Thursday, 23 December 2010

Energy companies in Switzerland join forces for new nuclear plants

Swiss nuclear firms join forces on new reactors - Reuters

Axpo, Alpiq, and BKW will each take a third in a new project company

Swiss utility companies Axpo, Alpiq (ALPH.S: Quote) and BKW (BKWN.S: Quote) have decided to club together in their plans for two new nuclear power stations to replace existing capacity, they said on Thursday.

Although new capacity is probably a decade away, the plans show Swiss operators are determined to keep control of some 3,200 megawatts of capacity that currently supply 40 percent of Swiss electricity usage from five generation units. [POWER/CH]

"This represents a milestone in the bid to ensure security of supply in Switzerland," said a statement issued by Axpo.

"This will speed up the political process and official procedures, enable synergies to be exploited in the evaluation process, and save on costs," it added.

The aim is to compensate for existing plants reaching the end of their operating lives and for French import agreements that are due to expire, it said.

Switzerland's role is pivotal in central European power markets, where prices are converging. Nuclear serves as a basis while its big hydropower sector supplies neighbours in years with high water supply but necessitates imports in dry years.

Under the latest plans, the three companies will further develop previously separate projects jointly and be given equal shareholdings each in a joint planning and project company, which might also become a joint operating company in the future.

Decisions on sites and the prioritisation were expected to be made in mid-2012, they said.

Sites at Niederamt, Beznau and Muehleberg have already been declared suitable for replacement plants and further feasibility studies are under way.

The ratio of power procurement entitlements has also been laid down, with some minor adjustments. It will roughly be 59 percent for Axpo and its subsidiaries Axpo AG and CKW, 25.5 percent for Alpiq and 15.5 percent for BKW, commensurate with their existing share of current production capacity.

The existing Swiss capacity is split betwen the three firms, with some participation of cities and Cantons, and Germany's E.ON (EONGn.DE:Quote), which has a 20 percent share in Muehleberg. (Reporting by Vera Eckert; editing by James Jukwey)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Probable Carcinogen Found in Tap Water of 31 U.S. Cities

Probable Carcinogen Found in Tap Water of 31 U.S. Cities - New York Times

In 25 of 35 U.S. cities where tap water supplies were tested for hexavalent chromium -- deemed likely to cause cancer in humans in a U.S. EPA draft review this year -- levels of the chemical exceeded the minimum set by the state of California to protect public health, according to a report released today by an environmental group.

The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) new findings mark a public flare-up in the behind-the-scenes battle over estimating the carcinogenicity of oral exposure to hexavalent chromium, also referred to as chromium-6. The draft EPA assessment released in September could pave the way for a national drinking-water standard for the chemical, best known for polluting groundwater in Hinkley, Calif., where activist Erin Brockovich won a multimillion-dollar settlement for locals and became a household name.

The outcry over cancer cases in Hinkley helped push California to set a tap-water public health goal of 0.06 parts per billion (ppb) of chromium-6, an early move on the way to a binding state standard (Greenwire, Aug. 21, 2009). Of the 35 cities where EWG tested drinking supplies, 31 contained some level of chromium-6, and 25 -- including Washington, Los Angeles and Norman, Okla., where samples showed 12.9 ppb -- contained levels higher than the California goal.

EWG senior scientist Rebecca Sutton, an environmental chemist who crafted today's report, said her group's data provide new ammunition for measuring and restricting chromium-6 in drinking water nationwide. The federal government made "a very poor choice" by mandating its current drinking-water tests for total chromium, a metric that blends hazardous chromium-6 with the essential nutrient trivalent chromium.

Sutton added that while "industry is doing its very best to slow the process down even further," she hopes to see California advancing its chromium-6 limits to serve as a potential model for broader action. "Sometimes the state of California can lead the way, can show, 'Hey, this is possible,'" she said.

Brockovich, now an author and full-time consumer advocate, predicted in an interview that further chromium-6 water contamination issues would emerge "not only at a national but a global level."

"There is no reason why we can't address this without sounding some kind of panic alarm, which [critics] are going to accuse us of doing," Brockovich said.

A heavy metal commonly used in industrial dyes and coatings that also occurs naturally in small amounts, chromium-6 is known to be carcinogenic via inhalation. The cancer-causing effects of oral exposure through water, however, remain the subject of intense debate between environmentalists and industry.

The recent EPA draft review of chromium-6 incorporated the results of a 2008 National Toxicology Program (NTP) study that found a higher occurrence of gastrointestinal tumors in exposed rodents. The American Chemistry Council and the American Water Works Association, which represents water utilities that could bear the costs of broader chromium-6 testing, have both questioned the application of the NTP study to human exposures at lower levels.

ACC and AWWA have called on EPA to postpone further action on its chromium-6 risk assessment until new studies, including one funded by industry, are released next year.

A senior official at the Southern California Water Committee (SCWC), an alliance of industry and local governments active on water quality issues in the state, also asked EPA to delay the chromium-6 assessment until more studies are released.

Using the 2008 NTP data to assess the cancer-causing effects of lower exposures to chromium-6 "may not reflect the true risk and will have significant consequences for the public's confidence in the quality and safety of their drinking water," SCWC Executive Director Richard Atwater wrote to EPA in October. "Furthermore, it would prematurely trigger regulatory levels that water supply agencies simply don't have the equipment to monitor and detect."

Click here to read EWG's full report on hexavalent chromium in drinking water.

Wyoming Natural Gas Fracking Rules for Point the Way for Public Disclosure of Chemicals Used

Wyoming Natural Gas Fracking Rules for Point the Way for Public Disclosure of Chemicals Used - New York Times

To coax more oil from a wildcat well named "Mad Hatter," Halliburton Co. is planning to inject water mixed with small concentrations of napthalene, ethanol, "1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene" and "hydrotreated light petroleum distillate" into a hole in the ground near Casper, Wyo.

Such detailed chemical information was once a closely guarded secret. But it is available to anyone with an Internet connection now that Wyoming is demanding that drillers disclose each chemical that they are putting in each well.

