Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Energy Secretary, Congress Collide Over Hydrogen Car Funds

WASHINGTON -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu wants to kill research and development on cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells, but a spending bill approved by the House this month and another scheduled for a Senate vote this week would restore funding for the program.
Mr. Chu has said that hydrogen fuel cells are an impractical technology for vehicles, partly because they would require the creation of a network of hydrogen fueling stations.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu's efforts to overhaul federal energy research are encountering resistance in Congress, where lawmakers are moving to give him money for projects that he doesn't support while withholding funds for others he says are critical. Energy reporter Stephen Power explains.
A Nobel-Prize winning physicist and former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which conducts federal energy research, Mr. Chu argues that improved internal-combustion engines and plug-in electric vehicles are more realistic technologies for cutting oil consumption over the next 20 to 30 years.
Former President George W. Bush championed the development of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, saying they could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The federal government has spent roughly $1.5 billion since 2001 on hydrogen fuel-cell research.
Among those fighting to keep federally funded hydrogen-vehicle research alive are General Motors Corp., Daimler AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. The companies, which are in various stages of developing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, say the U.S. needs a broad range of technologies to combat climate change.
Some lawmakers fear cuts in hydrogen-car subsidies would translate into job losses at university and corporate labs in their states.
"The department's made a significant mistake here," Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) told Mr. Chu at a recent hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development. Mr. Dorgan, the panel's chairman, has steered millions of federal dollars over the past five years to the National Center for Hydrogen Technology at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

Mr. Dorgan acknowledged that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are "not near term." But he said that "if somebody is going to look at things that are...essential in the longer term, who but the Department of Energy should do that?"
The spending bill to be voted on by the Senate this week added $204 million for research and development across various hydrogen technologies, compared with the $68.2 million the administration had sought for work focused mainly on near-term fuel-cell applications, such as power supplies for buildings and forklifts.
Overall, the House and Senate spending bills would fund the Energy Department at roughly the levels called for by President Barack Obama. But they greatly scale back funding for Mr. Chu's $280 million plan to create eight new research-and-development labs, staffed by scientists from multiple disciplines.
Dubbed "energy innovation hubs," the labs would focus on what Mr. Chu argues should be the Energy Department's research-and-development priorities, such as making solar power competitive with fossil fuels and creating energy-efficient building designs.
Mr. Chu has said the labs would function as "little Bell Lablets," a reference to AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he conducted much of the work for which he won the Nobel Prize.
But the House bill would provide Mr. Chu with only $35 million, enough for just one hub. "It's not that it's a bad idea, but the implementation is something we need to see," Rep. Ed Pastor (D., Ariz.) said. "What you don't want is duplication."
The White House said in a statement Monday that the administration "strongly opposes" lawmakers' attempts to cut funding for the energy-innovation hubs. The labs "will advance highly promising areas of energy science and technology from their early states," the statement said.
A third bill, passed last week in the House, authorizes the Energy Department to spend $30 million annually for five years on research and development of natural-gas vehicles, even though the Obama administration hasn't sought money for such activities. The legislation was written by Rep. John Sullivan (R., Okla.), whose state is home to Chesapeake Energy Corp. and other large natural-gas producers.
Mr. Sullivan said the legislation will contribute to the fight against climate change, citing research that shows natural-gas vehicles produce significantly lower greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline-powered vehicles.
Mr. Chu has said using natural gas as a transportation fuel "will put a strain on natural gas for industrial uses, for heating, and other things."
Write to Stephen Power at stephen.power@wsj.com

NHPC Likely to Set IPO in 30-36 Rupees Price Band

MUMBAI -- State-owned NHPC Ltd. is likely to price its initial public offer in the 30 rupees-36 rupees ($0.74) band when it opens for subscriptions later next month, a banker involved in the issue said Monday.
"This is the price decided by the government, but can be revised if market conditions change," the banker, who didn't wish to be named, told Dow Jones Newswires.
Subscriptions for the 1.68 billion-share issue are scheduled to open Aug. 7 and close Aug. 12. This includes a fresh issue of nearly 1.12 billion shares by the company and an offer for sale of more than 559.12 million shares by the Indian government.
Write to John Satish Kumar at john.kumar@dowjones.com

