The wax lyrical, but fact – bad behaviours in the Energy Industry

The Checkout in its wax lyrical style ran a story on Energy contracts including exit fees.  Had we not seen it we may have felt we were alone in our concern for the behaviours in the industry. Obviously, this media version was directed for the public appetite, but the story is based on fact! Consumer laws are very weak and the National Electricity Laws strongly favour the Energy Companies.

The Checkout story was run on the ABC (Australian) on 26 June 2014, 8PM. It is also interesting that it did not highlight a single company practicing or should we say taking advantage of ‘trust me’ then doing the screw you turn on you the user – it highlighted a common practice among many retailers in the industry. We appreciate residential customers have some protections, but that in NSW is set to change or should we say leave many people further exposed to the behaviours. Whilst the market will be fully deregulate, it would seem the Laws and rules of the industry will not be amended soon.

Those with legal training, or savvy enough will avoid the pitfalls and probity issues of the simple thing and essential commodity – energy needs. However, in a conversation with the other side (a energy retailer) recently they admitted that they too found it difficult to follow the rules. Why, consider this: You want to change the wording on your contract – a simple word change on a clause. You have a dispute and that word is found to ‘not flow’ with the rest of the contract. Therefore the wording of the National Electricity Law is to be relied on. It overrides what is written in your contract. Ok that is the scary part. The practical is that mum and dad’s are told ‘we care, we will look after you, you will save, that’s good is it not ‘– you say yes, and Call Centre then declares you are now under contract. So simple – but, you don’t save. That issue is covered off so well in The Checkout Story.

Business customers have a little more exposure in that depending on their size, according to the market, as opposed to Corporations Law, they will need to be careful of the Energy Service Agreement (ESA), the Contract, they have presented to them. For instance, most have terms and conditions in the standard form that will penalize for exceeding consumption caps. The penalty can result in the price offered being withdrawn and you being placed on a default tariff that can be hundreds of percent higher than what you negotiated. Another trap is that you need to be mindful that the network charges are not negotiated in most standard form agreements. You might say, the rules say a network tariff review must be conducted – but beware it is not binding on the retailer that they be negotiated unless stipulated on the contract.

That last paragraph also highlights what you need to know. Your consumption caps are not binding on the network company. The ESA is a contract for supply from the retailer – it protects the retailers from its risk in the market. The transport and distribution networks will rely on what is the constraints of the system and set limits as it sees affects its asset. An example: Your retailer ESA says 20% variation allowed. Your network company – generally a default and deemed contract according to law, say we will impose a demand tariff on you when you exceed 160MWh per annum load. It may be good it may be bad depending on your circumstance. But, what is does not do is connect your circumstance to your ESA. You should also be aware the majority of business is distribution connected and prices set for the transport are determined by an approved formula. If you are large enough to be classified for a transmission connection you can have sway in contracting and negotiating what you take from the system. For the very large customer you also need a team of lawyers to complete the deal.

Now, all above is about import power, what if you want to export power – small scale generation – well what was called a power purchase arrangement (PPA) is now a Energy Supply Agreement (ESA) as described by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). Before we go any further did you notice the near same term and the same acronym meaning something similar but very different in what it does. To use the words of our good friends Solar Professionals: “Can I start by saying that the creation of an ESA template is both very expensive and lengthy in duration. Multiple legal aspects have to be considered when drafting these contracts, from property law, banking institution requirements, GST impacts, numerous funding and system requirements not the mention standard consumer law principals and all the requirements from the AER.” We include this to let you know what is needed is complex and has a very detailed need.

So what started off as a wax lyrical presentation, now shaped the focus on what (watt) can really hurt you – electricity! We guess once the carbon tax is gone, another way to tax will follow! Lets us be a little devil – they might impose a transport tax on delivering you energy? Well it makes sense – they make the electrons cheaper but now the transport cost is fairer?

On that matter of the Carbon Price our politicians are saying they will force the ‘energy companies to pass on the savings’. Did you know the majority of your Carbon Price is blended into your network charges? It is not transparent. The energy retailers cannot unbundle what the network companies levy you. Maybe the politicians need an education too! Yeah, that has appeal – Politicians ESA 101. Or more correctly they might prefer: The tax is dead, long live the tax!

 

Inappropriate electricity tariffs – it will cost you!

Inappropriate electricity tariffs have the potential to cost excessive amounts of money for the unwary. In NSW for instance, the National Electricity Law (NSW) has gaps in it you can drive a truck through. Consider this: Energy Retailers might know you are paying too much for your network charges, and they take no action. The Energy Retailer can request a review of your charges, but apart from a newly introduced mandatory review period, may not provide this service. One retailer even provided proof in saying the do not have the systems in place to be proactive on behalf of the Customer. In other words it may be immoral, but it is not illegal to withhold the service. CO2Land org has written evidence that one NSW small business has claims of having been on an inappropriate network tariff and it costing them as much as 72% more than needed to pay – how much? Almost a quarter of a million dollars ($250,000)!

Another issue is that a deemed contract can exist whether you are aware or not, and it may be a simple communication error that costs you dearly. As a residential customer it may cost you up to $220 because you entered into a new Energy Service Agreement (ESA) and were not aware you were already contracted to another retailer. The charge is a break contract fee. It will not be transparent and a St Vincent De Paul commissioned report suggests it is also unreasonable.

