Discussing Energy Economics on the Internet

But How Does It Affect Us?

Posted in California,Nuclear,Renewables by Cheryl Morgan on the September 30th, 2008

That has to be the question that everyone is asking right now. OK, so the banking sector is in meltdown, but what about me? Or, in our case, what about energy?

Despite the regular panics about price spikes, market failure, environmental regulations and so on, it appears that the energy industry is weathering the storm. Last week Platts reported that the US energy sector was still seen as a good investment. Of course that was last week, but it does help to be producing a product that just about everyone needs. The demand for energy may tighten, but it will never go away.

On the other hand, the nature of investment in energy may change. Today the California PUC has warned that lack of investment capital may put the brakes on the state’s green agenda. Platt’s reports that Commission member John Bohn has been voicing concern about the ability to finance development projects. Even major utilities are likely to be hit, but smaller companies will feel the pain much more deeply.

That, I suspect, will be a major problem for the burgeoning renewables industry. Right when it was about to take off in a big way, investment is going to come to a grinding halt. Instead new investment will have to come from other sources, and there will probably be government involvement in many cases. We can’t afford to let the lights go out, so government will feel the need to Do Something. And, as is the way of government, they will eschew multiple small and innovative projects, and go instead for something big and flashy that will appear to solve all of their problems in one go. Building nuclear power stations may prove to be a lucrative career over the next few years.

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Offshore Wind Goes Underwater

Posted in Renewables by Cheryl Morgan on the September 29th, 2008

Today’s BBC news includes a story about a plan for a massive tidal power project planned for Scotland. But this is not a wave-power system like that in Portugal, or even a tidal reach system like the WaveGen system. Rather it is an underwater wind farm using turbines very much like those used on land to extract power from ocean currents.

This is not a new idea. Similar systems are currently being tested in New York’s East River. On the other coast, PG&E is looking at possibly siting turbines on the sea bed underneath the Golden Gate bridge. Wind turbines are proven technology, and the problem of bringing power ashore from offshore installations is also well understood, so putting the turbines themselves under water is hopefully a relatively small step.

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Is Nuclear Green?

Posted in Climate,France,Nuclear by Cheryl Morgan on the September 26th, 2008

In the wake of EdF’s (planned) purchase of British Energy, Oliver Morton tackles the issue of whether nuclear energy will indeed lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions. He notes that between 1977 and 2003 the amount of nuclear generation in France grew by 4000%, and yet:

According to the Stern review fossil fuel emissions in France during the 25 years of that 4000% increase fell, on average, by less than 1% a year. Emissions from the generating sector dropped 6% a year, which is about 80% over the 25 years, which is great — but the rest of the economy kept growing and burning fossil fuels in cars and heating systems and factories and all that.

Looking at the chart he used for generation data, it appears that the growth in nuclear generation accounted for all of the growth in electricity consumption, while other fuel sources remained roughly constant. Obviously if nuclear were to replace existing generation then things would be rather different.

But then again, nukes are not very flexible plants. You have to have some flexible generation in your mix. Looking at Morton’s data (which is from Wikipedia and which I haven’t checked), less than 20% of France’s generation comes from non-nuclear sources. How much lower could that go, and still have the system remain manageable?

Portugal Rides the Waves

Posted in Portugal,Renewables by Cheryl Morgan on the September 25th, 2008

The world’s first commercial wave-power generating station was officially opened for business in Portugal today. Manuel Pinho, Portugal’s Economy Minister, performed the ceremony at Aguçadoura where the generating station floats 5 km offshore. The plant has been built by Pelamis who have hopes that the technology will take off elsewhere in the world. Initial attempts to get wave power to work in Scotland foundered because the machines proved too fragile for the Scottish weather, and perhaps due to a lack of enthusiasm on behalf of the UK government. However, Ross Henderson of Pelamis told the BBC that similar machines will be installed in Orkney and Cornwall next year, and the company is looking at projects in Norway, Spain, France, South African and North America.

Centrica Joins In

Posted in Nuclear,UK by Cheryl Morgan on the September 25th, 2008

More information has been emerging about the Centrica deal to take a 25% share in the new nuclear power company being created by EdF from British Energy. EdF is buying BE through a subsidiary called Lake Acquisitions, and Centrica will take a stake in that company. According to EasyBourse:

The acquisition by Centrica would be at the same implied price per share as EDF pays for British Energy, subject to certain costs to be agreed. Under the deal EDF would retain control of British Energy through its 75% interest in Lake Acquisitions and be responsible for running all British Energy’s power stations.

Centrica’s 25% interest in Lake Acquisitions would give Centrica the right to offtake at least 25% of the uncontracted output of British Energy’s existing generation fleet. Profits of Lake Acquisitions would be distributed to EDF and Centrica in proportion to their equity interests. Centrica would also be entitled to participate in EDF’s nuclear new build activities in the U.K. on a 75/25 (EDF/Centrica) basis, with EDF leading the developments and being responsible for the building and operation of the new nuclear power stations.

