Former Texas power chief blames governor for winter storm industry costs

24 February | Infrastructure

The former CEO of Texas’ power regulator has told a court that the decision to keep wholesale power prices at maximum during winter storms last year came from the US state’s governor.

Bill Magness, former CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), testified that Republican Governor Greg Abbott had instructed him to keep prices up. He alleged that DeAnn Walker, former chair of the state’s Public Utility Commission, relayed the message from Abbott: “She told me the governor had conveyed to her if we emerged from rotating outages it was imperative they not resume.”

In early 2021, a blizzard in Texas took significant amounts of power generation out of operation. ERCOT kept wholesale power prices at $9,000/MWh to suppress power use while the state’s generation capacity recovered.

The alleged instruction from Abbott caused ERCOT to keep prices high for longer than it may have otherwise, devastating the finances of utilities in the area. Several of these utilities are now passing through bankruptcy courts, where Magness testified.

Magness’ statement contradicts governor spokesperson Mark Miner, who last year said that Abbott was not involved “in any way”. During the storm, Abbott sent an aide to ERCOT’s operations centre during the crisis, though Miner said this was based on a belief that the regulator was spreading “disinformation”.

Abbott has since denied giving this order. Political opponent Beto O’Rourke has used the testimony to his advantage, saying the governor “once again put the profits of his donors over the people of this state”.

24 February | Renewables

UK Government to fund renewable energy storage technologies

The UK Government has announced funding to install new renewable energy storage technologies in the country.

As part of this initiative, the government has awarded $9m (£6.7m) to 24 projects across the country under the Longer Duration Energy Storage competition, which is worth $91m (£68m) in total. The funding is intended to support the development of new energy storage technologies and help the UK transition to renewable energy sources, while also encouraging private investment and creating green jobs.

Among the energy storage projects that have received funding are Sunamp’s EXTEND thermal battery project in Scotland and FlexiTanker, a thermal and compressed air energy storage project in England developed by Cheesecake Energy.

New energy storage technologies developed under the programme’s first phase can use stored energy as heat or electricity, or a low-carbon energy carrier such as hydrogen.

In its second phase, funding will be given to projects that demonstrate higher potential in the first phase.

Companies developing these projects will be supported in building and demonstrating their technology completely.

UK Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Hands said: “Driving forward energy storage technologies will be vital in our transition towards cheap, clean and secure renewable energy. It will allow us to extract the full benefit from our home-grown renewable energy sources, drive down costs and end our reliance on volatile and expensive fossil fuels.”

23 February | Projects

TenneT invites tenders for three offshore grid connections

Netherlands-based transmission system operator TenneT has launched tendering procedures for building three offshore grid connections, with 2GW of total capacity, in the North Sea.

The company plans to award the contracts for the BalWin1, BalWin2 and BalWin3 connections, located offshore from Lower Saxony, in the third quarter of next year. The offshore grid connections are part of TenneT’s 2GW Program initiative, which seeks to expedite Europe’s energy transition.

TenneT said that this infrastructure will transmit the same amount of energy with half as many grid connections, helping to conserve resources and minimise impacts on the environment.

The three projects in the German North Sea will have the capacity to supply clean energy to 7.5 million households in total. BalWin1 is expected to be completed in 2029, while BalWin2 and BalWin3 are due to be ready for operations the following year.

The company has commissioned an international consortium to build sea and land converter stations for BorWin6, a 235km grid connection system of offshore wind farms in the German North Sea. The BorWin6 system has a total transmission capacity of 980MW and is expected to be commissioned in 2027.

The company’s chief operating officer Tim Meyerjürgens said: “The 2GW Program will be a key pillar of our offshore strategy while helping to advance the energy transition in Europe more quickly and efficiently.”

23 February | Hydrogen

Mitsubishi Power to build hydrogen demonstration plant in Japan

Japan-based power company Mitsubishi Power has unveiled plans to establish the Takasago Hydrogen Park in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

The hydrogen park will be co-located at MHI’s Takasago Machinery Works facility and is claimed to be the world’s first centre to validate hydrogen-related technologies, which range from hydrogen production to power generation.

