Monthly Archives: November 2012

Insight: How communities can take lead in green energy

By Giles Parkinson on 30 November 2012

For the full article:http://reneweconomy.com.au/2012/insight-how-communities-can-take-lead-in-green-energy-65335

This is the second in a series looking more deeply into issues which affect the development of the clean energy industry in Australia. The first was on the 2kms set-back rule imposed by the Victorian government and at least partially adopted in NSW.

Green Energy is a must  for both the immediate and longer term benefits for The Bellarine community  ….. read this example for the opportunity value.                            Many thanks to Giles Parkinson for his thoroughness and consistent endeavours.

For the past 12 months, a digital display located behind the counter of the newsagent in High Street in the Victorian town of Woodend has logged what Barry Mann describes as a major lost opportunity. Real time data from a wind mast located in an old timber mill a few kilometres out of town documents the amount of electricity that would have been produced if a proposal to install three wind turbines in a harvested pine forest 6kms from town had been allowed to go ahead.

Before the mast was taken down earlier this month: the data stood at this: 12.6 gigawatt hours of electricity generated over 12 months and four days (12.630 million kilowatt hours) – about enough electricity to satisfy the needs of 2,037 homes and generate $1.5 million in revenue from selling the electrons to the grid. (You can find the data on their website)

Mann is a director of WISE (Woodend Integrated Sustainable Energy)  – a local not-for-profit group that says its goal is to ”assist communities to take responsibility for their energy and carbon future.” It is one of dozens of similar groups in Australia that are hoping to implement their own local plans, but don’t have so many electrons to show for it yet.

For the moment, Woodend’s own plans have been frustrated by the election of the Baillieu Conservative government, and the introduction of a 2km setback ruling and the declaration of a “no-go” zone through large slabs of the Mt Macedon ranges – two initiatives that local member Donna Petrovich is proud to take responsibility for. (See addendum below)

“I was gobsmacked by the decision,” Mann says. “The no-go zone is such at odds with what community thinks about community power. But good policy stands the test of time and this isn’t good policy. But it’s (the wind project’s) time will come.”

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The Middlegrunden wind farm in Denmark was the first offshore wind farm to be owned by a community-based co-operative.

Community ownership is common in Europe and other countries. In Germany and Denmark, the countries with the most ambitious renewable policies, it is a fundamental part of their clean energy strategy. Even if the numbers in dollar terms are relatively small, it has granted the social licence to invest the hundreds of billions necessary for the clean energy transformation.

But in Australia, it is a resource that is largely untouched, even if Australians have the highest rate of household ownership of rooftop solar PV systems. But the public debate over wind farms, in particular, and renewables in general, is wrenching. Only one community owned facility – the 2-turbine, 4.1MW Hepburn Community Wind Farm in Victoria is operating, while a second, in Denmark in Western Australia, is under construction.

But that may be about to change. In the next few weeks, a NSW organization hopes to unveil plans for up to ten community-owned solar installations totalling 1MW of installed capacity across the state.

The idea is relatively simple – around 80-100kW of rooftop solar PV is installed on the roof of a commercial operator – be it a chicken farm, a manufacturer or an aged care centre – and is designed in such a way to ensure that all the electricity is used on site, rather than exported to the grid.

Andy Cavanagh-Downs, the executive director of Embark, a not-for-profit organization providing support for community groups to establish their own renewable energy plants, agrees that the community ownership model could be very powerful, and the “social licence” that such engagement generates could be a key leverage for the billions required in the future green energy investments.

“We need to have as many proponents for renewable energy around the country as possible,” he tells RenewEconomy.  “The more voters that participate in and benefit from renewable energy projects, the better it will be. There is a fantastic story in regional development and investment – it makes rural and regional areas more robust and self reliant. It has social benefits in bringing people together with  a common goal and achievement, and it has environmental and economic benefits.”

Embark was established, and is chaired, by Simon Holmes à Court on the heels of the success of the Hepburn Wind project, partly to address the high level of interest from other community groups. It sees its role as providing assistance and advice, and creating templates that can be used by communities to create their own renewable energy generation – be it from the wind, the sun, or other.

Embark is heavily involved with Blakester’s plans, and is looking at several other projects in Sydney and Victoria. “Community wind projects have the ability to engage literally thousands of people, but are long and complex projects with plenty of early risk,” Holmes à Court says. “We are really excited by community solar because the projects are likely to have much shorter timelines and lower development risks, however there are some significant hurdles that must be cleared first, including demonstrating sound economics.”

Commercial operators are also recognizing the potential and advantages of community ownership. Infigen Energy has become the first commercial developer in Australia to publicly declare that it may form a partnership with the local community, and has offered at least one turbine in its proposed 44-turbine Flyer’s Creek development near Orange in NSW to be purchased by local residents. “We though that having the community own (part of) the facility, there would be support for it and that would outweigh the resistance from the anti-wind minority,” George told RenewEconomy in a recent interview.

 

Embark’s Cavanagh-Downs says other commercial operators are also expressing interest in having a community ownership component, recognizing the influence that can play in bringing community support for projects. He said Embark is currently advising one operator on bringing in community ownership but can’t go into details. “It doesn’t matter what infrastructure comes to town, but unless communities can feel direct benefits there will be opposition to change. The opportunity for ownership provides a large number of stakeholders with a genuine sense of control in the changes in their community and helps break down an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.” he says. ”We’ve spoken to the majority of active developers and all have expressed interest in this innovation. Some are beginning to see it as a necessary development in order to develop and maintain local support for their projects.”