Led by Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D), state regulators decided that the best response to fears about water contamination and the prospect of federal regulation was to order the country's most detailed disclosures of the ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing.

Though companies had long argued that fracturing fluid recipes are trade secrets worth millions of dollars, there has been relatively little grumbling since the rules kicked in Sept. 15.

"I'm not hearing many complaints," said John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. "I think we're OK."

And Wyoming's regulations could be the shape of things to come. The Obama administration is looking to the Cowboy State as a model for fracturing disclosure on federal lands in the West. Interior Department officials figure it would be hard to argue against an approach developed in petroleum-friendly Wyoming.

If that led to Western state governments adopting similar rules, Eastern states such as Pennsylvania could feel pressure to demand similar information from drillers tapping into the rich Marcellus Shale.

"It will certainly become a model for disclosure," said Dave Alberswerth, a former Clinton administration Interior official now with the Wilderness Society. "It'll be more difficult for industry to argue against this."

In fracturing, crews inject tanker-loads of water and sand underground to blow apart the rock and release gas. A small fraction of that concoction is a mixture of chemicals as mundane as ice cream thickener and as toxic as benzene.

Improvements in fracturing technology have opened the vast shale formations in Pennsylvania and other states that were previously considered too difficult and expensive to tap.

But the rapid expansion of drilling and fracturing has intensified fears that the toxins and carcinogens in fracturing fluid might contaminate drinking water. Environmentalists and congressional Democrats have pushed not only for public disclosure of fracturing chemicals but also stricter federal regulation of the practice.

Drilling companies, though, say fracturing is safe and existing state regulation is sufficient. They stress that the fracturing fluid is injected thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers and maintain that there has never been a proven case of groundwater contamination from the fracturing process.

Hushing the debate

With the regulations, Wyoming has done what Washington failed to do: quiet the burgeoning debate about fracturing.

The rules accomplish much of what congressional Democrats and environmental groups were seeking in the arena of disclosure. Though they cover only one state, that state accounts for a tenth of all gas production in the United States. Neither industry nor environmentalists are completely happy with the disclosure regulations, but both have accepted them.

The oil and gas industry has arrived at this point after years of struggle. Companies have long maintained that public disclosure of fracturing fluid ingredients would unfairly cost them millions of dollars. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year, Halliburton said federal or state requirements to disclose the composition of fracturing fluid would be a regulatory burden that could decrease profits.

Halliburton spokeswoman Teresa Wong referred questions about the Wyoming regulations to trade groups such as the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

"As for Halliburton, we will of course continue to comply with all laws and regulations," Wong said.

But as pressure grew, companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. insisted that they actually were disclosing the ingredients because they posted "material safety data sheets" (MSDS) at work sites. But those information sheets are for industrial accidents, not groundwater monitoring, and they often omit key data.

When Colorado overhauled its regulations in 2007, it required more disclosure, but not to the public. Colorado now requires drillers to keep a detailed inventory, but they only give a copy to regulators if asked.

But as the public profile of fracturing has risen to become the subject of independent film documentaries and network shows like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," more companies have embraced the need for full public disclosure.

"Giving the public a greater sense of transparency is an important step forward," Anadarko Petroleum Corp. spokesman John Christiansen said. "Once the process is better understood, we think the public will be more comfortable with it."

Industry advocates say that the quiet compliance of drillers of Wyoming proves that their objections were not so much about informing the public so much as opposition to giving more power to a federal agency such as U.S. EPA.

Arkansas has approved well-by-well disclosure regulations that go into effect next year. Also, an association of state oil and gas regulators called the Ground Water Protection Council is developing a voluntary system for well-by-well disclosure that has been endorsed by drilling companies.

Interior studies Wyo. model

Still, other Western states have even fewer requirements for disclosure. New Mexico regulations, for instance, do not address disclosure of fracturing chemicals.

In the East, Pennsylvania currently requires public disclosure of fracturing chemicals, but only the MSDS sheets, which are available at regional offices. But amid a strengthening gas rush, the state is still determining how it will tax and regulate oil and gas production. New York has banned most high-volume fracturing while it studies the process and develops rules.

Congressional efforts to force disclosure of chemicals stalled this year and will likely disappear when Republicans take over the House next year. But at a forum on fracturing late last month, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced his department plans to develop rules on public disclosure of fracturing chemicals used on the vast public lands of the West (E&ENews PM, Nov. 30).

"I'd like to see that happen," Wyoming Oil and Gas supervisor Tom Doll, who shepherded the new regulations, said in an interview. "What we're saying is have something that's working. Nothing beats success like success."

Interior officials confirmed that they are looking to Wyoming as a model for such regulations, which would primarily affect lands and minerals overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. And Salazar gave Doll a keynote role at Interior's fracturing forum. Administration officials used the forum to explore how public disclosure has worked on federal lands in Wyoming.

Still, Salazar's announcement sparked outrage from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

"I oppose adding burdensome, new red-tape that will further discourage oil and gas production on public lands in the West," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) wrote to Salazar after the announcement.

Barrasso declined to comment about how he would react to Interior adopting Wyoming's rules, saying through a spokeswoman that he would not comment on a "hypothetical situation."

Drillers also remain wary of the idea of federal regulation, even if it is modeled on rules they have accepted at the state level.

"If they copied it verbatim, we'd have no problem with it here in Wyoming," the state petroleum association's Robitaille said. "But in my experience, that's not how it works."

As gratified as they are to see movement toward greater disclosure, environmentalists say they still want to see stricter regulation, preferably by U.S. EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

"Disclosure helps only after your water is contaminated. It doesn't prevent your water from being contaminated," said Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

'Trade secrets'

And environmentalists are also worried that Wyoming is agreeing to too many industry requests to shield compounds as "trade secrets."

"While we've been getting disclosure, it looks like that will be tightening up," said Jill Morrison, an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council in Sheridan, Wyo.

