Thursday, 20 May 2010

Australian Solar Feed In Tariffs Exempt From Pension Income Test

www.energymatters.com.au
17 MAY, 2010

Recently, some Australian pensioners with home solar power systems faced the prospect of having income earned from exporting electricity to the mains grid included in Centrelink income tests for the pension.

While for a person's pension to be affected by feed in tariff credits their total assessable income would have needed to exceed $142 a fortnight for singles and $248 a fortnight for couples combined; reports from some media outlets failed to mention this and caused a great deal of general confusion for retirees with solar power systems.

According to Energy Matters co-founder, Max Sylvester; "It really was a nightmare for everyone - suddenly we were having retirees deciding against installing solar power systems based on rumours of all pensioners being affected. It was also certainly a hot topic in our solar power forums that generated a lot of angry comments and conjecture due to the nature of the original reports."

"The confusion aside, we also felt it unfair pensioners and other Centrelink clients who did exceed the caps under the income test to be financially penalised for playing their part in reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and raised our concerns at the latest Clean Energy Council conference."

The uproar over the issue seems to have encouraged Centrelink to reconsider their policy. Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin has announced that credits and income received under feed in tariff programs will not be treated as income under the pension income test.

"The Australian Government's decision to exempt solar feed-in-tariff credits from the income test puts pensioners' minds at ease," said Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) Policy Coordinator, Charmaine Crowe. "This is good news for pensioners, who have generally outlaid thousands of dollars to install solar panels because of escalating electricity prices and a commitment to doing the right thing for the environment."

Liberal savings initiatives - Abbott rediscovers old-time religion

Crikey.com.au
Friday 14/5/2010 Page: 1

A quick word about Tony Abbott's savings initiatives last night. Cutting Tuesday's $650 million addition to the government's renewable energy fund makes sense. After all, Abbott thinks climate change is crap, so it's commendable that he's actually basing expenditure on that view. Or it would be, except he's using that to fund his dire "direct action" climate change initiative, which will be a variant of the Regional Rorts program in which farmers are handed vast sums of taxpayers' money in order to biosequester carbon at prices tens of times more expensive than under an emissions trading scheme.

In any event, given the government has struggled to actually spend any of the money it has allocated to its previous renewable energy programs-some of it is going to fund solar projects at existing coal-fired power stations-there's no harm in the Abbott proposal. The plan to cut 6,000 jobs from the public service is a bit rich, though.

During the last five years of the Howard government, the public service grew by 14%. Desperate agencies combed back alleys for drunks and shanghaied drunken sailors in an effort to find enough people to help the government deliver its handouts, with all thought of the Liberals' traditional "small government" mantra entirely abandoned. Now Abbott-the party's most senior Big Government figure-claims to have discovered old-time fiscal rigour and wants to cut back public service numbers-but he can't quite bring himself to do it properly, so it'll be done via a recruitment freeze.

The numbers add up-there are about 10-11,000 'separations' from the APS every year, so 6,000 makes sense if you exclude some of the biggest agencies, which Abbott has, in the name of service delivery. "Natural attrition" sounds easy-just don't replace people who leave-but in reality, it isn't. It ends up becoming a partial ban on promotions, because you stop promoting people to replace those who have left. It means more temporary workers are used, because they can be kept off the books more easily. It would probably end up being translated into yet another efficiency dividend-agencies are simply docked the $4 billion Abbott believes would be saved from the measure, on a pro-rata basis, and left to find the savings. That, as we've seen from the Rudd government's own efficiency dividend, makes life hell for small agencies.

Ultimately, of course, it leads to poorer policy advice and program administration. This is what the Howard government found-the more programs it wanted to roll out, the more public servants it needed. The only way to cut the number of bureaucrats is to cut the number and size of programs. It's cart-before-horse stuff; fake savings that sound good before an election, but which mean nothing until there's an actual commitment to reduce the size of government by stopping programs.

As for Abbott's commitment to reduce government advertising by 25% - is he kidding? The Liberal Party should take a vow of silence on anything to do with government advertising for next few terms, after its disgraceful and scandalous effort while in government.

Regulatory Developments Key To Australian Wind Energy Growth

www.voxy.co.nz
17 May, 2010

Fitch Ratings says today in its report entitled "Australian Wind Energy - Gusty Growth," that the growth in Australian wind energy has benefitted from favourable regulatory policies and incentives. Although wind generation has grown rapidly between 2000 and 2009, Australia still has a very small share of the world's wind power capacity.

"While wind energy is expected to increase its share of the generation mix, regulatory uncertainty remains a key threat to its future growth rate," said Sajal Kishore, Director in Fitch's Energy & Utilities team. "The proposed changes to the national renewable energy target scheme are a key issue for 2010," adds Mr. Kishore.

The growth of the wind energy sector in Australia has also benefitted from: the increasing proven nature of wind turbine technology; economies of scale through larger wind farms; technological improvements; and cost competitiveness of wind energy, compared to competing forms of renewable energy.

In "Australian Wind Energy - Gusty Growth," released today, Fitch analyses the growth and surveys both completed projects and those under construction at end-2009, the main drivers for this rapid growth, and the factors constraining wind energy development. "Additional investment in increased flexibility and expansion of the electricity network will also be required to support future wind energy growth," adds Mr. Kishore.

DOE says Yucca Mountain repository 'not an option'

www.thenewstribune.com
05/16/10

The Department of Energy is moving quickly to shut down the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear repository to the concern of Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Wash, and Jay Inslee, D-Wash.

On May 3, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the state of Washington's request that DOE be prohibited from continuing shut down activities at Yucca Mountain while the Obama administration's authority to abandon the project is being challenged. The court found that the state had not shown irreparable harm would occur during the court's expedited review.

DOE responded last week by notifying its contractor USA Repository Services that effective May 24 it should perform only work needed to shut down the repository or for activities such as administering pension benefits. "The administration has determined that Yucca Mountain is not a workable option for a long-term repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste," said the DOE letter to USA Repository Services. "Moreover, it has not sought funding in the 2011 budget sufficient to proceed with the project."

Among waste that was expected to be sent to Yucca Mountain was Hanford's irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste treated for disposal at Hanford's vitrification plant starting in 2019. In addition used nuclear power fuel, including at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, was planned to be sent to the repository. "The arrogance of this administration's decision to ignore the law, sidestep Congress and brush aside a court decision in an apparent attempt to protect one senator in deep political trouble is truly astonishing," Hastings said in a statement.

Hastings has argued that because Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the location of the nation's high level waste repository, President Obama lacks the authority to terminate the project. During the presidential campaign Obama sided with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in opposition to opening Yucca Mountain. Senate Majority Leader Reid now is facing a tough re-election campaign.

