Germany between a Green rock and a hard place
Germany is facing the prospect of power shortages and a winter blackout unless it restarts a mothballed nuclear plant, raising doubts over the government's plans to move the country away from atomic energy in the next decade.
The German Federal Network Agency, the body responsible for power supply, warned the country could face power shortages come the winter unless there is sufficient power generating capacity in reserve.
In the wake of the Fukishima nuclear disaster, Germany shut down seven ageing reactors and committed itself to phasing out all of its 17 reactors by 2022 in a move that would make it the first major industrial power to turn its back on nuclear energy.
But Matthias Kurth, head of the network agency, said one of plants now closed may have to be brought back on line. “The numbers that we currently have indicate that one of these nuclear energy plants will be needed,” he said in Berlin while giving details on a government-commissioned report into energy supply, although he added that it would only be a “temporary solution”.
The news will come as an embarrassment to the German government, as well as cast fresh doubts over the country’s ability to replace the 23 per cent of energy production currently accounted for by atomic power with renewable energy and greater efficiency.
Although Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised to invest millions of euros in scaling up renewable energy supply and improving efficiency, the industry has already voiced fears that power shortages might hamper Germany’s economic growth and increase costs.
Critics of the move have also argued that going nuclear free will just increase German dependency on fossil fuels, enlarge its carbon footprint and derail national targets to cut carbon emissions.
This criticism gained extra credence this week after reports disclosed that the government has earmarked £143 million to subsidise the construction of new coal and gas fired power stations in 2013 and 2014.
Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of industrial titan Daimler, said “Germany was turning its back on cheap energy” and uncertainty over energy supplies and costs will cloud decision making. He also issued a grim warning, saying that higher energy costs could force some industry to follow the lead of energy intensive sectors and leave Germany. “The question is whether in the future, production that is less energy intensive will also have to be relocated abroad,” he said.
Adding to the government’s woes were further comments by Mr Kurth, who explained a fossil-fuelled energy reserve “was not a viable option” when it came providing winter cover as the decommissioned plants that could be reactivated were too old.
Further complicating the issue were statements from the Green Party questioning the viability of using a nuclear power plant to generate extra capacity in winter. Green politician Barbel Hoehn said it would cost £40 million to restart the reactor and that all that all it would only provide “high risks, high costs and no benefits.” He also questioned “whether a nuclear plant can provide power precisely because it takes several days to start.”
“To make up for the shortfall in energy, money should be concentrated on energy efficiency,” she added. “Saving electricity is the cheapest and most sensible way to replace nuclear power." The Green Party insists there is enough energy in the current system to stave off power cuts as long as efficiency is improved.
The network agency explained that the risk of winter power cuts was highest in southern Germany due to the higher number of reactors taken offline, strong industrial demand and a lack of wind power capacity.
In response to the agency’s report Sabine Heimbach, a spokesman for the federal government, said it would assess the findings “and deal with the issues”.
Cats, Not Cars, Cause… Climate Change?
Greenies hate people so people's pets are an obvious next target
Well, you can save your money and forget about buying that Prius. Because apparently cats, not cars, cause “climate change.” That’s the latest according to some research studies.
The problem is reportedly due to a cat “epidemic” in the U.S., where the entire feline population has tripled in the last four decades to some 600 million furry critters. The studies report that “global warming” prompts cats to breed like, well, rabbits, and once there’s an “overpopulation,” our furry feline friends start killing off eco-saving birds en masse.
Sounds like a lose, lose. Right? MotherJones reports:
Domestic cats, officially considered an invasive species, kill at least a hundred million birds in the US every year—dwarfing the number killed by wind turbines. (See “Apocalypse Meow,” below.) They’re also responsible for at least 33 avian extinctions worldwide. A recent Smithsonian Institution study found that cats caused 79 percent of deaths of juvenile catbirds in the suburbs of Washington, DC.
Bad news, since birds are key to protecting ecosystems from the stresses of climate change—a 2010 study found that they save plants from marauding insects that proliferate as the world warms.
But wait, the theory is about to get a little more whacky.
An earlier report from LiveScience says prominent pet adoption groups also believe the spike in the cat population is due to global warming:
Droves of cats and kittens are swarming into animal shelters nationwide, and global warming is to blame, according to one pet adoption group.
