Reuters Environment News
NEW YORK - Electric utility companies are charging more for their power and many of their customers could not be more pleased.
Across the United States, a growing number of utilities are kicking off green-pricing programs under which customers pay a premium for power generated by environmentally friendly technologies.
The programs are partly in response to deregulation which for the first time will bring open-market competition to large utilities.
"Utilities are understanding that whereas before they mass-marketed everything, now they have to start appealing to niches in their customer base," said Maribeth Rahimzadeh, a market planning consultant with Wisconsin Public Service Corp utility.
"Green-pricing programs can help build customer satisfaction, loyalty, and brand image," she added.
At least 35 utilities have recently started green-pricing programs. They are dishing up photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and biomass generation in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Florida, Wisconsin and even Texas.
With "environmental-friendly" increasingly the catch word on most product labeling, more utilities are expected to take advantage of the rising popularity of environmentalism.
"Utilities want to be prepared for competition and this is one way of putting a toe in the water," said Maine-based independent energy consultant Ed Holt. "They want to learn how to develop products customers find appealing and to learn how to do it quickly."
Recent national surveys show 50 to 80 percent of respondents willing to pay a premium to protect the environment or support renewable electricity, according to National Energy Laboratory, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.
There is, however, still a gap between those who say they are willing and those who actually pay, but analysts say they expect the programs will continue to catch on.
"Only about one to three percent of utility customers are participating in green-pricing programs but that is because they are not used to thinking about where their electricity comes from," said Holt.
"Over time there could be a 10 percent participation," he added.
The programs come in a variety of forms, including flat monthly fees, a per-kilowatthour charge or a simple rounding up to an even dollar on a utility bill. On average, green-pricing adds between $5 and $10 to a homeowner's monthly bill.
In Michigan, 195 subscribers of Detroit Edison's SolarCurrents program pay a flat $6.95 extra per month for power generation from a 28.4 kilowatthour solar array near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The program, launched in 1996, was so successful Detroit Edison launched another to build solar panels for schools.
"There has been a lot of interest and the programs will continue to expand as long as customers want it," said utility spokesman Scott Simons.
Many eyes are on California to see how well utilities fare against new competitors. California, seen as the vanguard of the deregulation trend, will phase out the existing system of regulated monopolies and open its retail electricity market to competition on March 31.
Green power is big business in California, where upwards of 16 percent of the state's energy comes from renewable sources, compared to seven percent nationwide, according to Environmental Futures, a Massachusetts-based environmental and energy consulting firm.
Much of that power comes from dams, built decades ago for agricultural reasons and as a source of cheap electricity. Less than one percent of U.S. energy comes from such renewables as solar, wind and biomass.
"A lot of people are watching to see what happens in California," said John Abe of Environmental Futures.
Utilities face an array of competitors from energy giants like Houston-based Enron Corp to specialty marketers like Vermont's Green Mountain Energy Resources who have wide experience in marketing.
The utilities will also have their own "unregulated" subsidiaries competing in the market.
"After competition comes to the market place these programs will change some but the experience the utilities are getting now will help them so they won't be left in the dust," said consultant Holt.
Reuters Environment News
ADELAIDE - India was planning to boost the contribution of nuclear and renewable sources to its power generation, amid a massive expansion of capacity over coming decades, an Australian uranium conference was told on Thursday.
Jagmer Singh, associate director of India's Atomic Energy Department, told the conference the emphasis in power generation in India had shifted from hydro to thermal sources, which now stood respectively at 25 percent and 72 percent.
"The Indian power scenario is changing at a very fast rate in keeping with growing demand for energy in order to sustain a modestly high level of economic growth," he told the Australian Uranium Summit conference here.
"From the present emphasis on fossil fuel related power generation capabilities, there is a proposed progressive shift in favour of nuclear and other renewable sources of energy."
Singh said future programming was aimed at providing a per capita energy consumption level of 2000 kilowatt hours a year - just under the world average of 2400 KWh and up from only 350KWh - for a population assumed to have stabilised at one billion.
A minimum capacity of 200,000 MWe was expected to be installed by 2020, up from the current 86,000 MWe, he said.
The contribution from nuclear sources was expected to grow to ten percent from the current two percent, with renewable (chiefly wind) growing also to ten percent from one percent, and thermal contributing 50 percent and hydro 30 percent, he said.
Singh said India, which has 16 percent of the world's population, generated two percent of global electricity, with demand having grown at eight to nine percent per year in past decades and expected to rise at a rate of six percent in future.
He told Reuters India had 40,000 tonnes of uranium, sufficient to power 10,000 megawatts of electricity, and had already identified additional tonnages and therefore would not need to import uranium supplies.
India's coal requirement was expected to grow to 572 million tonnes by 2012 from 210 million in 1996/97, with available reserves expected to last about 100 years, he said.