Hastings and Inslee Friday requested a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on DOE's actions. "From reprogramming of funds to beginning the process of contract termination and document shredding, the Department of Energy is moving forward as quickly as possible," said the congressmen's letter to committee Chairman Henry Waxman and ranking member Joe Barton.

DOE has moved to not only withdraw its license application for Yucca Mountain is pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but also to withdraw it in a way that would prevent it from ever being refiled. Inslee, supported by representatives who included Hastings, introduced a resolution in March opposing the withdrawal of the application. "We believe a hearing on this legislation or on the issue in general would enable Congress to obtain some clarity on the Department of Energy's actions regarding Yucca Mountain and the Blue Ribbon Commission," Hastings and Inslee said in the letter.

Obama has ordered a Blue Ribbon Commission established to look at alternatives for waste and used fuel that was expected to go to Yucca Mountain, but the commission is prohibited from considering Yucca Mountain as an option. The minimum that the Obama administration owes Hanford and all taxpayers is to refrain from additional termination activities until the Appeals Court rules in September, Hastings said. He objected to DOE citing the administration's 2011 budget proposal as a reason to tell its contractor to proceed with shutdown activities.

The budget proposal "has not been considered by Congress and is not the law of the land," he said. "A congressional budget resolution is one of the tools available to Congress to fight back against this proposal." There have been suggestions by Democrat leaders that Congress may not write a federal budget this year, but Hastings said Congress should meet its core responsibility to write a budget.

Campaigners believe war on climate change will be stymied

www.independent.co.uk
16 May 2010

The parties are divided over nuclear power, offshore oil drilling and many other green issues - and critics say that will hinder the fight against global warming Fears that the UK's fight against climate change will be lost in the confusion of the Liberal-Conservative coalition were underlined yesterday when divisions between the two parties were exposed over nuclear power, renewable energy, airport expansion and offshore oil drilling.

It emerged that the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne one of the most senior Lib Dems in the Cabinet – is to cede responsibility for civil nuclear energy policy to his Tory deputy, Charles Hendry, who will steer any legislation through Parliament. Mr Huhne is opposed to nuclear power on public spending grounds.

While the Lib Dems and Tories have agreed that there will be no state funding for a new generation of nuclear power stations, the industry's powerful lobby said it expected there would be no "slowing down" in the nuclear programme under Mr Hendry. The Lib Dems agreed to abstain on any Commons votes on nuclear power – meaning any legislation is likely to be passed.

Experts have expressed fears that although there would be no public funding for new power stations, there is a risk of state subsidy "by stealth" to achieve the 2017 target by which the private sector and civil servants want the stations to be operational. Hamish Lal, a partner specialising in nuclear contracts at lawyers Jones Day, said: "There was a concern in the industry that having a Liberal Democrat energy minister whose party is openly opposed to new nuclear would mean that the process was not driven sufficiently hard to meet the 2017 target. With Charles Hendry involved in the process I would not now expect any slowing down in the nuclear programme."

On his second day as Prime Minister, David Cameron pledged to make the coalition the "greenest government ever" and announced that all ministerial departments must cut their carbon emissions by 10%. Yet an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has found that, despite his commitment to "vote blue, go green," there are disparities between the two governing parties across all aspects of the environment.

Environmentalists expressed concern that the coalition agreement published last week, while committing the Government to a range of green measures, fails to set targets explicitly for reducing carbon emissions. The Lib Dem manifesto promised to cut UK emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, while the Tories are committed to a 34 per cent reduction.

The coalition agreement backs "measures to encourage marine energy" – which is the Tories' preferred choice. The Lib Dems want a nuclear-free renewable "energy mix" including 15,000 new wind turbines, yet the Tories are not enthusiastic about wind power and leading Conservatives have opposed wind farms near their constituencies. Instead, Mr Cameron wants the market to decide the best form of low-carbon technology.

On transport, the Lib Dems are opposed to all airport expansion and want funding to be diverted from roads to rail. Yet last week new Transport Secretary Philip Hammond alarmed environmentalists when he declared: "We will end the war on the motorist." While both parties are, unlike Labour, opposed to a third runway at Heathrow, the Tories have left the door open to a new airport in the South-east.

The Government's plans for offshore oil drilling are perhaps the most worrying for the green movement. A Conservative energy policy paper published quietly in March revealed controversial proposals to "hunt" out dwindling oil reserves in the North Sea and off the Shetland Isles.

The Tories committed to renew and extend exploration and exploitation of offshore oil reserves in the document "Rebuilding Security: Conservative Energy Policy for an Uncertain World". The report included a declaration that they want to open up all waters around the British coastline to potential oil drilling. Environmentalists warned the move could result in deaths and injuries to endangered whales and dolphins in British waters.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth's executive director, said: "We welcome Mr Cameron's pledge that the new Government will be the greenest ever. We urgently need to build a new low carbon economy out of the rubble of the old. But the starting point must be a more ambitious target for tackling climate change. The coalition Government must agree to cut UK emissions by at least 42 per cent by 2020. This is the minimum that scientific experts say is needed for this country to play its fair part in preventing dangerous climate change."

Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green Party, said: "It's one step forward, two steps back. For instance, it's good that they've signed up to the 10:10 agreement, to cut CO2 emissions by 10% in the coming year, but they need to commit to year-on-year cuts if they're to meet the targets demanded by science."

Mr Huhne yesterday reiterated his opposition to nuclear power. He told The Times: "This is an island surrounded by sea; we can use offshore tidal power, wind power, and we are sitting on enormous stocks of coal. We ought to be able to put together a policy that is non-carbon and independent from foreign sources."

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Belgian wind power company builds in South Africa

allafrica.com
14 May 2010

Belgian green electricity company, Electrawinds, has begun the construction of a wind turbine in the harbour of Coega, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The development marks first commercial wind project in South Africa as well as the start of the first phase of a large wind farm that, in time, will comprise 25 wind turbines. For Electrawinds, this will be the first operational project outside Europe.

The turbine has been built in the Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) in Coega, a new harbour area at the Indian Ocean. It is a Vestas V90 with a 95 metre tower and a 90 metre rotor diameter. The turbine has a capacity of 1.8MWs which translates into an annual yield of 5,700,000kWh and equals the annual electricity consumption for 1,700 families (based on an average annual consumption of 3,500kWh).

"In Belgium, Electrawinds is one of the pioneers of renewable energy and has, in the meantime, built up great know-how. It is now our ambition to fulfill that pioneering role in South Africa as well. There is great support there for renewable energy and this offers good prospects," says Luc Desender, managing director of Electrawinds. "We want to invest not only in turbines but also in people. Electrawinds is committed to establishing an education fund for students interested in renewable energy," says Jan Dewulf, director of business development at Electrawinds.