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To get a better understanding of the community-developer partnerships, Holmes à Court even became one of the few foreign investors in the Kilbraur Wind Energy Co-operative in Scotland (pictured right). The developer, Falck Renewables, has partnered with UK community energy pioneer Energy4All to create a model where community members can invest in large wind farms. While Falk have chosen to permit community investment voluntarily, the Danish government has recently implemented legislation requiring all developers of on-shore wind farms to offer shares to those living nearby.

Embark is considering other models too. This includes discussions with councils about the involvement of ratepayers. Crowd-funding – popular for solar projects in recent months in the UK and the US – is also a possibility, although Cavanagh-Downs suggests it would more likely be suitable for a “one-off” projects for proving a new technology. “It’s an interesting idea for proving something in a first-of-its-kind that is not necessary viable without that sort of funding,” he says. “But we are more focused on models that are economically viable and that can be replicated across the country.”

For the moment, Cavanagh-Downs says, community groups are proving to be the most resilient in the face of daunting policy environments, particularly in Victoria. “I’m not sure there are many other commercial developers looking to obtain approvals for new projects. The community groups may be the only ones to keep going under the Victoria planning environment.”

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There is also the Fremantle Community wind farm, an ambitious project to build a community-owned wind energy facility within the boundaries of a large city, although in this case it is along the foreshores of the Port of Fremantle (see graph to the right). The six to eight- turbine facility – first mooted some seven years ago, when Pacific Hydro helped fund a feasibility study – would be built on North Mole and Rous Head Harbour, drawing on the resources from the “Fremantle Doctor” – the ever reliable sea breeze.

But it faces considerable opposition – not so much from the community, but because it needs  access to land and the owners of the land, the Fremantle Port Authority, are not supportive. The FPA’s CEO was recently quoted in the local press rejecting the proposed wind farm because of  “…risks associated with possible silent health impacts due to ambient noise…”  (Perhaps  someone should send him a copy of the Senate inquiry’s report.)

One community wind project that is nearing fruition, after nearly 10 years of work by a diligent group of people, is the Denmark Community Wind Farm, which will finally start producing energy within the next month. The two turbine, 1.6MW facility is being erected on crown land near the town on the south coast of Western Australia. Director Craig Shappelle says the turbines will be put into place in mid December and be completed by Christmas. The facility gained $2.48 million from a government remote energy grant, and the rest has been raised from 115 people. Denmark reportedly has the highest per capita Green vote of any town in the country.

“It has been a long haul,” Shappelle told RenewEconomy. The group had considered sun and wave energy, but wind was the obvious choice. “Distributed generation is the way of the future, so from purely practical point of view, it would be ideal for each community to generate as much power as they can but remain plugged into grid.” He noted, for instance, the difference in population density of southern WA to that of the country of Denmark, which crams some 5 million people into a small area.  “The infrastructure costs sparsely populated WA are huge. There are feel-good factors about this – the sense of belonging and ownership – but they are not as important as working together for a common benefit.”

Woodend is one of a number of new community wind energy projects that are being pursued in Victoria. The digital display has been taken down now, and it and the laptop and the mast have been handed over to another community wind energy group in Castlemaine, known as the Mt Alexander Wind Group, orMACWind.

This group hope to install between one and six turbines, and while their options have been narrowed by Petrovich’s “no-go” zone and the 2km set-back rule – background to which can be found in the first of ourin-depth series – their options have not been eliminated. There are still several potential sites, and no shortage of land owners volunteering their land.

Indeed, some 60 land-owners have put their hand up to host the turbines, leading to a new term ofTWIMBY (Turbines Wanted in My Backyard) to be coined, mostly to counter the NIMBY politics that have characterized the Baillieu government’s – and that of most other Conservative state governments – approach to renewable energy. Project co-ordinator Jarra Hicks, the principal of Community Power Agency, says the group is looking to finesse the land ownership model, and extend some of the benefits of hosting to those in the immediate vicinity.

Large scale commercial wind farm developments tend to reward (handsomely) the owners of the land on which the turbines are installed, but the industry “standard” for community help tends to be around$500-$2,000/turbine per year. MACWind is looking at extending the ‘Hepburn Model’, which rewarded not just the landowner, but also those in the near vicinity (with free shares and assistance on energy bills), and also contributes $15,000 per turbine per year to broader community projects (administered by an independent community board).

“Our concept is to have several layers of benefits – the landowners getting a lease payments, to those within a close footprint of 2ks or 3.5kms, to community organsiations in nearby towns, and then to shareholders,” Hicks says.  “We are possibly going to be even more generous. But until we do the wind speed modeling and the actually business planning, we can’t finalise the details, and we want the community to help us define what sort of benefits they want.” The mast is due to be installed early next year. A meeting with potential landowners and nearby residents was held last Sunday, and with luck, the wind farm could be up and running within 4 years.

Hicks says there are around 30 community projects that she is aware of under various forms of development – some in wind, many in solar, and others in biogas. “There is a really strong will of people on the ground to make a significant difference, and invest in renewables in a big way that is not possible at a household level.”

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The Hepburn Community Wind Farm, meanwhile, (pictured above during an open day) is producing electrons and has currently sent some 14.6GWh of electricity into the grid. The community co-operative raised nearly $10 million from the community and has nearly 2,000 members. It is now serving as a blueprint, and an inspiration, to other similarly minded groups. “We have shown that under the right conditions, wind energy can overwhelmingly be seen as an opportunity, and not a threat,” it said in a submission to the Climate Change Authority’s review of the Renewable Energy Target. And, it noted, the ‘Hepburn Model’ is inspiring many other communities to pursue their own dreams of harnessing green energy.