But Doll said secrecy will be the exception, not the rule. He said his staff has been careful not to shield the chemical ingredients of broadly used "plain vanilla" fracturing fluid.

"Initially, I think people thought, 'They'll say that everything is a trade secret,'" Doll said. "That hasn't been the case."

The application for the Mad Hatter well, a "frack job (pdf)" for Strachan Exploration Inc. of Englewood, Colo., was denied (pdf) last month because it failed to list the ingredients of compounds for which Halliburton had not yet received trade secret protection.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website lists 16 approvals for trade secret protection, some for single products and some for long lists of compounds.

Halliburton has gotten five fracturing products shielded. BJ Services won trade secret status for 36 products, including fracturing sand.

Their requests are public record, and their reasoning points to the importance of fracturing chemicals, even though they amount to a tiny fraction of the total volume of what is injected.

ChemEOR Inc., a Los Angeles-based oilfield chemical company, told Wyoming regulators it spent more than $400,000 directly on research and development of a product called InFlo 250 W. Halliburton said it spent "tens of millions of dollars" researching new fracturing fluids during the past five years. The company said that public disclosure of its proprietary formulas could cost it $375 million.

Halliburton also argues that public disclosure of the chemicals in the compound would discourage research into fracturing fluids that reduce damage to the environment.

Wyoming regulators gave trade secret protection to many products that are toxic, which could keep raising questions about the value of secrecy. An MSDS sheet (pdf) on file with Ohio regulators, shows that ChemEOR's Inflo 250 W contains toxic methanol and 2-Butoxyethanol, a fracturing ingredient cited in several contamination allegations, and other hazardous components.

In several cases, Wyoming regulators granted trade secret status to compounds used by Halliburton and BJ Services but stated that they "are not approved for use in groundwater." That generally means they include some form of hydrocarbon, such as a petroleum distillate.

"The thing about trade secret protection," NRDC's Mall said, "is that it's only going to work if the public thinks its credible."

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Industry Group, BLM Spar Over Decline of Oil and Gas Leases

Industry Group, BLM Spar Over Decline of Oil and Gas Leases - New York Times

An industry report last week showing a 79 percent decrease in oil and gas leases issued on public lands has ignited a debate over whether the Obama administration's leasing policies are stifling job creation and energy production.

The Western Energy Alliance -- representing more than 400 oil and gas companies in the Rocky Mountain states -- said its data show a dramatic decline in the use of public lands for oil and gas development and a corresponding dip in government revenue.

"This trend, if continued, will result in a decline in energy development with a resulting loss of jobs, and less revenue for federal and state treasuries at a time when Americans are very concerned about out of control deficits and spending," said Spencer Kimball, the group's manager of government affairs.

The Bureau of Land Management in fiscal 2010 issued 79 percent fewer leases in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming than in fiscal 2005, the Denver-based group found.

The alliance also found leasing revenue on public lands dropped 46 percent over the same period, and overall onshore royalties slid 33 percent over the past two years. Both revenue streams are roughly split between states and the federal government.

BLM responded by saying oil and gas leasing is market-driven and linked to price and energy consumption, rejecting industry claims that its leasing program had led to the decline.

"In response to falling oil and natural gas prices, oil and natural gas development companies have scaled back energy development and leasing activities," the agency said in a posting on its website, "a downward trend that is reflected in decreased leasing nationally, not just on federally-managed lands."

BLM presented a graph suggesting leasing and permits have generally followed the price of oil and natural gas over two decades.

Dave Alberswerth, the Wilderness Society's senior policy adviser on energy issues, said agency data show that although BLM issued 4,487 permits to drill in fiscal 2009, the permit recipients drilled 3,267 new wells, leaving 1,220 permits unused for the year.

"Though the industry complains about administration policies restricting 'access' to federal lands for oil and gas development, they didn't use anywhere near the number of drilling permits issued by the BLM in the last fiscal year," Alberswerth said. "It's a classic price-demand sort of relationship."

He added that the alliance "is selecting the facts that fit their arguments."

Declining demand for leases

The recent decline in natural gas prices, in fact, has caused a corresponding decline in the number of acres that industry asked BLM to offer for lease, according to a Greenwire analysis of government data last spring (Greenwire, April 1).

"Regardless of decreased commodity prices and reduced industry activity, the BLM continues to offer industry-nominated parcels for auction, and has even seen an increase in generated revenues for American taxpayers," BLM said.

The agency held 29 onshore lease sales in 2010 covering 3.2 million acres in the West and Alaska that netted more than $213 million -- a 57-percent increase over 2009, according to BLM, which has scheduled 36 lease sales in 2011.

To hammer home its point, BLM quoted a Greenwire article that quotes Kathleen Sgamma, the alliance's government affairs director, stating, "Drilling is down because of the economy. I don't think anyone denies that."

But Jon Haubert, spokesman for the alliance, said this week that BLM had failed to include the second half of Sgamma's statement: "As the economy recovers, these [BLM] policies will affect companies two or three years out and slow the recovery of the West."

"I have to admit, we are a little surprised they came out swinging directly at us," Haubert said in an e-mail, "I guess it's pretty apparent we struck a nerve."

While the alliance's energy "dashboard" stops short of blaming Interior Department policies for the leasing decline, the group has criticized the agency for reforms it says have sent a chilling message to oil and gas firms.

The group earlier this year blasted Interior's oil and gas leasing reforms, as well as decisions to analyze the greenhouse gas impacts of leasing and withdraw several dozen oil and gas leases sold in Utah a year ago.

The group also has two pending lawsuits in the U.S. District Court in Wyoming challenging BLM's failure to issue leases within 60 days of their sale, as required by law, and the agency's restricted use of categorical exclusions used to bypass environmental reviews.

Departing Sen. Dorgan Brings Earmark Deluge to N.D.