A similar break fee event, that CO2Land org is aware of, involves a Commercial and Industrial (C&I) customer with an annual energy spends of approximately $50,000 pa. This small business was invoiced in excess of $10,000 (including government fees and charges) for breaking a deemed contract. In that invoice no attempt was made to show how the number was arrived at other than the words ‘to cover costs’ and a list of the government charges. The source of these two examples here is Wintelboff – www.wintelboff.com .

Possibly you should contact your favourite energy advisory and have them look at your bills?

Co2Land org is also aware that through the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and in conjunction with Carbon Training International (CTi) ‘Energy Management Basics Training for Business’ is available. The ‘plug’ is because they also offer to review your billing as part of the class exercise, and provide up to 15 hours of technical advice as part of the course.

We are also aware the NSW Business Chamber is offering discounts to its members of up to 19% if they use Energetics to participate in the Business Chamber’s ‘Better Energy Manager Program’.

Which of these groups is better? It really gets down to cost. The benefits are obvious if you are paying too much.

If we go back to the National Electricity Law (NSW) and the way it is framed – sounds like a Roger Rabbit episode! A quick read will make it clear the consumer advocacy part is weak. A large business must engage through a complex process for its matter to be heard. [As an aside a business can be classified as large if it has energy consumption greater than 160MWh pa. However, it may not be large under taxation and corporate laws]. If you need to go to court over your energy bills, the dispute resolution it will be classified along corporate laws. You could be excused for being confused! A course of dispute resolution is to go to the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON). What you should know is EWON is not a government-sponsored body – it is industry member sponsored. The body can also make the choice to be involved in disputes? They will make legally binding judgements, but they decide whether to be involved and you must have your wants clearly made and they must be for more than moral issues. They also have guidelines in the use of the body. Currently, you need to have an annual turnover of less than $2million, employ less that 20 people and be a family run business. Some variation to these guidelines are possible, but you might need to contact them if you have questions www.ewon.com.au .

If you did not know there is ‘spin’ that all this be fixed when the assets are sold? As it happens the poles and wires – the network companies in NSW are state government businesses. If the process is flawed you could expect a reasonable person asking why is it not fixed? The answer may be it is an inconvenient truth right now, we are trying to sell the companies!

 

Rock and Hardplace – RET and DAP predictions

Let us now predict: Soon after the RET review the fossil fuel generators will celebrate with a short-term price relief. It is a two edged sword, as they will discover the relief may be temporary. Partly because large-scale renewables facilities are likely to continue to experience cost reductions, and the Federal government’s Direct Action Plan may further dampen electricity demand – not a good outlook for coal fired generation known for its baseload dependability to be profitable.

It is scheduled for the Australian government’s Direct Action Plan (DAP) to release its white paper -Emissions Reduction Fund, this month April 2014. Also scheduled for mid-2014, the Government’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) Review expert panel will report to the Prime Minister. We might even guesstimate that the PM will find DAP will be unlikely to be a benefit or too expensive for the resources sector, and simply drop it. It could be easier than you think, why because it is not yet funded!

Apart from funding, the Governments’ own wording suggests the final design of the government’s Direct Action Plan will be critical for coal generators, and their survival, with potential for emissions baselines and penalties to curb potential growth prospects. Add to this that individual states do more and encourage energy efficiency, and other large-scale efforts to improve energy efficiency via the Emissions Reduction Fund will be a terrible place for coal fired generators to be if the predicted demand for electricity continues to decline. This will put significant pressure on profit margins of these generators.

CO2Land org feels the PM is in a rock and hard place, by his own doing. Come July he will have no choice but to continue with the threat to repeal the Carbon Price Mechanism (which he refers to as the Carbon Tax) – Which results in a short term gain for coal fired generation. Even if RET is reduced or halved, the long term trend for coal output is still dependent on the price effectiveness of that form of supply – it might even need a ‘subsidy’ to continue supply.

That said, if energy security is the stated reason for a subsidy, it is likely the penetration of renewable energy will continue because it will continue to be subject to falling prices to its advantage, and those prices are dropping because of efficiencies in the way it can deliver. Let us not forget – business too will be more efficient, and in order to survive will factor in the need to reduce energy demands, or at least be more efficient in the use of energy.

Lastly, if the PM were thinking of killing off the Direct Action Plan (DAP) it would be unwise. It is the only mechanism the government has to show they care, or are earth aware. Even South Africa has come to recognize a price on carbon + Renewable Energy + Energy Efficiency + Land use change = business success. We don’t want to appear dumb do we!

 

 

Inverted J Curve – Gas, and RET recommendation predictions

Time to make predictions: Gas prices will rise through an ‘inverted J curve’ response and world political pressures – antidote – devalue our Dollar. The outcome of the Australian Renewable Energy Target Review will recommend ‘constraint payments’ to be paid to renewable sources such as wind farms.

Gas prices will rise very soon, but not because of domestic pressure, but more because we will ‘promise’ it to be exported. Japan says thank you, as will others. This prediction is not new and it may have been part of the detail not yet released to the public over our new trade agreement. But the actual more recent driver is energy security concerns because of the Russian threats to gas supplies.

The evidence comes from Russia itself and the letter released by the Kremlin says that ‘if Ukraine does not settle its energy bill, Gazprom will be “compelled” to switch over to advance payment, and if those payments are not made, it “will completely or partially cease gas deliveries”. Mr Putin added that Russia was “prepared to participate in the effort to stabilise and restore Ukraine’s economy” but only on “equal terms” with the EU”.

Why is that so scary? Nearly one-third of the EU’s natural gas comes from Russia.