Mitsubishi Power will set up all aspects of hydrogen-related technologies at the Takasago Machinery Works facility, which the company currently uses for gas turbine development and manufacturing activities.

The Takasago Hydrogen Park is intended to help Mitsubishi Power commercialise hydrogen gas turbines using hydrogen as a fuel.

The company will build the hydrogen park near the T-Point 2 combined cycle power plant validation facility and plans to expand it in the near future. Mitsubishi Power aims to begin operations at the facility in the next fiscal year.

In a statement, Mitsubishi Power said: “To support the commercialisation of hydrogen gas turbines by 2025, verification of large gas turbines is being conducted at the T-Point 2 facility for power generation using a JAC class turbine initially starting at 30% hydrogen co-firing and increasing hydrogen co-firing over time.

“Testing for 100% hydrogen firing of small-sized and mid-sized turbines will be conducted using an H-25 class gas turbine.”

21 February | Renewables

AfDB approves $379.6m financing for solar power in G5 Sahel

The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group Board has approved a Desert to Power financing facility of up to $379.6m to help the G5 Sahel countries increase their solar capacities for low-emission power generation.

Over the next seven years, operation of the facility will be given to Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger via financing and technical assistance. The funding will be used for utility-scale solar generation via independent power producers and energy storage solutions.

The move is expected to add 500MW of solar capacity and offer clean energy to nearly 695,000 households. In addition, it is anticipated to offset more than 14.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions over the projects’ lifespans.

The investments will be supported by a technical assistance component to improve implementation capacity, create an environment for private sector investments and ensure gender and climate mainstreaming.

In October last year, the Green Climate Fund’s Board approved $150m in concessional resources for the Desert to Power financing facility.

AfDB Power, Energy, Climate Change and Green Growth vice-president Dr Kevin Kariuki said: “The innovative, blended finance approach of the Desert to Power G5 Sahel Facility will de-risk, and therefore catalyse, private sector investment in solar power generation in the region.”

18 February | Infrastructure

French Government gives EDF $2.4bn injection amidst energy price crisis

The French Government has announced it will contribute $2.4bn (€2.1bn) to supporting state-owned energy major EDF, as the group sees a hit to profits as a result of outages at several of its nuclear plants and the impacts of a government power-price cap.

According to EDF, a spate of outages led to core profit losses of $12.5bn (€11bn) in 2022, following on from losses of $9bn (€8bn) as a result of France’s new 4% cap on household and business energy bills.

The government said at the beginning of this year that EDF would have to bear the brunt of this new measure, limiting how much the group is allowed to charge for its nuclear energy and encouraging it to sell its power at reduced rates to cushion consumers’ energy bills.

In response to the resulting hit to profits, EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Levy released a statement saying that the group would implement an “action plan”. Such a strategy would, he said, be “in support of the energy transition and France’s industrial and climate objectives for the 2030 and 2050 horizons”. Aspects of the plan include the energy major’s sale of assets, which will take place over the next two years and is hoped to raise $3.41bn (€3bn).

Ukraine latest

Risks to energy markets as SWIFT ban against Russia goes ahead

The US, Canada and a number of EU states announced a new series of sanctions against Russia over the weekend in light of its ongoing attack on Ukraine. The new restrictions include Russia’s ban from international payment system SWIFT, a move that has raised concerns over its potential impacts on global energy markets that are still reeling from the pandemic.

Ørsted stops procuring Russian biomass and coal

Danish energy company Ørsted has decided to stop sourcing biomass and coal for its power stations from Russia in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The company said that it feels the situation is ‘deeply disturbing’ and therefore has decided not to contract any Russian companies for its renewable energy projects.

European companies increase Russian gas orders

European energy companies are placing larger orders for natural gas from Russian firms, despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reported Bloomberg News. The military action against Ukraine has resulted in oil prices surging to above $100 per barrel, for the first time since 2014.