It is also apparent that despite yesterday’s fanfares there are still rocks on which the deal might founder. Centrica may yet face an inquiry into the share of the UK generation market it controls with the addition of 25% of BE’s output. The Times talks about a “furious backlash” of patriotic Brits, none of whom have presumably been reading the newspapers over the past few months and have been taken completely by surprise by the news. And the Scots have finally woken up to the idea that British Energy is actually their national champion (BE’s head offices are in East Kilbride. Unfortunately for them, the SNP government has set itself firmly against any new nuclear build north of the border, so Alex Salmond is going to have to work very hard to make EdF think it worthwhile sticking around.

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A Done Deal At Last

Posted in Nuclear,UK by Cheryl Morgan on the September 24th, 2008

It appears that the EdF buyout of British Energy has finally happened, though much of what has happened remains somewhat murky.

As the BBC reports, there is now an expectation that Centrica will take some sort of stake in the nuclear generator. It seems likely that this will be in the form of an off-take deal for 25% of the output of the plants, plus 25% ownership of any new plants that are built.

Then there is the deal itself. The basic offer is for 774p per share, which is well up on original suggestions of 700p, but well short of the 1000p that BE initially said it was worth. However, there is an alternative deal on offer of 700p plus a “Contingent Value Rights” note (CVR). Yes, it is a derivative. EdF is asking BE shareholders to take a punt on the future value of UK energy prices. As the Telegraph points out, this is something of an uncertain deal.

Finally, it looks like EdF may not be the sole nuclear generator in the UK. It will definitely be building new plants at Hinkley Point and Sizewell but, as this Guardian report reveals, it will be selling some of the brownfield sites:

The company, which is 85% owned by the French government, has also agreed that it will sell off British Energy land at Bradwell, Essex, and more at either Heysham, Lancashire, or Dungeness, Kent, to rivals who are also interested in constructing and operating a new generation of nuclear stations.

So other companies may well decide to get in on the nuclear bandwagon. Indeed, RWE has already announced its intention to do so.

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A New World Order

Posted in Nuclear,UK,USA Federal by Cheryl Morgan on the September 23rd, 2008

Several hundred years ago the French helped the Americans throw off the yoke of British Imperialism. These days, however, Frenchmen are rather less welcome over the other side of the Atlantic than they are on the other side of the Channel. The Wall Street Journal reports that Constellation Energy has accepted a takeover bid of $26.50 per share from Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings even though they had a rival bid from EdF worth $35 per share. Constellation cites confidence in Buffett’s legendary financial acumen, immediate access to funds, and ease of obtaining regulatory approval as the primary reasons for their seemingly unusual choice. (Knowledge Problem has more links.)

EdF, as we have been noting for some time, is keen to acquire nuclear generation assets elsewhere in the world, and it is the nuclear issue that the WSJ thinks was the stumbling block for Constellation. America’s nuclear generation in the hands of garlic-eating foreigners? No thank you. But French money is rather more popular in Britain. The Times reports that the board of British Energy has accepted a revised bid for their company from EdF. An announcement is expected this week to coincide with the Labour Party Conference, so that Gordon Brown can welcome his French friends with a great fanfare. Nelson, Wellington and Henry V are doubtless turning in their graves, and William the Conqueror will be having a good laugh at their expense.

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RWE To Test Carbon Capture

Posted in Coal,Emissions Trading,UK by Cheryl Morgan on the September 23rd, 2008

The great hope of the coal industry is that coal-fired power stations can somehow be modified to prevent them from releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, thereby rendering them climate-friendly. Germany’s RWE owns several coal-fired stations in the UK and Energy Business Review reports that they will soon be testing two new types of carbon capture technology. The first system, due to go live at Didcot this month, tries to remove CO2 from exhaust gases, while the second system, to be installed at Aberthaw next year, is more closely integrated with the combustion process. A lot of people will be very much hoping that these tests give positive results.

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PJM Capacity Market Ruled Fair(ish)

Posted in Capacity Markets,USA Federal by Cheryl Morgan on the September 23rd, 2008

Last week FERC ruled on a dispute about the new Reliability Pricing Model (RPM), PJM’s stab at a means of ensuring resource adequacy. Energy Legal Blog has a good summary of the ruling, written by Maria Urbina. For the most part FERC ruled in PJM’s favor, noting that most of the complaints were, in Urbina’s words, “implementation angst” – that is, when a new system is introduced there will always be winners and losers, and mostly this complaint was the losers yelling “it’s not fair!”. On the other hand, PJM was given a few things to think about.

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Political Silly Season in the UK

Posted in Retail,UK by Cheryl Morgan on the September 22nd, 2008

Party conferences are always a time for posturing and staking out of positions. Thus far the Labour Party has refrained from requiring Gordon Brown to fall on his sword, but with opinion polls predicting an electoral disaster of unprecedented proportions there is plenty of rushing around looking for policy positions that might revive the party’s flagging popularity.

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