Several shelters operated by a national adoption organization called Pets Across America reported a 30 percent increase in intakes of cats and kittens from 2005 to 2006, and other shelters across the nation have reported similar spikes of stray, owned and feral cats.
The cause of this feline flood is an extended cat breeding season thanks to the world’s warming temperatures, according to the group, which is one of the country’s oldest and largest animal welfare organizations.
So, cats cause global warming, but global warming causes more cats. Either way, cats aren’t taking the news lying down.
How Britain's green politicking will deepen fuel poverty
British consumers will pay a high price for Chris Huhne’s desire for moral grandstanding on climate change
The ‘dithering’ is over, declared UK energy secretary Chris Huhne. After years of handwringing and indecision, Britain has an energy policy - and it is perhaps surprisingly pro-nuclear. However, in its efforts to promote low-carbon energy, the policy promises a continuation of rising fuel bills, which will make life harder both for companies and householders.
The past couple of decades have been relatively easy for UK energy planners. Most of our electricity has come from coal, gas and nuclear power. Energy has been fairly cheap. By shifting the balance from coal towards gas, greenhouse gas emissions have gone down quite a bit, which looks good when lecturing other countries.
But global warming fears and the need to replace those ageing nuclear power stations have meant that politicians have had to get round to making some tricky decisions, something that the modern, principle-lite politician isn’t really cut out for.
Slowly but surely, ministers have come to the realisation that renewables simply can’t replace fossil fuels or nuclear power except as a small proportion of the mix of energy we use. Wind and solar are intermittent and unreliable. We can get power from them, but it is relatively expensive and must always be backed up by other, more reliable, sources of energy.
So, for example, in the first quarter of 2011, UK electricity supplies broke down as follows (according to statistics from the Department of Energy and Climate Change):
Gas - 38.2 per cent
Coal - 34 per cent
Nuclear - 17.9 per cent
Renewables - 8.1 per cent
It should be noted that the ‘renewables’ category includes things like landfill gas (from rotting rubbish), ‘biomass’ (which includes such mad ideas such as power stations importing timber to burn), and old hydropower stations. There isn’t much more where that came from. Wind, which would be the main source of renewable energy in the future in the UK, still only meets a small proportion of British energy needs, even if it is growing quite quickly.
But the problem is compounded because these figures only reflect electricity production. To meet the vision of a far-off, carbon-neutral future, the fuel for transport - currently almost entirely from oil - and the heating of our homes and hot water, much of it done by gas, will need to be replaced by electricity from low-carbon sources. But renewables currently only produce 3.3 per cent of Britain’s total energy needs. No wonder some high-profile erstwhile anti-nuclear campaigners have become converts to the idea of new nuclear power stations as an alternative to burning more and more coal: renewables just aren’t up to the job and won’t be for a long time.
Developments in technology may eventually make renewables much more viable. But for now, if we want reliable power at a reasonable price, we need such old favourites as gas and nuclear.
What does the energy White Paper propose, then? Basically, the government wants to create a framework so that energy companies can build nuclear-power stations and windfarms with confidence, knowing that they can rely on a certain price for that power. To that end there will be a ‘feed-in’ tariff that will guarantee a certain minimum price for nuclear and wind power. But wind power will still need back-up, so the plan also allows for incentives - a ‘capacity mechanism’ - to build new gas-powered stations that will cut in when conditions are not windy or when demand surges.
On the other side, the White Paper also proposes new emissions standards that will make building coal-fired power stations impossible unless they are fitted with a mechanism for carbon capture and storage (CCS). So that rules out pretty much the cheapest source of power until such time as an unproven technology becomes commercially viable. Existing gas and coal generation will also be made more expensive by creating a ‘floor price’ that will have to be paid for every unit of carbon emitted.
Nuclear power companies gave the proposals the thumbs up. Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, the UK subsidiary of the French energy giant EDF, told the Financial Times: ‘This package is going to deliver for the future the right balance between what the investors want and what the customers need… We need to rebuild Britain’s energy infrastructure. We need to do it and we all know it will have a cost. The White Paper is designed to keep that at a minimum.’
