Tag Archives: renewable energy

“Green” investment funds spring back

An array of solar panels are seen in Oakland, California, U.S. on December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Ross Kerber
May, 2017

BOSTON (Reuters) – After U.S. President Donald Trump’s election last November, investors pulled nearly $68 million (53 million pounds) from so-called “green” mutual funds, reflecting fear that his pro-coal agenda would hurt renewable energy firms.

But now investors are pouring money back in, boosting net deposits in 22 green funds to nearly $83 million in the first four months of 2017, according to data from Thomson Reuters’ Lipper unit.

Investors’ renewed faith in the funds reflects a growing belief the president will not succeed in reviving the coal industry and will not target the government subsidies that underpin renewable power, which have bipartisan support.

It also sends a positive sign for the wind, solar and energy efficiency firms and make up a large portion of the green-fund portfolios.

The coal industry faces problems in the marketplace that are too big for any government to solve, said Murray Rosenblith, a portfolio manager for the $209 million New Alternatives Fund, among the U.S. green funds seeing investor inflows.

“Trump can’t bring back coal,” he said. “There’s nothing that can bring it back.”

A Reuters survey of some 32 utilities in Republican states last month showed that none plan to increase coal use as a result of Trump’s policies. Many planned to continue a shift to cheaper and cleaner alternatives, including wind and solar.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment about the administration’s efforts to boost coal or its position on wind and solar subsidies.

Lipper classifies “green” funds as those with screening or investment strategies that are based solely on environmental criteria. Many make it a point to avoid purchasing shares of traditional oil, gas or mining companies.

For a graphic showing the turnaround in green-fund investments, see: http://tmsnrt.rs/2qPISl4

The funds, while still an investment niche, have become increasingly popular over the past decade amid rising worries about climate change. They tend to draw younger and more environmentally minded investors who see profits in the burgeoning renewable power industry.

“Solar and wind power are creating a lot of jobs. There is a long-term secular trend taking place,” said Joe Keefe, Chief Executive of Pax World Management LLC, whose $418 million Pax Global Environmental Markets fund is one of the biggest in the green fund sector.

Solar firms employed about 374,000 workers in 2016, while the wind industry employed 101,738. Combined, they produced job growth of about 25 percent over 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The average fund among the group of 22 green funds tracked by Lipper posted a six-month return of 9.37 percent. That lagged the S&P 500 index’s 12.14 percent, excluding dividends, over the same period through April 30, but beat the S&P’s oil and gas index, along with several major coal companies which have slumped since the election.

The growth helped boost the group’s combined assets under management to $2.4 billion by the end of April, up from $2.1 billion in November, according to the data.

Tom Roseen, Lipper’s head of research, said the inflows into green funds could reflect value-shopping after the election triggered an initial sell-off in the solar and wind energy sectors.

He cited solar module maker First Solar Inc, a popular stock among green funds, trading at about $39.50 a share, far off the highs above $70 it reached last year but up more than 35 percent from a drop it suffered after the election.

TRUMP SCEPTICS

A GE 1.6-100 wind turbine (front C) is pictured at a wind farm in Tehachapi, California, U.S. on June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File photo

Trump campaigned on a promise to revive the ailing oil and coal industries, in part by dismantling former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

He also vowed to pull the United States out of a global pact to fight climate change, a promise White House officials said Trump is now reconsidering, under pressure from lawmakers, global allies, and scores of major oil, coal and other companies.

Trump’s more conservative supporters – including the man who led his transition at the Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell – have complained about the slow pace of progress in dismantling Obama-era climate initiatives.

While many drilling and mining companies have applauded Trump’s efforts, some investors are sceptical that repealing climate regulation will provide a big boost to fossil fuels.

The government subsidies that are crucial for growth of wind and solar power, meanwhile, seem to enjoy bipartisan support in Congress.

Existing tax credits for solar and wind projects were extended for five years at the end of 2015 by a Republican-controlled Congress. A number of Republican lawmakers represent states with burgeoning wind and solar industries, such as Texas and North Dakota.

Trump administration policy has yet to affect renewable energy firms – and may not affect them much going forward, said Mike Garland, Chief Executive of wind farm owner Pattern Energy Group Inc..

“Most investors are starting to realize that the federal government is limited in its impact and the risk to (green energy subsidies) is relatively low,” he said.

