figured out how to do this particular piece of chemistry with close to 100% efficiency", he said.

Professor Stranger says the work offers clues as to how scientists can create alternative fuel. "The part of the plant's photosystem that is important to this process is called the oxygen-evolving-complex (OEC)", he said. "If we can steal nature's secrets and understand how the OEC performs its chemistry, then we can learn to make hydrogen much more efficiently, and hydrogen is the fuel for a totally renewable fuel future".

Professor Pace says that while scientists know the OEC contains four manganese atoms and a calcium atom, they have been trying for decades to determine the exact structure of the system and how it works. "Our work confirms the OEC structure and means researchers can progress new fuel developments based on photosynthesis", he said.

New method
Scientists have been splitting water molecules to create hydrogen gas for decades, but the process requires electricity. Professor Stranger says the current system of using electricity from other sources to create hydrogen is wasteful and not ideal. "This has been a very big challenge for chemists and scientists", he said. "We did computer modelling to try and rationalise [how photosynthesis does it] and try and make sense of it. "So did a lot of other people worldwide, but they didn't get anywhere with it, but we were able to".

Professor Pace says other scientists had less luck because they underestimated nature's creativity. "It turns out that nature very cleverly doesn't charge the process up more than is absolutely necessary", he said. "That's what's confused our colleagues because they believed that the chemistry wasn't quite that clever. "We can see now that you don't need to use as much electric charge as was previously thought, which is very important. "The more you do that, the more dangerous you make this reaction, which is already the most dangerous reaction in nature".

The next step for the two scientists is to publish their findings before handing it over to a laboratory to try and mimic the process of photosynthesis, something they believe will be a reality within five years. But Professor Pace is quick to ease thoughts the future will involve leaving a car in the sun and fuelling it up with a garden hose. "If I was a shonk I'd tell you yes", he said. "But in fact that's not the way I see it sensibly happening".

Australia’s Pacific Hydro may expand retail electricity business
8 Nov 2012

Pacific Hydro Pty, the Australian renewable energy producer, may expand its retail business to New South Wales state and sell power to residential customers.

Pacific Hydro, a unit of Industry Funds Management Pty, in September started a retail-energy arm targeting businesses in the states of South Australia and Victoria. That reduces the company's reliance on retailers Origin Energy Ltd. (ORG), AGL Energy Ltd. (AGK) and TRUEnergy Holdings Pty Ltd., Lane Crockett, Pacific Hydro Australia's general manager, said today. "That's an alternative avenue to market", he said in an interview in Melbourne. "We'll be looking to expand that business, and that might provide opportunities so we don't have to rely on the big three".

Australia set a target of generating 41,000 GWs of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, or 20% of its projected needs. As demand slows, that target may end up being 25% of the country's energy mix prompting calls from power companies such as TRUEnergy Holdings to lower it. Uncertainty over whether the target will remain in its current form is hurting investment, Crockett said. Pacific Hydro also sees an opportunity in selling clean power to homes, Crockett said. "We think there's a story there to potentially market a green product to the average household", he said.

Pacific Hydro and partner Fotowatio Renewable Ventures are seeking funds from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for a solar power project in New South Wales after losing a competition for federal government funds earlier this year, Crockett said. That project may have the capacity to produce as much as 60 MWs of electricity, he said. "We've been in discussions with ARENA", he said, declining to speculate on when the organization will decide.

Solar photovoltaic diesel hybrid system to power one of Australia’s remotest locations
8 Nov 2012

An off-grid, sustainable power supply developed by a Curtin University PhD student is being used to power one of the hottest and most remote locations in Australia.

Shaji Mathews from the University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is developing uninterrupted power supplies for remote locations and, in conjunction with Regen Power, has designed and installed an innovative solar photovoltaic diesel hybrid system for the Veterans Retreat at Meentheena Station, 75 km east of Marble Bar.

The retreat is for veterans of military, medical, police and other services to help them cope with experiences of past conflicts and events. While the remoteness of the site makes it an ideal location to unwind, visitors battle with the extreme temperatures, so the Veterans Retreats of Western Australia approached Regen Power to develop a cost-effective, uninterrupted power supply system. With the nearest petrol station located some 200 km away, Mathews developed a diesel generator which can run on variable speed to reduce the retreat's fuel needs, yet still meet power requirements in case of solar power shortages.

"This is the first variable speed generator of this type and I'm pretty sure success of this combination system will give a big boost to remote applications", Mathews said. "Current hybrid systems require a large battery storage bank or a big diesel generator to meet peak load, and running a new or upgraded grid is expensive. We can supply year-round power without a huge capital investment, making it affordable for those with limited funds".

The system includes 32 panels, a 38 kW energy storage battery system and the variable speed diesel generator, providing 24 hour power to the retreat, which incorporates facilities for caravans and camping, a donga with four self-contained rooms, a house and a shed. solar panels have been mounted to the rooftop of the house and donga while the battery bank is located in an air-conditioned and insulated sea container.