Others were lukewarm, with supporters of wind energy concerned that the particular form of feed-in tariff would help nuclear more than it would help wind. However, Huhne - once apparently a staunch opponent of nuclear - rejected the alternatives on the grounds of price.
What is absolutely crystal clear is that energy in the UK is getting more expensive and it will continue to get more expensive in the future. These new policies will only be one factor in those rising prices. Demand for energy is rising both in Britain and worldwide. As Michael Pollitt notes in the Guardian, past UK policy has focused on delivering low prices (which may surprise those facing eye-watering energy bills now). With the emphasis on delivering the new generating capacity - at an estimated cost of £110 billion over the next few years - the pressure will be off on squeezing prices.
But the decision to favour low-carbon technologies will exacerbate the problem; the cost of all those feed-in tariffs will have to be passed on to businesses and consumers. By promoting wind, for example, and thereby having to build gas-fired power stations to provide back-up, two lots of generating capacity have to be built.
As critics like Matt Ridley have pointed out, much of the emission-reduction benefits could have been achieved at a lower price by simply building the gas-powered stations alone and promoting the development of shale gas resources (see Shale gas: a welcome ‘energy shock’). Energy-intensive businesses will have a greater incentive to relocate to areas where power is cheap and commitments to reducing emissions are non-existent.
Rather than trying to force through renewables technology that isn’t competitive yet, it would be better for the government to support further research and development while continuing to encourage a broad mix of different energy sources - including coal. The world isn’t burning up, there’s no need to panic - particularly when much bigger countries than Britain will carry on burning massive quantities of cheap coal for decades to come. At least the White Paper has finally put forward a serious policy to support new nuclear power after years of technophobia in the corridors of power.
Setting out a low-carbon policy in the UK will have next to zero effect on climate change, whatever the effect of manmade greenhouse gas emissions will be. It will make UK business less competitive and it will push more people into fuel poverty. It may even cost jobs if some firms quit Britain altogether. But never mind, eh? At least British politicians will be setting a ‘moral lead’ on climate change to the rest of the world.
African drought not tied to climate change
The worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in more than 60 years is likely the result of strong seasonal weather phenomenon in the region, scientists say.
U.N. officials are warning that those living in the region, particularly in Somalia, are facing starvation because of lingering drought that is expected to last for much of the year.
The United Nations' humanitarian news agency IRIN notes, however, that global climate change isn't the likely culprit.
Philip Thornton, a scientist splitting his duties between Kenya's International Livestock Research Institute and Scotland's Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, said the idea that parts of Africa are drying up is wrong.
"Some people think that East Africa is drying and has dried over recent years," he told the news agency. "Currently there is no hard, general evidence of this and it is very difficult as yet to see where the statistical trends of rainfall in the region are heading but these will of course become apparent in time."
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration notes that as pools of warm water trigger more rain events in the Pacific Rim, western winds over the Indian Ocean tend to draw moisture out East Africa.
BIG GREENIE ROUNDUP FROM AUSTRALIA -- where the sh*t is currently hitting the fan
Global Warming - Worse than Hitler
An absurd letter in today's Melbourne Age:
When sacrifice is the right thing
HOW many of us are so selfish that the first questions we ask when confronted with change, are along the lines of: why should I have to pay a carbon tax? Why do I have to look for another job? Who's going to look after me? Why isn't my compensation higher? Who says $150,000 a year makes me so rich that I should have to pay this tax? Why should I change my lifestyle?
Obviously, these people are unwilling to make any kind of sacrifice. Did our forefathers question why they should fight Nazism and fascism? No, they put aside petty arguments and self-serving questions and went off to fight the enemy. Not because they wanted to, but because it was the right thing to do. Today, we are fighting a different and infinitely more dangerous enemy - global warming. This enemy will kill millions of people through famine, flood, drought and other disasters, unless we start fighting it now.
Tony Abbott is like Neville Chamberlain, who refused to believe that there was an enemy who must be defeated until it was too late. Abbott is just as blind when he says we shouldn't have a tax on carbon. Abbott will go down in history as being just as foolish and misguided as Chamberlain.