Pattern’s stock has gained 20 percent since the beginning of the year, after falling 10 percent between the November election and the end of 2016.

Many of the green funds tracked by Lipper are heavily invested in renewable energy companies with overseas operations that reduce their exposure to U.S. politics.

One of the top holdings of Rosenblith’s fund, for example, is Vestas Wind Systems, the Danish company that produces and services wind turbines. If U.S. policies turned against wind power, Vestas could still expect strong demand elsewhere, Rosenblith said.

A number of exchange-traded funds focused on renewable energy also attracted money this year, led by Guggenheim Investments’ Solar ETF, which took in $28.5 million.

Its top holdings include Arizona-based First Solar and China’s Xinyi Solar Holdings.

William Belden, Guggenheim’s head of ETF business development, said the inflows suggest that “some of the early responses to the Trump administration were overdone.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Nichola Groom; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

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Fukushima still in hell

Members of the IAEA fact-finding team in Japan visit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant May 27, 2011, to examine the devastation wrought by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. Copyright: IAEA Imagebank, photo by Greg Webb IAEA

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY
March, 2017

Six years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami ruined four nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, urgently needed clean up is still stalled.

Despite the $188 billion cost (and counting), engineers haven’t even been able to build a robot [1] that can survive radiation inside the plant long enough to send back images of the inferno. Apparently nothing that moves can operate in such a hot and radioactive environment — much less a human, who would be dead in seconds.

We do know that fuel in at least two out of three of the reactors melted right through the reactor floors. Time Magazine reported in 2011, “that means that…the fuel itself lies in a clump [2] — either at the bottom of the pressure vessel, or in the basement below or possibly even outside the containment building. Engineers don’t know for sure…” Fuel rods won’t explode [3], but they can burn if exposed to air, producing massive clouds of radioactive smoke.

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On February 13, 2017, muon tomography images offered a slightly clearer picture [4], but not much more hopeful. TEPCO learned that radiation levels at reactor number two were actually emitting about 530 sieverts [5], not 73 sieverts, as they had expected. Administered to a human, a one sievert dose causes acute radiation poisoning [6], and a 10 sievert dose is fatal.

Although the disaster is local, the toxins travel. Unlike other environmental disaster areas (e.g. Love Canal) Fukushima Daiichi sheds toxins daily — widely —  because every day TEPCO pours 400 tons of water over the fuel rods to keep them from overheating.

More than 962,000 tons of contaminated water are now stored on site. Last fall, TEPCO  poured 300 million tons of it into the Pacific Ocean, into currents that reach the North American West Coast. After the 2011 earthquake, the tsunami wave and the wind spread contamination broadly across the Fukushima prefecture.

Unlike Russia, Japan doesn’t have enough land to be able to sequester the damaged plants and leave them alone for centuries — the half-life of some radioactive isotopes — even if reactor number two was stabilized, which it is not.

Instead, the Japanese government evacuated people and conducted massive decontamination programs, scraping and replacing the top two inches of soil, leaving 9,000,000 bags of contaminated soil all around the area. Now it is urging 100,000 displaced citizens to return to their cleaned up villages. Not everybody is convinced that the land is safe. [7]

Greenpeace Japan noted on March 11, “this year will be the first time that some of the more heavily contaminated areas. [7]..are being opened up for resettlement….despite radiation still far exceeding long-term targets in places where decontamination work has been done.

“Levels in nearby forests are comparable to the current levels within Chernobyl’s 30 kilometre exclusion zone, which, more than 30 years after the accident, remains formally closed to habitation…”

Greenpeace measured radiation across the village of Iitate (population 6,000) which is 75 per cent forest, and found high levels of contamination [8] even in areas that had been officially decontaminated. Packs of radioactive wild boars are patrolling the empty village. [9]

Fukushima has become one of the largest of the global nuclear sacrifice zones, such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, which have afflicted the world since 1930. That’s when uranium refining started in Hanford, Montana, which eventually provided fuel for the first atomic weapons.

These days, the whole town of Hanford is a toxic waste supersite [10], containing some 55 million gallons of some of the world’s most dangerous radioactive wastes. The entire congressional delegation for the area has petitioned President Trump to give top priority to Hanford clean-up funding, despite the staggering $2 billion cost annually for 30 or 40 years.