"The new power system allows residents to have air conditioners, lighting and refrigerators in each room and to use appliances at any time. Previously, only their absolute basic electrical needs, such as refrigeration, were powered using a small petrol generator", Mathews said.

The solar panels will generate an average of about 30 kW of electricity per day. The solar hybrid system can meet almost 10 kW peak power on a sunny day and around 5 kW power at night. "Our experiments have proven that the variable speed generator can achieve a fuel saving of up to 40% compared to a conventional diesel generator in remote applications", he said.

Scotland approves 85MW Highlands wind farm
7 Nov 2012

GLASGOW, Scotland, Nov. 7 (UPI)--An 85 MW wind farm in the Scottish highlands has been approved despite the objections of hikers who say spectacular views of the moors will be ruined. Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing announced Monday planning approval had been granted to the Beinneun wind farm, near Fort Augustus in the Highlands, to be developed by RidgeWind Ltd., of Lyneham, England.

Ewing said the wind farm will put $48 million into the Highland economy during the two-year construction period, including $1.6 million for local communities, while providing 90 construction jobs with three permanent full-time positions. "Once it is up and running, it will save thousands of tons of CO₂ each year, and it is expected that the savings made will 'pay off' the carbon footprint of constructing the site in less than two years", he said. "The wind farm will also produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 40,000 homes".

The new wind farm continues a push to tap the energy potential of the windswept northern Scottish moors and highlands, during which it has granted 30 onshore wind farm applications since 2007. Another 45 energy applications are pending, including 37 for onshore wind projects. Many of the Scottish wind turbine projects have drawn the opposition of local residents who object to their visual impacts and their perceived effects on the tourism industry and issues of local control.

Their position was taken up last week by Conservative Party Energy Minister of State John Hayes, who told The Daily Mail last week "enough was enough" and "we can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities". The comments reflected a bitter divide between Tory leaders and British Energy Secretary Ed Davey, a Liberal Democratic government coalition partner, over the proliferation of wind farms in the Scottish, Welsh and English countryside, reports indicated.

The Beinneun wind farm, though in a remote area about 150 miles north of Glasgow, has likewise drawn opposition from lovers of the area's scenic beauty. It is also near a special protection area for two rare breeding bird species, the black-throated diver and common scoter. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland said the cumulative impact of Beinneun in combination with the neighboring 20 turbine Millennium wind farm "will overwhelm the landscape due to the increased number of turbines at the location".

The group disputed an environmental assessment that found the impact on the area's landscape to be negligible, noting the it contains a popular hill walking summit at Meall Dubh--a "Corbett" of "significant interest to mountaineers from all over the U.K". "Should the development be consented, the views from here would be dominated by turbines in an otherwise relatively wild area", the mountaineering group said. "Turbines would be included in the majority of the arcs of view from this summit".

Also affected would be views from a popular tourist route along the A87 motorway through the Highlands, it said. However, Scottish Natural Heritage found that the Beinneun wind farm could be accommodated without "major problems" for wildlife or landscape.

"We support renewable energy as a key means of addressing the climate change threat", Steve North, SNH operations manager for South Highland, said in a December statement. "The challenge for us all is to balance the needs of the renewable energy sector with those of nature and people's enjoyment of the outdoors. "The proposed wind farm at Beinneun would not have any major effect on local wildlife. We've also advised that removal of some turbines would avoid any impacts on views from the A87, an important tourist route".

Push to back wind power
6 Nov 2012

Wind farming advocates turned out in force to the official launch of the Victorian Wind Alliance at Portland last week. The newly-formed group was founded two weeks ago to provide a voice for people in support of the wind farms. The launch, which was held at the Keppel Prince wind tower manufacturing facility in south-west Victoria last Thursday, saw about 80 wind workers and community members sign the alliance's statement of support. To date, the group has about 600 supporters.

Keppel Prince Engineering managing director Steve Garner-who is also a member of the alliance-admitted his interests were aligned with wind farming but added one of the understated benefits of the issue was jobs. "One the wind turbines alone, we employ about 100 people", he said. The business has been making wind towers for about 12 years. "The work has been very patchy", Mr Garner said. "We've been working on getting political support on both sides of the government to retain the renewable energy target and it looks as though it will stay now, which means more jobs".

Apart from providing clean energy, he said it provided "green" jobs. "People feel good about what they are doing, because they know they are contributing to a sustainable future", he said. "And you've really got to ask yourself how many carbon emissions a coal-fired power station emits and whether you want a sustainable energy future or not".

The Federal Government has set a goal to provide 20% of the country's energy through renewable energy by 2020, and the alliance say Victoria needs to act quickly to jump on the opportunities wind farms provide. Mr Garner added that one of the biggest obstacles to wind power development in Australia had been the amended planning zones, which have put big restrictions on new developments. Now wind farms can not be built within 2km of homes.