Co2Land org previously said we tend to borrow policy from overseas and then rebadge as a new idea here. Our Eastern seaboard National Electricity Market is a prime example. It should follow then what is happening in the UK will happen here (albeit the gas supply market is their greater influence and here we have the coal supply as the influence).

You might note that also recently posted by CO2Land org was that our Conservative brigade finds it ‘unpopular’ for wind farms to be ‘forced’ onto local rural communities. They will find it reassuring that the UK are it is “Long unpopular among some Conservative MPs from rural constituencies, onshore wind turbines appear to have incurred the wrath of the Prime Minister as well”. We do not have to be a guru to work out that this tactic will be mimicked in Australia, anytime soon.

There is the pointer to this likely development? Plans to restrict wind farms to seas around Britain will need much larger subsidies from consumers, experts say.

Newspaper reports suggest that the Conservative Party will include a pledge to limit onshore turbines in next year’s election manifesto.

But a member of a working group reviewing UK wind energy said this would require increased subsidies of around £300,000 per turbine per year.

Prof Richard Green said this would have a knock-on effect on electricity bills.

The dilemma for our politics is, just as they in UK promised the next few years will be difficult for the better good – they limit subsidies and toughen planning laws to make wind farms unviable in the countryside. The issue will be that to do so will make alternative energy more expensive to build and run. Why? As the UK report points out that “onshore wind energy is more expensive than electricity from coal or gas, but wind is one of the cheapest sources of low carbon power”. It is going to be very difficult to eliminate a energy source with a low carbon benefit! Forget arguments about Carbon Price (Carbon Tax sometimes called for emotive responses), this is about the need to respond to business pressures for them to be competitive, and like it or not gas prices are going up and wind is looking good in terms of low carbon benefit. Add to that the energy storage capability being developed and game set and match.

In the mean time (interim) constraints being put on renewable generation may well include payments to not participate in the market. This would allow traditional coal fired generators to at least run until the end of their economic life.

Is this fair? Glass half full or half empty – depends on your view.

 

 

Solar mean and means

It is not ‘means’ tested. But it can mean a nightmare. The phone call: My business is wanting to purchase a small scale solar PV array, and I noticed the contract will not guarantee my price, and the price potentially will increase indirectly because the import of electricity will not remain a constant and directly because it is likely the Small Scale Technology Certificate (STC) will not be fixed for the duration.

Why is import of electricity important? The price of electricity is generally either regulated or contestable. Regulated prices are reset according to an application for price changes – you are a price taker. In short, the price changes each reset period and usually set by state government bodies. In a contestable market set by rules of the national body, to reduce your energy consumption you can carry penalties and price risk. Hence, you might find you have to pay a higher price because you have reduced your import of energy needs. Therefore there is no incentive to reduce your energy use.

Next matter is the popular selling point of Solar, and it is the opportunity to benefit from the export of energy. It follows that just as import prices changing is a risk, so is export energy a price risk. Especially when feed in tariffs (FITs) are being phased out, and in Australia – a review of the Renewable Energy Targets (RET), and the promised repeal of the carbon pricing mechanism could see a collapse of the renewable certificate price. The new’ish’ government is hopeful ‘affordable’ energy will follow the review.

So, if you want to protect your purchase by way of a price guarantee from third parties. You most likely cannot if you are larger than 7.5kWp (residential) but under 300kWp. Why? The energy retailers have no interest because of uncertainty exposing them to the price shocks, and commercial buyers of power have a line drawn in the sand of an economic value of no less than 300kWp export capability.

So, if paying a fixed price is important to you – then you should choose an installer who guarantees the price quoted – clearly and irrevocably. Is it possible? Yes, but the vendor needs to be courageous and needs to laterally rethink how they operate. But, we will save that thought for another post.

Still interested in Solar. Onward then we go: What can still be done in Australia to reduce the upfront cost of solar power systems even after hearing “the solar rebate ending”. There is still a financial incentive from the Australian federal government for installing solar. But you need to be quick if you consider the report on the RET review will reach government by July and ‘put to death by the Reich’.

What is tipped to go is the solar subsidy for anyone buying a solar system of up to 100kW. It is called the STC program. Which stands for Small-scale Technology Certificate. Whilst CO2Land org has previously been concerned that the STC is a distortion of the market, it believes any change should be phased out and not shut off suddenly. Another thing to consider is the STC scheme is not described as a rebate (even though it is = it is politically difficult to call it that). If you check what The Clean Energy Regulator says on their website, it says:

“Under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme the reduction in the cost of your solar panel is not a rebate. You will not qualify for any Government-based financial recompense at the completion of any process relating to STCs.”

The meaning of this is that the cash you get off your solar system price does not actually come from the government. It is a government scheme that compels other people to buy your certificates.

So it is a government run scheme, using other people’s money, and it becomes confusing when you consider the question what must change when all government schemes use other people’s money – is it not?  So, if you are confused over why does a scheme that will save you money and tick the box as a financial incentive be considered to have to walk the plank.

The solar Financial Incentive is a subsidy to assist with the upfront cost of installing a Solar Power System. Currently, it is not ‘means’ tested in any way. However, the criteria for claiming it are:

1) Your system is less than 100kWp in size.

2) You get it installed and designed by an accredited professional.

3) You use panels and inverters that are approved for use in Australia.

We said FITs are being phased out, but each state may differ in what is offered. So check out the following, as an example: The Feed In Tariff (FiT). “The FiT is a State Government subsidy in which some states pay you for the electricity that your solar system will export to the grid”.