Undermining human rights

An Indian settlement built on mineral deposits is at risk from a mining company. As consumers, it is up to us to protect it

Bianca Jagger
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 July 2009 09.00 BST

Today, shareholders of UK-listed mining company Vedanta will meet at its AGM in London to hear of the company's successes and look forward to the coming year. Things are looking good – despite the economic downturn last year's post-tax profits totalled £2.7bn and new projects are on the horizon. One of these, a new bauxite mine in India, has led Sitaram Kulisika, a member of India's Kondh tribe, to travel to London to address Vedanta's shareholders in an urgent attempt to save his tribal home and protect the livelihoods of his community. I'm appealing to them to listen to Mr Kulisika – before it's too late.
In May, a subsidiary of Vedanta received the green light to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills, Orissa. The hills are home to the Kondh, an already vulnerable indigenous group who have lived there for generations. They rely on local mountain forests and streams to graze livestock and gather food, medicines and vital drinking water. The lush forests of Niyamgiri mountain are a pristine ecosystem of great conservation significance. So important is the local environment to the Kondh that they consider the mountain to be a living God and claim that their spiritual, cultural and economic wellbeing are embedded deep within it. They say that if the mine goes ahead, it will undermine their collective identity and way of life. In other words, it will strip them of their basic human rights, enshrined in national and international law. These are fundamental rights, which we would all fight for. Oppressed people around the world know this all too well.
Permission was granted for the mine after a four-year battle in India's supreme court. The recommendation of the court committee was that the project be halted. Their findings were highly critical of Vedanta's plan to mine in Niyamgiri. Despite this, Vedanta will begin mining within weeks.
This is not the first time members of the Kondh have come face to face with Vedanta's board. Supported by organisations such as ActionAid, the Kondh have continued their campaign locally and internationally. Last year, they were given an assurance by the chief executive of Vedanta that mining would not go ahead if their people opposed it. Since then, protests in the area have grown, yet the mining is going ahead.
The Kondh's message is clear – no amount of financial reward or relocation packages can compensate for the loss of their livelihood and their sacred land. As one villager said, "We will not leave Niyamgiri. Without our mountain, our god, there is no life for us." Sitaram Kulisika is here to remind Vedanta that the Kondh do not want the mine. His only hope is that Vedanta will respect their livelihood, their culture and their human rights and prevent the irreversible destruction of Niyamgiri. This struggle of indigenous people vs corporations and states, over ancestral land teeming with natural resources, is a significant global issue. Recently in Peru, hundreds of Amazonian Indians were wounded or arrested in clashes over oil and timber. Similar stories can be found across the world. I have campaigned on these issues for nearly three decades, so I speak from experience when I say that the Kondh tribe's battle to save their livelihoods illustrates the struggle for survival that indigenous people are facing in many parts of the world.
Vedanta's modus operandi is, unfortunately, not an isolated case. Many corporations operating in the developing world engage in serious human rights abuses, with total impunity. According to the UN, companies have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they do business. It is absolutely scandalous that the local inhabitants should have to implore and appeal to the better nature of shareholders and company executives to protect their human rights, their homes and their livelihoods. Companies who violate this responsibility should be held accountable in a court of law. We urgently need an environmental court of justice to make these companies adhere to responsible corporate ethics. Plans for such a court are under way.
Currently the UK government does little to ensure that companies respect human rights overseas, leaving people such as Sitaram Kulisika and the Kondh of Niyamgiri ever more vulnerable. Until governments worldwide force companies to respect human rights, it is up to shareholders, consumers and ordinary individuals to hold corporations to account for their action. This may be our last chance to help the Kondh stop their way of life from disappearing altogether.

Climate change to force 75 million Pacific Islanders from their homes

More than 75 million people living on Pacific islands will have to relocate by 2050 because of the effects of climate change, Oxfam has warned.

