Tuesday, July 7, 2015

STILL building coal-fired plants?

Actually, outside of the little matter of the environmental devastation it leaves behind, burning coal to generate electricity is a pretty good idea.  It's reliable using machinery that has been highly developed over many decades.  The investor classes know how to read the documentation that justifies spending the money.

Only that environmental matter has turned critical.  There in simply no way to pump more CO2 into the air in the process of making electricity than to burn coal.  It's simple chemistry—coal has a higher percentage of carbon than any other material so when we oxidize it, it makes more CO2.  Ironically, the ugly pollutants that come from coal burning like mercury and sulphur oxides (acid rain) are the things that can be "cleaned up."  With CO2, this is already the cleanest possible outcome so long as we burn carbon.  

What this means is that no matter how easy or convenient is may be to build coal-fired electrical power plants, we simply cannot do it any more.  Never.  For any reason.  And because a shiny new coal burner will last at least 50 years, the threat one poses is utterly unacceptable.  This fact is so obvious even the head of OECD understands.

In the second article, we see a story of the teething problems of replacing the fire-based power systems.  I am not absolutely convinced that wind and solar demand new organizational arrangements, but since this sort of experimentation came with the first electrical systems, we should not be surprised that the new green systems would trigger the same sort of social innovation.

New coal plants 'most urgent' threat to the planet, warns OECD head

Governments urged to rethink plans for new coal-fired power plants as study estimates they will release more than 500bn tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050

Fiona Harvey, Friday 3 July 2015

Governments must rethink plans for new coal-fired power plants around the world, as these are now the “most urgent” threat to the future of the planet, the head of the OECD has warned.

In unusually strong terms for the organisation – best known as a club of the world’s richest countries – its secretary general Angel Gurria, told governments to think “twice, or three, or four times” before allowing new coal-fired plants to go ahead.

“They will still be emitting years from now,” he warned. As a result, many could turn into “stranded assets”, having to be mothballed decades before their economic lifetime had expired. “We are on a collision course with nature,” he warned.

New research, published by the OECD on Thursday, has found that, on current trends, coal-fired power generation will result in more than 500bn tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere between now and 2050. That is the equivalent of about half of the “carbon budget” – the amount of greenhouse gas that we can safely pour into the atmosphere – for this half-century, if we are to stay within the 2C limit that is widely agreed as the threshold for dangerous climate change.

Gurria said that financing from rich countries to provide access to renewable energy in developing nations as an alternative to coal should form a key part of the discussions in the run-up to the crunch UN climate talks in Paris in December. Governments are hoping to agree a new deal on greenhouse gas emissions involving all countries, to take effect from 2020 when current commitments expire, and with absolute cuts in emissions from the rich nations and curbs on the growth of future emissions from the poor.

Coal has become a more popular form of generation in recent years as it has fallen drastically in price. This is one result of the shale gas boom in the US, which has seen gas prices tumble, with gas-fired generation taking off in turn, and a glut of cheap coal thrown on to international markets. In addition, many developing countries have coal mines but no indigenous gas resources, making it seem an attractive option for cheap power generation.

Gurria argued, however, that coal was “not cheap” when the full costs – including climate change impacts, air pollution and its effects on health – were taken into account. “Governments need to be seriously sceptical about whether coal provides a good deal for their citizens.”

He said the cost of renewable energy was reducing rapidly, and so it represented a good investment for developing countries and donors to them. “Prices have been falling very, very fast, to [levels] that we would not have imagined a few years ago,” he said, in comments to journalists ahead of a lecture at the London School of Economics.

Although rises in global greenhouse gas emissions have been slowing, Gurria warned that “we have our work cut out for us” to bring about the falls needed to meet the carbon budget necessary to keep within 2C of warming compared with pre-industrial levels. more

Investors rescue wind developer Prokon

nz/pad (AFP, dpa, Reuters) 02.07.2015

North German wind park developer Prokon went bankrupt in January 2014. Now, in a gesture of commitment to a green energy future, its investors have voted to retain ownership by turning it into a cooperative.

2,000 people representing about 75,000 investors showed up in Hamburg on Thursday for a special creditors' vote to decide the future of Prokon, a wind farm developer founded in 1995 by controversial entrepreneur Carsten Rodbertus and two partners.