Chris and Jacki Burgess, Port Melbourne
Meanwhile, in the Sydney Morning Herald, a letter argues:
If a demonstration outside a chocolate shop, and a crucifix appearing in an anti-Abbott advertisement, are the worst examples of anti-Semitism and sectarianism that the ever-vigilant Gerard Henderson can garner, we should rejoice in Australia's tolerance ("Jews know acceptance still has its exceptions", July 12).
Jack Sumner Eastwood
So there you have it. Global warming is a bigger threat than the Nazis, yet a bunch of antisemites forming a violent mob outside a Jewish business is no big deal.
The sad, sad demise of Greenpeace
GREENPEACE WAS ONCE a friend of science, helping bring attention to important but ignored environmental research. These days, it’s a ratbag rabble of intellectual cowards intent on peddling an agenda, whatever the scientific evidence.
It was once the most active, independent and inspiring civilian group for the environment. Whether riding zodiacs alongside boats carrying barrels of toxic waste to be dumped in the open sea, or campaigning against CFCs and HFCs that were depleting the ozone layer, Greenpeace did admirable work.
But in the last decade or so, Greenpeace abandoned the rigour of science. When the science has been inconvenient, Greenpeace chooses dogma. Which is why it has a zero-tolerance policy on nuclear energy, no matter how imperative the need to remove coal and gas from electricity production. Or why it is adamant organic farming is the only way forward for agriculture, when organic could not feed the world’s population today.
And why, in the early hours of July 14, a group of Greenpeace protesters broke into a CSIRO Plant Industry experimental station at Ginninderra, north of Canberra, and destroyed an entire crop - half a hectare – of genetically modified wheat.
Greenpeace has always been media savvy, but over the past decade this has become an addiction, leading it to launch campaigns that generate lots of publicity, but have doubtful merit: witness its attacks in 2007 on Apple’s iPhone as being toxic and hazardous. It later admitted these had been exaggerated, and that it had targeted the iPhone in order to grab headlines.
The CSIRO break-in was also a stunt, complete with hazmat protection suits and the ever-present video camera to record the action.
No GM wheat has been approved for human consumption in Australia, but the CSIRO did have permission to conduct trials. And what was so ‘toxic’ about this wheat strain it had to be destroyed? Its genes had been modified to lower its glycemic index and boost fibre content, creating bread and other wheat products that would improve bowel health and nutritional value.
Greenpeace has lost its way. Its former glory rested on the righteousness of its actions in support of real evidence of how humanity was failing to care for the environment. Now it is a sad, dogmatic, reactionary phalanx of anti-science zealots who care not for evidence, but for publicity.
Green bureaucrats galore now
A GREEN brigade of bureaucrats assigned to environmental programs around the country has grown by 20 per cent since Labor won power four years ago.
And the commonwealth public service has breached some of its own energy-saving targets, with the Canberra headquarters consuming 25 per cent more electricity than a decade ago.
The number of public servants employed by the federal, state and territory environment departments has risen to 23,466, as green agencies recruit new staff at the rate of 1000 a year.
The green workforce has grown by 75 per cent in the key federal environmental agencies, which have almost 4000 permanent staff.
The bureaucratic blow-out will intensify as the Gillard government creates six new federal agencies to administer 20 new programs tied to the introduction of a carbon tax next year.
At least 200 more public servants will be recruited by the new Clean Energy Regulator. Staff numbers at the existing Climate Change Authority have already risen tenfold, to 1027, since its establishment less than four years ago.
Companies to be slugged by the carbon tax demanded that governments cut the "green tape". "The growing green bureaucracy is a concern for our members," Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said yesterday.
Staff numbers have soared by one-third in the federal Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, which has 2549 permanent staff on the public payroll -- excluding 264 working in the national parks division.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has more than doubled its workforce, to 295 staff.
New green programs, ranging from solar power schemes to greenhouse reporting laws and waste reduction schemes, have also swollen staff numbers in the states and territories.
In NSW, the number of employees in the Department of Environment and Climate Change -- recently renamed the Office of Environment and Heritage -- has risen by 23 per cent, to 4321, in the past four years.
Staff numbers have risen by 18 per cent in Western Australia, where the Department of Environment and Conservation has 1235 employees -- not counting those working in national parks and forestry management.
The biggest bureaucracy is in Queensland, where 5630 public servants work for the Department of Environment and Resource Management. The figure excludes 3000 "Green Army" jobs, which the state government boasted yesterday it had delivered a year ahead of schedule.
