Global News: US Cuts Coal Use at Home, Sends More Abroad; India Now Top Recipient of U.S. Solar Funding

A round-up of recent international climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

U.S. May Ship More Coal, Raising EU Supply, Macquarie Says

The U.S. may increase coal exports, further boosting supply of the commodity in Europe, Macquarie Group Ltd. (MQG) said.

“A big push” to encourage natural-gas burning in the U.S. may drive up coal exports to Europe, China and India, said Hayden Atkins, an analyst in London at Macquarie’s commodities unit. The closing of Germany’s nuclear plants will increase demand in that nation, Atkins said.


U.S. steam-coal exports to Europe in the first quarter more than tripled from a year earlier to 4.9 million metric tons from 1.5 million tons, according to a report on the website of the U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. coal exports are at their highest level since 1992, it said.

Exports to the Netherlands jumped to 1.1 million tons from 334,628 tons. Shipments to Germany went to 899,009 tons from 166,314 tons. Trade to the U.K. rose to 852,159 tons from 159,280 tons.

Switching to natural gas from coal in U.S. power generation will accelerate in 2012 because of new Environmental Protection Agency rules to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said July 19.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires 27 states in the eastern U.S. to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrous oxides by 54 percent by 2014 compared with 2005 levels, Merrill analysts including Sabine Schels in London said. Generators that exceed caps must cut emissions by twice the amount exceeded as a penalty, they said.

India to Top U.S. Lending With $575 Million in Solar Deals

The U.S. Export-Import Bank expects India to become its biggest recipient of funding next year, led by loans for clean-energy projects including $575 million of solar deals.

The Export-Import Bank’s lending plans won’t be affected by concern that the renewable energy industry may be vulnerable to a new global recession, said Craig S. O’Connor, director of the bank’s office of renewable energy.

“This sector isn’t risky,” O’Connor said in an interview at a conference in New Delhi. “It’ll continue to grow.”

The funding could ease a hurdle facing India as its aims to build 20,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2022 and join Germany in trying to develop cleaner, safer sources of power after Japan’s nuclear disaster. About $3.2 billion of Indian projects have found it difficult to get loans from commercial banks, and more funding could help such U.S. panel producers as First Solar Inc. (FSLR) and SunPower Corp. (SPWRA) that face China competition.

EU challenges Canadian green power rules at WTO

The European Union has launched a legal challenge against Canada at the World Trade Organization to protest against provincial backing for solar and wind energy projects, the bloc’s executive said on Thursday.

Following on the heels of a similar challenge by Japan, the row highlights a global battle for a slice of the lucrative and growing renewables market with countries including Canada, the United States and China moving to reserve public works projects worth billions of dollars for local firms.

It focuses on a scheme in Canada’s Ontario province that guarantees above-market prices for renewable energy as long as it is generated with a set proportion of Canadian-made equipment or services.

The EU says the plan is illegal under global trade rules because it gives an unfair advantage to local producers.

[UK] Farmers turn away from organic as sales drop

Farmers have begun to turn away from organic food production in the face of waning interest from the big supermarkets.

The amount of land being converted to organic cultivation across the UK has dropped by two-thirds since 2007, according to statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as falling sales of organic products mean fewer farmers are seeing a reason to change.

Sales of organic products fell by 5.9% in the UK last year, according to the Soil Association, from £1.8bn in 2009 to £1.7bn. That continued a decline from record sales of £2.1bn in 2008, and came amid rising food prices. The amount of organic poultry being produced has also fallen steadily.

But many farmers who have gone organic were defiant after publication of the latest figures, arguing that switching to greener methods has drastically cut their costs and that consumer interest is still strong, particularly when farmers can use sales routes other than big supermarket chains.

EU On Track to Meet Renewable Goals?

A recent graph from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that many EU countries are behind their interim targets, including some that are currently facing financial turmoil.

Many European Union member countries outstrip the U.S. when it comes to penetration rates of renewables, obtaining an average of 19 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. But that’s still not good enough for some countries, which missed the interim target towards the legally binding 20-percent-by-2020 standard imposed by the EU.

Countries with the highest rates of renewables in 2009 were Austria (74%), Sweden (60%), Portugal (39%), and Finland (32%), according to a report by the European Commission, and most of that came from hydropower and biomass.

The 20 percent by 2020 is not just for electricity generation, but also includes transportation, heating and cooling. Most of the 27 countries have used feed-in tariffs, although the structures of those have varied wildly. Germany, for example, has been quite successful, and is one of the countries meeting its renewable targets, while Italy is behind. Some nations have also adopted aggressive electric vehicle targets, which will help to meet the transportation goals.

Among the EU nations, only Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, and Portugal are expected to meet their interim targets.

Japan parties reach agreement on renewable energy bill

Japan’s ruling Democratic Party reached an agreement with the main opposition parties on Thursday to pass a bill designed to promote renewable energy, an opposition lawmaker said, setting the stage for unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan to resign once the law is enacted.

Kan, Japan’s fifth premier in five years, repeated on Thursday he was ready to quit once three conditions he had set were met.

Of those, a small extra budget for recovery from the March earthquake and tsunami has been passed and a bill enabling fresh borrowing to fund this year’s budget is set to be enacted this month. Passing the energy bill is the third condition.

“The three conditions that the premier has supposedly set will be met rather quickly,” Shigeru Ishiba, the policy chief of main opposition Liberal Democratic Party told reporters after he agreed with his counterparts to swiftly enact the renewable energy bill.

“A relationship of trust between the three parties is being developed.”

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, 54, a fiscal conservative who wants to rein in Japan’s huge public debt, has emerged as a leading contender to replace Kan.