National Grid makes second Cape Wind deal

www.boston.com
May 15, 2010

National Grid, the utility that agreed to purchase half of Cape Wind's power, has made a second deal to help the controversial energy project lock down construction financing until it finds buyers for the rest of the electricity it will produce. Last week, National Grid revealed a roughly $3 billion, 15-year contract to buy 50 percent of the electricity that will be produced by Cape Wind. The utility also signed a second, similar agreement that gives it authority to assign the remaining portion of Cape Wind's power output to another customer.

Who that might be is an open question. Industry insiders said likely prospects include other retail suppliers, municipal utilities, and utility companies like National Grid competitor NStar, which is based in Boston. "There's a range of potential buyers out there,'' said Dennis Duffy, vice president of Cape Wind Associates. "NStar is certainly close to home and a major utility, but by no means the only company that would be a potentially suitable purchaser.'' NStar has given no indication that it is considering an agreement with Cape Wind.

"We have not spoken to Cape Wind regarding a contract,'' spokeswoman Caroline Allen wrote in a statement to the Globe. "Our position on Cape Wind remains the same. We are very supportive of wind power and renewable power in general, but as an energy delivery company, we don't endorse specific projects.''

State law requires the four investor-owned utilities in Massachusetts - National Grid, NStar, Western Massachusetts Electric Co., and Unitil Corp. - to buy a steadily increasing percentage of the power they sell to customers from renewable energy providers. The utilities also are obligated by the state to enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy suppliers, and to give some preference to local providers.
Under the contract signed last week, National Grid will pay 20.7 cents a kW hour for 50 percent of Cape Wind's energy when it first comes online in 2013, and will increase the price by about 3.5 percent a year for 15 years, for about $3 billion in potential revenue for Cape Wind. The price, which includes a state-mandated renewable energy subsidy of 6.1 cents per kW hour, is well above the current price of electricity from conventional power sources. To provide basic residential service, National Grid currently pays 8.11 cents per kW hour for the power alone, not counting distribution or transmission charges, according to the company's website.

That means rate payers would essentially be paying a premium for environmentally friendly wind power, equal to about one-third of the contract costs, according to numbers in a National Grid filing made to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities this week.

Industry insiders said the second agreement - a so-called mirror contract - allows National Grid to act as a stand-in for any future electricity buyer interested in Cape Wind power. And that, they added, is a huge favour to the offshore wind project. As they seek the financing needed to build in Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind developers can demonstrate to potential investors that 100 percent of their future output is spoken for. And new buyers would not need to negotiate from scratch, but would be able to take from National Grid rights to Cape Wind power.

"I think it was a good faith thing, to put it forward to show other buyers they don't have to go through protracted negotiations,'' said Sue Reid, a lawyer with the nonprofit advocacy group Conservation Law Foundation. "They've laid the groundwork for another buyer to come in much more easily.''

National Grid lawyer Ronald Gerwatowski said the mirror contract does also give the utility the option to purchase more of Cape Wind's power, but that is not the company's plan. Rather, Gerwatowski said, National Grid will hand contracted rights to the power to whatever purchaser might next step forward. That buyer would then be under the same obligation as National Grid to buy power at a starting price of 20.7 cents per kW hour.

Nothing, however, prevents another buyer from coming in and trying to hash out a better price, and if it did, National Grid's price would drop accordingly. "We wouldn't expect that Cape Wind would be negotiating a lower price with somebody, but, hypothetically speaking, if they did, there are contract provisions in the agreement where we would get the same benefit,'' Gerwatowski said. Should the remaining power be sold to other buyers at the same price, the two contracts together would total roughly $6 billion. Tom King, National Grid president of US operations, defended the contract when it was unveiled last week.

"We will be reducing environmental impacts by relying less on fossil fuels,'' he said. "Some people may say, 'We can't afford this right now.' I say we can't afford not to act. We must move forward.'' Cape Wind representatives have declined to provide an estimate of how much it will cost to build the wind farm, which received federal approval to proceed late last month, or discuss who they are negotiating with to back the project. "We're out in some very competitive negotiations with contractors and component suppliers, and it would alter our negotiating position to discuss what our internal costs looked like,'' Duffy explained.

Ex-PM tells of buried nuclear waste in Perak

news.asiaone.com
May 15, 2010

MALAYSIA, KUALA LUMPUR, May 15, 2010 - There is 'a small amount' of nuclear waste buried in Perak and the disposal site is still regarded unsafe, said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. 'In Malaysia, we do have nuclear waste which perhaps the public is not aware of. We have to bury the amang, a by-product from tin mining. 'It is not radioactive but it is not good to handle. We had to bury it in Perak, deep in the ground. 'But the place is still not safe, and we have almost one square mile that is dangerous,' he said.

Dr Mahathir did not know exactly where in Perak the amang was buried. 'Maybe it is a national secret but I know for a fact that we buried this activated material,' he said in a press conference yesterday at the Al-Bukhary Foundation. Dr Mahathir said that he was against nuclear power plants and anything involving nuclear energy, unless it was for medical use, because scientists had yet to understand the power of nuclear material. He was commenting on the Government's proposal to build a nuclear power plant, slated to start operations in 2021.

Turkey, Russia sign nuclear power plant deal

www.setimes.com
13/05/2010

ANKARA, Turkey -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev capped an official visit to Ankara on Wednesday (May 12th) with aides signing an agreement to build the first nuclear power plant in Turkey. The $20 billion deal involves the construction of a plant with four units, with planned capacity of 4,800MW. It will be located in Mersin, southern Turkey. The government has been working hard to diversify the country's power sources, and move away from heavy dependency on natural gas imports from Russia. Despite strong domestic opposition, another nuclear plant will likely be built in Sinop, northern Turkey, with help from South Korea. During Medvedev's visit, Turkey and Russia also agreed to allow visa-free travel for each other's citizens.

Suntech, Silex Solar and UNSW Team Up

www.energymatters.com.au
12 MAY, 2010

SunTech Power Holdings Co., Ltd., the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Silex Solar have announced a joint research project to boost the power conversion efficiencies of crystalline silicon solar cells. The three-year partnership yesterday received a 5 million grant from the Australian Solar Institute (ASI). In addition to the research grant, both Silex Solar and SunTech will contribute more than $6 million in direct funding and in-kind research resources over the next three years to support research operations.