Nuclear power plants have an operating life of about 30 to 50 years. Most existing plants were built in the 1970s, before anybody actually had plans for how to de-commission them. However, Reuters reported in 2011, that along with its 104 operating commercial nuclear power plants, the US also had 23 plants in the process of being
de-commissioned, at a cost of $500 million to $1 billion each, including 10 that had been “completely cleaned up.”

Seven of the remaining 13 reactors are in SAFSTOR — shut down, under guard, but still holding nuclear materials. In Canada, Quebec’s Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant and units 2 and 3 of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, Pickering, Ontario, are already in safe storage [11] — essentially no-human-zones although not permanently sacrificed.

However, Fukushima Daiichi is different from other sacrifice zones because of the ongoing seething nuclear reaction in reactor number two,  and because (unlike other zones where habitation is forbidden) Prime Minister Abe’s government wants people to live there.

PM Abe’s government and some media reports downplay radiation’s potentially horrifying effects on humans and babies not yet born. Public relations campaigns label former residents (mostly women, mostly mothers) who resist returning to the ostensibly decontaminated land as neurotically “radiophobic,” [12]  even though 174 children in Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with — or are suspected of having — thyroid cancer since the nuclear meltdown.

Meanwhile, as evidence emerges that TEPCO has lied about how serious the crisis is [13],  radiation leaks into the Pacific Ocean and the world’s airshed, and one melted-down plant at Fukushima Daiichi threatens to burst into a catastrophic nuclear fire.

“For the global nuclear industry, the Fukushima disaster is an historic — if not fatal — setback,” said Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin. He introduced a draft copy of Worldwatch’s 2011 World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

Among other points, the report noted that every single nuclear power plant under construction in the world was chosen by central planners. Not one faced any competition from local markets or alternatives. And even during the nuclear binge building years, only 41 per cent of the approved power plants ever achieved operating status. Major delays and massive cost overruns were the rule.

In the foreword, Amory Lovins wrote that “long before Fukushima, nuclear power was dying of an incurable attack of market forces.” Wind and solar devices now offer more flexibility at half the price or less.

Indeed, Lovins said, “just as computing no longer needs mainframes, electricity no longer needs giant power plants.” Instead, the Pentagon prefers to rely on a variety of mass-produced generators networked in microgrids,” for resilience. So could the public.

More troubling, though, Lovins noted that the accident “vaporized” TEPCO’s balance sheet. “A 2007 earthquake had cost the company perhaps $20 billion; this one could cost it $100 plus billion. TEPCO is now broke and is becoming, in whatever form, a ward of the state.”

If the company is “a ward of the state,” that means its liabilities  are too. Yet Japan’s government seems determined to repopulate Fukushima prefecture even as the doomed reactors overheat in the distance. Volunteer organizations like Greenpeace have to provide radioactivity monitoring for local air, water, soil and food.

On the other hand, what affects one nation affects us all. There has to be some point where the public stands up and says, “no more sacrifice zones!” The ongoing Fukushima Daiichi tragedy cries out for the United Nations to step in, take charge, and direct all the world’s best minds and resources to containing the disaster and rescuing the people who live there.

 

Copyright Penney Kome 2017

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

Links:
——
[1]
https://www.theguardian.com/wo rld/2017/mar/09/fukushima-nucl ear-cleanup-falters-six-years- after-tsunami
[2] http://science.time.com/2011/0 5/16/was-fukushima-a-china-syn drome/
[3]
http://www.sciencemag.org/news /2016/05/burning-reactor-fuel- could-have-worsened-fukushima- disaster
[4]
https://www.extremetech.com/ex treme/201706-muon-scans-confir m-complete-reactor-meltdown- at-fukushima-reactor-1
[5]
https://www.extremetech.com/ex treme/243904-fukushimas-reacto r-2-far-radioactive-previously -realized-no-sign-containment- breach
[6] https://www.britannica.com/tec hnology/sievert
[7]
http://www.greenpeace.org/inte rnational/en/press/releases/ 2017/Resettlement-in-contamina ted-areas-steamrolls-ahead-as- residents-mark-Fukushima- anniversary/
[8]
http://www.greenpeace.org/inte rnational/en/press/releases/ 2017/Greenpeace-exposes-high- radiation-risks-in-Fukushima- village-as-government- prepares-to-lift-evacuation- order/
[9]
https://thinkprogress.org/fuku shima-has-radioactive-boars- 8a1583b21856#.i239r4ty5
[10]
http://www.seattletimes.com/se attle-news/politics/congressio nal-delegation-urges-trump-to- fund-hanford-work/
[11] http://www.cnsc-ccsn.gc.ca/eng /reactors/power-plants/index. cfm
[12] http://www.asahi.com/ajw/artic les/AJ201703110033.html
[13] http://www.cbc.ca/news/busines s/japan-fukushima-tepco-1. 3645516
[14] http://penneykome.ca

