Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Power Firms Face $4bn Carbon Slug

ELECTRICITY generators have warned that they face a cashflow crunch of hundreds of millions of dollars to buy carbon tax permits as the latest greenhouse gas emissions figures suggest almost $4 billion of the $7.7bn to be raised in the first year of the policy will come from power companies.

Data from the Climate Change Department yesterday shows the power generation sector accounted for about 170 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the 2010-11 financial year, which could mean a carbon tax bill of $3.9bn if repeated next year.

The Weekend Australian reported this month that InterGen - the operator of Queensland's black-coal power generator Millmerran - sought help from the federal government's Energy Security Council for loan support because the looming carbon tax had hit its $467 million refinancing.

Victoria's largest power plant, Loy Yang Power, has also had talks with the ESC as it has a $565m refinancing due in November.

The latest greenhouse emissions figures show the nation's top five carbon dioxide emitters in 2010-11 were all coal-fired power generators. But as the government assembled the carbon pricing package, emissions from the sector fell about six million tonnes over the previous 12 months.

The two NSW state-owned generators - Macquarie Generation and Delta Electricity - were the two biggest emitters in 2010-11, with 20.3 million tonnes and 19.8 million tonnes in CO2 emissions respectively.

If the same emissions levels were repeated next year, Macquarie would face a carbon tax bill of more than $466m and Delta would pay $455m, based on the government's starting carbon price of $23 a tonne from July.

The companies told The Australian yesterday they would try to recoup the cost through higher electricity prices, but because prices are set by bids in the national electricity market, they are uncertain how much they will be able to recover.

The government warns that the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting figures, released yesterday, may not be an accurate guide to next year's carbon tax liability. This is because the reporting is for holding companies, and some of their emissions may not be subject to the carbon tax.

But The Australian confirmed with several of the big power companies that their reported NGER figures broadly represent emissions they would be liable for under the carbon tax.

The chief executive of the Electricity Supply Association of Australia, Matthew Warren, said some companies might have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for permits in advance of when the electricity was generated and sold.

Mr Warren said the Investor Reference Group estimated that electricity generators would need to hold positions on $6bn worth of forward permits to maintain current levels of electricity contracts.

But a spokesman for Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the government had announced it would make loans available to generators for the forward purchasing of carbon permits. This was in addition to $5.5bn in assistance for the emissions-intensive generators.

The mid-year budget update had shown the carbon price would raise $7.7bn in 2012-13, Mr Combet's spokesman said.

"Electricity generation is one of the most pollution-intensive sectors of our economy," he said.
"It is essential Australia begins to transform this sector so our economy remains competitive as the world moves to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions."

The government will put more than $4bn into household assistance this year to offset higher prices caused by the carbon tax.
Mr Combet's spokesman said there was substantial assistance for industry through the Jobs and Competitiveness Program, and for households through tax cuts, higher family payments and pension increases.

But Mr Warren said: "Without deferred settlement arrangements, allowing energy companies to pay for permits when they sell the energy and produce the emissions, they will need new lines of credit to finance their upfront purchase of forward vintages."

The opposition yesterday attacked the government over Virgin Australia's decision to introduce a carbon tax surcharge.
But Mr Combet's spokesman said Virgin had made the announcement on July 11 last year.

Power Firms Face $4bn Carbon Slug

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alumina Rejects Wagerup Carbon Tax Claim

Alumina Ltd says the high cost of construction in Western Australia rather than the carbon tax is a key reason that the expansion of its Wagerup alumina refinery has stalled.

WA's Environmental Protection Authority on Monday granted AWAC, Alumina and Alcoa's joint venture company, an extension until September 2016 to substantially commence the expansion that was first given environmental approval in 2006.

The Australian newspaper this week reported an Alcoa spokeswoman as saying the company would not revisit the expansion until it had a clearer picture of the full impact of the carbon tax, due to start on July 1.

The media report also cited the need to secure energy supplies, which Alumina chief executive John Bevan concurred with on Thursday.

But, Mr Bevan said, it was 'not the case' that the carbon tax was the key reason the project was not yet going ahead.

'The capital cost of building in WA is high, as seen with BHP's Worsley (refinery),' Mr Bevan told a conference call for analysts.

The cost of expanding BHP Billiton's Worsley alumina refinery in WA has blown out substantially due to factors including inflationary pressures and the stronger Australian dollar.