"We are pleased to support the world-renowned team at UNSW in collaboration with its industry partners SunTech and Silex Solar through this ground-breaking project," said the ASI's Executive Director Mark Twidell. Dr. Zhengrong Shi, Chairman and CEO of SunTech, and a graduate of the University of New South Wales said his company's long-term research collaborations with Australian organisations including UNSW are central to driving solar power innovation. The research project is expected to complement SunTech's development of high-efficiency Pluto solar cell technology and aims to drive solar electricity generation past grid parity against retail electricity prices in more than 50% of the world's markets.

SunTech employs 380 full-time solar research and development engineers and professionals who work in China, Japan, Germany, the United States, and Australia. SunTech nearly doubled its R&D investments in 2009 to US$29 million, up from US$15 million in 2008. The Australian Solar Institute is a $100 million commitment by the Australian Government to support solar thermal and solar photovoltaic research and development. Silex Solar is Australia's only manufacturer of solar panels for the local home and commercial solar power market. The company acquired the shuttered BP solar panel manufacturing facility at Sydney Olympic Park last year and recently commenced production.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Radical new plan would blow wind power out of Victoria

www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au
13 May 2010

VICTORIA: New wind farm standards proposed by Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu would make it tougher to put up a wind turbine in regional Victoria than to dig a new coal mine. Australia's peak renewable energy body, the Clean Energy Council, says the proposed measures will only hurt communities in regional Victoria by driving new multi-billion dollar investment and thousands of regional jobs next door to South Australia. Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said the industry was disappointed that Mr Ballieu would make such a radical announcement without even discussing his plan with the industry in question first.

"The clean energy industry welcomes the opportunity to work with the coalition to actually improve the process of wind farm development in Victoria," he said. "Victoria stands to get a big share of the looming $20 billion clean energy boom in Australia, but these new rules would just drive most of this interstate." In a national Newspoll survey last weekend commissioned by the CEC nearly 93% of Victorians said they wanted more renewable energy investment, not less. "These new proposed standards, which include a mandatory two-kilometere set back for wind turbines from houses, are not based on any scientific standard or measure. Victoria already uses some of the most rigorous standards for wind farm development in the world," Mr Warren said.

"What this means in practice is that under this new plan you would be able to locate a mine or a factory nearer a house in regional Victoria than you could a wind turbine. "Wind turbines are 21st century energy technology. They are clean and quiet. We recognise that there are some in the community who don't like them but these proposed measures aren't going to solve that. "The industry welcomes continued improvement in planning policy that adequately balances the needs of local communities while promoting the development of clean energy in Victoria," he said.

Though wind power isn’t free, benefits justify extra cost

www.boston.com
May 13, 2010

NO ONE EVER said the electricity from the turbines of Cape Wind would be cheap, and last week Massachusetts learned what the price tag would be - about $1.59 a month for an average household in the National Grid service area. That addition to the bill isn't negligible but the benefits aren't just environmental. The extra nickel a day will also pay off in more predictable rates for consumers.

Cape Wind communities will be getting more than a green merit badge. The electricity produced by the project's 130 turbines involves no fuel cost and will provide a hedge against the steep price fluctuations of natural gas, which powers many of the region's generators. According to the state, rising costs of natural gas are to blame for a tripling of electricity bills in Massachusetts in the past decade. The state's data show that, because of gas price spikes in recent years, on some occasions consumers would have paid less if Cape Wind's turbine blades had been rotating out on Nantucket Sound.

Between the summer of 2008 and the beginning of this year, National Grid's average customer bill dropped $20 per month because of the fall in gas prices - but in the decade before that, gas prices pushed up average state bills by 11% a year. To help level the seesaw, National Grid has decided to buy half of Cape Wind's output for 15 years, which should help offset any future spikes in gas prices, while helping the wind developer get financing for the $1 billion project.

The long-term cost advantage of Cape Wind will be more pronounced if the United States puts a price on CO2 emissions. The climate-change bill passed by the House last summer and the one pending in the Senate do just that by capping total emissions and pushing utilities to curb their use of fossil fuel plants and seek out clean power sources. Even if the climate-change legislation does not pass, the Environmental Protection Agency is empowered to force reductions in carbon emissions, potentially increasing the cost of electricity from fossil fuels.

Nine European countries already have built 800 wind turbines off their coasts. Wind power causes no oil spills, deadly coal-mine disasters, or emissions of greenhouse gases. Its price is currently a tick above the going rate for natural gas, but it is too valuable not to have in the region's electricity mix.

Wind farm court victory a breath of fresh air for residents

Sydney Morning Herald
Friday 14/5/2010 Page: 5

A RESIDENTS' action group has had a small victory in reducing the effect on neighbours of a planned wind farm in a court judgment which requires a developer to either buy 13 affected Southern Tablelands landholdings or cut 19 turbines from the development.

But the developer, Epuron, welcomed a precedent set by the court in rejecting the local council's request for a two-kilometre buffer between the turbines and any home not involved in the farm. The Upper Lachlan Shire Council had asked for the buffer, which is specified in its development control plan and that of several other NSWrural councils in areas targeted for wind farms.

A NSW Legislative Council committee which inquired into rural wind farms last year also recommended the setback. The Land and Environment Court has found that 19 planned turbines would have an "unacceptable" visual impact on the properties and some would also suffer from "shadow flicker" and noise at the planned Gullen Range wind farm near Crookwell under planning consent granted by the state government.

The impact would be greater than that estimated by the Premier, Kristina Keneally, when she approved the wind farm as planning minister a year ago, Senior Commissioner Tim Moore and Commissioner Judy Fakes found in their appeal decision. They said that, "the impact on a number of individual properties is sufficiently adverse that the proponent should either acquire them or delete specified turbines from the proposal".

Epuron originally proposed 84 turbines, but after Ms Keneally refused approval for 11 of the turbines last year over concerns they would affect the safety of the Crookwell airfield, it will only be allowed to erect 54 towers unless it buys properties from eight affected owners, the court decided. The company has been given three years to act on the approval.

An Epuron project manager, Simon Davey, said the company was pleased that the court had not agreed to the residents' request for it to refuse the wind farms approval, and it will now go ahead. There will be 73 turbines if the company decides to buy all properties identified by the court, he said. David Brooks, the deputy chairman of the Parkesbourne- Mummel Landscape Guardians, which appealed on behalf of 34 affected members, said the decision was a move by the court towards considering residents when evaluating wind farms.

In a 2007 judgment, the Taralga Landscape Guardians were unsuccessful in having any turbines removed from the wind farm approved in their area and the court's Chief Judge, Brian Preston, said he had to allow the greater public good of increasing the supply of renewable energy to prevail over residents' concerns. Mr Brooks said the court has recognised the rights and needs of "at least some of the people living around this site".