Imports of high grade coking coal was expected to rise to 160 million tonnes by 2007 from 13 million in 1995/96, he said.
"(Growing coal demand) is going to put tremendous pressure on all the infrastructure so that is why the need for alternative sources of energy," he told the conference.
Reuters Environment News
LONDON - An unusual health scare has struck at one of Britain's major nuclear power plants - the bizarre case of radioactive pigeons.
A whole raft of investigations is now underway after a number of local pigeons were found to be radioactive near the Sellafield nuclear facility in northwest England, industry officials said on Thursday.
The scare comes days after a satirical television programme did a sketch about the dangers of radioactive seagulls in the area. Plant operators BNFL said the levels of radiation in local seagulls were not dangerous.
BNFL, a two billion pound turnover giant, is currently carrying out tests to find out how the pigeons became radioactive, as is the Environment Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
BNFL says initial findings indicate there is no detectable radiation above background radiation at a site where flocks of pigeons were known to congregate.
There are no investigations being carried out into the health of local seagulls.
Sellafield's two regulators, The Health and Safety Executive and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are also taking a close interest in the case and awaiting findings before deciding whether to take any action. ((Matthew Jones, London Newsroom +44 171 542 5024, fax +44 171 542 5024, firstname.lastname@example.org))
Reuters Environment News
ISTANBUL - The discovery of small seal colonies off Turkey's southern coast may thwart plans to build the country's first nuclear plant, local scientists and environmental groups said on Wednesday.
"We will apply on Monday to have the area surrounding Akkuyu declared a natural conservation site because it is now a scientifically proven seal habitat," Bilge Contepe, spokeswoman for the Platform Against Nuclear Energy representing 60 civil groups, told Reuters.
Under Turkish law construction is banned in areas which are declared natural or historical preservation sites.
Turkish Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer said earlier this month that tender results for the first nuclear power plant in Turkey would be announced in April.
The Spanish EA firm was recently awarded the consultancy contract to evaluate the three bids to build the nuclear plant near Akkuyu village on the Mediterranean coast.
The three consortia bidding for the plant, estimated to cost between $1.5-$2.5 billion depending on the option chosen, are led by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), Mitsubishi-Westinghouse and NPI, a Franco-German consortium.
The Turkish coast is home to up to 100 Mediterranean seals (monachus monachus), a species under threat of extinction.
Reuters Environment News
The British-flagged Pacific Swan is carrying 24 metric tons of reprocessed nuclear waste from France to Japan, the third and largest such load to be shipped from Europe. Greenpeace has said the ship could cause a marine disaster if it sank.
Three Greenpeace activists managed to board the ship under the cover of darkness as crew members apparently mistook them for security guards.
"Three people from Greenpeace chained themselves to the foremast of our ship before dawn," Second Mate Bob Mitcheson told Reuters. "We just got on with our business and ignored them."
They unfurled a large banner across the inverted U-shaped yellow mast that said "Stop plutonium".
The protesters -- two men, a Belgian and a Swiss, and one Chilean woman -- remained on the ship for about three hours until police intervened at Gatun Locks and escorted them off the vessel.
Greenpeace, which protests against all shipments of nuclear waste, had said it would stage nonviolent demonstrations against the sailing of the Pacific Swan through the canal.
"We did not try to stop the transit of the ship but we wanted, through a direct action, to demonstrate our opposition to nuclear transport," Greenpeace spokesman Carlos Bravo said.
The Panama Canal Commission, a U.S. federal agency which runs the canal, said the movement of vessels through the waterway was not delayed or affected.
It said the three protesters were arrested and a spokesman for British Nuclear Fuels (BFNL), which operates the ship, said the company would press charges against them.
Greenpeace stressed that its protest showed that such shipments were not safe.
"This was a symbolic thing and it revealed that their security precaution is minimum and that this canal is not prepared for such shipments", Tom Clements, of Greenpeace International, told reporters.
The ship was expected to complete its eight-hour voyage through the canal at around 3.30 p.m. local (2030 GMT).
The Pacific Swan's cargo consists of 60 glass logs of reconditioned nuclear waste -- known as vitrified residues -- sealed in stainless steel canisters.
Caribbean commonwealth countries earlier this week urged Britain, France and Japan to stop shipping nuclear waste through their waters. They fear such shipments are on the rise as nuclear power plants need to reprocess more of their waste.
Greenpeace said proof of the danger of nuclear waste shipments was a fire in an engine room on board the Pacific Swan in 1990 which forced an unexpected stop in Bermuda. No radioactivity was released.
Canal authorities enforce strict regulations forbidding nuclear cargo ships to transit at night and banning other vessels from passing in the opposite direction to avoid possible collision. Extra tug boats are used to help guide the ship through the waterway.
