Friday, 31 October 2008

Pickens delays world's biggest wind farm project

Texas oilman's wind farm project hit by financial crisis and drop in price of natural gas
John Sterlicchi,
Thursday October 30 2008 18.06 GMT

The multibillion dollar project to build the world's biggest wind farm in Texas has been delayed because of the fall-out from the credit crunch and the drop in the price of natural gas, it emerged today.
T Boone Pickens, a renowned Texan oilman who is raising the capital for the wind farm, told a US television station today that the twofold problem was slowing down his ambitious plan. Pickens, who made a fortune from the oil industry but has been converted to renewable energy as a means of ending US dependence on foreign oil, announced the original plan for the wind farm last year and construction was supposed to start in 2010.
"I think it is all going to be put off because we have got the credit crunch, one, but, two, natural gas prices [are down], so you are going to price wind off natural gas power and right now natural gas is so cheap there will be no new wind deals until natural gas price gets back up," he said. Natural gas prices are hovering around $6.80 per million British thermal unit (BTUs) down almost 50% since July.
Over the same time period, Pickens's hedge fund BP Capital has lost $2bn — or 60% of its value — since peaking in June. And according to a Wall Street Journal report, investors are bailing out.
In May this year, when oil and natural gas prices were still rising, Pickens said he had ordered $2bn worth of wind turbines from GE. At the time he estimated the total project would cost between $10-$12bn and would be finished by 2014.
The wind farm would be built on 400,000 acres across the Texas panhandle. It was eventually have 4,000MW of capacity, which is enough to supply electricity to 1.3m homes.
In July, the billionaire launched what he called The Pickens Plan, a $58m PR campaign aimed at convincing Americans to replace petrol with natural gas and wind.
In today's interview on CNBC he said all lorries should be run on natural gas. If America switched 2 million "18 wheelers" to natural gas it would reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil by 30%, he said. He saw no reason to halt this switchover even though his wind power plans are delayed. "It's an easy step and it can happen very, very fast."

Manmade global warming evident on every continent, polar report finds

Data compiled by the University of East Anglia finds evidence of warming in Antarctica that can for the first time be directly attributed to human emissions
David Adam, environment correspondent,
Thursday October 30 2008 18.01 GMT

Melting ice in the polar regions will have a major impact on future sea levels. Photograph: John McConnico/AP
No corner of the Earth is immune from the effects of global warming, according to a new study that confirms manmade temperature rises in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Temperature records over the last century show that warming in the planet's coldest and most remote wildernesses is caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.
The study, published today in Nature Geoscience, is the first to find the fingerprints of manmade global warming on the Antarctic, where a shortage of data makes it hard to be sure. Last year's report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said human influence could be detected on every continent, except Antarctica. Climate sceptics have exploited this omission to question the science of global warming.
In the new study, Nathan Gillett, then working at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, though now at Environment Canada, compiled, with colleagues, climate data across the Arctic and Antarctic regions since 1900, and compared the patterns with those produced by computer simulations with and without human activity.
They say only the models that included human influences – such as emissions of carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – were able to reproduce the observed temperature trends.
Gillett said: "The main message is that for the first time we are able to directly attribute warming in both the Arctic and Antarctica to human influence. Melting of ice shelves has implications for sea-level rises."
Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office, who worked on the study, said: "In both polar regions, the observed warming can only be reproduced in our models by including human influences, natural forces alone are not enough.
For a long time climate scientists have known that Arctic areas would be expected to warm most strongly because of feedback mechanisms. But the results from this work demonstrate the part man has already played in the significant warming that we've observed in both polar regions."
The polar regions have seen some of the most dramatic impacts of climate change on the planet in recent years. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, which has contributed to record melting of sea ice in the Arctic summer and thinning in the winter.
The picture in Antarctica is more complex, but the rocky Antarctic peninsula has experienced temperature rises of 3C over the past 50 years – among the largest recorded. Other parts, including the vast east-Antarctic ice sheet, have seen less change.