Departing Sen. Dorgan Brings Earmark Deluge to N.D. - New York Times

Despite ranking 47th among the states in population size, North Dakota may land some of the biggest earmarks in the nation for water projects: $14.3 million for infrastructure, $13.4 million for rural water supplies and a provision -- its price unspecified -- to require the federal government to pay for all future flood control work at Devil's Lake.

Those earmarks carry among the largest price tags in the water and energy section of the spending bill Senate Democrats hope to pass before year's end.

For the potential local tax dollars saved and jobs created, North Dakotans can thank outgoing Sen. Byron Dorgan. The Democratic chairman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee has wielded his influence expertly, echoing the calls across Capitol Hill for greater investment in the nation's crumbling water infrastructure while using his powerful seat to ensure that an outsized portion of that investment flows to North Dakota, observers say.

"We have very serious needs for investments in water infrastructure," Dorgan said in July at a subcommittee markup of a bill that proposed spending nearly half a billion dollars more on water projects than President Obama proposed in his budget.

In an analysis of earmarks lawmakers requested this spring, North Dakota ranked first in the nation in dollars per capita requested, about $3,911 per person, or almost twice as much as Mississippi's $2,262, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. That group's analysis of the latest spending measures is not yet complete.

The group also found that Dorgan ranked 12th in the Senate for total earmark money requested, not far behind the Senate's top three earmark-requesters, by dollar amount: Louisiana's Mary Landrieu (D), Mississippi's Roger Wicker (R) and Kansas' Sam Brownback (R).

"He's proven pretty adept at getting them," said Steve Ellis, spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Senator Dorgan's no slouch."

A Dorgan spokesman dismissed the comparison. "We'd be high, per capita, for anything," said spokesman Barry Piatt.

Earmarks are generally defined as specific federal spending requests made by individual lawmakers for projects in their home district. The practice, often associated with "pork barrel" or "pay to play" politics, once again has come under intense scrutiny, since Senate Democrats unveiled a 2011 spending proposal this week that includes thousands of them, requested by both Republicans and Democrats, including some members who have criticized the practice.

Dorgan is not one of those. He defends earmark spending as the logical way for Congress to target federal dollars to region-specific needs and a relatively insignificant portion of federal spending. The 6,700 earmarks included in the proposed $1.1 trillion spending plan total $8.1 billion.

"You would think members of the House and Senate know best about the priorities of the states and the regions," Dorgan said. "The way to reduce the federal budget deficit is not to change the issue of earmarks."

Asked about the water projects he earmarked, Dorgan described a separate issue: a state-federal agreement struck decades ago that promised irrigation projects in return for flooding a large swath of North Dakota farmland.

"This is the result of finishing an agreement with the federal government," Dorgan said.

The deal dates back to a 1944 act of Congress in which North Dakota allowed for six dams to be constructed along the Missouri River. In exchange for the 300,000 acres of farmland that would be flooded, Washington, D.C., promised the state more than 1 million acres of irrigation by moving water to the eastern part of the state.

Over the ensuing decades, progress has started and stopped amid concerns over environmental effects, costs, land acquisition and Canadians' fears that water might be pushed north into their country from the Missouri River.

"That's the rationale for a lot of what he does: Promises were made. A flood was delivered. We still need to get what we were supposed to get in exchange," said David Conrad, senior water resources specialist for the National Wildlife Federation.

Conrad said Dorgan's water earmarks raise complex questions about the federal government's role in protection against flooding and providing for irrigation and infrastructure.

In the case of Devil's Lake, Dorgan's earmark would assume all costs for maintenance and rehabilitation of a levee designed to hold back waters of a lake that has no natural release valve and has, as a result, tripled in size since 1993 thanks to a string of wet years.

Environmentalists admit it is a "crisis situation" for the nearby town of Devil's Lake, population 7,200, but add that for the federal government to assume the cost of all future levee maintenance sets an unsustainable precedent, because hundreds of levees around the nation have been deemed to be at risk of failing. Since 1993, already more than $800 million has been spent relocating utilities, raising roadbeds, and buying and moving homes in the way of the waters, Conrad said.

"That's quite an impressive rider to put into such a bill, with obviously substantial future costs and possibly, setting a precedent that could ultimately open the floodgates to call upon the government to assume levee costs elsewhere," Conrad said. Normally, the federal government would split such costs, were it not for the $65 billion backlog in the Army Corps of Engineers' construction budget and the vast maintenance needs of the nation's levees.

"There's not enough money in the world for the federal government to pay all the local costs associated with levees in the country right now," Conrad said.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Generous Tariff Lures British Farmers Into Raising Solar Power Arrays

Generous Tariff Lures British Farmers Into Raising Solar Power Arrays - New York Times

GLASTONBURY, England -- Michael Eavis is not your average farmer, but this year he is following the herd. Spurred on by a new tariff that pays individuals to produce their own electricity and sell it to the nation's grid, Eavis has installed 1,100 solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of his dairy barn. He calls it his "Mootel."

"I have wanted to do this ever since I built the barn about 10 years ago. The feed-in tariffs just made it much easier and more profitable. Everyone is thrilled to bits with the array. It is working really well," he toldClimateWire.

"The panels will earn about £50,000 [$79,053] a year, so in 10 years we will have paid off the £500,000 [$790,398] we borrowed from the bank to build the array. Solar power is really clean -- even more so than wind -- and it is free. There is enough energy from the sun to power the whole world during the day," he added.

Eavis is just one among a throng of people, including many farmers, who have leaped at the chance the tariff scheme offers both to make money and to get "greener." In contrast to many other such schemes across Europe, the U.K. feed-in tariffs pay for all power produced, not just that exported to the grid. They also have the added attraction of being guaranteed for 25 years.

Of course, not every farmer can do this on the scale Eavis has. He is the sponsor of the 40-year-old Glastonbury Festival, a three-day music and performing arts event that draws 150,000 rock fans to his Worthy Farm, which is about 130 miles west of London.