This had prompted analysts to speculate recently that the asset may be sold by the mining giant.

Alcoa last week announced that AWAC could close one of its two Australian aluminium smelters, Point Henry in Victoria, in the face of continuing difficult global economic conditions for the industry.

The company warned in January that it planned to close or curtail about 12 per cent of its global smelting capacity to improve its competitiveness amid falling aluminium prices and escalating raw materials costs.

The Point Henry announcement triggered a parliamentary furore, with federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott blaming the possible closure on the government's carbon tax.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard labelled his comments a disgrace given that 600 jobs at the smelter hung in the balance.

'It (the potential Point Henry closure) is really not firm at this stage,' Mr Bevan said on Thursday, adding that Alcoa's global curtailments would occur in the next four or five months.

In delivering a near fourfold surge in full-year net profit on Thursday, Alumina said costs at Point Henry and its other aluminium smelter in Portland, Victoria, were last year pushed up by increased alumina and coke prices, and the rising Australian dollar.

Alumina booked a net profit for the 12 months to December 31 of $US127 million ($A119.16 million), up from $US35 million ($A32.84 million) for the 2010 calendar year.

Mr Bevan said margins rose after the company moved to price some of its alumina on an index/spot basis.

Morningstar analyst Mark Taylor said a 55 per cent rise in underlying earnings to $US128 million beat the investment research firm's forecast of $US113 million ($A106.02 million).

The company to maintain its full year dividend at six cents per share.

Mr Bevan said the company was cautious on the outlook for 2012, reflecting volatile pricing conditions, a strong Australian dollar and high input costs.

Conditions deteriorated towards the end of 2011, with prices for Alumina's products falling significantly.

Shares in Alumina closed up 1.5 cents, or 1.3 per cent, at $1.17.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Wind Energy and Solar Power Needs Support

The Grattan Institute has studied the potential of wind power, solar energy (photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal power), geothermal energy, bioenergy, nuclear and CCS to generate near-zero emissions power.

No easy choices: which way to Australia’s energy future? explores the acute intellectual and policy challenge Australia faces in energy policy.

Markets must be the primary mechanism by which Australia transforms its electricity supply. Yet it will not be able to meet its emission targets and at the same time produce future electricity at a price acceptable to the public unless governments act to reduce the costs of low-emission technologies.

It is increasingly clear that the carbon pricing scheme alone is not enough to make low-emission technologies competitive and effect the change that Australia needs.

The report analyses the potential of seven clean-energy technologies: wind farm, solar photovoltaic panels, large-scale concentrated solar power, geothermal energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear and bioenergy.

The report argues that wind turbines and solar photovoltaic may be commercially viable if carbon pollution prices rise to foreseeable levels over the next 20 years. But it states that those technologies can never provide more than 50 per cent of Australia's electricity needs without massive advances in storage technologies.

Geothermal energy, which has huge potential in Australia, is highly uncertain when it comes to reliability and costs because it's still in the exploration stage. The report acknowledges that nuclear and CCS are unlikely to be demonstrated in Australia anytime soon "unless government takes on most of the material risk of the project".

Mr Wood says the carbon tax and subsequent emission trading scheme (ETS) must be the primary mechanism by which Australia reduces its emissions but he argues the market on its own won't make low-emissions technologies competitive.

The Gillard government, at the behest of the Greens, is establishing a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will leverage private sector financing for renewable energy and clean technology projects. But the Grattan Institute report says more needs to be done aside from support for research and development.

Labor's carbon price scheme begins on July 1, at a price of $23 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted. The government has also promised a $10 billion clean energy finance corporation, due to start in 2013-14, and Australia has a target of 20 per cent of energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.

But the Grattan Institute found government was responsible for several barriers preventing the development of clean-energy technology. They could be removed by changing the rules governing the electricity network, improving mapping of solar and geological resources and giving potential investors greater certainty by releasing annual emissions limits for well into the future.

Further, it calls on governments to expand exploration and mapping of solar energy and geographical resources to aid in the development of concentrated solar thermal power and geothermal energy and the location of suitable sites for carbon storage.

Finally, the think tank's report stresses the need for a complete overhaul of Australia's distribution network. "Existing transmission networks and network regulation are designed around the assumption that almost all electricity generators will be large plants close to existing centres of generation," it states.