The group's chairman, Bob Galland, said: "Those people right under the towers are now being compensated and protected. They had been ignored by the developer. Most.., had not even been contacted and the Department of Planning did nothing about contacting [them]." However, one neighbour, Humphrey Price-Jones, said the win was so small it was invisible to those who believed they could be forced to move. He said there was a lot of pain and anger among residents.

Blowing off industry

Herald Sun
Friday 14/5/2010 Page: 41

A PROPOSAL to keep wind farms far from homes would threaten jobs and the environment, it has been claimed. The state Opposition has released a plan to ensure wind farms are not built within 2km of homes unless an agreement is reached between residents and developers. No-go zones would be created near national parks, if the Coalition is elected in November. Compensation schemes would be offered to residents who live within 1km of wind farms and councils would be given the final say.

Environment and renewable energy groups and the State Government say the plan would kill the wind industry in Victoria. Planning Minister Justin Madden said there were already exclusion zones set up to protect sensitive areas, and councils were crying out for more help with proposals. "Apparently Mr Baillieu is very keen to not only reduce wind farms, but basically kill the industry in this state," Mr Madden said. "That's not good for the environment and it certainly rips the heart out of jobs and industry in regional Victoria."

Libs' wind-farm policy will `destroy jobs - Baillieu caving in to nimby protests

Age
Friday 14/5/2010 Page: 3

THE state opposition is facing a barrage of criticism over a new wind-farm policy that industry and councils say will shut down a vital part of the Victorian renewable energy sector. Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu announced yesterday that under a Coalition government local councils would be given full control over the wind farm approval process. Currently decisions about big wind farms are made by the state government.

The Coalition policy also includes:

Mr Baillieu rejected suggestions his policy would kill the industry. "We're supportive of renewable energy. We're not seeking to prevent applications, we're seeking to ensure that those who have interests have a say," he said. But the Municipal Association of Victoria said councils did not always want to control wind-farm planning decisions. President Bill McArthur said councils often lacked the expertise to make informed decisions.

Planning Minister Justin Madden said the Coalition policy was "bizarre". "In one fell swoop Mr Baillieu will destroy jobs, destroy industry and help destroy the environment in this state." A statewide campaign against wind farms is being waged by a network of groups calling themselves Landscape Guardians. The guardians oppose wind farms on visual amenity grounds and claim they cause health problems.

The opposition consulted the Victorian Landscape Guardians but not the renewable energy industry in drafting its policy. Victorian Landscape Guardians president Randall Bell said the opposition announcement was "an escape from the arrogant and dictatorial attitude of the Brumby and Brack governments in relation to this issue". Renewable energy businesses said Mr Baillieu's policy would drive multimillion-dollar investments and thousands of jobs from regional Victoria.

Steve Garner, general manager of wind turbine manufacturer Keppel Prince Engineering in Portland, said he would "seriously consider" moving his 450-employee plant interstate if Mr Baillieu won the November election. "Here we are, trying to be the renewable energy hub of Victoria and this bloke makes it harder and harder and harder," Mr Garner said.

Brett Thomas, chief executive of Acciona Energy, which operates the Waubra Wind Farm near Ballarat, said the coalition policy had "come out of the blue". "We're a bit shocked and dismayed by it," he said. Ken McAlpine, policy director with wind power company Vestas, said Mr Baillieu was caving in to "nimby protesters". Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said Mr Baillieu's standards would make it harder to put up a wind turbine in Victoria than to dig a coal mine.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Power grant boosts sun city vision

Canberra Times
Thursday 13/5/2010 Page: 5

Canberra solar technology company Wizard Power and the ANU's Big Dish project have received a $60 million Commonwealth Government grant to develop a solar power plant in South Australia. The announcement boosts Canberra entrepreneur Tony Robey's long-term vision of a multimillion dollar sophisticated manufacturing industry for Canberra. Announced under the Federal Government's Renewable Energy Development program the grant will help to fund Australia's first commercial concentrating solar power plant and will be the first major deployment in the world for dish technology on this scale.

The Whyalla Solar Oasis will use 300 Wizard Power Big Dish solar thermal concentrators to generate 66GWh (GW hour) of electricity each year; enough to power more than 9500 Australian homes and reduce greenhouse gasses by 60,000 tonnes a year, the equivalent of taking 17,000 cars off Australian roads each year.

Mr Robey, Wizard Power's principal, said this was the company's first commercial project. Other members of the Solar Oasis consortium are NP Power, Sustainable Power Partners and Lycopodium. "Think how many businesses start with a first commercial project of $230 million. It's a wonderful thing for us, for the ANU, for the preceding research they have done and a big thing for the ACT that it has come out of here." The Australian National University's Big Dish is four times the size of any other dish, with unique mirrors and can reach temperatures of more than 2000 degrees Celsius.

Mr Robey said the project would not only deliver clean, renewable energy, it would recognise world leading technology which had been researched, developed and commercialised in Australia. Later this year Wizard Power will release details of a high-tech factory in Canberra capable of turning out $20 million worth of mirrors in a year.

Mr Robey said the company had been exploring solar projects abroad, including in India which was offering attractive feed-in tariff incentives and had priced a 300MW plant, 10 times the size of the Whyalla project. The technology had more applications than solar energy which was attracting attention from potential international partners.

Head of the ANU's Solar Thermal Group Associate Professor Keith Lovegrove, said funding contained in Tuesday's budget would also help to solve one of the greatest obstacles to base-load solar power generation, storing heat to use during peak periods. "This new technology will look at things like can we use phase-change materials, can we use molten salts, can we use solids, and how can we take temperatures of 800 degrees at the concentrator and store that in the ground?" Professor Lovegrove said.

While Spanish solar plants were already using and storing heat for energy generation, the ANU developed systems to be installed at Whyalla worked at double the temperature, potentially increasing the efficiency of the plant and lowering its operating costs. The ANU also received funding for several other renewable energy projects in the budget, including $4.95 million toward research into next-generation solar cells and $4 million for a joint project with the CSIRC) developing advanced solar thermal energy storage technology.

Whyalla the shining light of Australia's energy future

Adelaide Advertiser
Thursday 13/5/2010 Page: 11

Whyalla will have the nation's largest solar power plant within three years. In total, 300 parabolic dishes will collect and concentrate solar energy, producing enough electricity to power 9500 homes and reduce greenhouse gases by 60,000 tonnes a year - equal to taking 17,000 cars off the road. Whyalla councillor and chair of the UniSA Regional Sustainability Centre, Eddie Hughes, says that's almost enough electricity to service the entire city - Whyalla has about 10.000 homes.