But a lot of them are trying. Meanwhile, the new, austerity-prone British government, which inherited the scheme, is trying to maintain a stiff upper lip. Well aware of the retrospective changes being discussed in Spain to slash the cost of its runaway solar power sector, the government has pledged that, while new, lower rates could be implemented in 2013, there will be no backsliding.

"There will never be any changes made retrospectively to the feed-in tariffs," a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said.

Rate of applicants accelerates

Government figures show a phenomenal rate of uptake since the April 1 start of the scheme in the United Kingdom, with solar photovoltaic far and away the favorite technology. As of the middle of last month, 11,370 individual projects had been registered since the scheme started, representing a total of just under 44 megawatts of power capacity, and according to Ofgem -- the government's energy watchdog -- the rate of applications is accelerating rapidly.

Of these, 10,552 were photovoltaic, which also accounted for 60 percent of rated power capacity; 699 were wind; 114 were hydro; and five were micro combined heat and power. Close to three-quarters of the total was domestic, with most of the rest commercial.

The government didn't divulge how many of the applicants are households and how many are farmers. But Farming Futures, part of an agricultural think tank, has done a poll that found that 80 percent of farmers in the United Kingdom want to put solar photovoltaic panels on their roofs within the next three years -- before any changes can be implemented in the tariff's payout.

"We have seen a real appetite for investing in solar this year, and it is great to see so many farmers recognizing this opportunity to create an income and diversify, as well as contribute to developing a low-carbon economy in the U.K.," said Madeline Lewis of Farming Futures.

Under the scheme a solar photovoltaic array with a capacity of 4 to 10 kilowatts will earn the owner 36.1 pence (55 cents) per kilowatt-hour of power produced and consumed on-site. The rate falls to 31.4 pence (49 cents) for installations of 10 to 100 kW and 29.3 pence (46 cents) for those from 100 to 5,000 kW -- the range into which Eavis' 200 kW array fits.

Worries about melting cables

All power exported to the grid earns 3 pence (4 cents) per kilowatt-hour, and in all cases, the tariff is guaranteed for a quarter of a century.

"Traditionally, farming revenue is quite seasonal. But now we are making money by creating clean energy, we have the peace of mind of another income, and we are doing our bit reducing our carbon footprint," said farmer Michael Frankel, who installed a solar power array on his barn roof earlier this year.

There is one possible hitch. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government that inherited the scheme -- and a £180 billion ($238 billion) budget deficit from Labour when it took power in May -- has said it will not review the scheme before 2012 unless there is a higher-than-expected uptake.

It has not said what that would be, but a DECC spokeswoman said she expected the early review trigger level to be announced very soon "to give absolute clarity" -- although she insisted that any review would only be of future rates.

The newly formed British Photovoltaic Association industry lobby group calculates that the U.K. solar market, with the feed-in tariff scheme securely under its arm, could reach 60 MW by the end of this year and climb to 1,000 MW by 2015 and 5,000 MW by 2020.

Eavis certainly has plans to expand his array, possibly before he has even paid off the bank loan to build the original, because the future income is already known and the duration of the income stream likewise.

"Most of the electricity will go to the farm, although some will also go to the grid. Ideally, I would like to get a second batch the same size as the first one, so we would have 2,200 solar panels in total," he said. "But we have to make sure we have the right cables. Put too much down them, and they start to melt."

Energy - Nuclear prospects - Nuclear Option Unclear

Nuclear Option Unclear -

Costing doubts and technical controversy bedevil SA’s nuclear future

Nuclear energy could contribute 13,4% of SA’s electricity generation needs by 2030, according to the department of energy’s draft integrated resource plan (IRP). The proposal has drawn both criticism and praise during this month’s public hearings.

SA’s total electrical generation capacity is projected to reach 85241MW by 2030, of which 9600MW will be from nuclear power (on top of Koeberg’s current 1840MW capacity) as envisaged in the department’s revised balanced scenario. The types of nuclear power plants being looked at range from 1000MW to 1600MW in size, which means six to 10 reactors could be constructed.

Energy minister Dipuo Peters told the media recently that nuclear was becoming a preferred solution to SA’s energy needs. “The acute need to secure reliable energy supplies and the urgent requirement to reduce carbon emissions has put nuclear energy firmly on the agenda as a viable choice to be pursued in order to achieve a suitable energy mix for our country,” she said.

But the technology is controversial, to say the least. Debates cluster around four main issues.

The first is cost. The capital expenditure required to build a nuclear plant is high. Using a reference price of R26575/kW, the 9600MW fleet would cost R342bn, and would be built between 2016 to 2030. But while the initial investment is high, nuclear plants have low operating and fuel costs .

SA Nuclear Energy Corp CEO Rob Adam says examples in the US and France show that once a nuclear power plant is amortised (in 15-20 years), with low operating costs, it can generate large returns. “With the new generation of plants having an initial licensed life of 60 years, the return can be substantial,” says Adam.

But criticisms focus more on the uncertainty of costs. Looking at the fleet as a whole and not the life of the individual plant, costs may actually increase over time as the technology develops — firstly because it’s a seller’s market globally (at least for now) and secondly because of design changes and increased safety mechanisms.

“The IRP numbers based on the nuclear industry are proven to be underestimates,” says Rianne Teule of Greenpeace. Teule argues that global examples show a downward-sloping learning curve, and says the capital costs of France’s 58 reactors have increased with each new addition.

The size and capital costs of nuclear plants introduce a second concern cited by critics — their inflexibility, and the likelihood of excess capacity.

Given the fact that demand projections are estimates at best, such large centralised plants do not allow the industry to flexibly respond to changes in demand or technology, unlike renewable options, says Ruth Rabinowitz, chair of MamaEarth and a former IFP MP. The lead time of a nuclear plant, including commissioning and construction, is a minimum of 10 years, and they are seldom built on time or within budget. Then there is the commitment to a plant lifetime of 30-60 years (depending on the plant). If available renewables are given priority on the grid in the future, as is the case in Germany today, excess capacity from the nuclear plant could remain unsold. “That’s one of the concerns for investors,” says Teule, “what is the chance you can sell excess capacity in the future?”