How to get involved in the Solar Financial Incentive Scheme involves:

1) The regulator creates Renewable Energy Certificates (RECS).

2) The government mandates that fossil fuelled generators have to either build a certain amount of renewable generation (wind/solar) or buy the right to other people’s renewable energy systems in the form of RECs.

3) When you purchase a solar power system for your roof, the government gives you a number of RECS depending on the size of your system is and the region of Australia it is installed.

4) The special type of RECs that you get for under 100kWp solar system are called “Small Scale Technology Certificates” (STCs).

5) You (or more likely your installer) sell the STCs to the fossil fuel generators and use the cash to offset the upfront cost of the solar system purchase.

6) The STC price is a bit like a share price – it fluctuates on the open market depending on supply and demand. E.g. when the solar industry is booming (usually just before the rebate is cut!) then the STC price drops and vice versa.

7) “You can see the current market price of a STC here. Look for the number in the box in the bottom RH corner labeled: STC”.

8) Almost all solar system prices you see advertised will already have the solar Financial Incentive included in the pricing. So watch out for that too.

Earlier we said the amount of solar rebate that you can claim depends on where you live: It is broken down into zones that roughly mean live in the lower southern parts (zone 4) and get less incentive than other parts with central west parts (zone 1) getting the most.

But, beware of a small number of unscrupulous companies that use the “Inflated STC Price Scam” appear to be deceiving the customer into thinking they are getting a great deal and then hitting them with a bill for thousands more than the quoted price when the system is installed.

——

Be clear on what you want:

CO2Land org is aware that many installer/vendor quotes are virtually silent on saying they guarantee what is said in the quote as the STC price.

Co2Land org believes the truly good guys will be totally upfront and transparent that the final amount payable may go up (or down) based on the STC price on the day of the install.

It is up to you to make the decision to buy based on the facts. When ready to sign – why not say ‘This contract is signed for this fixed price only’ and make it a written condition, and have all parties endorse each copy!

 

Transistions – SME or Contestable Energy Strategies

Energy procurement is significantly different in 2014 than previously. The models for success require a multifaceted theme for the energy procurement process this time around.  What is different is you must manage and arranged the information for what you see as the product, and have them – the energy retailer/supplier, evaluate whether they want to participate.  The critical success factor is no longer ‘did you get the best price’, it is ‘did you get enough participants to respond with a good price and adequately market test your result’. It was so much easier when performance was as simple as input becomes output = price paid, and outcome was the accountant is happy.

Some of you reading this may not understand that the original idea of being contestable was to adequately market test and as the market matured the real cost of generation and supply would settle at the economic point of being sustainable. This point may disappoint those that are building reputations on driving prices down, and that the market is doing as it is expected to do – show maturity of the design.

So, it is time to move on and change the model of the market? Wintelboff and CO2Land org are seeing the Australian Electricity Market and the rules are in itself bringing about change, and there is further evidence most participants in the market are not prepared for the changes. Most of the difficulties are not the will to change by the participants, but more likely to be the extent of the systems required and needed to bring about the change.

Consider that it is now clearly the market is in two different tranches, and when you last went to market the electricity market described itself as contestable down to 160MWh pa consumption, and then below that effectively you were termed domestic and regulated at a set price or reset by regulatory pricing structures and determinations. It was also much easier when you could use the meter type as the rule for whether you contested on price or sought a discount on your tariff with the incumbent retailers. The incumbent was usually your network company and default retailer.

This time around you are either on an agreed price to pay for energy as a contract rate above the threshold of 160MWh pa or seek a discount on tariff set by regulation under the rules of as a small business enterprise (called SME) from 100MWh pa. In the latter a retailer licenced to sell energy might offer aggregation of sites to a contestable size or elect to do nothing other than offer tariff rates.

Another assumption that can be dangerous is to assume as a contestable site the retailer/supplier has an association with the network service provider/utility that will work to your benefit. Changes from within the system in all likelihood  means we can no longer ring our loyal and trusted friend and say can we fix this on one side of the ring-fenced entity or the other and have the problem resolved to mutual satisfaction.  It is now a detailed process. To get a result usually you need to address what they call the asset on a project basis, and computer says yes for you to proceed. If you have previously watched the TV series ‘Little Britain’ you will understand that statement rings very true.

Pursuing sustainable outcomes too brings new awareness, and innovation and the introduction of technology would be assessed according to the business case. Where you are showing success at getting a good price for your energy it can undermine the business case for the sustainable outcome. Especially where carbon pricing is needed to level the playing field. If you have been following that approach you will be seeing with the Feed In Tariffs (FIT) and other incentives being distorted as a political whim that only brings uncertainty to the project, and uncertainty has a cost.

On the point of whims, carbon continues to be a problematic area and the federal Energy Reduction Fund (ERF) is still very much without detail other than a benchmark carbon price will be set by government as government dictates and that price can change when the government decides to do so at its whim. The assumption to be made is that either you or those that you invite onto your agreement might be liable entities under that rules and impact your outcomes.

If we are attempting to bridge the needs of Energy as strategic, tactical and operational, and we describe this as Energy Management, Transition Strategies, and Savings – the need for individual assessment is more important than ever before. Yet, most competitive services are tending to be web based and call centres. This is hardly adequate when you desire to be an energy efficiency centre.  That sort of work requires a fuller understanding of the needs, other than a checklist and dubious interpretation of guidelines according to the level of training or programing of the robot. As a sustainable approach it is likely changes to the energy needs over the life of the agreement is being sought, and that is more than price.  Another way of looking at that point is in medical practice the prognosis will be accessed as preventative (price gained now) or diagnostic (what is the best course of action). A good example can be taken as: You want to introduce solar technology, and you need to know what penalties are written in the contract and will a standard form contract be sufficient to cover this off sufficiently well. LED is another very interesting technology as it can negate the need for conventional building management systems entirely, and that could have long-term upstream effects on current contracts and relationships for tenants and landlords and building managers.