It argued in its submission to the CCA that smaller projects were often more palatable to local communities than the “mega” projects now favoured by large developers, and it noted premium tariffs – in the form of tariffs or other benefits – had been used in Denmark and Ontario to encourage community investment. (In response to the 70s oil shock, Denmark provided a tax exemption for income derived from locally owned wind turbines. As a result more than 200,000 Danish families are part-owners of a wind farm. Ontario provides a 1-2c/kWh “community adder” tariff bonus for community projects.)

It suggested a community “multiplier” to boost the growth of community renewable energy projects and engage more Australians in clean energy technologies. This would mean receiving 1.5 renewable energy certificates for every megawatt hour produced, instead of just one. “While the nascent community energy sector will likely remain a relatively small fraction of the Australian energy scene, it is hard to imagine many other sectors that can so effectively deliver the social licence required for the transition to a zero carbon future,” it wrote.

But the likes of Blakester and Cavanagh-Downs are not getting carried away just yet, despite the enthusiastic response of land-owners and the increasing number of local groups expressing interest. ”We need to be realistic that this sector still has a vision to be built,” Blakester says. “Until the community energy sector has a “portfolio” of projects, that are paying dividends and are being well run, we have to keep our feet on the ground. But once these projects are up and running, we’ll find traction with traditional investors.”

Doha is worthwhile, but real decisions are elsewhere

27 November 2012, 6.12am AEST

AUTHOR  Nick Rowley    Research Fellow, Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at University of Sydney
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT
Nick Rowley does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.The Conversation provides independent analysis and commentary from academics and researchers.
We are funded by CSIRO, Melbourne, Monash, RMIT, UTS, UWA, Canberra, CDU, Deakin, Flinders, Griffith, La Trobe, Murdoch, QUT, Swinburne, UniSA, UTAS, UWS and VU.

Yz7dv2qm-1353889512                       All eyes are on Doha, but most of the action is taking place in Asia. almasudi/Flickr
The irony of the world’s climate change negotiators meeting in Doha this week cannot be lost on anyone taking an interest in climate change.
Qatar is hardly a model of the low carbon economy. With annual per capita carbon emissions of more than 50 tonnes, it has the highest footprint of any nation. The country’s exponential economic growth has been driven by the export of oil, natural gas and other petrochemicals. Its winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup includes plans to fully air condition every new stadium, insulating the players and the crowds from the 40°C+ heat.
But even if it were held in the lowest-emitting of countries, this Conference of the Parties is unlikely to achieve anything meaningful.
Climate change is all about energy: the way we generate and use it for electricity, transport and food production. Energy is the foundation of the global economy. And negotiators working for environment ministers just don’t have the authority to contribute to decisions that affect these dynamics.
If you transform the energy system, you fundamentally transform the global economic system. All the ships crossing the ocean full of sheep and textiles and cars and all the other things on our supermarket shelves or our lounge rooms are moved by fossil fuel. All those planes transporting people around the globeare too. Not all, but most of the lights seen from space are illuminated by electricity from combusted fossil fuel.
It is not hyperbole to conclude that changing the inputs that create this amenity will require the most far-reaching transformation of the energy system since the industrial revolution. And as with the industrial revolution starting in Britain, Belgium and other northern European countries, so the energy transformation will be led by the current major global economic actors.
Understanding the global response to climate change is thus a matter of following political and policy developments in the United States, Japan, Germany and China as much as it is about following the formal UN processes.
Let’s take a closer look at China. It is now home to four of the top five solar photovoltaic manufacturers in the world. Two of the top five wind turbine manufacturers are also Chinese. Ten years ago none of these companies were even in the top ten. Some didn’t even exist.
This change has been rapid, and just as with any other product or commodity, once volumes increase, so prices fall. Just two weeks ago Suntech, the world’s biggest solar PV company, announced that its cost of manufacture will fall 30 per cent in 2012. That is on top of a 75 per cent fall since 2009. For certain consumers, in certain places, and at certain times, solar is rapidly becoming the cheapest way to generate electricity.
And China’s current Five Year Plan has earmarked $1.6 trillionof investment in low carbon infrastructure and technology. The “China 2030” report, released earlier this year by China’s State Council and the World Bank, concludes that China’s national interest is in building a low carbon economy and getting ahead of the competition. The recent energy policy has a series of ambitious renewable energy targets.
Japan is often forgotten in discussion of low carbon development. Yet the world’s third largest economy has long been a leader in energy efficiency. With few primary resources and massive global companies like Canon, Toyota and Sony, it built its post-war economic strength on the basis of technological innovation.
Following the 2011 T?hoku earthquake and tsunami and the break down of the Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan is shifting its energy system away from nuclear and towards renewables, energy efficiency, and modern power grids able to manage demand.
Driven by policies such as these, the changes in the energy and electricity business have the potential to be as rapid as the changes in information and communications technology. Large-scale electricity generation distributed to our homes, businesses and factories via a lengthy distribution network ending with a plug in the wall might be the equivalent of the old black dial phone owned by the government. Now we can choose our make of mobile phone; choose our plan and the level of service it provides.
As with our phones, we will soon be able to use electricity in different ways, at different times, to manage cost. Businesses with roof space, or the ability to invest in their own electricity generation through technologies such as co-generation, can get into the business of selling their own power back to the grid.
And with Japan and Germany leading this charge, with China on the rise, the economics of electricity will move even faster.
According to Bloomberg, last year was the first when new investment in clean energy overtook coal and gas. In 2004 only $US34 billion was invested in clean energy globally. In 2011 the figure was $280 billion. That is a more than 800% increase.
This is all happening a good deal faster than most predictions. Rhetorical commitments to green growth are fine, but tangible examples of where investment in new local carbon infrastructure has achieved clear environmental and commercial returns is more powerful.
It is easy to be sceptical about Doha. But one shouldn’t allow oneself to therefore become cynical about the UN process. It is far from what it has to become but remains a critical part of the complex three-dimensional jigsaw that is our emerging response to climate change. The agreement reached last year at Durbanhas maintained the hope that by 2015 we will have a legally binding framework focused on keeping climate change within 2°C.
Climate change is not a problem that can be “solved” by any one meeting at any single point in time. Reducing emissions will be driven by public and political will and a combination of international diplomacy, technological innovation, scaled investment and policy at national, state, and local level. The indications are that this will, driven largely by economic and national interest is growing. Deliberations in Doha this week can only contribute a small amount to strengthening it.