IAEA calls for nuclear plant safety as Ukraine crisis intensifies

The International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed ‘grave concern’ regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and appealed to Russia to avoid any action that may imperil the safety of nuclear facilities in the country. In a statement, the international nuclear watchdog said that it is closely monitoring the evolving situation to ensure the safety of the nuclear power plants and other nuclear-related facilities in Ukraine.

17 February | Fossil Fuels

Origin Energy intends to shut 2.8GW coal-fired plant by 2025

Australian energy company Origin Energy has proposed to close its Eraring Power Station, a 2.8GW black coal plant, in 2025, seven years earlier than scheduled.

Located on the shores of Lake Macquarie in New South Wales (NSW), Eraring consists of four units, which became fully operational in 1984. Origin had planned to shut the power plant at the end of its technical life in 2032.

The company has notified the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) of its intent, and the move is part of Origin’s strategy to help Australia in its transition towards net-zero emissions. To replace the power plant, the company plans to build a 700MW battery at its site.

Origin said that it intends to participate in the NSW Government’s Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap process to help install a battery at the Eraring site before closing the coal-fired power station.

As part of the NSW Roadmap process, the company also aims to bring additional renewable energy generation assets online by expanding the Shoalhaven pumped hydro scheme.

Origin CEO Frank Calabria said: “Origin has today submitted a notice to AEMO for the potential early retirement of Eraring Power Station in August 2025. Origin’s proposed exit from coal-fired generation reflects the continuing, rapid transition of the National Electricity Market as we move to cleaner sources of energy.

“Australia’s energy market today is very different to the one when Eraring was brought online in the early 1980s, and the reality is the economics of coal-fired power stations are being put under increasing, unsustainable pressure by cleaner and lower-cost generation, including solar, wind and batteries.”

17 February | Renewables

Iberdrola to invest in offshore wind farms in Massachusetts

Spanish energy company Iberdrola has announced that it will invest more than $10bn to develop three offshore wind facilities in the US state of Massachusetts.

Iberdrola chairman Ignacio Galán agreed to develop three offshore wind facilities, each with 2.8GW of capacity, at a meeting with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. The investment is expected to double the country’s clean energy generation capacity and support its decarbonisation efforts.

In addition to 2.8GW of offshore wind capacity, the company is developing a 1.2GW interconnection line for transporting hydroelectric power from Canada.

Iberdrola’s energy services company, Avangrid, recently began building the 800MW Vineyard Wind One offshore wind facility, which is located around 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

The facility has the capacity to power more than 400,000 homes while displacing more than 1.6 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year.

Galán said: “Our projects in Massachusetts will be fundamental to achieving the US’s goal of reaching 30GW of wind energy by 2030, and with them, we will generate industrial development and employment.”

In brief

Leeward Renewable Energy secures funding for Colorado wind farm

Leeward Renewable Energy has secured financing of around $190m for the construction of its 145MW Panorama Wind Farm in Weld County, Colorado. The financing includes a construction loan, a back leverage term loan commitment and a tax equity bridge loan.

Vestas recovers from cyber attack and data breach

IIntegrated wind company Vestas has started recovering data after a cyber security breach of internal systems. In order to minimise the issue, the company shut down its IT systems “across multiple business units and locations”.

Shell to acquire 51% stake in floating wind project in Ireland

Shell has signed an agreement with Irish renewable energy developer Simply Blue Group to acquire a 51% stake in the Western Star venture. The 1.3GW floating wind project will be developed by Simply Blue Group and Shell personnel in two phases.

UKCI and Norfund to support wind portfolio in South Africa

Norfund and the UK Climate Investments (UKCI) have agreed to invest in a joint venture to fund its 40% participation in the development of a 700MW onshore wind portfolio in South Africa. The joint venture belongs to two local companies, H1 Holdings and Pele Green Energy.