"This is fantastic news for Whyalla," he said. "The $230 million project will employ 200 people during construction which will be a positive for Whyalla and the region. "Whyalla has plugged away for nearly 14 years to secure a large scale solar thermal project, with the latest announcement coming on top of the $15 million solar storage demonstration plant which is under construction." The $230 million 40MW project draws most of its funding, $170 million, from a private sector consortium including NP Power, Sustainable Power Partners, Lycopodium and Wizard Power. The rest, $60 million, was announced in the Federal Budget this week.

Tony Robey from Wizard Power said the Commonwealth was to be commended for supporting the Whyalla Solar Oasis under the Renewable Energy Development Program. "This project will not only deliver clean, renewable energy to Australia, it also provides great recognition of the world-leading technology which has been researched, developed and commercialised in Australia," he said.

`Who's who' of solar energy in running for $1.5bn Solar Flagships program

Age
Saturday 8/5/2010 Page: 2

THE Australian government has been given a remarkable snapshot of world's best practice in the solar energy industry. The "who's who" of solar has applied for funding in the first round of the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program, which will see two solar power stations with a combined capacity of about 400MWs up and running by the end of 2015. Two winners will be picked from 52 applications - one solar thermal (using the suns warmth to heat water or oil to generate steam and electricity) and one solar photovoltaic (converting the suns light directly to electricity).

A shortlist of six to eight candidates for funding will be announced imminently - it is a key plank of what Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently called the "biggest renewable energy plan this country has ever seen". That quote created a frisson of excitement the government would be upping its commitment to renewable energy after ditching its emissions trading scheme. But no, government minders say there is no big new renewable energy plan - it's the one we've already got. The offending quotes have now been removed from the transcript of the relevant press conference, on the PM's website.

The government will also announce two winners from its $135 million Renewable Energy Demonstration program. One winner is tipped to be Wizard Power's proposed solar thermal power station of up to 80MWs at the steel city of Whyalla, in South Australia. Wizard's "big dish" technology, developed at the Australian National University, uses the world's biggest solar concentrator mirrors (25 metres in diameter) to generate temperatures over 1200 degrees celsius.

An interesting theme to emerge from the Solar Flagships process has been the appeal of "hybrid" power stations - combining different renewable energy technologies, or renewable and non-renewable technologies, to generate power. We often debate renewable energy versus fossil fuels but it's not either/or: hybrid power stations may be a way to win cheap emissions reductions quickly. Recently appointed federal Energy Secretary Drew Clarke made this point at the Clean Energy Council conference in Adelaide this week, as website CE Daily reported.

By 2030, said Clarke, "it is quite probable that they won't be stand-alone, single technology facilities operating out there competing shoulder to shoulder against another different technology". Hybrid approaches would deal with concerns about managing intermittent, renewable energy generation on the grid "to a very large measure", Clarke said - particularly gas-fired generation combined with some of the intermittent renewable technologies.

John Grimes, chief executive of the Solar Energy Society, agrees hybrids combining solar with other renewables (especially geothermal), solar with gas or solar with coal, make "eminent sense". Of course, 100% renewable is a terrific goal. "You can take the purist view," says Grimes. "That's the ideal scenario. But we need to get the economics right to make sure we get there. Utilities do have a real need to have power at certain tunes of day, and to ensure stability on the grid."

One proposal to the Solar Flagships program, Transfield Holdings, is a case in point. Up against the latest and greatest solar thermal "power towers" coming out of Spain and the US, Transfield's application is not the sexiest on the table. It wants to convert the existing power station in Collinsville, Queensland, wholly owned by its separately listed Transfield Services Infrastructure Fund, over to solar. Transfield owns a majority stake in German firm Novatec Biosol, which has pioneered a low-cost alternative to the usual "parabolic trough" solar thermal technology, to generate steam.

Novatec's "linear fresnel" technology has advantages - it uses flat mirrors and robotic assembly to drive costs down and a proven track record in Spain where a trial plant has been grid-connected since 2009 and a 30MW power station is under construction. But Novatec's solar fields currently generate lower temperature steam than some rivals. They are more competitive when gas is used to superheat the steam above 450 degrees.

That's fine under the Solar Flagships program criteria: up to 15% of annual electrical output can be generated from non-renewable sources each year. The big advantage of the Transfield proposal, though, is that it doesn't have to build a whole new power station. Effectively, it adds a solar boiler on to the existing 180MW plant at Collinsville - which is just the right size and configuration for the program.

Avoiding the cost of buying a new steam turbine and power block, Transfield's proposal should rank pretty well on a cost-per-output basis, one of four critical criteria for Solar Flagships funding. The project should be eligible for renewable energy certificates and stacks up financially, assuming the government's revised renewable energy target regime is introduced and effective by 2011.

Transfield bought a 60% - plus stake in Novatec Biosol in 2007 for an undisclosed price and has funded development of the technology since. "As usual, it ends up costing you more than you hoped for," says Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, Transfield's joint MD. Novatec is raising equity capital to fund its project pipeline, including in Australia. Earlier this year two Swiss utilities contributed 85% of the equity needed to begin construction of the 30MW plant in Spain.

As fuel prices rise, Transfield sees great potential for Novatec's solar fields as a hybrid with diesel (in remote areas) and gas and coal-fired power stations. Adding a solar boiler to a combined-cycle gas turbine, for example, could reduce CO2 emissions by about 15% and be commercially attractive as soon as gas prices reach $US7 a gigajoule. A carbon price would help. "We're pretty excited where we fit in as a hybrid with gas and coal," says Transfield Investments chief David Iverach.

And coal-fired power stations are getting in on the act too, with Macquarie Generation tendering for the expansion of the existing solar field adjacent to its Liddell plant in the Hunter Valley. It gets emissions down, generates RECs and proves up the technology. Hard to object.

paddy.manning@fairfaxmedia.com.au

The Gas Co., GM to collaborate on hydrogen project

www.google.com
Thu, 13 May 2010

HONOLULU - The Gas Co, and General Motors Co, have teamed up on a pilot project to test hydrogen refuelling technology for fuel-cell vehicles in Hawaii. The companies said Tuesday that the project will take advantage of The Gas Co.'s 1,000 miles of pipeline on Oahu and its ability to produce hydrogen at its plant at Campbell Industrial Park, which makes synthetic natural gas from byproducts of imported petroleum. The gasses would be separated at fuelling stations located along the pipeline so fuel-cell vehicles could use the hydrogen.

"This is the type of enabler that a hydrogen transportation infrastructure needs because it addresses both the source of the hydrogen and a feasible way to deliver it for fuel-cell vehicle use," said Charles Freese, executive director of GM Global Fuel Cell Activities. "The Hawaii infrastructure could eventually support tens of thousands of fuel-cell vehicles. "Hawaii is uniquely positioned and motivated to make hydrogen-powered fuel-cell transportation a reality because it depends on imported petroleum for 90% of its energy," he said.