“Buy Bellarine” Re-Focusing the Bellarine Community on Fresh Local Produce – be a VOLUNTEER

You Are Where You Eat:

Re-Focusing the Bellarine Community on Fresh Local Produce;

Will YOU support “Buy Bellarine” as a VOLUNTEER?

Picture yourself at the supermarket, awash in fluorescent light.

You’re trying to stock up for the next couple of weeks, since it’s a busy time of year.

You’re trying to eat healthy, and you wish there was somewhere to go that you knew would have real fresh local produce that you could buy.
Now imagine that the Bellarine had a public market– the kind of place that’s easy to pop by to grab fresh food every couple of days.  Well we are putting this together right now and need your support in the way of keen volunteers to make this a reality.

Please fill out the no obligation secure form below for us to contact you. Thank you for your time and interest.

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EXERPT  from  on  |

The breathtaking central hall of Cleveland’s West Side Market, a major hub in the host city for this year’s International Public Markets Conference (Sept. 21-23) / Photo: PBS NewsHour via Flickr

Beyond carbon policy: A national feed-in tariff

By Chris Nelder | November 14, 2012, 3:00 AM PST

For complete article – http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/take/beyond-carbon-policy-a-national-feed-in-tariff/231

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Climate hawks are hopeful that the U.S. will finally take action on carbon emissions in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and the President’s acceptance speech comment that “We want our children to live in an America that. . . isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Unfortunately, they’re trotting out the same tired old policy prescriptions that have failed in the past.

I think I have a better idea.

But first let’s review why carbon policy has failed.

Why carbon policy fails

Cap-and-trade, cap-and-tax, and carbon taxes all try to clamp down on carbon emissions. This makes sense when you “do the math” on the warming potential of atmospheric carbon, as highlighted in Bill McKibben’s current 350.org road tour.

These proposals have failed to gain traction politically, however, for a few reasons.

First, they are essentially Pigovian taxes — punitive taxes intended to quash negative externalities. As such, they immediately arouse the opposition of the fossil fuel and utility industries, who object to being singled out for providing essential services that all of us demand. Those taxes would gradually rise over time, often without clear definition up front, opening the door to exaggerated claims about how much they will cost consumers.

The vogue idea of a carbon tax appears to be a non-starter. President Obama has already said that he does not intend to put a carbon tax on the agenda in his second term. Right-wing groups are already mustering their opposition to it. When the GOP’s anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist suggested this week that he might be open to a carbon tax, he reversed himself one day later after being criticized by a Koch-funded energy think tank.

Second, they fail to offer an assured alternative energy supply. Vague promises that the revenues raised would be spent on renewables like wind and solar, which currently make up less than 2 percent of U.S. energy supply, don’t offer much confidence that a substitute supply of energy will be able to take up the load as fossil fuel supply is phased out. Opponents can easily whip up fears about grid outages and so on without clear assurance that alternatives will be built. As long as there is demand for it, fuel will flow.

The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline is a fine example: If opponents prevent Canadian tar sands oil from flowing to U.S. refineries, it will simply go somewhere else –like Asia — because it is still very much in demand. The net reduction in carbon emissions will be zero.

Third, because carbon emissions are a global issue, unilaterally controlling them without requiring global competitors like China to do the same raises concerns about losing our competitive edge. This has been the primary failing of decade after decade of international climate summits that produced no tangible progress.

Fourth, carbon trading schemes have demonstrably benefited the banks who underwrite their trade more than they have produced meaningful cuts in emissions. And when the market price of carbon falls, as it has in Europe, they become ineffectual.

Fifth, the natural constituencies who support climate policy are vastly outgunned by their fossil fuel opponents. As I detailed in August, the oil and gas, coal, and utility lobby outspent the wind, solar, and geothermal lobby by 50 to 1 in 2011, and if all forms of funding are taken into account, the fossil fuel, utility, automobile, trucking, road-building, and airline complex probably outspends the sustainable industries complex by 100 to 1.

We need look no further than Michigan’s attempt to raise its renewable energy standard in this year’s general election to see the problem. As Dave Roberts detailed in Grist, a large coalition of green groups raised what was for them an enormous amount of money in support of the ballot proposition, and poured their hearts into a ground campaign. One month before the election, voter approval was at 49 percent. Then — whomp! — two of the state’s big utilities carpet-bombed it with negative ads, outspending proponents by two to one, and the effort failed spectacularly.