By Bonnie Malkin in Sydney Published: 5:48AM BST 27 Jul 2009

A report by the charity said Pacific Islanders were already feeling the effects of global warming, including food and water shortages, rising cases of malaria and more frequent flooding and storms. Some had already been forced from their homes and the number of displaced people was rising, it warned.
"The Future is Here: Climate Change in the Pacific" predicted that many Pacific Islanders would not be able to relocate within their own countries and would become international refugees.

It urged neighbouring wealthy countries to take urgent action to curb their carbon emissions to prevent a large-scale crisis.
Half of the population of the Pacific live less than 1.5km from the coast and are incredibly vulnerable to sea-level rise and extreme weather. But as well as moving out, the report found that some countries had started adapting to the changing climate.
Fiji is attempting to "climate-proof" its villages by testing salt-resistant varieties of staple foods, planting mangroves and native grasses to halt coastal erosion in order to protect wells from salt water intrusion, and moving homes and community buildings away from vulnerable coastlines.
In the Solomon Islands officials are looking for land to resettle people from low-lying outer atolls, and those living in the outer atolls of the Federated States of Micronesia were also moving to higher ground. The tiny nation of Tuvalu also recently pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020.
Andrew Hewett, Oxfam Australia Executive Director, said it was vital that Australia started working with Pacific governments to plan for the impact of climate change.
As the wealthiest country in the region and the highest per capita polluter, Australia "must prevent further climate damage to the Pacific by urgently adopting higher targets" - reducing emissions by at least 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 - and urging other developed countries to do the same, the report said.
The Australian government's commitment of $150 million (£75m) to help Pacific Islanders adapt to climate change needed to at least double, it said.
"It would be in Australia's interests to act now because, as the situation worsened, it would be called on to respond to more emergencies in the region," Mr Hewett told the Sydney Morning Herald.
With only months to go until the crucial UN negotiations in Copenhagen in December, Australia needed to show Pacific leaders it was willing to do its fair share to address one of the most pressing challenges in the region, he said.
"People are already leaving their homes because of climate change, with projections that 75 million people in the Asia-Pacific region will be forced to relocate by 2050 if climate change continues unabated. Not all will have the option of relocating within their own country, so it's vital that the Australian Government starts working with Pacific governments to plan for this now."
Pacific leaders will raise the issue of climate change with Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, at the Pacific Islands Forum on Aug 4.

Putting the wind up the lenders

The banks would be insulated from ministers trying to promote pet projects such as ... oh, I don’t know ... wind-farms
David Wighton: Business Editor’s Commentary
When the Government announced it was going to manage its shareholdings in bailed-out banks at arm’s length, the move was widely applauded. Placing the stakes in a separate bucket called UK Financial Investments would prevent taxpayers’ long-term interests being compromised by short-term political pressures, supporters said.
Of course, the shareholdings would be used to promote broad government policy. But the banks would be insulated from ministers trying to promote pet projects such as ... oh I don’t know ... pick one at random ... onshore wind farms.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change must have thought it was nifty news management to put out its announcement about loans for wind farms on the same day that Alistair Darling was beating up on the banks.
Here were Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds (and BNP Paribas Fortis for some reason) apparently committing to a £1 billion loan programme for wind farms just as the Chancellor was urging banks to lend more to small businesses. But then, the more RBS and Lloyds lend to wind farms, the less they can lend to other small businesses. And there are rising doubts among alternative energy experts about whether wind is really the way for Britain to go.
The press release looks suspiciously like an attempt to bounce RBS and Lloyds — which both say they are not yet committed to the scheme — though it may be more cock-up than conspiracy.
What the banks are committed to is stepping up overall lending as the price for entry into the Government’s asset insurance scheme. Both are concerned that they might not hit these targets because there will be insufficient demand from credit-worthy businesses. So both are embarking on advertising campaigns designed to persuade companies that the deepest recession since the 1930s is a good time to borrow.
Ministers concede that there is obviously a bit of a demand problem but insist this is largely because the banks are charging so much. To which the banks reply that, while the rates they charge have gone up compared with their cost of funds (though by less than it looks), that reflects the fact that they were charging too little before rather than too much now.
The Government’s threats and monitoring of banks’ lending books may have an impact at the margin. But it is hard to see how it can reconcile the economy’s need for increased lending with the banks’ needs for increased profits.
Sir Win Bischoff, who was duly announced as the new chairman of Lloyds yesterday, should expect a lot of testy calls from ministers, and not just about wind farms.