Some 30 percent of transits through the 50-mile (82-km) canal are dangerous cargo, the canal commission said. The Pacific Swan had safely transited the Panama Canal 28 times with nuclear cargo, BFNL said.
Japan lacks the facilities for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and relies on Britain and France to do it. After reprocessing, the plutonium and radioactive waste must be returned to Japan.
Reuters Environment News
TOKYO - Your fax machine and video may look innocent enough as you turn out the lights to go to sleep each night, but manufacturers are now focusing on the hefty amounts of energy these devices suck up even when not in use.
Standby power consumption -- the electricity household appliances devour when dormant -- is costing Japanese consumers billions of dollars a year and contributing an estimated 2.5 million kg (5.5 million lb) of carbon emissions per year to the atmosphere, studies by Japan's Energy Conservation Center show.
Companies estimate that the phenomenon may account for more than ten percent of all household power electricity use in Japan, or about as much electricity as produced by 2.5 nuclear reactors with a capacity of a million kilowatt/hours apiece.
"This type of invisible power loss may not look large on an individual household basis, but when you consider that Japan has 45 million homes, we are talking about enormous energy saving potential," Shingo Sumi, manager of Sanyo Electric Co Ltd Corporate Environmental Protection Department, said in an interview on Thursday.
Japan, which hosted nations from around the world last December as they signed a landmark agreement to counter climate change by reducing growth in hydrocarbon and other emissions, is under particular pressure to meet its commitments.
But because the major oil importer has already spent as much as six percent of its gross domestic product in the past twenty years on emissions controls and been a frontrunner in the race against climate change, its goal of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by six percent from 1990 levels by around 2010 will be a tall order.
As a result, the Japanese government and individual companies are now looking beyond the usual suspects of automobile and factory exhaust and focusing on reduction measures closer to home.
"There is a real business opportunity for companies willing to tap into it," Sanyo Electric's Sumi said.
Among the worst culprits of standby power consumption, Sumi says, are stereos, video players and televisions, whose clock displays, timers and remote control sensors require power at all times.
Television tubes and the printing scrolls of fax machines also sap power because they are kept at constantly regulated temperatures in order to minimise warm-up delays.
Sanyo Electric, as well as competitors Sony Corp and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd, are now directing large portions of their research and development budgets at the problem, Sumi said.
"This will definitely be a focal point for the industry over the next several years," he said.
An average Tokyo household can expect to spend about 11,000 yen ($88) per year on standby power, based on a price of 23 yen per kilowatt/hr.
Two weeks ago Sony announced plans to reduce standby power use in a new 1998 model television by about half.
Sanyo plans to cut standby power consumption of its video cassette recorders by a similar amount in the near future, a company spokesman said.
((Tokyo Energy Desk +81-3 3432 3708
Reuters Environment News
BRUSSELS - The European Union should start moving away from fossil fuels and give more support to renewable energy sources and combined heat and power generation (CHP), British Energy Minister John Battle said.
"We've got to start...moving away from hydrocarbon energy generation and start to look at the alternatives," Battle said in an interview late on Tuesday.
The minister, who will chair the EU's energy and research business during the first half of this year, said it was vital to help renewables find a more central place in the fuel market.
This meant more research into those technologies which were still relatively uncompetitive, like biomass, wind power, fuel cells and photovoltaics, he said. It also meant setting targets for increasing the share of renewables in the fuel mix.
EU energy ministers will examine in May a plan drafted by the European Commission, the EU's executive, to raise the share of renewables in the fuel mix from six to 12 percent by 2010.
Battle said the plan was "a tough target" but this was necessary to send the right signals to the renewables technology industry and to the market.
An ambitious goal would encourage the industry to invest in new research and build renewables-fired power stations "because they know there's going to be a market and people are going to buy the energy at the end of it".
And it would indicate to the markets that renewables were "coming in from the cold".
Battle said he did not agree with environmental groups like Greenpeace that the EU should give renewables a boost by switching subsidies away from fossil fuels and nuclear in order to fund renewables and improvements in energy efficiency.
"I'm not willing to start pushing for economic programmes (at EU level), to start doing it from the top downwards. I'd rather see what can be done at state level first," he said.
But he said it was important "to use what energy we have better". One way of doing this was to encourage the use of combined heat and power to improve the efficiency of gas- and coal-fired power plants.
Wider use of CHP would help the EU meet its target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to eight percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012, he added.
Battle earlier told the European Parliament's energy and research committee he still saw a future for coal in Europe.
A number of the central and east European countries queuing up to join the EU were heavily reliant on coal, so it was especially important to continue research into clean coal combustion technology, he said. ((Brussels Newsroom tel +32 2 287 6830, fax +32 2 230 5573, email@example.com))