In the fight for energy transition, proponents of clean energy will never be able to win against their opponents this way. It’s like a super flyweight boxer trying to stand toe-to-toe with a heavyweight and trade body blows. It will never, ever work. The incumbents will always be able to defeat ballot propositions and water down state-level renewable energy standards to the point of uselessness, as they have done in the past.

Instead, climate hawks should look to judo, where a smaller fighter can use the weight of a larger opponent against them. In that spirit, I offer the following outside-the-box proposal.

Pitch a FiT

President Obama could side-step the legislative wrangling over incentives for renewables by doing something truly audacious, which would give far more hope to the climate hawks than anything else proposed to date.

He could simply follow the model of the national Highway Trust Fund, and create a national standard for feed-in tariffs (FiTs) through the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

(FiTs, as I detailed here, have proved to be the most effective policy tools worldwide for incentivizing renewable power generation. They typically pay an above-market rate for renewably-generated power for a decade or more.)

Now, there are some important legal details here, so bear with me.

FERC has the authority to regulate wholesale electricity rates for utilities who trade electricity across state lines, and to decide if those rates are just and reasonable. Therefore, FERC does not have authority over the electricity rates of Alaska, Hawaii, or Texas, which have their own grids. FERC has similar authority over interstate transmission pipelines for natural gas.

Normally, FERC requires electricity rates to be set according to the “avoided cost” of building new generation capacity. However, under a recent ruling requested by California, FERC allows states to define for themselves what the avoided cost is. So if a state requires utilities to buy solar power under their renewable energy standards, for example, then the state can define solar power as the avoided cost basis (instead of much cheaper coal or natural gas-fired capacity) and set electricity rates accordingly.

The president could direct FERC to define national guidelines for FiTs. They could be differentiated by resource intensity, so that a FiT for wind in North Dakota wouldn’t pay as much for wind in, say, Oregon. They could further differentiate by size – for example, favoring rooftop solar photovoltaics over utility-scale systems. And they could differentiate by application, to limit utility-scale systems to brownfield sites like formerly mined land. Finally, they could differentiate by the type of generation, in order to recognize the different costs for wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, biogas, and marine technologies.

If the FiTs are properly defined, every state could benefit: the heartland has wind resources, the southeast has biomass, the west coast has geothermal capacity, the coastal states have wind and marine potential, and everybody can install some solar.

A parallel FiT program could be offered for building upgrades, to help pay for things like better insulation, windows, replacing inefficient furnaces, and other ways of reducing energy waste.

The states would then implement their own FiTs, according to their unique capacities and needs, under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).

In order to pay for the FiTs, an assessment would be levied on all consumers’ utility bills, just like the charges we currently pay for things like nuclear decommissioning, public purpose programs, bond charges, and so on. For starters, they could be set at a low level — say, 1 percent, or about one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour, and one cent per therm of natural gas. That would give the program around a $5 billion annual budget for starters.

The revenues collected would go into a dedicated national Energy Trust Fund, just as a portion of our gasoline taxes go into the national Highway Trust Fund. And like the latter, they would then be disbursed to states who elect to implement FiTs meeting or exceeding the federal guidelines. The states would not be required to implement FiTs, but if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be eligible for the federal funds. The funds collected would only be used for renewable generation capacity and building efficiency upgrades.

The FiT fees would be adjusted upward over time as the market evolves and demands more funds, up to a limit defined by FERC. Then, as capacity and efficiency milestones are achieved, the incentives would be reduced. FiTs are already declining in countries that have had them in place for a decade or more. When the wholesale cost of grid power rises to the price of renewable power, the FiTs would be eliminated.

Impediments to implementation

There are a few sticky wickets in this idea, to be sure.

FERC is not accustomed to taking direction from a president in the fashion I’ve outlined, nor is there a great deal of precedent for FERC to assert its authority in this way. However, the legal experts I consulted think there is opportunity for FERC to interpret its regulatory authority more broadly than it has in the past, and believe that FERC might be able to find an avenue to develop such a program if it wanted to. For FERC, this is undefined, not forbidden, territory.

It might also be difficult to establish the revenue pass-through mechanism as I have defined it, from a line item on customers’ bills through to a federal fund. However, fees for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository are already collected through the Department of Energy and held by the Treasury, so perhaps a similar approach could be taken for a national Energy Trust Fund. FERC could also use the carrot-and-stick approach they’ve taken in the past with regional transmission operators (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) to persuade utilities and state utility commissions to accommodate the national FiT. (For a detailed discussion of RTOs and ISOs, see “Why baseload power is doomed.”)

The definition of a “qualifying facility” under PURPA might need some modification to adopt a national FiT, but that’s well within FERC’s authority to do. Alternatively, there might be other ways FERC could implement it outside of PURPA.

Some recalcitrant utilities would no doubt object to the FiT program, since distributed renewable power cuts into their profit-making generation and transmission businesses. They could exert influence on their respective states to resist the collection of fees, or to refuse to participate in the FiT program. But utility customers could also lobby their local elected officials and utilities more effectively than they have been able to do in support of statewide mandates like renewable energy standards.

Fundamentally, I think the idea is sound. It would no doubt require a good deal of working over by legal eagles who understand the ins and outs of applicable regulatory statutes better than I do. But I’m reasonably confident that if there’s a will, there could be a way.

 

My thanks to Paul Gipe, Jennifer Gleason, Scott Thomasson, Elias Hinckley, and John Farrell for their expert contributions to this article.