Critics say it was mismanaged into insolvency. The company had been handled by Dietmar Penzlin, a lawyer specialized in managing firms through an insolvency process, since it registered for bankruptcy a year and a half ago.

Penzlin presented the investors with a choice: Turn the company into a cooperative owned by its investors and creditors, accepting all the risks and benefits of ownership - or sell it to EnBW, Germany's third-largest electricity company for 550 million euros ($610 million).

The investors, who had purchased a form of dividend rights rather than ownership shares, had paid in about 1.4 billion euros - so a sale to EnBW would have involved accepting a substantial loss. But it would also have given them cash-in-hand.

"Either path would bring Prokon into a stable future," Penzlin said. He didn't take sides on which option creditors should vote for.

Creditors had a clear choice: Sell Prokon to a major power corporation for cash-in-hand, or take ownership of the company. They chose to become owners

Corporate subsidiary or citizen-held cooperative?

Others, however, lobbied hard. EnBW did its best to persuade investors to take their cash and walk away. On the other side, Friends of Prokon, representing 10,000 investors - one of eight investors' groups - joined up with social-enterprise bank GLS and renewable electricity retailer Naturstrom AG to lobby for the cooperative option.

Auditors had estimated the value of the cooperative at 660 million euros - more than the payout offered by EnBW - but if investors chose the cooperative option, they would retain all the risks of ownership as well as its prospective benefits. Accepting EnBW's offer would mean walking away with cash-in-hand, and no further involvement in Prokon's ups or downs.

In the end, it wasn't a close-run thing. Nearly 90 percent of the votes - including the majority of all eight of the investors' clubs - went for the cooperative option. With that, the deal was sealed. Prokon's investors and creditors have converted their claims on the company into ownership shares. Rather than being folded into a big power company, Prokon will carry on building and operating wind farms as an independent cooperative.

Most of the creditors will be compensated for their claims on Prokon with two distinct instruments: Membership in the ownership cooperative - whose value was estimated at 23.3 percent of the nominal value of their claims - plus fixed-interest corporate bonds with a 15-year maturity, whose value was estimated at a further 34.5 percent of the nominal value of claims.

Creditors who do not want to become members of the ownership cooperative will be paid out 23.3 percent of the nominal value of their claims in cash, as well as being given Prokon bonds. The payout money will be raised by selling Prokon's interests in a pallet manufacturing company in Torgau, a town in Saxony northeast of Leipzig, and some timberland in Rumania.

Committed investors

The basic reason why 90 percent of the creditors voted for the cooperative option: Most of Prokon's investors were passionate supporters of Germany's transition to a renewable energy future - citizen investors who had invested modest amounts, motivated as much by conviction as by pecuniary interest.

EnBW CEO Frank Mastiaux expressed regret at the creditors' decision. "Prokon and EnBW would have been a good fit," he said. EnBW is in the midst of a major corporate re-orientation toward renewable energy - and away from nuclear power, which is on its way out in Germany.

Critics had accused founder Carsten Rodbertus of causing the company's bankruptcy by mismanagement - the basic business model of wind farm development was sound

At the same time, Mastiaux expressed "great respect" for the creditors' strong connection to Prokon, and said he wished the company, its employees and new owners "much success for the future."

"It's an important step that Prokon isn't being put in the hands of a giant energy company, but will instead be a broadly held citizen-owned cooperative," said Lukas Beckmann, head of GLS bank's trusteeship division. His sentiments were echoed by GLS Bank CEO Thomas Jorberg, who said: "This is good news for the Energiewende" - Germany's national transition to renewable energy.

Naturstrom AG's CEO Thomas Banning also welcomed the decision. He said that as members of a cooperative, the former creditors, now owners of Prokon would have "the chance to participate in steering the fortunes of Prokon and being a living part of the citizen-driven Energiewende."

The cooperative's new board of directors and the current management will next need to sort out a detailed plan for the cooperative. "We've got to set up a to-do list and then work it off," said Wolfgang Siegel, head of the Friends of Prokon and an influential member of Prokon's board of directors.

Since Prokon will stay in business, Prokon's roughly 300 employees can breathe a little easier - their jobs are secure for now. more

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