Infrastructure woes hamper China wind farms' push for profitability

Rapid build-out of capacity has caused bottlenecks in connecting turbines to the grid. From BusinessGreen.com, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Chinese wind farm operators are struggling to earn a profit as a lack of wind resources and an insufficient power infrastructure has hampered efforts to provide clean energy to the grid.
A report posted earlier this week on the web site of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC), a government agency that oversees China's power sector, noted that some wind farms are suffering from a lack of wind, with many recording lower utilisation hours than had been estimated by feasibility studies.
The industry is also encountering problems stemming from the government's aggressive plan to expand its wind power capacity, which doubled in 2008 to 12.8GW, up from 6GW the previous year, according to figures from the China Electricity Council (CEC), a government-backed industry association.
However, the state-run China Wind Energy Association said that more than 20 per cent of the country's installed wind power capacity did not generate any electricity last year because the equipment was not yet connected to the grid.
Association president He Dexin told the South China Morning Post newspaper earlier this month that "the problem is that the regions where wind resources are the most abundant tend to have the weakest grid infrastructure development".
It takes three to four months to get equipment hooked up, due to a bottleneck caused by a steep ramp up of wind power projects. The problem will likely be exacerbated by China's recently announced plan to spend $140bn (£84bn) to build seven giant wind farms by 2020.
Another obstacle to profibility is the low tariffs paid to wind farms by grid operators, according to the SERC report. In the absence of a feed-in tariff, wind power projects with more than 50MW of capacity need to undertake a public bidding process in which low tariffs are the primary criterion for winning.
The government plans to standardise wind power tariffs by region, so that areas with similar wind resources would be granted comparable rates.
Wind energy accounted for 1.1 per cent of the country's overall power generation capacity last year but only 0.3 per cent of its total electricity output, according to CEC.
China's power infrastructure will need to undergo vast improvements if the government is to reach its goal of having eight per cent of the country's electricity needs supplied via wind power by 2020.
• This article was shared by our content partner BusinessGreen.com, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Kenya to build Africa's biggest windfarm