We must take into consideration the balance in terms of energy supply and demand, and the responses must relate to multiples of price, network and security, and even emergency responses. The later because increasing in frequency is disaster.

 

 

 

RET designs – Abbotititis or Rudasinus.

Do you have Abbotititis or Rudasinus. Bored with the election being in your face yet not meaning a thing.  Then there is ‘real’ again – It just means it will be reviewed and in the mean time your asset is at risk of being stranded because of the ‘Election’. You are told any decisions will need to be taken with a view of caretaker convention and then we will wait until the ‘dust settles’ and the view of the incoming Government is known.  Can you understand the frustration? Promises are being made yet we are told they are real until after the election!

Now lets look at the promised policy positions:

The Coalition talks of ‘real’ abatement in terms of energy efficiency. The flagstone is the Direct Action Plan. This plan will or may impact your business. We say this because the White Paper consultative process that the Coalition will initiate will only be known should they win office. Yes the ‘real’ is it will be a consultative process expressed as the opportunity for your business to provide input into the design of this ‘potential’ new policy framework. In more simple terms it means the details are not yet developed. However, the Renewable Energy Target (RET) has a commitment from the Coalition to retain a 5% to 25% reduction of emissions by 2020 compared with 2000 levels, but will review this commitment in 2015 (then other statements say 2014). That said they intend to wind back many of the provisions of the Clean Energy Future Plan including abolishing the carbon price and disbanding the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Change Authority, the Climate Commission and the Energy Security Fund. Then we should note the Coalition intends to expand the existing Emissions Reduction Fund to introduce a buyback, and also plans to expand the Carbon Farming Initiative to achieve emissions reductions in the absence of an explicit carbon price – but the reductions must be ‘real’ against baselines ‘to be advised’.

It is most likely the Coalition’s plans to meet emissions commitments will be more disruptive to electricity supply industries and their downstream industries than labor’s.

Labor (why is it called Labor?) – Reported is among other things, this name makes it easier to distinguish references to the Party from the labour movement in general. Source(s): http://www.alp.org.au/australian-labor/l…

Maybe that is ‘unreal’!

 

Labor has two major policies for abatement changes. Continuing of the Clean Energy Future Plan, and the review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET).  The current RET compels large energy users to invest in renewable energy. This is to the benefit of industries such as wind and, up to an including hydro-electricity. The RET purpose is to introduce more capacity into electricity markets and push down wholesale electricity prices. Therefore the RET is challenging for fossil fuel electricity generators, and the changes will affect them directly and the upstream industries, including oil and gas extraction, brown coal mining and black coal mining, indirectly.

 

That said, Labor is committed to a 5% to 25% reduction of emissions by 2020 compared with 2000 levels, and an 80% reduction on 2000 levels by 2050. Labor has also taken the position and made an announcement of an early transition from the carbon tax to an emissions trading scheme in July 2014, bringing it forward from the previous announcement of 2015. Under the scheme the carbon dioxide equivalent would have a floating price linked to the prices of the EU’s emissions trading scheme. Under this policy, the price per tonne for carbon dioxide is likely to be discounted. The impact uncertainty is what will be the effect on the industry assistance packages included within the Clean Energy Future Plan.

Co2Land org said Labor supports the current 20% RET. This still holds true, as the responsible Department (name too long to mention) and advised work on the review of RET is suspended until further notice, and Labor has made a commitment to not review the target until 2016.

Labor’s changes to the Clean Energy Future Plan will create new winners and losers across energy-intensive industries. Labor’s changes maintain a pricing mechanism as a strategy to reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

 

Co2Land org has noted IBISWorld’s August 2013 Report has a more detailed outline of the positions taken by the Labor and Coalition parties on major issues impacting Australian industry including workplace reform, energy, resources, broadband network, transport infrastructure, manufacturing and education. They write:

“The 2013 Federal Government election will be dominated by concerns about the economy. The end of the mining investment boom and the continued decline of the manufacturing sector have set a pessimistic tone among Australian businesses.

The Labor Government has taken a ‘glass half full’ approach, pointing out Australia’s strong economic position relative to other advanced economies and successful economic guidance during the global financial crisis.

In contrast, the Coalition points out a widening Federal Budget deficit, a declining economic growth rate, low business confidence and a weak economic performance relative to neighbouring countries.

The winner of the election will have to balance the government’s role to provide fiscal stimulus and counter-cyclical spending with budget responsibility and a plan to reduce government debt.

The Productivity Commission has estimated that there are $12 billion worth of cost-cutting and efficiency savings available to the Federal Government.

The Coalition has backed away from providing a date for a return to surplus, but asserts it will be sooner than a Labor surplus.

Labor forecasts a return to budget surplus in 2016-17, driven by savings made during 2015-16 and 2016-17 when the economy is expected to be in a healthier state than it is presently.”

 

Wait a minute, recently the coalition did say they aim to save $31B – now we are confused – will the ‘real’ number please stand?

Please note: No Green was hurt in this discussion.