Current cost structures mean wind farm, solar energy and geothermal energy plants in remote locations are unviable simply because they can't connect to the grid. Mr Wood suggests existing generators and retailers should foot the bill for new hubs to be built with low-emissions suppliers only paying a share of the cost once they're up and running. New regulatory frameworks are required that ensure long-run cost-efficient trade-offs, the report concludes.

Wind Energy and Solar Power Needs Support

Our ETS Future 'Will Not Come Cheaply

AUSTRALIA will be unable to produce affordable baseload power supplies while meeting its emissions targets under present policy, new research has found.

A study by Melbourne's Grattan Institute, to be published today, warns that while carbon pricing will help make low-emissions technologies competitive, it will not be enough without big structural and policy changes.

Tony Wood, the institute's energy program director, says governments face "an acute intellectual and policy challenge" steering a course between inadequate support for low-emissions technologies or unduly favouring one technology over another. He cautions "Australia's move to a low-carbon future will be too expensive unless they do."

The Grattan research stresses markets as the primary mechanism by which Australia can reduce its emissions, but it says markets cannot work properly unless governments optimise regulatory and policy frameworks.

The study also warns against letting ideology limit the scope for manoeuvre by preventing serious evaluation of carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy. "A range of technologies available today can generate electricity at or below 0.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour and have significant scale-up projection," the Grattan research finds.

"Yet none currently represents more than 2 per cent of Australia's electricity supply and

their future technical and economic potential is shrouded in uncertainty."

The report finds further refinement of the underlying technologies of low-emission energy options will be the most important tool for their future development and commercialisation.

It reminds governments of their roles overseeing the development of new transmission networks and pipelines, resource maps, market frameworks, regulations and engineering skills.

The Grattan researchers urge the commonwealth to ensure the carbon pricing scheme works properly by setting long-term emission caps and call on all governments to act to ensure there is a level playing field for all power-generating technologies.

The report's authors urge the removal of obstacles that impede technologies such as wind and geothermal from connecting at large-scale to electricity grids built around the needs of very large fossil-fuel plants.

Tony Abbott to Warn of Carbon Pay Cuts

TONY Abbott will use tomorrow's resumption of parliament to renew his attack on Labor's carbon tax by using Treasury economic modelling to warn it will slash wages.

The Opposition Leader will time his attacks to coincide with speculation about Julia Gillard's leadership as he seeks to put pressure on the government in the first sitting week of the year.

As the Coalition released its economic briefing notes yesterday, Labor ministers counter-attacked, with Wayne Swan condemning the opposition's pledge to relieve mining magnates such as Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer of Labor's mining tax but refusing to implement a disability insurance scheme.

Mr Abbott spent much of last year attacking Labor over its carbon tax of $23 a tonne, which will take effect from July 1.

Sources confirmed yesterday Mr Abbott would return to the issue in parliament this week, with the Coalition economic note warning that the carbon tax would cause "a large and continually growing fall-off" in gross domestic product.

"On Treasury's own modelling, the cumulative loss of output will be $32 billion by 2020 -- and that's in real 2010 dollars (ie the figure is not being driven by inflation)," the paper says.

"What's more, this will rise to the enormous figure of over $1 trillion by 2050."

The opposition claims the carbon tax would cut real wages by 1 per cent by 2020.

"To put this figure in perspective, for someone on current average adult full-time earnings (approx $70k), this would be equivalent to a cut in their salary of around $600 a year," it says.

Coalition sources said the figures would form the basis of the opposition's attack in question time this week.

But the Treasurer said the Coalition stand was "weak and pathetic", and told ABC television the media was fanning the leadership speculation that has prevented Labor gaining traction on other issues in the past week.

Industrial Relations Minister Bill Shorten joined in, accusing the Coalition of concealing its workplace policy and of wanting to damage workers by introducing greater industrial "flexibility".

"When conservatives use the term flexibility, they actually mean that if you're poor . . . it's time to take a pay cut," Mr Shorten told the Ten Network's Meet the Press.

"Why is it . . . Coalition DNA says the only way the rich can get richer is with low-paid workers getting penalty-rate cuts?"

Mr Abbott, who has been wary about announcing industrial relations policies for fear of sparking Labor claims he would return to the Howard government's Work Choices regime, said Labor's Fair Work Act had caused problems with flexibility and militancy in the workplace and was damaging the nation's economic productivity.

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