With surging demand for power and blackouts common across the continent, Africa is looking to solar, wind and geothermal technologies to meet its energy needs
Xan Rice in Nairobi
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 July 2009 17.27 BST
One of the hottest places in the world is set to become the site of Africa's most ambitious venture in the battle against global warming.
Some 365 giant wind turbines are to be installed in desert around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya – used as a backdrop for the film The Constant Gardener – creating the biggest windfarm on the continent. When complete in 2012, the £533m project will have a capacity of 300MW, a quarter of Kenya's current installed power and one of the highest proportions of wind energy to be fed in a national grid anywhere in the world.
Until now, only north African countries such as Morocco and Egypt have harnessed wind power for commercial purposes on any real scale on the continent. But projects are now beginning to bloom south of the Sahara as governments realise that harnessing the vast wind potential can efficiently meet a surging demand for electricity and ending blackouts.
Already Ethiopia has commissioned a £190m, 120MW farm in Tigray region, representing 15% of the current electricity capacity, and intends to build several more. Tanzania has announced plans to generate at least 100MW of power from two projects in the central Singida region, more than 10% of the country's current supply. In March, South Africa, whose heavy reliance on coal makes its electricity the second most greenhouse-gas intensive in the world, became the first African country to announce a feed-in tariff for wind power, whereby customers generating electricity receive a cash payment for selling that power to the grid.
Kenya is trying to lead the way. Besides the Turkana project, which is being backed by the African Development Bank, private investors have proposed establishing a second windfarm near Naivasha, the well-known tourist town. And in the Ngong hills near Nairobi, the Maasai herders and elite long-distance athletes used to braving the frigid winds along the escarpment already have towering company: six 50m turbines from the Danish company Vestas that were erected last month and will add 5.1MW to the national grid from August. Another dozen turbines will be added at the site in the next few years.
Christopher Maende, an engineer from the state power company KenGen, which is running the Ngong farm and testing 14 other wind sites across the country, said local residents and herders were initially worried that noise from the turbines would scare the animals.
"Now they are coming to admire the beauty of these machines," he said.
Kenya's electricity is already very green by global standards. Nearly three-quarters of KenGen's installed capacity comes from hydropower, and a further 11% from geothermal plants, which tap into the hot rocks a mile beneath the Rift Valley to release steam to power turbines.
Currently fewer than one-in-five Kenyans has access to electricity but demand is rising quickly, particularly in rural areas and from businesses. At the same time, increasingly erratic rainfall patterns and the destruction of key water catchment areas have affected hydroelectricity output. Low water levels caused the country's largest hydropower dam to be shut down last month.
As a short-term measure KenGen is relying on imported fossil fuels, such as coal and diesel. But within five years the government wants to drastically reduce the reliance on hydro by adding 500MW of geothermal power and 800MW of wind energy to the grid.
Not only are they far greener options than coal or diesel, but the country's favourable geology and meteorology make them cheaper alternatives over time. The possibility of selling carbon credits to companies in the industrialised world is an added financial advantage.
"Kenya's natural fuel should come from the wind, hot underground rock and the sun, whose potential has barely even been considered," said Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Programme. "After the initial capital costs this energy is free."
The Dutch consortium behind the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project has leased 66,000 hectares of land on the eastern edge of the world's largest permanent desert lake. The volcanic soil is scoured by hot winds that blow consistently year round through the channel between the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands.
According to LTWP, which has an agreement to sell its electricity to the Kenya Power & Lighting Company, the average wind speed is 11metres per second, akin to "proven reserves" in the oil sector, said Carlo Van Wageningen, chairman of the company.
"We believe that this site is one of the best in the world for wind," he said. If the project succeeds, the company estimates that there is the potential for the farm to generate a further 2,700MW of power, some of which could be exported.
First, however, there are huge logistical obstacles to overcome. The remote site of Loiyangalani is nearly 300 miles north of Nairobi. Transporting the turbines will require several thousand truck journeys, as well as the improvement of bridges and roads along the way. Security is also an issue as the region is known bandit country, and many locals are armed with AK-47 assault rifles.
LTWP also has to construct a 266-mile transmission line and several substations to connect the windfarm to the national grid. It has promised to provide electricity to the closest local towns, currently powered by generators.
The greening of Africa
At the end of 2008, Africa's installed wind power capacity was only 593MW. But that is set to change fast. Egypt has declared plans to have 7,200MW of wind electricity by 2020, meeting 12% of the country's energy needs. Morocco has a 15% target over the same period. South Africa and Kenya have not announced such long-term goals, but with power shortages and wind potential of up to 60,000MW and 30,000MW respectively, local projects are expected to boom. With the carbon credit market proving strong incentives for investment other types of renewable energy are also set to take off. Kenya is planning to quickly expanding its geothermal capacity, and neighbouring Rift Valley countries up to Djibouti are examining their own potential. As technology improves and costs fall, solar will also enter the mix. Germany has already publicised plans to develop a €400bn solar park in the Sahara.
"Ultimately for Africa solar is the answer, although [costs mean] we may still be decades away," said Herman Oelsner, president of the African Wind Energy Association.