Adam argues that this is not a concern, and that the same can be said of the coal- fired power stations Medupi or Kusile. The concerns underpin Greenpeace’s argument of an inherently uncertain net present value of nuclear plants.

The third danger of nuclear power, say critics, is the legacy of its waste. The spent fuel is highly radioactive. Simply put, uranium is transmuted into other elements that are radioactive, some of which take seconds to decay and others which take millions of years. It would take about 100000 years for the waste to reach natural levels of radioactivity. The waste also needs to be stored in deep underground containers to remain stable for this amount of time. “Nowhere in the world has the issue of storage been solved,” says Rabinowitz.

SA’s waste is temporarily stored under water at Koeberg.

“While there is no doubt that this waste is dangerous, it is compact and manageable,” says Peet du Plooy, sustainable growth programme manager at Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies, an economic research institution. For comparison purposes, a 1000MW coal- powered plant would require around 3Mt/year of coal and produce around 1Mt /year of ash; a nuclear power plant of the same size would use 17t/year of nuclear fuel and produce 17t of spent fuel, with a volume of less than 20m³ for long-term storage, according to Adam.

There’s also the option of reprocessing the spent fuel by extracting the uranium and plutonium to be (re)used , leaving smaller quantities for long-term storage. France, England and Russia are already reprocessing waste, but aren’t using the fuel because it’s more expensive.

Adam says the technology exists to take this one step further by breaking down the waste into shorter-lived products that would remain radioactive for only a couple of hundred years, but that the costs of these technologies are the problem. “It doesn’t reflect well on [the industry] to not have a complete business plan,” he says. “It’s an R&D challenge, but it’s a question of engineering and economics — the science is there.”

Opponents also raise a concern — the fourth — about safety. While an accident like the 1986 Chernobyl disaster (which caused an estimated 4000 deaths after technical mishaps brought about a series of explosions) is unlikely to happen today, given current safety standards, incidences in France are increasing, according to Teule. “They are not all serious, but they are showing that things can and do go wrong.”

But modern science allows us to rely on passive safety, says Tony Stott, nuclear assurance manager at Eskom. The physics of generation 3 plants make them inherently safe, but more expensive to build. Generation2 plants like Koeberg still rely on engineered safety and backup systems, but with added modifications they are deemed as safe as the newer technologies. Around R1bn has been spent over the past 20 years on modifications to ensure Koeberg’s safety. This has improved its safety by a factor of 10 (the probability of the fuel melting should be less than one in 10000/year; now it is one in 100000). Future plants would likely be either modified generation 2 or generation 3 plants.

Du Plooy argues that the only real safety issue is ensuring that enriched uranium doesn’t reach the hands of rogue regimes. Connotations with Hiroshima and Nagasaki illustrate the potential destructive power of the technology, though nuclear weapons require uranium to be enriched to a higher level than for power generation. SA dismantled its nuclear weaponry programme in the 1990s.

There is a need to ask what the best trade-off is between costs, megawatts of electricity produced, and the reduction of carbon emissions .

Both WWF and Greenpeace argue that an energy mix that excludes nuclear, and introduces renewables while phasing out coal, is both optimal and possible.

The prevailing view is, however, that given the high cost of renewable energy (which may decrease as the technology develops), a plan that excludes nuclear would be too costly, and that renewable energy doesn’t make for a sufficiently reliable supply.

But with dual challenges of climate change and energy security, the solution lies in finding the most efficient way to meet future energy demands in a way that is sustainable and clean — and a balanced mix of technologies may be the best way to do this.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Is Natural Gas A Viable Partner In the Low-Carbon Future?

Is Natural Gas A Viable Partner In the Low-Carbon Future? - Domestic Fuel

Is, and should, natural gas be a viable partner in the movement to a low-carbon future? This was the question asked and answered in a new report published by the Worldwatch Institute and authored by Worldwatch Sustainable Energy Fellow Saya Kitasei. “Powering the Low-Carbon Economy: The Once and Future Roles of Renewable Energy and Natural Gas,” concludes that natural gas and renewable energy such as wind and solar, could form a powerful partnership to move the world toward low carbon energies.

The report notes that “natural gas offers a cleaner alternative to coal” and sets up the stage for natural gas to play a starring role in the future of energy for its “flexibility, scalability, and cost-competitiveness to complement the variable distributed nature of wind and solar power generation.”

“If the world is to truly move away from coal as its primary means of electricity production, then natural gas must realize its full potential as a partner to the renewable energy industry,” said Kitasei. “Natural gas is undergoing a renaissance. Our research indicates that the environmental community should pay attention to the opportunities that this resource brings. When deployed as part of an integrated approach, renewable energy and natural gas can reduce coal dependence, deliver emissions reductions, and catalyze the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

According to the report, there are four key mechanisms that can enable the combination of renewable energy and natural gas to displace coal and provide needed reductions in power-sector emissions:

  • • First, air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury must be tightly regulated.
  • • Second, a cost must be attached to emitting carbon dioxide.
  • • Third, electricity system operators should allow wind and solar plants to balance their own output with on-site resources.
  • • Fourth, the markets on which system operators purchase electricity must be highly responsive, allowing them to react to fluctuations in electricity supply and demand as rapidly as possible.

The report is part of a larger look that the Worldwatch Institute is taking into the role of natural gas in the future global economy.

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In Germany, New Power Generation in 2009 Came Mostly From Solar, Wind

In Germany, New Power Generation in 2009 Came Mostly From Solar, Wind - The Solar Home & Business Journal

Made in Germany sign

A sign denotes a German exhibit at a solar
industry conference in San Francisco.

About 80 percent of total growth in electrical generating capacity in 2009 in Germany’s electricity market was based on an increase in solar and wind power systems, according to the Monitoring Report 2009 issued by the Bundesnetzagentur, the country’s electricity regulatory agency.