The federal government's latest report on energy use in the public service reveals that greenhouse gas emissions fell almost 6 per cent in 2007-08. However, the intensity of emissions grew 3 per cent in the year, and 16 per cent over the decade, due to soaring electricity use.
The Environment Department was one of the worst performers, with its emissions rising more than 5 per cent in a year. Energy use in public buildings rose by 17 per cent between 2000 and 2008, while central offices used 24 per cent more power.
Excluding the Department of Defence, energy use in the federal public service rose by almost 6 per cent in 2007-08, and 17.5 per cent between 2000 and 2009.
Carbon tax a 'get rich scheme for foreigner traders', says Tony Abbott
FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Julia Gillard's carbon tax is "a get rich scheme for foreign carbon traders".
Mr Abbott vigorously attacked the Prime Minister and the Government's "failings" at the Liberal National Party's annual conference in Brisbane today.
He said the only way the Government can reduce emissions under this tax plan is to buy carbon permits abroad. "I'm all in favour of doing the right thing by the carbon traders of equatorial Guinea and Kazakhstan," Mr Abbott told the conference. "And all the other places Kevin Rudd likes to visit. "I am sure they are very decent honest people. I'm sure the last thing they want to do is rip off Australian business."
Mr Abbott said government documents show $57 billion will be sent abroad under this scheme. "Whatever else this thing is, it is a get rich scheme for foreign carbon traders," Mr Abbott said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is meeting workers from Victoria's Hazelwood Power Station, which will probably close under the Government's carbon tax plan. With the Latrobe Valley set to feel the biggest impact from the plan, locals had called for Ms Gillard to personally explain the package to them.
After selling the package around the country since it was unveiled last Sunday, Ms Gillard today went to Morwell, 150km east of Melbourne.
The Federal Government's carbon tax plan states that 2000 megawatts of the nation's dirtiest power generators would close by 2020. Hazelwood, which employs more than 800 workers, produces about 1600 megawatts of electricity - about 25 per cent of Victoria's power supply.
Ms Gillard is meeting workers at the CFMEU's office in Morwell, next to Hazelwood.
Dinky toy modelling behind carbon tax
THE government has been accused of being unrealistic about global action on climate change, with critics declaring it is banking on the United States and other key countries to take significant action despite evidence those countries will only make limited efforts.
The opposition will today demand that Treasury be asked to prepare new modelling on Julia Gillard's clean energy plan, arguing the modelling released with Sunday's carbon plan is unrealistic in expecting Australia's major trading partners the US, China and India to join in global action.
An internal analysis for Tony Abbott's office, obtained by The Australian, criticises the government for "evidently rushed" modelling that fails to consider the impact of the $10 billion clean energy fund or the impact of the government's plans to strip 2000MW of dirty brown coal power generation from the electricity grid.
The document, expected to be released today, also warns that some of the modelling is at odds with details of the package struck with the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee.
While the modelling assumes the carbon price starts at $20 a tonne, the government has set a starting price of $23 a tonne.
The Coalition analysis also claims that some changes made since the 2008 modelling produced for Kevin Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme result in the modelling showing a lower cost to the economy for emissions abatement for most fuels.
"The implication is that Treasury is now assuming that a given carbon price will achieve much more 'bang for the buck' in terms of reducing emissions intensity, for all of gasoline, diesel, LPG, air fuels and other fuels," the note says.
On global action, economist Henry Ergas writes in The Australian today that the modelling implies that the US will act by 2016 and China by 2021, and there will be no backsliding on the promises at the Cancun summit.
"Why these assumptions are plausible, much less compelling, is never explained in Treasury's report," he writes. The modelling states that "global co-ordinated action emerges from 2016".
Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said the government should reissue the modelling in full. "There are some extraordinary assumptions about the development of the international systems in the next decade," he said.
But government sources insisted that the modelling was based on the commitments made by nations at the Copenhagen and Cancun climate change summits, and denied they had been too bullish on global action.
Sources said the modelling assumed that major countries met their commitments and that there would be a global market by 2016.
It was assumed that the US met its Cancun commitments but the US was not necessarily required to join a global market as there was a market within the European Union, the source said.
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