Government grants Vestas £6m – but factory will still close

Nick Mathiason
The Guardian, Tuesday 28 July 2009
The government yesterday awarded Vestas Technology £6m but the cash will not stop the Danish turbine manufacturer from controversially shutting its Isle of Wight factory on Friday.
As 25 Vestas workers continued to occupy the factory yesterday, energy secretary Ed Miliband was heckled by protesters over the closure of the renewable energy business while he was in Oxford on ministerial business.
A possession order will be sought by Vestas to regain control of the factory at court on Wednesday. The sit-in by the non-unionised staff began last Tuesday.
The £6m award will go towards Vestas's offshore research and development division.
Vestas claims it has to close its manufacturing unit with the loss of 600 jobs because the UK onshore wind market is not growing fast enough. It says projects are slowed down by planning objections. It will move production to Colorado in the United States.
But Edward Maltby, of Workers' Climate Action, which is leading the protests outside the Vestas factory, said: "£6m is pocket money. It's not a significant investment. Why are we throwing money at this company? We should nationalise it because Vestas is not prepared to behave decently."
The government yesterday attempted to unlock delayed onshore wind projects by launching a £1bn loan package to small and medium-sized green energy firms that have found it impossible to raise money in the credit crisis, even for profitable schemes.
The British Wind Energy Association, the trade body, welcomed the fund and said it would lead to a surge in new renewable projects. The association said the UK has 900 megawatts of onshore wind power and 1,700 megawatts offshore. But it says there are 6,000 megawatts of wind schemes with planning permission that lack funding – the schemes could triple UK wind capacity.
The £1bn fund is a partnership involving Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, BNP Paribas and the European Investment Bank.
Miliband said: "The money … will help us generate green jobs on top of our success as the leading country in the world for generating offshore wind. Alongside these proposals, we are reforming planning laws, finding new ways of working with local communities and are determined to persuade people that we need a significant increase in onshore wind as part of the UK's future energy mix."

Labour's green rhetoric is hollow unless it acts now to protect Vestas

Nationalisation of the turbine plant is the only rational option
Edward Maltby
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 July 2009 18.11 BST

Ed Miliband's comment in the Guardian is a sorry attempt to excuse the irresponsible behaviour of Vestas management in closing the Isle of Wight plant. It seems that Miliband and his government are more prepared to defend the interests of big business than to solve the problem of climate change and keep people in work.
Miliband makes Vestas CEO Ditlev Engel's arguments for him: that planning regulations and opposition from Nimby groups makes putting up wind turbines difficult. But Miliband claims that the government intends to change the planning rules next year. If that's true, then the government should be stockpiling blades in preparation for the change – not shutting down the only onshore wind blade factory in the UK. Miliband parrots Engel's nonsense about a lack of demand: but the Department for Energy and Climate Change has itself set a target for a fivefold increase in on-shore wind energy. There can be no excuses – the decision to allow the plant to close is irrational.
Closing down the plant would not only bring misery to the people of the Isle of Wight – it would also disperse the skill base at the plant, which has been used to train up workers in Australia and the USA. If the plant needs to be refurbished and lengthened and new machinery brought in – so be it. The government found the money to bail out the banks to the tune of billions – the few tens of millions that such a refurbishment would cost would be a miniscule sum in comparison.
Miliband is right to say that "the question is not one of subsidies". Vestas bosses have demonstrated that they are determined to close down the Isle of Wight plant and move production to America. The solution does not lie in throwing more money at these profiteers. We agree that "there must be a strategy for the Isle of Wight", to bring about the required expansion of jobs and wind energy production. But New Labour's ideological commitment to the free market and the rule of profit prevents them from developing such a strategy. On the other hand, the workers at Vestas, the workers' movement and the environmental movement are providing a clear vision for the way forward: we demand the nationalisation of the factory.
Workers at the Lindsey oil refinery, fresh from their victory over employers and the anti-union laws, have sent messages of support and financial aid. Other trade unionists have been quick to follow suit. The FBU, the RMT, workers from the Visteon car plants, teachers at the Lewisham Bridge Primary School who occupied against its closure, workers at a South Korean car plant, Danish and American trade unionists and many more have rallied round to support us. Labour movements and environmental militants are holding mass meetings of supporters in cities around the country and the world.
We at Workers' Climate Action believe that the alliance of the climate change movement and the workers' movement, and the solidarity from workers the world over shows the real social agency that can solve climate change and the economic crisis. It is Vestas workers and their allies who have shown the will to develop this industry. Production can and should be continued on the Isle of Wight under the control of Vestas workers themselves.
We call upon workers and environmental activists to join the campaign to save the Vestas factory, and to develop a broader working-class solution to climate change and economic crisis.
• Edward Maltby is an organiser and activist for Workers' Climate Action