"This rapid growth provided solar power operators in 2009 with total earnings almost comparable with those for wind energy operators, although feed-in from wind power systems was almost six times that of solar power feed-in,” said Matthias Kurth, president of the agency. “And we can expect this rapid growth in solar generating capacity to continue, with the attendant consequences for the renewables surcharge and the electricity networks.”

The renewables surcharge will rise in 2011 to 3.53 euro cents per kilowatt-hour, 1.5 euro cents more than the 2010 surcharge, the Bundesnetzagentur reported. But Mr. Kurth said higher returns for electricity network operators are not justified.

“The Bundesnetzagentur is supporting the network operators in upgrading and expanding their infrastructure, for instance by approving their investment budgets. Yet in the consumers' interest, we must resist new calls for higher returns. Current data do not justify these. On the contrary, the current yield established by the Bundesbank, an important determinant of the return on equity, has even fallen," Mr. Kurth said.

Average electricity prices for domestic customers rose by around 3 percent, the agency reported. The reasons include a large increase in the renewables surcharge at the beginning of 2010 and the prevalent long-term procurement strategies of the energy suppliers.

"Consumers themselves can cut their bills considerably by changing to different pricing plans. Standard, or default, supply continues to be the most expensive form of electricity supply. It is cheaper if consumers change pricing plan with their default supplier, or change their supplier. So far, however, not more than half of all domestic customers have done so, although they have a choice of some 120 suppliers on average and can save up to 160 euros a year," Mr. Kurth said.

The Bundesnetzagentur report said electricity networks proved highly reliable in 2009 for suppliers and for domestic, business and industrial customers.

“Although the integration of renewables is a huge technical challenge for the network operators, the electricity infrastructure itself is reliable and stable,” the news release said. According to the current report from the agency on supply interruptions in 2009, the average interruption in the Federal Republic of Germany was 14.6 minutes per final consumer. This figure, called the System Average Interruption Duration Index, has fallen for the third consecutive year and represents a top performance internationally, the agency reported.

“Guaranteeing a high degree of grid reliability is a tremendous challenge in light of the rapid growth of renewables, and one that can only be met if there is huge investment at all network levels,” the Bundesnetzagentur said. Germany’s Power Grid Expansion Act, or EnLAG, promotes realization of the necessary expansion measures, and names 24 projects for priority treatment. Some of the projects have been delayed, however, and planned start dates may be several years late in some cases.

The reports from the transmission system operators on grid extension planning likewise show delays in 37 of the 139 projects, the agency said. The investment data in the Bundesnetzagentur's Monitoring Report document a considerable time lag in the construction and expansion projects for the transmission networks.

The issue is one not unknown in the United States.

"The real problems," Mr. Kurth said, "lie not in companies' lack of willingness to invest. Most people, when asked, are definitely in favor of sustainable generation for the future. But when it comes to a mast being set up near their homes, their agreement is often retracted. The desire for an open landscape for themselves often outweighs theoretical support for global protection of the environment. Much work will have to be done here to persuade people otherwise. The Bundesnetzagentur is aware of its responsibility in helping to win acceptance. Cross-sectoral approaches might be one way of going forward. If a high-voltage mast can bring high-speed Internet to the countryside, resistance may be averted."

The agency said the European internal market for electricity is growing “bit by bit.”

“A market coupling initiative was launched on 9 November 2010 between Germany, France and the Benelux countries,” the agency said in its news release. “On the very same day, this coupling was linked with the Nordic region market coupling, which also includes Germany. The Bundesnetzagentur played a crucial role in creating the coordination mechanisms for this ‘super integration’ to come about. For electricity trading, it means a market that now spans half of Europe.”

The report also discussed electricity trading in 2009 on spot energy exchanges. A clear increase in volumes traded on the exchanges could be observed in the first half of 2010, along with a moderate rise in price levels, it said, mentioning the “growing significance of exchange trading for the integration of renewables.”

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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

An End To Coal Fired Power Stations In South Australia?

An End To Coal Fired Power Stations In South Australia? - Energy Matters

Goodbye coal, hello wind power
South Australian Premier Mike Rann has announced plans to set carbon emissions limits for new electricity production in South Australia so strict, it would effectively prevent the future construction of new coal-fired power plants in the State.

Presently, 34% of South Australia's electricity is generated by coal-fired power. Gas accounts for almost half, with 18% of the State's electricity coming from wind power generation. South Australia is aiming for 33% of its electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2020

"South Australia is host to half of Australia's wind power and last month we passed through the threshold of 1,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity", said Mr. Rann. "This outcome has been driven by South Australia aggressively capitalising on the Commonwealth Government’s expanded 20 per cent by 2020 Renewable Energy Target."

South Australia has only two coal fired power stations, both of which use brown coal - one of the most carbon emissions intensive fuels. Both plants source their fuel from dwindling resources at Leigh Creek, meaning that the plants may need to convert to natural gas in the future.

Mr. Rann has planned consultations next year with industry and interest groups relating to setting a maximum carbon content for electricity generated from any new plant in South Australia, with the starting point for discussions being a limit of 0.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour

"The limit will be introduced as a transitional measure pending the introduction of a national carbon policy", said Mr. Rann; who also flagged the approach may have implications for initiatives such as off-grid diesel and syngas projects where power generation can form part of a larger process. The Government intends to provide sufficient flexibility in its legislation to be able to address unintended outcomes.

Titan Energy Worldwide Service Revenues Reach All Time High in November

Titan Energy Worldwide Service Revenues Reach All Time High in November; Record Year of $3.5 Million for Service Sales Projected for 2010 - Marketwire

Titan Sets New Standards for Service and Maintenance in the Multibillion Dollar Onsite Power Generation Industry

MINNEAPOLIS, MN--(Marketwire - December 6, 2010) - Titan Energy Worldwide, Inc. (OTCBB:TEWI), a leader in distributed power generation products and intelligent energy management services, announced today that service revenues of $350,000 for the month of November were the highest ever recorded in the company's history, and that service revenues for the year are projected to exceed $3 million for the first time.