Energy Utilities changing Models – A Battery of Choice

As one would normally do, chat about renewables and impacts on the utilities business model while relaxing with friends. It was a case of too much uncertainty over how the consumer would be treated because of change. Central to the discussion was that a provider to the electrical distribution system could threaten the current regulatory and centralized generation models of ‘essential services’.

What does this mean?  The business as usual model is failing where supply centric economics demanded you build additional load capacity and transport the capacity to the place of need. This model also meant the assets, including the customer, was owned by the utility. If you think of it this way, Governments tend to discourage demand side solutions. Demand Management was tended to be more of a series of incentive programs for utilities to duplicate infrastructure to transport to the demand source.

So, what happened to change the balance? The obvious: Technologies improved, carbon became issues for society and clean energy and renewables were being shown as a better way to address the logistics of meeting demand where it was needed. As a result some of the conventional infrastructure was at risk of being a stranded asset and the need to build conventional infrastructure required incentives from Government to reduce the financial risk. For example, the Demand Side Incentive scheme (DIS) formulated at about 2004 is dramatically underspent but is comforting for utilities in being a facility to reduce the financial risk.

If we note the changes in the needs of society as a driver for change: Governments and their policies encouraged that traditional public ownership be phased out to pass the needs to private investment. Government was happy for this ‘fix’ as they see it as the asset is sold for a value and ongoing regulated charges and fees and taxes are being paid to treasury, and that is a public benefit. The perfect storm in Australia is this action is also one of the drivers for electricity tariff increases in Australia. Recently the state of Queensland announced a 21% increase to its general tariff.  A source, CO2Land identifies as SF said: “Therefore those consumers with solar PV are subsidising those consumers that don’t have solar PV”.

From that last statement we can assume government policy (Federal and State) is very much the catalyst that resulted in the model change. Whether the change was necessary was more of a political move in this instance. It followed that technology and innovation evolved and the model change was inevitable. If you follow the beliefs of the 5th Column existing, this was done by infiltration of the policy areas by a particular group. It follows, in contemporary Australia, Government policy is more reactive than before, and since the 1970’s the rule of law was modeled as to be reactive to the needs of the dominate influence. Below is an explanation of this view as posted by CO@Land.org on 3 April 2013. Where:

Co2Land org now asks: If we consider the four primary schools of thought in general jurisprudence :

  •   Natural law is the idea that there are rational objective limits to the power of legislative rulers.
  •  Legal positivism, by contrast to natural law, holds that there is no necessary connection between law and morality and that the force of law comes from some basic social facts although positivists differ on what those facts are.
  •  Legal realism is a third theory of jurisprudence which argues that the real world practice of law is what determines what law is; the law has the force that it does because of what legislators, judges, and executives do with it. Similar approaches have been developed in many different ways in sociology of law.
  • Critical legal studies is a younger theory of jurisprudence that has developed since the 1970s which is primarily a negative thesis that the law is largely contradictory and can be best analyzed as an expression of the policy goals of the dominant social group.

If you think of the debate of tariff increases. Then you should consider it may have been ‘an expression of the policy goals of the dominant social group’, as critical to that issue. We should then think about the set of claims that the “Renewable Energy Targets” (RET’s) had undesirable consequences, and how governments (Federal and State) now realise that the larger than expected number of early adopters who signed up for the long term contracts are now having a negative impact on state & federal budgets, and this is one of the dominate drivers for electricity tariff increases in Australia. For those needing an introduction to the scheme, the RET’s are a federal government initiative commencing during year 2001, and from those bills and legislation various states and territories introduced those targets as various incentive schemes for customers to invest in solar PV with generous feed in tariffs. This incentive had the effect of distorting the demand supply balance, and the popularity embarrassed and alarmed treasury. If we use SF as the source again; “Queensland Govt initially offered 44cents per kWh this has now been reduced to 8cents. That said the response from the customer was rapid with Australia now having 2500MW of solar PV with and average capacity of 3.5kW.”

CO2Land org chose to give an example of Queensland for convenience, as this states geography and population patterns influence the custom that those consumers with a service, are asked to provide subsidies to those that do not.  In the case of electricity you could argue the subsidy required is determined by the length of the extension cords needed. You might understand why that state found it Initially appealing that solar PV was a localized delivery point. However, managing the asset is a different matter.

We are seeing similar issues being evident from around the world – business as usual is failing as the utility model. The danger is stranded assets and less control being possible. A story titled The Clean, Simple Solar and Storage Solution to US Utility Business Model Woes .

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2013/07/the-clean-simple-solar-and-storage-solution-to-us-utility-business-model-woes?cmpid=SolarNL-Thursday-July4-2013&goback=%2Egde_67258_member_256399748

Tells of an interview with former United States Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu on utility business models.  While the gist of what he said wasn’t new to me, the clean and elegant way he laid out what he sees as the future of utilities and solar power is worth sharing.

Similar to how in the past telephone companies – he specifically named AT&T – used to own the entire telephone system from the overhead telephone lines up to and including the phone in your house, Chu feels that utilities ought to own solar panels and energy storage systems that they put on their customers’ roofs and in their garages. He said if utilities could outfit homeowners with solar panels and a 5-kW battery system, they could continue selling that customer power just as they do now. The utility would own the system, maintain the system and the customer would have no out-of-pocket expenses for it other than continuing to buy power at the same rate or at perhaps an even lower rate.

 In the three-minute interview, Chu didn’t explain another huge reason that utilities should consider this option: distributed generation used in this way counteracts the need to build additional generation as the load capacity needs increase.  And lastly and most important, the utility gets to keep its customer.