The companies said the project goes along with the state's goal of obtaining 70% of its energy from clean sources by 2030. "We have been delivering as much as 12% hydrogen made from renewable sources to our gas customers over the last two to three years and expect we can deliver even greater quantities of hydrogen as demand increases," said Jeffrey Kissel, president and CEO of The Gas Co. "By delivering hydrogen through our existing infrastructure as vehicle fuel wherever we have gas, The Gas Co, expands its key role of supporting Hawaii's clean energy future."

Depending on how the pricing for the hydrogen is set, it could be available at the equivalent price of gasoline or less, the companies said. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he supports the project. "It is an important step forward in the establishment of a hydrogen transportation infrastructure upon which new fleets, both military and civilian, can be tested and utilised," Inouye said in the companies' announcement. "Every step to reduce our dependency on foreign oil is a move forward," he said.

Detroit-based GM said it has invested more than $1.5 billion in fuel-cell transportation in the last 15 years, and is developing a production-intent fuel-cell system that could be ready for commercialisation in 2015. The Gas Co, is a subsidiary of Macquarie Infrastructure Co.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Finland’s 100,000-Year Plan to Banish Its Nuclear Waste

www.nytimes.com
May 10, 2010

It is, in the words of the Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen, "A place we must remember to forget." On a wooded island more than a hundred miles northwest of Helsinki, in the town of Eurajoki, Finnish engineers are digging a tunnel. When it is done 10 years from now, it will corkscrew three miles in and 1,600 feet down into crystalline gneiss bedrock that has been the foundation of Finland for 1.8 billion years.

And there, in a darkness that is still being created, the used fuel rods from Finland's nuclear reactors - full of radioactive elements from the periodic table as dreamed up by Lord Voldemort, spitting neutrons and gamma rays - are to be sealed away forever, or at least 100,000 years. The place is called Onkalo (Finnish for "hidden") and it is the subject of "Into Eternity," a new documentary by Mr. Madsen.

Watching it during the recent Tribeca Film Festival brought me into a more visceral contact with the vicissitudes of geologic time than I might have really wanted. These days I find that I can barely envision the future more than about six months ahead - hardly enough time even to plan for a proper summer vacation. My images of the deep future have always been vaguely utopian, like "Star Trek," but "Star Trek" takes place only a few hundred years into the future, not 100,000 years.

Onkalo, on the other hand, is supposed to last 20 times as long as the pyramids have so far - so long that the builders of the site have to take into account the next ice age, when the weight of two miles of ice on top of Finland will be added to the stress on the buried waste containers, copper canisters two inches thick.

It might seem crazy, if not criminal, to obligate 3,000 future generations of humans to take care of our poisonous waste just so that we can continue running our electric toothbrushes. But it's already too late to wave off the nuclear age, and Mr. Madsen's film comes at a perfect time to join a worldwide conversation about what to do with its ashes. On June 3, administrative law judges from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will begin hearing arguments about whether the Department of Energy can proceed with shutting down development of the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, where the United States had been planning since 1987 to store its own nuclear waste.

If the Obama administration prevails, the United States will be back to square one in figuring out how to get rid of its own 77,000 radioactive tons, including 53 million gallons left over from the dawn of the nuclear age sitting in leaky tanks in the Washington desert near the Columbia River. There are somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste already in the world, much of it in pools on the sites of nuclear power plants where the rods have to cool for years before they can be put into containers.

Onkalo is being built to do its job without human intervention or maintenance. Once it is done and sealed back up a hundred years or so from now, the problem is less with keeping all the radioactivity in than keeping people out. Unfortunately, nothing in history suggests that humans will actually keep out. Indeed the builders themselves, according to their environmental impact statement, have not ruled out the possibility that future technological development will make it feasible to dig all this stuff back up and reprocess it to create more fuel or weapons material, in which case Onkalo will be like buried treasure

The pyramids, after all, are not an auspicious precedent. They have been looted and their inhabitants dispersed to the museums of the world by intrepid archaeologists and grave robbers not at all deterred by rumours of the Curse of the Mummy. Mr. Madsen seems to agree. The film is framed as a message to the future, to those of us who might have blundered into this place We Were Never Meant to Go. Mr. Madsen himself appears in the darkness, illuminated by a burning match just long enough to drop rhetorical bombs, like the idea that we are encountering the last remnant of the fires that once warmed our civilization.

I found myself wondering just who, after another ice age, he might be talking to: Computers? Cockroaches? Ourselves, reduced to Stone Age lifestyles after the collapse of civilization under the weight of ice or nuclear or biological apocalypse? Citi Investment Researchzens of the galaxy on a sentimental tour of the old home world? Does future history go up or down or sideways?

Robots won't mind the radioactivity; cockroaches might live on it. The rest of us, if history is any guide, will forget it. We'll be lucky, for that matter, if those future galactic citizens even remember the Earth in anything more than fairy tales. We're always reading about time capsules being buried, but we rarely hear about them being dug up and opened. One of the most famous archaeological discoveries of modern times, the terra-cotta army buried with the first Chinese emperor, Qin, outside the city of Xian, was made by a farmer digging a well.

As a species, we are good at forgetting. So maybe the best, ultimate, defense against people messing with Onkalo would be simply to forget that it is there. The best way to keep a secret is not to let on that there is a secret at all. But what about the ethical duty to warn those future generations with some kind of marker that would survive the scouring of Finland by glaciers and evolution of language? If, in fact, the canisters are rediscovered a few hundred years or a few thousand years from now, we can imagine our descendants' reaction at having been left such a nasty surprise.

Of course, we ourselves could be surprised, like the peasant who found Qin's army. One joke that went around the Onkalo project for a while, according to Mr. Madsen's film, could have come straight from a novel by Arthur C. Clarke. What if, the team thought, the first thing it found when it started digging were canisters left by somebody else?

China Longyuan Rises on $13 Billion Expansion Plan

www.businessweek.com
Bloomberg
May 12, 2010

May 10 (Bloomberg) - - China Longyuan Power Group Corp, rose in Hong Kong trading after saying it's planning to spend $13 billion to become the world's biggest wind-power producer. The shares gained 0.5% to HK$7.85 at 11:24 a.m, local time, after climbing as much as 1.9%. The benchmark Hang Seng Index advanced 0.9%.

China, the world's biggest polluter, wants at least 15% of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. Investment in renewable energy in China reached $6.5 billion in the first quarter, the most for any country, New Energy Finance said on April 12. "The government looks committed to the development of renewable energy, and wind power developers including Longyuan are set to benefit from the push," Wang Shuo, an analyst at the State Information Center, said by telephone in Beijing.