Photo: Wind turbines in Wyoming (paleololigo/Flickr)

Solar thermal storage: A concrete cost breakthrough?

Solar energy power

By Nicholas Brown on 14 November 2012

Extract from http://reneweconomy.com.au
CleanTechnica
Researchers at the University of Arkansas have developed a solar energy storage system that stores the thermal energy (heat) absorbed by solar panels at a lower cost than conventional energy storage methods.
The most common conventional methods for such a system involves storing the heat absorbed by solar thermal power plants in tanks of molten salt or in beds of packed rock or oils. This is, in general, thermal energy storage.
Beds of packed rock are currently the cheapest and most efficient type of thermal energy storage, and they do work, but, as is the case with everything, there is room for improvement.
Beds of packed rock expand and contract as their temperature rises and falls, respectively. This was called “thermal ratcheting,” which stresses the walls of storage tanks because the rocks expand beyond their normal size (the size they were when they were fitted into the tank) — similar to how ice expands and can break glass in your freezer or pipes in winter.
“The most efficient, conventional method of storing energy from solar collectors satisfies the US Department of Energy’s goal for system efficiency,” said Panneer Selvam, professor of civil engineering. “But there are problems associated with this method. Filler material used in the conventional method stresses and degrades the walls of storage tanks. This creates inefficiencies that aren’t calculated and, more importantly, could lead to catastrophic rupture of a tank.”
The New Method
The new method from the University of Arkansas researchers is a structured thermocline system in which there are parallel plates of concrete with steel pipes running through them. The steel pipes transfer heat absorbed by solar panels into the concrete, which stores it until it is needed to boil water and produce steam (which is usually the case), or supply heat to other heat-powered generators such as Stirling engines or thermoelectric modules.
This thermocline concept survived temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit) and absorbed heat at an efficiency of 93.9%.
It has an impressively low cost of $0.78 per kWh, far less than the U.S Department of Energy’s goal of $15 per kWh.
To give you a better idea of how this compares to batteries: Lead-acid batteries cost upwards of $25 per kWh, lithium-ion batteries cost $50 to $100 per kWh. Lithium-ion batteries can last 4 times longer than lead-acid batteries depending on the type and usage.
So, this should lead to further growth of the solar industry, which thoroughly benefits from reduced energy storage costs. Solar market penetration can be very high when using energy storage.
This article was originally published on CleanTechnica. Reproduced with permission.

Australian wind energy setback: Tracing the origins of the 2km rule

By Oilver Wagg on 14 November 2012

Extract from: http://reneweconomy.com.au/
As the wind industry supplies more and more of Australia’s energy needs, the anti-wind farm lobby is gathering strength, buoyed by Liberal-National Coalition governments and a couple of crusading independent senators.
Wind energy proponents argue the decision to impose a minimum 2km distance between wind turbines and residences – a key plank of the Victorian government’s planning regulations and, at this stage, a proposal by the New South Wales government – is based on twisted logic and flawed research into the negative health impacts of wind turbines.
Some go further, accusing the Coalition Victorian government of pandering to vested interests, and questioning the government’s reluctance to explain the reasoning behind the new planning regime – a regime that has, thus far, killed off any new wind developments in the state.
“It’s a good political fix for a government that can’t be bothered explaining planning regulations,” said one senior executive at a wind energy company, who preferred to remain anonymous.
“The government wants to keep it simple… and when the industry has asked them what was the basis of 2km they have never answered, other than to say we’ve needed to strike a balance so the industry can keep developing.”
Victoria gets the wrecking ball rolling