Mr Garner said the restrictions had brought the wind power sector to a standstill. However, he hoped the Victorian Wind Alliance would be a platform to the lobby the State Government. "We want to government to see the positive side of wind farms, such as the ability to switch to renewable energy and the potential of job creation", he said. "We want the current planning laws to be restricted or loosened. It's bad policy". He also said community opposition was another big obstacle. "There are a lot of myths about wind turbines, about noise and ill health, which haven't been proven", he said. "The community have been misinformed and we want to set the record straight".

The launch of the Victorian Wind Alliance occurred on the same day the Mitchell Shire Council unanimously rejected an application for a proposed 16 turbine wind farm, to be built south east of Seymour in central Victoria. Infigen Energy were planning to erect the $100 million 'Cherry Tree Wind Farm' that would see 160 metre towers constructed on the Trawool Valley. But the plans were rejected last week by councillors at a meeting that attracted more than 100 people.

"The council decided to oppose the plans, after hearing 117 individual objections, one group objection and five letters of support", a council spokesperson said. The mains concerns were location but some community members raised the topic of health effects and noise levels from the wind turbines. The spokesperson added many of the objectors were not opposed to wind or renewable energy but rather their impacts. "They don't want this on their backdoor", he said.

Australian Environment Foundation executive director Max Rheese, who spoke at an earlier meeting regarding the Cherry Tree Wind Farm meeting in August, said there was strong community opposition to the plans. "We don't see any economic benefits to wind power given it is subsidised by electricity providers and tax payers", he said. "And there is growing evidence that wind farms are making some people sick". He said the AEF wanted a moratorium on new wind farms being built, until health effects had been investigated. The proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm will now be decided by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) later this month.

Pacific islands drop diesel for 100 percent solar power
5 Nov 2012

The island nation of Tokelau switched on the third and final installment of its new solar power grid last week, earning praise around the world as the first country to become entirely solar-powered--except it's not a country. Made up of three tiny tropical atolls-a few specks in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean-Tokelau is a dependent territory of New Zealand, whose government's international aid and development programme advanced the $7 million to fund the project, aimed at replacing Tokelau's diesel-powered energy grid.

"Electricity expenses make up a huge portion of their budget in Tokelau, which makes it hard for them to invest and look toward the future, so there's a very clear financial argument for this system", said Michael Bassett-Smith, managing director of Powersmart Solar, New Zealand's largest solar power company, which directed the project. Now, as a result of the project, "not only does the New Zealand aid programme save money from not having to import diesel, but Tokelau has a very clear sense of the price of their energy".

Though its economy runs almost entirely on the sale of fishing licenses and Internet domain names and the atolls boast "at most" five motor vehicles, Tokelau still imported over 2,000 barrels of diesel per year at a cost of $1 million New Zealand dollars ($825,000) to provide electricity to its approximately 1,400 people. According to Mika Perez, Tokelau's director of economic development, natural resources and the environment, the jump to solar power is both a cost-saving measure and a commitment to environmental sustainability on the frontier of climate change.

"The industrial nations are contributing to climate change through emissions of fossil fuels into the atmosphere, affecting Tokelau, indirectly, quite a bit", said Perez. Now, "Tokelau will take the lead in harnessing the sun to provide renewable energy, and other countries will look at us and know that we are doing something about it, and they should do their part".

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Nuclear industry funded Japan's safety experts, report claims
4 Nov 2012

Four out of the six members of a government team drafting new safety standards for nuclear reactors have received thousands of dollars in grants from the nuclear industry, according to a report. The four experts have received between 3 million yen ($37,000) and 27 million yen each in grants, donations and compensation in the past three to four years, Kyodo News reported late on Saturday, citing data disclosed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).

The NRA said the members "have been selected in line with rules, and there should be no problem", shrugging off concerns that judgments could be swayed, the report said. The NRA requires experts to disclose remuneration and donations, but has no rules for disqualifying them in light of such information, it said.

Of the four recipients, Akira Yamaguchi, an Osaka University professor, received a total of at least 27.14 million yen in donations and research grants from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., a manufacturer of nuclear plant equipment, and other relevant entities, it said. Akio Yamamoto, a professor at Nagoya University, received a total of 10.1 million yen from Japan Atomic Power Co., a builder and operator of nuclear power plants, among others, it said.

Tsukuba University professor Yutaka Abe received a total of 5 million yen from parties including a laboratory of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO₂, while Japan Atomic Energy Agency researcher Tomoyuki Sugiyama received a total of 3 million yen from Nuclear Fuel Industries, it said.

Meanwhile, TEPCO, the operator of crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, plans to set up a regional headquarters in Fukushima prefecture to better oversee local reconstruction, decontamination and compensation payments, Kyodo and other media said.