Utilities should probably get clear on their approach soon. When it’s just a quarter or a half of one percent of a utility’s customers that have their own PV and are selling their solar power to the grid at the retail rate, the utility doesn’t care. But energy storage and PV panel costs are dropping, and once that percentage of utility customers’  that are zeroing out their bill goes to 5, 10 or 15 percent then “it’s a big deal” said Chu.

Chu said he told utilities that PV and energy storage is going to come and they should “form a new business model” NOW so that what today is a potential revenue loss, could become an area of growth for them in the future.  Plus, he said this model would eventually lead to a more stable grid for us all. “

CO2Land org is finding it difficult to solely blame the RET Scheme as the problem. The evidence is the splitting of the RET’s scheme into a ‘small scale’ offering for predominately solar PV is the problem. It is appropriate to say any change to the utility models would and did have a cause and effect disruption on the industry, and cause and effect type of disruption suggests any intervention will introduce more shocks in the industry, and we can expect that ideologies will continue to influence the Governments policy advisors who are without a full understanding the implications. It also follows that a large dependence on small scale or residential solar PV services implies a need for significant workforce skills shifts to cater for the growth and scope of the model change for utilities to take control of the assets at a domestic level to be to be effective. That is a significant cost driver, and it is reasonable to ask why should the utility be the provider of choice for these services where it would serve to drive up prices?

In defence of RET’s large scale systems, it follows that large systems do not directly affect the utilities mechanism to preserve the current regulatory model, but they shift the balance so that the model needs to be reviewed of the purpose and objectives in the delivery of the product. It follows that centralised generation models are what utilities do very well, and large scale transportation and distribution are well established capabilities of the industry. Expanding that capability to large commercial rooftops and installations might be a good idea. However, it too is not without the need for change. Albeit less dramatic than small scale.

CO2Land org is not proposing we should concentrate on picking winners for the model change.  However, ‘the battery concept’ leads to deeper thinking. The demand initiative needs to be expanded and a battery concept is not just a means of storage of an electron! It can mean tools and equipment that is readily available to balance the total load needs, and not just peak demand requirements. We know solar’s great weakness is peak availability profile and traditional batteries concepts take up rare earth minerals to manufacture. Are they already defunct? A far more sensible battery concept is something that can utilise what we have already consumed and discarded to be returned to there natural elements while producing energy and balancing the supply needs.  If you prefer think of it as a provider it can be an insurance tool for a supply imbalance, So can what they do be a source of energy rationing and balancing that fits neatly into the traditional delivery mechanism.

One such battery concept is the waste to energy gasifiers and their products including pyrolysis retorts. These can easily be written into the current infrastructure and be part of any new regulatory mix – even provide a result for policy without implications – it is not creating anything new – just making something old new again!

For the future, CO2Land org can see a lot more independent renewable sources becoming the norm, and utilities will be using energy exchanges to sell power to customers. This differs from ownership of customers in that bidding could be managed power purchasing agreement with give and take provisions in the price. What regulators will have to deal with is that nationwide and globally installing microgrids for Businesses and Communities will need to fit into economic as well as technical delivery models. A real power of choice if you prefer to think that way.

Sun, Wind and Fire – renewable positioning in a policy trilemma

Sun, wind and Fire is not a story of the Gods – except you could draw a conclusion there is a battle for policy supremacy as a renewable energy source. There is a very rapid growth in renewable energy deployment in recent times, driven by rapidly increasing costs of fossil fuel stocks, and the movement to a low carbon energy system and improvements in the renewable technologies and materials. Are there problems? Yes, the elephants in the room are obvious but largely ignored. Some examples: Solar requires rare earth materials for the products, as does voltage batteries storage systems, and wind needs magnets produced in such a way that land contamination is a major drawback. Ironically, fire can be a battery of capacity and availability and utilise only common earth materials and most importantly make use of waste – and there is more – even revert waste to original elements and products.  Of course the bigger elephant for Solar and Wind is when it comes time for decommissioning. Why is this so, the analogy could be asbestos and who is paying for the removal programs – you.   Few if any governments want that issue known as it would require a future funds program as an assurance when only the positives of the now conditions are ‘sold’ as policy.

If you did not know, renewable energy technologies differ greatly from one another, and a range of issues has arisen that are common to most. This could be taken back to the problem that these tend to be dealt with on a renewable energy industry level forum basis rather than accepting that the problems are technology by technology issues in their battles for policy gods acceptance. Rarely, do you see the fora of the renewable industry admitting to issues to include large deployment growth rates, intermittency with respect to electricity production requirements, distributed rather than centralised deployment and scheduling of loads, the relatively immature supply chains & support networks, the quality issues of the production points, the land use changes for the provision and production of the materials needed, and the need to update regulatory frameworks & institutional inertia outside of our current frameworks.

On that later point, A report prepared for the Consumer Action Law Centre by Allan Asher, Foundation for Effective Markets & Governance November 2012 on http://femag.anu.edu..org.au/ , reads as: “The title of the report—”A policy trilemma: creating an affordable, secure and sustainable energy market”. “Identifies the central challenge facing the energy market—the need for it to deliver affordable, secure and sustainable energy services. The report draws on international developments, particularly from Europe and the United Kingdom, where there has been acknowledgment that, in energy markets, the goals of efficiency and competition have not necessarily ‘trickled down’ to satisfy the needs of consumers in these three key areas. Throughout, the report makes a number of recommendations to inform a policy and regulatory framework that has a more rigorous focus on the interests of consumers. Following publication of this report, Consumer Action will engage politicians, policy makers, regulators, and representatives of industry and consumers on reform measures that will best serve the long-term interests of consumers”.