Under a policy brought in as an election promise in Victoria, turbines are banned from being constructed within 2km of residences, unless there is a written agreement with the relevant landowners.
The Clean Energy Council, which was not consulted on Victoria’s setback law, has never seen any evidence of why a 2km zone was chosen.
“We have not seen any scientific evidence – other than the Victoria government saying it wants to re-balance the planning system – of why a 2km setback has been imposed,” Russell Marsh, policy director at the Clean Energy Council, told RenewEconomy.
Ken McAlpine, Asia-Pacific director of policy and government relations at Vestas, said the company does not support arbitrary limits.
“Projects should be judged on their merits. There’s a big difference between a kilometre away on dead flat land and a kilometre away from turbine sitting on a hill,” he said.
NSW is also proposing to ban the construction of wind turbines within 2km of residences unless there is written agreement from relevant landowners or unless permitted via a “gateway process”.
Via this “gateway” process, if turbines are proposed within 2km of homes where owners have not provided their written consent, the project developer may apply to the planning department for approval and must include such details as predicted noise levels and visual impact, as well as the potential for blade glint or shadow flicker.
The NSW government, which is awaiting the results of additional independent research undertaken as part of the wind farm audits, expects to finalise the proposals “in the coming months” according to a spokesman  for the Department of Planning and Infrastructure. As for the origins of the 2km rule, the spokesman did not comment.
The lie of the Landscape Guardians
The Landscape Guardians – an organisation set up in 2007 to achieve “better outcomes for natural and cultural landscape protection through the planning process” – originally called for a 2km setback for all turbines.
The pressure group’s ideas match with Victorian government policy, observed Ketan Joshi, a research and communications officer at Infigen Energy.
“It doesn’t seem to be based on scientific evaluation – it seems to be an arbitrary number,” he toldRenewEconomy.
“In the absence of any real evidence and/or scientific analysis, it seems strange the government would leave itself open to conjecture on how the policy was developed.
“Even if one were to accept the theory that 2km was funneled into government policy via the Landscape Guardians, their own development of the 2km setback is based on spurious health claims and a set of principles that don’t apply.”
In June, Victoria’s planning minister Matthew Guy said the 2km setback would remain in place even if medical research showed that wind turbines did not cause health problems.
“The 2km setback is in place for a number of reasons in relation to amenity, in relation to noise, in relation to strobe lighting,” he said.
“We felt it was [the] right level, the right distance to put in place, as a basic principle and that is what we will be implementing in policy.”
Guy’s office did not respond to calls or emails requesting an interview.
Flawed research
Much of the current community resistance to wind farms can be traced back to work by Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician who coined the phrase Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS).
The controversy surrounding Pierpont’s work centres around her statements made in a self-published research theorising that ultra-low frequency sounds affect human health. She asserts that wind turbines affect people’s moods and may cause physiological problems such as insomnia, headaches, tinnitus, vertigo and nausea.
“It’s a fundamentally flawed piece of research, but unfortunately it’s often used as a basis for some of these health issues on wind farms and to justify the 2km setback,” said Infigen’s Joshi. “To justify that 2km setback, one would have to demonstrate quite a few things with statistically significant scientific investigation.”
Ultra-low-frequency sound, or infrasound, has been thoroughly examined and dismissed as an adverse health effect of wind turbines. One study shows that infrasound 75 metres from a beach is significantly higher than 360 meters from a wind turbine.
In Australia, before the Victorian wind farm planning regulations were imposed, the 2010 Rapid Review of the Evidence by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) found no direct pathological effects from wind farms, and that any potential impact on humans could be minimised by following existing planning guidelines.
There have now been 17 reviews of the available evidence about wind farms and health, published internationally. Each of these reviews has concluded that wind turbines can annoy a minority of people in their vicinity, but that there is no evidence that they make them ill.
Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney, noted the scientific studies that do exist have mainly concluded that “pre-existing negative attitudes to wind farms are generally stronger predictors of annoyance than residential distance to the turbines or recorded levels of noise.”
Last month, Chapman – who has called WTS a “communicated disease” – told Radio National’s Science Show that sleep problems are the most-mentioned negative impact of living too close to a wind turbine. But a large population suffers from insomnia, “so no surprises there”.
“Chickens won’t lay near wind farms. Tell that to the Tasmanian poultry farmer who has a turbine on site,” Chapman said.
“Earthworms vanish from the soil in an 18km radius, hundreds of cattle and goats die horrible deaths from ‘stray electricity’, but veterinary officials are mysteriously never summoned.
“In 35 years in public health I have never encountered anything remotely as apocalyptic,” he said.

View of the 35-turbine Callicum Hills Wind Farm, Victoria.The land between the turbines continues to be used for farming. Image: Rolandg. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Throwing precautionary principle to the wind
The NSW Draft Planning Guidelines state: “Despite extensive research and numerous public inquiries, adverse health effects have not been established, but the possibility has not been ruled out. A prudent approach should be applied in designing and siting wind farm facilities.”
In this context, Infigen’s Joshi thinks the precautionary principle is being misinterpreted. There are, of course, many definitions of the principle. A February 2002 European Commission communication on the precautionary principle states:

“The precautionary principle applies where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain and preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen by the EU”.

“You need to have scientifically valid, preliminary evaluation – you have to have reasonable rational grounds for concern [to invoke the precautionary principle],” Joshi said, “and essentially the scientific validity of the health claims around wind turbines I don’t think meet those criteria.”
“When you present the health issue in terms of potential harm, it has more salience to people and I worry that sometimes that discourages close analysis of their claims,” he added.
“It’s normal to find worrying advice salient,” Joshi said. “People seem to be naturally tuned to looking out for harm – it’s an evolutionary trait in people, which necessitates caution, honesty and ethics.”
Populist policy-making?

Wind farm developers and turbine manufacturers were frustrated and dismayed at the speed at which Victoria’s planning regime was implemented – and the Coalition has been criticised for offering little in the way of explanation for the new rules.
When in opposition, it said that while it supported wind energy, it was committed to returning certainty and fairness after the previous Labor government had imposed wind farms on reluctant local communities.
But the introduction of the 2km setback rule – which is rumoured, in business circles, to have been largely driven by Baillieu himself – was certainly not a populist measure, as borne out in the latest election results.
Strong anti-wind farm campaigns in two areas – Waubra, with a the 128-turbine Acciona-owned wind farm, and Beaufort & Skipton, the proposed location for Origin Energy’s 157-turbine Stockyard Hill wind farm – resulted in the areas registering the smallest swing away from Labor in the last state election.

View to Waubra wind farm, over the city of Ballarat. Image: Russell Luckock. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The planning rules were popular, however, in areas such as the Western Plains, and the heart of the ‘no-go’ zone, the McHarg Range in central Victoria.
As well as the 2km setback, Victoria imposed a ban on turbines within 5km of 21 regional centres, and ‘no-go’ zones including the Great Ocean Road, Mornington Peninsula, Wilsons Promontory, the entire Macedon Ranges shire , and the McHarg Ranges.
Marigold Merlyn Baillieu Southey, one-time lieutenant governor of Victoria and a matriarch of the Baillieu/Myer family, owns an 800-hectare farm and vineyard near Tooborac in the McHarg. Lady Southey, who is also Premier Ted Baillieu’s second cousin, actively opposed the development of a proposed  80-turbine Transfield wind farm on land neighbouring her property – including, in 2010, a letter-writing campaign to Transfield’s management and board members – which was subsequently banned under the new laws.
Metres vs decibels
While recognising the need for appropriate planning regulations to comply with community concerns and establish a social licence to operate, wind farm developers and turbine manufacturers are frustrated that setbacks are talked about in terms of distance.
Simon Holmes à Court, a director of community-owned wind farm Hepburn near Daylesford, Victoria, said setbacks should be framed in terms of sound and measured in decibels not metres. “There could possibly be very large projects that would require a 3km buffer and likewise there are other projects, such as the two turbine Hepburn Community Wind Farm, where houses as close as 500 metres are fully compliant with noise standards.”