"With November gross sales topping all but one month in our company's history, it is certain that we will end the year on a strong note. In particular, I am very proud of our service team for achieving record revenues for the month of November and for the year. We will achieve more than $3 million in service sales for the first time in the Company's history. Service sales represent multi-year contracts with our customers for service and maintenance of their onsite power generators," stated Jeffrey Flannery, Chief Executive Officer of Titan Energy Worldwide.

"Our superior service benefits nearly 1,000 customers, and has allowed us to establish national accounts with several major companies, demonstrating our ability to operate effectively throughout the United States. We also manage generators enrolled in demand response and other utility programs which played a significant role this past summer in managing the power load on the nation's electrical utility grid.

"Our growing reputation for offering the finest service programs for onsite power just got better. With the acquisition of Stanza Systems, we have established new capabilities and goals for our service offerings. In addition to the superior service provided by our fleet and trained technicians, we will soon be providing the most advanced technology for the remote monitoring and control of onside generation.

"There is an estimated 170 gigawatts of onsite power generation residing in as many as 500,000 industrial generators around the nation, enough power to light up several major states. Many of these power systems are poorly or inadequately maintained. Titan's services will provide automation, control, and reporting capabilities never before seen in this industry. The result will be a powerful new way to manage onsite power generation, further establishing Titan as a leader in energy management," added Mr. Flannery.

About Titan Energy Worldwide, Inc.

Titan Energy Worldwide is a provider of onsite power generation, energy management and energy efficiency products and services that help support and improve the performance of our nation's electrical utility grid. We operate in an area of the overall electrical utility infrastructure called Distributed Generation, whereby we specialize in the deployment of power generation equipment at the consumer's facility and the integration of that equipment through monitoring and communication systems with the needs of the utility's electrical grid. These onsite power generation systems support a customer's critical operations during times of power failure and serve as demand response systems that work to reduce energy usage and decrease demand on the electrical grid during peak periods. When managed with the proper intelligent monitoring systems and controls, Distributed Generation offers a vital and significant contribution to the development of the nation's Smart Grid. We contribute the tools and resources to produce immediate and long term improvements in the performance and stability in the energy production and transmission segments of the electrical grid and reduce the need for new power plants. From emergency and back-up power technologies, to demand response programs and Smart Grid applications, Titan Energy is setting a path for the future in energy management. For more information, please visit the company's website at:

Forward-Looking Statements

Investors are cautioned that certain statements contained in this document as well as some statements in periodic press releases and some oral statements of TEWI officials are "Forward-Looking Statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the "Act"). Forward-looking statements include statements which are predictive in nature, which depend upon or refer to future events or conditions, which include words such as "believes," "anticipates," "intends," "plans," "expects," and similar expressions. In addition, any statements concerning future financial performance (including future revenues, earnings or growth rates), ongoing business strategies or prospects, and possible future TEWI actions, which may be provided by management, are also forward-looking statements as defined by the Act. Forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties, and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance or achievements of the Company to materially differ from any future results, performance, or achievements expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements and to vary significantly from reporting period to reporting period. Although management believes that the assumptions made and expectations reflected in the forward-looking statements are reasonable, there is no assurance that the underlying assumptions will, in fact, prove to be correct or that actual future results will not be different from the expectations expressed in this report. These statements are not guarantees of future performance and TEWI has no specific intention to update these statements.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

China to invest billions in solar power infrastructure

China to invest billions in solar power infrastructure - People's Daily Online

On Dec. 2 in Beijing the Chinese government declared a strategy of promoting solar photovoltaic power generation across the country through various demonstration projects, which coincides with the U.N. Climate Change Conference in CancĂșn, Mexico.

The initiative is sponsored by four departments: the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the National Energy Administration.

Thirteen development zones around the country have been recognized as the first demonstration projects for the solar power generation. Zhang Shaochun, vice minister of finance, said that the effect of the existing demonstration projects, which was put into operation in 2009 and 2010, would be further exploited so that the application would reach at least 1,000 megawatts annually since 2012. A stable solar power market will be in place and expand as a result.

Reuters reported on Friday that China's central government is considering allocating 1.5 trillion yuan to support seven strategic industries, including alternative energy.

One of the 13 new projects for solar power generation will be located in Yizhuang, Beijing. With an investment of 460 million yuan, it will boast 20-megawatt installed capacity and be deployed on the roofs of buildings.

Statistics show that more than 700,000 square meters of roof in industrial zones for auto, equipment manufacturing, mobile communication, electronics and digital TVs in Yizhuang are available for the deployment.

It is estimated that the power generation can reach 22.72 million kilowatt-hours annually once in operation. That will amount to 568 million kilowatt-hours for 25 years. The pressure of the grid at peak hours for industrial production can be eased effectively as a result.

More importantly, it is significant in terms of environmental protection. The use of solar power can save 8,200 tons of coal equivalent and reduce emission of industrial dust, CO2 and sulfur dioxide by 123 tons, 21,430 tons and 180 tons, respectively.

China's solar power has been developing rapidly in recent years. With the progress in technology, industrial system, market potential and policy framework, the industry is ready for the launch of a full-fledged application. In addition, the industry has entered into a new stage of scale economy globally.

The Chinese government will give more support to the demonstration projects. A 50 percent subsidy will be granted to suppliers of key equipment who win the bidding. An additional subsidy of 4 yuan per watt and 6 yuan per watt will be given depending on different projects.

The next step is to connect those areas with demonstration projects. It is necessary to explore an effective business model for the industry. More demonstration projects are in line with development or industrial parks as the main focus. The aim is to install the solar power system at all the plants in those parks.

The State Grid will streamline the power connection process and improve its tech standards and management.

A new mechanism integrating the fiscal support and R&D (research and development) efforts will be in launched soon. It is expected to encourage the application of new products and technologies by enterprises to bring costs down so that the promotion of the Solar-PV power generation could be made easier and faster in the future.

By Li Jia, People’s Daily Online
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