Read more F&O columns by Penney Kome here

Related works on F&O:

Japan Wary of Nuclear Power in Fukushima’s Wake, by  By Tatsujiro Suzuki, March, 2017

Iran, nuclear waste, and Fukushima, by  Penney Kome,  July 2015

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Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page or use the PayPal button below to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Andasol: the world’s biggest solar power farm

A general view of the Andasol solar power station near Guadix, southern Spain August 10, 2015. The plant is the biggest solar farm in the world and provides electricity for up to about 500,000 people. The 620,000 curved mirrors harness the sun's power even after dark, and the glass alone would cover 1.5 square km (0.6 square miles) - the size of about 210 soccer pitches. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

A general view of the Andasol solar power station near Guadix, southern Spain August 10, 2015. The plant is the biggest solar farm in the world and provides electricity for up to about 500,000 people. The 620,000 curved mirrors harness the sun’s power even after dark, and the glass alone would cover 1.5 square km (0.6 square miles) – the size of about 210 soccer pitches. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

By Marcelo del Pozo, Reuters 
October, 2015

On a barren, sun-baked plateau in southern Spain, row upon row of gleaming mirrors form one of the world’s biggest solar power plants and harness the sun’s power even after dark.

Near the town of Guadix, where summer temperatures often top 40 degrees Celsius, the main sound at the site is a whirring of motors to keep the mirrors – mounted on giant steel frames – tracking the sun as the Earth turns.

The Andasol plant, whose name combines the local Andalucia region with the Spanish word for sun – “sol,” provides electricity for up to about 500,000 people from about 620,000 curved mirrors.

Staff walk behind solar collector assemblies at the Andasol solar power station near Guadix, southern Spain August 11, 2015. The plant is the biggest solar farm in the world and provides electricity for up to about 500,000 people. The 620,000 curved mirrors harness the sun's power even after dark, and the glass alone would cover 1.5 square km (0.6 square miles) - the size of about 210 soccer pitches. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

Staff walk behind solar collector assemblies at the Andasol solar power station near Guadix, southern Spain August 11, 2015. The plant is the biggest solar farm in the world and provides electricity for up to about 500,000 people. The 620,000 curved mirrors harness the sun’s power even after dark, and the glass alone would cover 1.5 square km (0.6 square miles) – the size of about 210 soccer pitches. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

The glass alone would cover 1.5 square km – the size of about 210 soccer pitches. Installed electricity generating capacity at this semi-desert site is about 150 megawatts.

There is little sign of life here, at an altitude of 1,100 meters near the snow-capped Sierra Nevada range. Some hardy red and yellow flowers grow around the fringes, a few pigeons flap past and workers say that the odd fox lopes by at night.

The environmental benefits of clean energy are judged to outweigh the scar to the landscape from the mirrors, which are visible from space. The land is infertile, there is little wildlife and few people live nearby. The biggest regional city, Granada, with about 240,000 people, is 70 km away.

Andasol was Europe’s first “parabolic trough solar power plant” when its first section opened in 2009 – California has the biggest.

Sunlight bounces off the mirrors to heat synthetic oil in a tube to a blazing 400 degrees Celsius. That energy is in turn used to drive a turbine, generating electricity.

At Andasol, some energy also goes into a “heat reservoir” – a tank containing thousands of tonnes of molten salt that can drive the turbines after sundown, or when it is overcast, for about 7.5 hours.

That gets round the main drawback for solar power – the sun does not always shine. The system is very different from better-known rooftop solar panels that transform sunlight directly into electricity.

Copyright Reuters 2015

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