Obama’s State of the Union address covers energy policy
US President Barack Obama has given his annual State of the Union address, the energy policy component of which has been criticised on all sides, as the Financial Times has reported. During the address, Mr Obama described a plan for tax breaks to get trucks to use natural gas rather than petrol, and said that the nation should “act with more urgency” on climate change. He also stated a goal to “progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $US 4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it so we can invest more in fuels of the future that do,” going on to say that “the shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way.” The Obama administration’s policy keeps all avenues open, from nuclear to fossil fuels to renewables, but with some measures to reduce carbon emissions, for example through the recent rules for new fossil-fired power plants. Such measures have been criticised by fossil-fuel groups as bad for the US economy, while environmental groups have described the Obama administration’s approach as lacking in content.
Flurry of project approvals after Indian oil minister given charge of environment ministry
Late December last year saw the Indian oil minister, Veerappa Moily, appointed to also be the environment minister, in charge of awarding or withholding environmental clearances for projects. In the month or so following, Mr Moily has given approval to around 100 projects with a combined value of around $US 40 billion (€29.6 billion), including a $US 12.6 billion Posco steel plant, and a coal-fired power plant planned by Hinduja National Power Corporation Limited. By the middle of February, he is due to have taken decisions on $US 100 billion of additional projects, suggesting that an enormous wave of industrial construction will sweep India in the next five years. Environmental groups have sharply criticised the flurry of approvals, claiming Mr Moily has a conflict of interest and should resign. Mr Moily has defended himself and pointed to the fact that not all projects have been approved. Political watchers have concluded that the approvals are a deliberate strategy to get the economy moving before the next national elections.
Australian government targets July to repeal carbon pricing system
The Australian government has announced that it aims to repeal the previous government’s carbon pricing system by July of this year, when the composition of the upper house of parliament (the Senate) changes to be more government friendly. The move to repeal the price was one of the central pledges of the current government during last year’s election campaign. It will be replaced by a ‘direct action’ scheme, in which the government will award grants to polluters to reduce their emissions. Economists argue that a market mechanism is a more efficient way to reduce emissions than a granting scheme, and so in some way the new approach will be an interesting experiment. The current pricing scheme was introduced in July 2011; figures recently released by the government showed that emissions in the electricity sector fell 5.5% over 12 months to September last year. However, the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, said “The carbon tax doesn’t work, plain and simple.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s New Year address suggests action on air pollution
The Chinese New Year address by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has given a hint that the year will see more action on air pollution within the country, according to the Financial Times. The key clues, the report said, were the chosen setting of an Inner Mongolian steppe (suggesting environmental purity), and the urging of people to set off fewer firecrackers to reduce air pollution. The country has seen a spate of protests about environmental conditions, including within Inner Mongolia, where Mongolian herdsman have tried to block the development of coal mining. It appears that the government is more concerned by the discontent of the rising middle class in the larger cities in the east of the country, however. A government plan released in September aims to reduce air pollution in the east, while developing coal mining and coal-fired power generation and other industry in coal-rich regions such as Inner Mongolia.
Sniper attack on California sub-station raises prospect of grid terrorism
The Wall Street Journal has carried an interesting story on a little-known attack which occurred last year on a sub-station in California, speculating on what more widespread attacks could mean for energy security in the US. The Metcalf transmission substation, owned by PG&E, was shot at during the night of April 16 last year, in what appears to have been the work of professional snipers, after telephone cables in the area had first been cut. The shots lasted 19 minutes, and were ‘surgical’, knocking out 17 transformers, shutting down power supply from the substation. The attackers left 1 minute before the police arrived. No one has been charged over the shootings, which the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the time described as “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred [in the US]”. The FBI is not, however, treating the attack as the work of a terrorist organisation, though the retired vice-president of transmission at PG&E, Mark Johnson, has stated “This was an event that was well thought out, well planned, and they targeted certain components.” The unusual attack highlights the vulnerability of the transmission network to physical attacks (the sub-station required 27 days of repairs), in contrast to the cyber-attacks which have been the focus of grid security in recent years. Substations are often located in remote areas with only cameras and fencing to protect them, making them particularly vulnerable to attacks such as the Metcalf one. US transmission professionals are concerned that a co-ordinated series of such attacks could trigger widespread blackouts, and the mysterious professionalism surrounding the Metcalf attack certainly suggests it is a possibility, however unlikely it may first seem.
Keystone XL oil pipeline found to be less greenhouse gas intensive than alternatives
The State Department of the USA has released a technical report into the environmental ramifications of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which if built would run from the Canadian state of Alberta to the US state of Nebraska, carrying oil taken from the tar sands of Alberta. The report took the approach of assuming the oil would be produced and sold with or without the pipeline, then looking at the alternatives of transporting the oil as far as the Gulf of Mexico for refining. It found that the most likely alternative to the pipeline, transport by rail, would result in greenhouse gas emissions 27.8% higher than if the pipeline was built. The report provides the technical information for the State Department (which has jurisdiction on the ruling because it is a cross-border issue), and ultimately the US President, to make a final decision on approval of the project (due 90 days after the 31 January release of the report), although it is possible that the US Environmental Protection Agency could raise objections to it. A period of 15 days is allowed for objections after the final State Department decision. Environmental campaigners have campaigned vigorously to stop the project, pointing out that tar sand oil is 17% more polluting than normal oil. One of the most prominent groups, 350.org, has said that pressure to stop of the project would continue. The Keystone XL pipeline is the fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline System, and is aimed at increasing oil transport capacity.
ANDRITZ to supply boiler to Mondi Åšwiecie, Poland
Austrian technology group ANDRITZ is to supply one of its high energy recovery boilers (HERBs) to paper maker Mondi’s Åšwiecie mill in Poland. It is the third HERB that Mondi has ordered from ANDTRIZ in the past two years, the others being to the Frantschach, Austria, and RuÅ¾omberok, Slovakia plants, a reflection of the good relationship the two companies enjoy. The new low emissions, high power-to-heat ratio, with a capacity of 2,300 tds/d will be supplied in 2016, replacing the previous ANDRITZ boiler originally installed in 1980.
Ironbridge station experiences fire in turbine hall
The wood pellet-fired Ironbridge power station in Shropshire, UK, suffered a fire in the turbine hall on 4 February, according to the BBC. Eight fire engines were sent to control the outbreak, which started in the early morning, being put out by the afternoon. E.ON, the owners and operators of the plant, which is due to be closed in 2015, have said that no one was injured. In October 2013 the plant experienced a small fire in the wood pellet storage area which was easily controlled.