Hepburn Wind Farm
“The buffer you need between the turbine and the house is a function of the geography, the turbine model, the number of turbines and the wind conditions in that area. There are vigorous science-based methods for measuring setbacks form wind turbines to residences,” Holmes à Court said.
A report by acoustic engineers Noise Management Services emphasised the “need for, and practicality of” the 2km setback, recommending that the 2km setback be implemented at Waubra, Cape Bridgewater and other existing wind farms.
But wind proponents said the acoustic engineer behind the survey, Dr Bob Thorne, had clear conflicts of interest. Details of the report were kept secret, although Democratic Labor Party Senator John Madigan gave a press conference on the report to present it to planning minister Matthew Guy.
“Senator Madigan has got a lot of people in Waubra convinced the wind farm is not compliant,” one Victoria-based wind developer told RenewEconomy. “Even Acciona – the owner of the wind farm hasn’t seen this report.”
 
[Webmaster’s Personal Views] Following is the standout quote from this article, as there is never any definitive mention of the ‘TYPE’ of wind turbine. I personally wish to construct a small 1 meter by 3 meter square Vertical Axis Wind Turbine to mount on my home roof in Portarlington. Am I subject to this overall ruling?
“The buffer you need between the turbine and the house is a function of the geography, the turbine model, the number of turbines and the wind conditions in that area. There are vigorous science-based methods for measuring setbacks form wind turbines to residences,” Holmes à Court said.

Fossil fuel, renewable energy, mining led recovery !!!!!!!!!

Queensland hits the miners at exactly the wrong time: Kohler

Wednesday, 12 September 2012 08:20
Alan Kohler

Acknowledgement to http://www.smartcompany.com.au

At least Queensland coal miners now have a face to put on their dartboard – that of Premier Campbell Newman.

Yesterday’s decision in the Queensland budget to increase coal royalties more than expected has put the mining industry into a frenzy of outrage, since the plunging price of coal has already reduced profits to the point where miners are being laid off.

How a state so blessed with fossilized forests that it can supply the world’s turbines and blast furnaces with coal as well as the world’s stoves with gas from the cracks in the coal beds, managed to lose more than $6 billion this year is a source of wonder, but there it is. Years of growing expenditure at 7.5% a year, or almost three times the inflation rate, will do that.

The answer is to sack public servants and tax the coal miners, since they have the money. Or at least they did. The faster than expected slowdown of the Chinese economy has cut the prices of both coal and iron ore and mine workers are joining public servants on the dole: what the cycle gives, the cycle takes away.

But beyond exasperation lies ‘sovereign risk’. First there was the RSPT, followed by debacle, followed by the MRRT, which at least will have the benefit of not raising any money, followed by the carbon tax, followed by its ‘fine tuning’.

The rules of the federal mineral resources rent tax allow taxpaying companies to claim ad valorem royalties, so in theory the Queensland coalminers who are due to pay the $1.6 billion extra the Queensland expects to collect over the next four years will be able to get it back from the Commonwealth. But they weren’t expecting to have to pay that anyway.

Sovereign risk used to be defined simply as the risk that a government will not be able or willing to meet its debt obligations, or that a central bank will alter the foreign exchange rules to similar effect.

But these days the term is being more broadly defined for the benefit of corporations to include unexpected changes in taxation and other regulations. That’s because of the growing competition between nations and states for capital investment, which firms are only too happy to exploit.

Coal appears to be pretty evenly spread over the earth’s surface so that the countries with the largest land mass have the most coal: Australia has 8.9% of it according to the World Energy Council, China 12.6%, Russia 14.4% and the United States 22.6%. Kazakhstan and Ukraine have quite a lot of it as well, as does South Africa.

Will Australia’s coal miners tire of the ever-hungrier mouths fastening onto their teats and decamp to Kazakhstan? Unlikely, although President Nazabayev is no doubt a man one can do business with, unlike Campbell Newman, who must face the inconvenience of proper elections.

But they might think twice about building another mine here, and the companies spending $100 billion or so on plants near Gladstone to liquefy gas from the coal beds for the Asian market are probably wondering when they will get hit as well.

Meanwhile Queensland’s austerity budget brings to an end an unhappy round of state budgets for 2012-13 that add up to a total of $8.4 billion in deficits.

It is a marvellous thing how rising property and commodity prices, leading to rivers of stamp duty and royalty revenue, creates the need for more, better paid, policy advisers advising state ministers on policy – after all, a minister’s worth can only be measured by the number of advisers he or she can muster for a meeting. Unfortunately, they are hard to get rid of when the real estate and resources parties end, as they have done.

Happily the state deficits will offset to some extent the fiscal crunch at the federal level in 2012-13, when Wayne Swan is due to remove 3% of GDP as he attempts to restore his budget to surplus.

Thus Australia is Europe writ small: fiscal austerity, monetary stimulus. Nil all.

This article first appeared on Business Spectator.

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