Uphill struggle for coal-fired Poland

By Jan Cienski in Belchatow and Joshua Chaffin in Brussels
Published: October 30 2008 18:04

Driven to distraction by the flat plains of central Europe, Polish skiers flock to an enormous pile of rubble near the central town of Belchatow where they can slalom atop the refuse from a nearby mine that fuels Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant.
Providing almost a fifth of Poland’s electricity, Belchatow spews out more than 30m tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, according to a report by WWF, the environmental group.

Altogether, it and other coal-fired plants supply 96 per cent of Poland’s electricity and help explain why the country has been one of the least enthusiastic about the EU’s plan to curb greenhouse gases with the help of a revamped emissions trading scheme. Under the plan, utilities would be forced to buy their emissions allowances at auction from 2013 – an adjustment Poland believes could push up electricity prices by 90 per cent.
Warsaw argues that the plan imposes a particular burden on the EU’s former communist countries, which are growing much faster than those in western Europe and are far more dependent on coal.
“The way that the package is designed makes it much less advantageous for poor countries than for rich ones, and is especially unfavourable towards Poland, which is particularly dependent on coal,” said Jacek Rostowski, the finance minister, in a newspaper interview after this month’s EU summit.
During that meeting Poland formed a coalition with eight ex-communist countries and Italy, allowing them to veto any final plan.
In Brussels, European officials argue that they have already taken into account the challenges faced by Poland and other members of the “coalition of the unwilling”. For example, the climate package calls for 10 per cent of the trading scheme’s auction revenues to be redistributed to poorer countries. That would hand Poland an additional €1bn ($1.2bn, £800m) a year to invest in cleaner technologies.
Some Commission officials believe that share could be increased in order to reach a final deal. “There are legitimate concerns, but you have to relativise them,” one said.
Whatever the case, it seems Poland will still be using coal for the foreseeable future. Nuclear power is a distant and expensive alternative and switching to natural gas carries security risks as the gas would have to come from Russia. In other words, the slope at Belchatow – 123 metres high this year – is likely to grow.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Europe's Jolly Green Auto Loans


European taxpayers already have a meaty hunk of bank bailouts to swallow. Now they're getting something green on their plates as well.
Just weeks after EU lawmakers passed strict new carbon-emission regulations despite warnings that they would cost auto makers dearly, Brussels called Wednesday for €40 billion in loans to the industry so that it can comply with the new rules. The EU taketh away, the EU giveth.
Brussels describes the loans from the European Investment Bank as being necessitated by the financial crisis. The looming recession will no doubt hurt auto sales in Europe, which fell further than expected during the third quarter.
But the freezing of credit markets and stream of banking failures were already well under way when the European Parliament voted in late September to force auto emissions lower by 18% within just four years. MEPs knew about the economic conditions, but nonetheless rejected proposed compromises to spread out the reductions over more time and lessen the fines for noncompliance. It's also devious, even by political standards, to approve an obviously expensive regulation and then, a month later, to provide the funding for it -- all the while acting as if the two moves are unrelated.
In their more honest moments, eurocrats acknowledge that they're following America's lead here. Washington has guaranteed $25 billion, or about €20 billion, in loans to the Big Three U.S. auto makers so that they can meet new fuel-economy standards passed last year, and Barack Obama wants to give them $25 billion more.
It wasn't so long ago that the Bush Administration sued Europe at the World Trade Organization for its soft loans to Airbus; now it's setting the trend in corporate handouts. The U.S. used to be the only side of the Atlantic willing to try to stop these kinds of subsidies, which Europe is only too happy to grant.
If Mr. Obama wins next Tuesday, expect a subsidy synergy between Europe and America as each pushes the other to greater heights -- or should we say depths -- of public largesse. The main effect will be to increase governmental influence over the industrial sector at the expense of taxpayers on both sides of the pond.