China Longyuan will spend about 92 billion yuan over the next five years and aims to install at least 16,000MWs of wind turbines domestically and overseas by 2015, President Xie Changjun said in an interview yesterday. Renewable energy including wind and solar power may account for 10% of China's overall sources by the year-end, rising from about 9% in 2009, Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said on May 8.

Profit more than doubled last year to 894 million yuan as China Longyuan's capacity increased, the Beijing-based company said on March 30. Domestic wind-power developers may see higher profit partly on lower turbine installation costs, Xie said. The cost of setting up wind turbines for China Longyuan may fall about 10% to 8,000 yuan per kW this year because of "intense competition" among suppliers, he said. Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co, and Sinovel Wind Group Co, are among the largest suppliers to China Longyuan, Xie said.

Where Fuel Cells Stand

online.wsj.com
14 May 2010

The recent media blitz around Silicon Valley-based Bloom Energy Corp, has raised the buzz level about fuel-cells. But despite some encouraging signs, many observers remain skeptical about any imminent breakthrough. Journal Report fuel-cells-battery-like devices that convert natural gas, hydrogen or other gases into electricity-have long been seen as a promising technology. But also a flawed one. They're expensive to make, tend to degrade over time and lack the kind of infrastructure to effectively replace gasoline in vehicles.

When Bloom unveiled its Bloom Energy Server in February, the Sunnyvale, Calif., company claimed to have overcome the biggest hindrance, cost, by using a sand-like "powder" to help convert gases into electricity, rather than the precious metals that most other makers use. Bloom's initial roster of customers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Google Inc, and eBay Inc., is impressive enough that some analysts say it may get the lift that has eluded competitors.

Edge in California
But even some supporters caution against too much optimism, given that Bloom has deployed its fuel-cells only at a limited number of locations in California and hasn't yet demonstrated it can make the devices in mass volume. And while subsidies for using fuel-cells in California can make the energy less expensive than power from the electric grid, fuel-cell use still costs more in many other states. "It will have been a breakthrough if they have delivered on what they say they are in five to 10 years," says Ron Pernick, co-founder and managing director of Clean Edge Inc., a market-tracking firm in Portland, Ore.

Fuel-cells are considered one of the cleanest energy sources because they convert fuels such as hydrogen and natural gas directly into electricity, without having to rely on the internal-combustion process that produces smog and other pollution. Electricity is generated when one of the gases is passed through a dense substance such as ceramic or molten carbonate. There are two main uses for fuel-cell technology: mobile and stationary power. Some industry boosters have envisioned fuel-cells eventually replacing gasoline in automobiles, but the lack of a refuelling infrastructure has slowed development.

In 2005, President George W. Bush signed legislation to promote development of hydrogen fuel-cells and infrastructure such as hydrogen filling stations. But the Obama administration in 2009 cut funding for that program, citing in part delays in getting that infrastructure in place. Administration officials directed the program to refocus on stationary uses, such as helping a power plant meet electricity needs during peak demand. Big auto makers such as Honda Motor Co, and Toyota Motor Corp, maintain fuel-cell programs for cars. Commercial uses of mobile fuel-cells also have expanded to more marketable areas. Plug Power Inc, of Latham, N.Y., uses its fuel-cells to power forklifts and other materials-handling equipment.

Stationary Front
But stationary power is where much of the commercial activity is taking place. Stationary fuel-cells have run into problems, too. One of the biggest: the high cost of materials, which has made it hard for fuel-cell makers to turn a profit. FuelCell Energy Inc., which started commercial shipments of fuel-cells in 2003 for large users such as utilities, remains in the red. The Danbury, Conn., company is able to sell a oneMW fuel-cell for only about $3.2 million when it costs about $4 million to make, says John Roy, a senior analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in New York. "What they really need is to get the volume up to get the price down," Mr. Roy says.

The good news for FuelCell Energy and other makers is that rising demand is helping to reduce costs. From 2007 to 2009, FuelCell Energy's shipments tripled to 30MWs annually from 10, while costs dropped by more than half over the same time, says Dan Brdar, chief executive officer. The company has 50MWs of projects approved for California and Connecticut, and more business in the works in South Korea, he adds. "For us, it is very straightforward," he says. "We get profitable when we get to 75MWs to 125MWs a year."

Demand is likely to grow as companies look to rein in rising power costs, while also cutting carbon emissions that many scientists link to global warming. In Ontario, Calif., Staples Inc, has almost completely weaned one of its distribution centers from the grid after installing three 300-kW Bloom servers in December 2008, says Mark Buckley, vice president of environmental affairs for the Framingham, Mass., office-products retailer.

Mr. Buckley says that payback for the servers, whose price he would not disclose, will be in about four years from saved energy costs, and that Staples is in talks with Bloom to deploy fuel-cells at more of its distribution centers. Bloom officials, who declined to comment for this story, have said that the refrigerator-size servers cost $700,000 to $800,000. Officials at another Bloom customer, eBay, say the five Bloom servers it has used since last July at a campus in San Jose, Calif.-along with 3,248 solar panels-provide about 30% of the facility's electricity during peak power demand.

Officials of the online-auction company say one advantage of the Bloom servers is that they take up roughly the size of a parking space each, compared with more than a football field of rooftop space for the solar panels. Yet the Bloom servers provide about as much power as the solar panels, says Amy Skoczlas Cole, director of the green team for eBay. Energy savings from the fuel-cell servers should offset their costs in three years, she says.

Degrading Issue
But a disadvantage of fuel-cells compared with other clean-energy sources is that they tend to degrade over time, like a battery. The fuel-cell "stacks" that serve as the engine of the servers often have to be replaced in 40,000 hours or less, or five years and under, says Dan Rastler, program manager for energy-storage research at the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent group in Palo Alto, Calif. To help attract early customers, Mr. Rastler says, many fuel-cell companies agree to service the products as part of their contracts-an offer, he adds, that weighs down on the companies' ability to make money.

Yet even on that front, the industry is making progress. UTC Power, a unit of United Technologies Corp., in 2009 introduced the PureCell Model 400, which doubles the replacement life for its phosphoric-acid fuel-cell stacks to 80,000 hours, or about 10 years. UTC, based in South Windsor, Conn., provides fuel-cells for stationary and mobile uses, says Mike Brown, a vice president.

Analysts say the industry still needs to show that fuel-cells can be mass-produced economically and reliably. Many predict that they eventually will be, but that applications will continue to be more limited than solar or wind for some time. "They are a great adjunct to the grid, but not a replacement for the grid," says Harry McDonald, professor of computational engineering at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.