Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Britain should emulate California and New York

As the Blair government warms to nuclear power, Americans turn to renewables. How ironic is that?

Both sides in the nuclear / renewables debate are hotting up for the battle of the decade, due to start properly next week. And it's common knowledge that, despite the rhetoric from Malcolm Wicks, nuclear power is a facing a prodigal return to the fold.

But we know that if the nuclear industry gets billions to rebuild, then that is money denied to needed investment in technologies that will benefit us in the much longer term. Nuclear power, if it's necessary at all, would only be useful to get us through the next 50 years of crucial carbon-minimisation, to lessen as much as possible the effects of already-increasing climate change.

The same investment in renewables would have a much longer-term benefit because technologies such as photovoltaic power, fuel cells, ocean power are far more sustainable.

Investment in developing the latter two especially would make the UK a world leader and bring income-winning exportable expertise as for decades to come.

Public and private investment in these, given the right policy signals, would bring the price down and make it affordable for many.

How ironic, then, that this is exactly what is happening now in California and New York, in oil-guzzling America. [Washington already has a generous renewables-friendly policy.]

California enters the Solar age

Last week, California regulators approved the California Solar Initiative (CSI), the largest solar energy policy ever enacted in the U.S. and second only to Germany in terms of global solar policy.

The CPUC will provide $2.8 billion in customer incentives for solar projects on existing residential buildings, as well as all public buildings, industrial facilities, businesses, and agricultural facilities.

The California Energy Commission will provide $400 million in incentives for new homes, specifically targeting collaborations with the builder / developer community.

The plan allots $3.2 billion for solar energy rebates in the state for the next 11 years, providing for the installation of approximately 3000 MW of solar energy, roughly the equivalent of six large natural-gas fired power plants. Rebates beginning this year will stay at $2.80 per watt and gradually decline for the following ten years by 10 percent per year.

The money will come from existing funds already earmarked for solar power and a very small additional surcharge on monthly electric bills over eleven years.

"The most important significance to this plan is that it takes long term commitments to grow the industry. Manufacturers are contemplating major investments because of this." said Mark Farber, co-founder and Vice President, Strategic Planning of Evergreen Solar, a photovoltaic manufacturer.

Gordon Handelsman, Sr. Director of Marketing and Sales for Shell Solar, said: "I see the market as a tripod between Japan, Germany and now the U.S. The U.S. has been the lagging piece of the stool, this will address that." Marc Roper, Vice President of sales and marketing for the U.S. division of solar manufacturer Schott Solar, added that it also helps reduce the global risk for the industry and its current and future investors by diversifying demand.

However, the industry's growth is restrained by the current bottleneck in the supply chain for silicon, needed for roughly 90 percent of solar panels built around the world. "In the short term we probably are not going to see enormous growth," Roper said. "But this gives us, as an industry, confidence to work with silicon producers to expand capacity. This enables us to secure the feedstock." Just as it takes some lead time to ramp up solar manufacturing facilities, it takes lead time for silicon suppliers to ramp up their production.

Importantly, the Solar Initiative includes a pilot programme for solar thermal water heating. It says "We also propose that solar thermal water heating and associated heating and/or cooling that offsets natural gas and electricity use onsite be eligible for CSI incentives on a limited basis initially. Although solar water heating does not normally reduce electric demand since most hot water heaters are gas, the need for reductions in gas usage is increasingly critical given recent concerns regarding natural gas prices and supply nationwide. We also note that incentive dollars, in addition to coming from the electricity sector, will also derive from natural gas ratepayer funds. Consequently, funding natural gas-reducing solar applications is a natural fit with the program."

For the full text of the decision go to the CPUC home page , click on "Solar Inititiative". Click on Appendix A to see the text on solar water heating above.

New York to turn to Renewable Energy

Meanwhile, in the Big Apple, New York Governor George E. Pataki has called on New York to implement a host of renewable energy plans and incentives including making the entire state a tax-free zone for renewable energy companies.

He made the announcement at the 2006 Legislative Session in his twelfth and final State of the State Message.

Other measures include:
  • making renewable fuels available at service stations all across the state, starting with the Thruway
  • making the renewable fuels used in automobiles "tax-free" throughout the State
  • the establishment of ethanol refineries in the state
  • the development of efficient hybrid vehicles that can be plugged in at home or alternatively run on renewable biofuels
  • creating "shovel-ready" sites and help finance advance "clean" coal power plants.
"Governor Pataki knows that wind power and other renewable energy projects will help clean our environment and create hundreds of jobs, particularly in upstate New York," said Charles C. Hinckley, CEO of Noble Environmental Power, a wind power project development company.

Two new biofuel production facilities are already in various stages of development in Fulton and Seneca Falls, according to the New York Farm Bureau.

Many, if not all, of the measures would need to be accomplished through the State Legislature but the Governor's suggestions give them impetus.

Back in the UK

Such vision is not shared by Blair's ally, Bush, however. Perhaps that is the reason why Blair favours nuclear.

But, the policy review is yet to formally start here, and there is everything to play for on both sides. Watch out for plenty of dirty tactics from the nuclear lobbyist firms such as the All-Party Parliamentary Nuclear Group.

This was set up in February 2003. Its mission is “to encourage and facilitate discussion among MPs and peers from across the political spectrum with an interest in nuclear issues”. The group’s website says administration of the group is by Miranda Kirschel, of NIA.

It does not elaborate that the NIA is a trade association and information and representative body for the British civil nuclear industry. It represents more than 100 companies. See the Low Carbon Kid's previous blog on this topic and the Times article from last week.

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