Co2Land org notes that the messages of the ‘trilemma’ is the view of innovation needs to be incorporated into the ‘system’ where technical and commercial innovation encouragement through: Incentives, responsibility passed on to third parties for their delivery, and building on low carbon funding models. The point is also made that a capacity mechanism or system be incorporated for incentives through both generation and demand management as one of the key elements of the energy market reform (EMR) package.

Fire, has extraordinary abilities to be all that is needed, and as it only requires either common materials or waste to be reformed and it has the capacity to act as a bridging technology it is increasingly likely policy will need to take stock of the realities of the ‘sustainable’ attributes. In terms of the energy market fire products can be assembled as a “package” that compliments a range of utilities and could be deemed part of strategic infrastructure. With advances in ‘smart grid’ systems this is more likely as before the requirement of a high level of automation and remote management on the system was a detractor. Now it is a positive.

This idea is particularly attractive for biomass plants, as the advances and the idea would be to differentiate biomass plants from normal generators and that they can be regarded as “load following batteries” as integral parts of the grid infrastructure, rather than a separate input to it.

Why not call your local member of parliament or future hopeful to discuss innovative restructuring. Think of the idea of how a fixed return on biomass power plants is a true renewable and how other network upgrades can be addressed to accentuate ‘sustainable’, and the capacity requirements of balancing the system infrastructure.

Falling Short – F.I.T. in renewable power

A desire to improve the competitiveness of Renewable Energy in Australia’s power mix is problematic and it is not necessarily technical limitations that hamper the project or is it financial limitations despite bank risk concerns. Especially if the later is supported by the Government bringing forward $160 million in Clean Technology Investment Program (CTIP) funding to 2014-15 to increase manufacturing investment and boost productivity and competitiveness – The budgets key message that CTIP program demand is strong and growing, and there is no change to the funding commitment.  It also is possible the coalition could maintain the $1 billion commitment to the investment programs, albeit it may be called something else for branding purposes.

Co2Land org argues it is not sufficient to be experience in, or have an understanding of the challenges in the design or deployment of renewable energy solutions. That is referring to only the infrastructure, energy output, utility area of responsibility, power capability, transmission and distribution capacity, or even storage technology as the solution set.

The more dangerous issue is the means that an uncooperative energy utility can muster a political wedge and creates sufficient doubt of the effectiveness of the program that will lead to a fall-out with the community. Recently in Australia Co2Land org has been given information that a bitter war is engaged between parties over such a Queensland power line duplication proposal and it all seems so unnecessary. As an observation there is room for both sides to move on this one. However, the agenda may be more complex and looking further afield Canada has some lessons we could learn from over the growth of renewables and why utilities might be so sensitive to the growth of such. It could be our problems in Australia are similar to the following as the Pike Research report that says energy is becoming increasingly democratized and the role of utilities is changing, from producing power and supply markets to purchasing it from distributed sources. We also know in Queensland the State Government has a large ownership stake in generation and supply – albeit they are not alone from the other states and it all gets down to variation of the model as opposed to opposition of the models of operation. Regardless each has ample opportunity to hamper success of ‘buy local’ feed-in into the grid system as the rules stand.

Looking further to the problems of Canada and the utopian belief that all would embrace the new world, it is reported by www.energymanagertoday.com, on 21 May 2013:

“Ontario has fallen short of its goal of creating 50,000 jobs and 5 gigawatts of renewable energy power with its ‘buy local’ feed-in tariff program, despite gathering early momentum by generating 31,000 jobs and turning one in 7 farmers into energy producers, says a report by the Institute of Local Self-Reliance.

Hydro One, the province’s largest utility, has been a major roadblock to progress says ILSR report author John Farrell, since it set a limit of sourcing just 7 percent of its energy from distributed renewable sources, compared with 15 percent for most US utilities. In US states where the cost of power is high, like Hawaii and California, utilities have upped the limits even further, at 25 and 50 percent respectively.

Farrell says Hydro One did not prepare to accommodate the boom in distributed power from the FIT program and missed deadlines to link up to new sources of power. As a result, despite overwhelming demand for FIT and contracts being signed for most of the 5 gigawatts, only 10 percent of the projects are producing electricity now.

Because of the demand for FIT, Ontario will actually be able to shut down all its coal-fired plants next year, and meet most of its 2030 renewable energy goals 12 years early – but its notable success has come at a price, since unprepared utilities were not able to bring the contracted energy on line.

The slow development led to political backlash that nearly toppled the ruling Liberal Party in the 2011 elections. It did lose its majority, which Farrell says jeopardized support for FIT. The Great Recession also stymied progress.

Since then, Ontario has reviewed the FIT program and revised its rules last year, doubling its focus on local ownership and participation. Farrell believes the move, which he says should have been adopted two years ago, will reduce political angst and local opposition and increase return on investments.

Farrell suggests that the Ontario Power Authority needs to streamline its process for developing renewable power with existing contracts and push utilities to get better at determining grid capacity. It should also review whether utility-scale mega projects make sense, given the difficulties in getting it to market. With these changes, “the FIT program may still live up to much of its early promise” he says.”

Sometimes you have ask – why do we ignore the obvious in Power Play? I answer is it is the nature of things to only see our side as a team play, and there is no I in team. ‘I’ referring to the society as a collective, and it has no advantage to be a collective outcome.