October 14 News: “The Chinese Dragon is Coming” in Wind

Other stories below: Gore Links Climate Change to Great Lakes Problems; U.S. Allows BP to Drill in the Gulf; Marine Contractors Seek Jobs in Offshore wind.

China Targets GE Wind Turbines With $15.5 Billion War Chest

China has taken on General Electric Co. and Western peers that control the $70 billion wind-turbine market, striving to repeat its 2010 coup when the Asian nation sold more than half the world’s solar panels for the first time.

Armed with at least $15.5 billion in state-backed credit, China’s biggest windmill makers Sinovel Wind Group Co. and Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co. won their first major foreign orders in the past year. They plan to set up plants abroad, including China’s first in the U.S., easing entry into markets for delivering machines that can weigh 750 tons each.

Sinovel and Goldwind may counter the quality concerns of customers and overtake Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems A/S as the biggest supplier by 2015, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance survey forecast. That can erode sales and margins for suppliers such as GE and Vestas that already face cutbacks in European subsidies and a 22 percent plunge in turbine prices from their 2008 peak.

“The Chinese dragon is coming,” said Jose Antunes Sobrinho, chief executive officer of Brazil’s Desenvix SA, a wind developer that ordered 23 Sinovel turbines in September….

A shift to Chinese suppliers could even nudge down the cost of wind power enough for it to compete with coal and natural gas in the U.S. and Europe when the wind is blowing, threatening fossil fuel-based business models at utilities such as Germany’s RWE AG and Centrica Plc of the U.K.

Gore Links Climate Change to Great Lakes Problems

Former Vice President Al Gore linked climate change to a rash of environmental catastrophes Thursday, from floods in Pakistan to drought in Texas and rampant algae blooms sucking oxygen from Lake Erie.

The fallout from a warming planet is being felt around the world, Gore said in a speech during the annual meeting of the International Joint Commission, which advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on issues affecting shared waterways. Things will get worse unless people reject a campaign of denial orchestrated by the fossil fuel industry and make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

“We’re still acting as if it’s perfectly OK to use this thin-shelled atmosphere as an open sewer. It’s not OK,” Gore said. “We need to listen to the scientists. We need to use the tried and true method of using the best evidence, debating and discussing it, but not pretending that facts are not facts.”

Gore, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign to awaken people to the climate change threat, said warmer temperatures could nullify much of the progress made in recent decades to heal the battered Great Lakes.

Increasingly, severe storms made worse by greater volumes of water vapor in the atmosphere are causing wastewater treatment system overflows that dump raw sewage into the lakes, he said. That forces beach closures and promotes growth of algae blooms that create oxygen-deprived zones where fish can’t survive.

Study: Gulf Seafood Unsafe for Pregnant Women and Children?

Is Gulf seafood safe to eat? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light following the BP oil spill that dumped nearly 5 million barrels of crude off the coast of Louisiana last year, but now an environmental watchdog group says the agency’s standards are “based on outdated science” and underestimate the risk of cancer-causing contaminants to pregnant women and children eating seafood from the Gulf.

At issue are what the FDA considers safe levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds found in oil, coal and gasoline that have been linked to cancer in animals and humans. According to Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a researcher with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the FDA accepts 100 to 10,000 times more PAH contamination in seafood than the NRDC deems safe for vulnerable populations.

That conclusion was published online Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. On the same day, the NRDC filed a petition [PDF] asking the FDA to reevaluate its science and set new limits for PAHs in seafood to ensure public safety, especially for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and children.

U.S. Allowing BP to Bid on Leases in the Gulf

After an internal debate, the Obama administration announced on Thursday that BP would be allowed to bid on new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Just a day before, the Interior Department cited BP, the British oil company, and its two principal contractors for numerous safety and environmental violations related to the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon rig in April 2010.

Michael Bromwich, the head of the new Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, disclosed the decision at a House committee hearing. The committee was reviewing the findings of a government investigation into the BP disaster, which left 11 workers dead and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“The question is, ‘Do you administer the administrative death penalty based on one incident?’ ” Mr. Bromwich told reporters after the hearing. “And we’ve concluded that’s not appropriate.”

Mr. Bromwich told the House committee that his agency had “thought about this issue quite a lot” before deciding to let BP participate in the first scheduled auction of offshore leases since the accident. Two million deepwater acres will be opened for exploration and drilling in the western gulf.

Solar Panels Start to Outshine Mirrors

Factories in China have been churning out solar panels so fast that prices have plunged. Just ask the folks at Solyndra, the bankrupt photovoltaic-cell maker that has gotten the Obama Administration into hot water over loan guarantees. Those Chinese manufacturers are now disrupting another corner of the solar industry: so-called solar thermal installations, which make electricity by bouncing sunlight off mirrors to boil water, creating steam that drives turbines.

At least four companies have abandoned plans for solar thermal plants in the U.S. in favor of electricity-producing solar cells, which have fallen in price by nearly half this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That means it may no longer make sense to complete many solar thermal projects, typically vast installations in deserts that take years to build. For solar thermal, “the future in the U.S. looks very challenging,” says Brett Prior, an analyst at energy consultancy GTM Research.

In the past two years developers have switched nine thermal projects with about 4.5 gigawatts of capacity to solar panels, GTM reports. In August, Germany’s Solar Millennium (SMLNF) made the change at a $2.9 billion plant 200 miles east of Los Angeles. Then on Oct. 6 the company sold all four of its U.S. projects to another German company, Solarhybrid (SHL), which said it planned to shift the entire operation to panels. Solar Millennium said it sold the plants to focus on thermal in other countries.

Marine Contractors Seek Jobs in U.S. Offshore Wind Supply Chain

Marine contractors and equipment suppliers are seeking a share of the nascent U.S. offshore wind energy industry, executives said.

Kokosing Construction Co., a closely held construction management company, is bidding to lay undersea cables to transmit power from several planned wind farms off the Atlantic coast, Bill Wenger, estimating and marketing manager at its Durocher Marine unit, said today.

There are no wind farms in U.S. waters, and this lack of infrastructure is creating a market for contractors, shipbuilders, oil-rig installers and other companies with experience building large structures at sea.

“We are optimistic about this industry and see it as a big potential business for us,” Wenger said in an interview today at the American Wind Energy Association’s Offshore Windpower Conference in Baltimore.