Regulation & Policy

As persistent overhang in global gas supplies reduces state revenues, energy ministers from Qatar, Iran, Russia and Venezuela are gathering at this week’s Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The question is how GECF countries – often referred to as the Gas OPEC – should react to the rampant US gas exports which has adopted a price-setting function on global spot LNG markets.

Differences on energy policy and migration have brought down lengthy and difficult coalition talks between Germany’s Conservatives, the Green Party and the Liberals (FDP). Shortly before midnight on Sunday, FDP head Christian Lindner abandoned negotiations, stating: “The four discussion partners have no common vision for the modernisation of the country, and lack a common basis of trust.”

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) sees the much-debated option of a successive closure of coal power plants as a “last resort to meet Germany’s 2020 climate goals.” However, the timeline of such a coal exit is subject to fierce debate in the ongoing talks to form a coalition government, with the Conservatives stressing the importance of “reliable and reasonably priced power supply.”

Coal has been singled out as one of the key culprits for global warming at the Bonn climate talks and several European countries have come forward with plans to phase out coal-fired power plants. Italy aims to exit coal by 2025 and boost the role of renewables, the government in Rome said on Friday. In Berlin meanwhile, the issue is a subject to fierce debate as coalition talks drag on between the Conservatives, Liberals and the Green Party.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been proposed as a solution to Australia’s current energy crisis, with advocates calling for the removal of state bans to allow the production of unconventional oil and gas resources. Matthew Meagher, researcher at Northern Australia and Landcare Research Programme says “fracking is cheaper than current renewable technologies and refurbishing old coal-fired plants.”

Greece has made noticeable progress in recent years on plans to state-owned energy companies and liberalize electricity and gas markets, and the IEA Executive Dr Fatih Birol expects this “impressive programme will lead to more competitive and financially viable energy markets offering choices and low prices to consumers.”

Several major US energy companies plan to accompany US President Donald Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on a visit to Beijing, starting November 8. The aim is to close deals on selling US LNG to China, along with other American-made products, in order to close the widening trade deficit between the world’s two biggest economies.

Neil Chatterjee, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), has dismissed comments from PJM Interconnection saying coal power plants are more prone to cold-weather failures than natural gas-fired plants. Chatterjee, who leads FERC’s evaluation of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan to subsidize coal and nuclear power stations, insisted both are “firm, non-interruptible fuel sources.” He announced FERC will conclude its review by December 11.

Andrew Ott, CEO PJM Interconnection, the independent operator of electricity wholesale markets in 13 U.S. states, has dismissed a proposal by the Department of Energy (DOE) to subsidize nuclear and old coal plants “simply unworkable.” In a press conference, he went even further by saying: "We believe it is contrary to law."

In a surprising gist, the South Korea President Moon Jae-in has signalled his readiness to accept findings of government advisors and restart mothballed nuclear reactors. LNG exporters are disappointed given that the President’s U-turn on his election promise means that there is unlikely to be the anticipated around 10 million ton (Mt) of extra LNG demand by 2030.

The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made a political U-turn on energy, dismissing earlier instated 'clean energy targets' in favour of stipulating guarantees for reliable power supply and emissions reductions as the two new pillars of his new policy. Utilities will henceforth be obliged to deliver electricity at times of peak demand.

US manufacturers Koch Industries and Dow Chemical are lobbying against the plan of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize nuclear and coal as a fuel for power generation. In a letter to Congress, manufacturers dismissed the Department of Energy’s (DoE) plan as “anti-competitive” and said it could distort or “destroy competitive wholesale electricity markets and increase the price of electricity to all consumers.”

Voicing plans to shut down all coal-fired power stations by 2030, the incoming Dutch government has sent a dramatic signal to energy markets that investments in coal is no longer safe. The far-reaching approach of the new coalition is striking, given that RWE, Uniper and Engie in the past few years commissioned three of Europe’s most modern coal power units in the Netherlands.

“The war on coal is over,” were the words used by Scott Pruitt, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when he announced the Trump administration will put an end to the Obama-era plan aimed at reducing power plant emissions. Pruitt argues that the Clean Power Plan violated federal law by “setting emission standards that power plants could not reasonably meet.”

The Trump administration is adamant about dismantling former President Obama’s signature plan to reduce emissions from power plants. Rather than mandating states to change their energy mix by imposing emission quotas, President Trump is expected to give utilities some guidance on how to operate their power plants more efficiently.

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News in Brief

Tohoku Electric tenders for LNG cargo

Aug 19 – Tohoku Electric Power, the fourth-largest electric utility in Japan in terms of revenue behind Tepco, Kepco and Chubu, is understood to be seeking an LNG cargo for delivery in September. A tender process is ongoing.

Cost for decarbonizing industry tops $21tr

Aug 16 – Total costs to fully decarbonize the four most polluting industries – cement, steel, ammonia and ethylene – are estimated to amount to $21 trillion between today and 2050. McKinsey said this could be lowered to about $11 trillion if zero-carbon electricity prices come down further compared to fossil fuel prices. In this event, industry could switch to using electricity for heating processes.

Co-firing Braskem plant with hydrogen

Aug 15 – Siemens is making fossil energy greener at the Braskem onsite power plant in Brazil. In this modernization project two SGT-600 gas turbines are co-fired up to 60% with hydrogen, enhancing efficiency for the production process of the adjacent the petrochemical complex.

Canada's CO2 tax to hit CCGTs

Aug 5 – Change in Canada’s carbon emissions tax regulation for new power plants has changed to also affect cleaner-burning, gas combined-cycle power stations starting from 2021. The move could significantly lower the profitability of gas generation and could prompt SaskPower reconsider its planned Moose Jaw gas power station.

GE CFO steps down

Aug 2 – Jamie S. Miller, General Electric’s chief financial officer, has decided to quit after two years in the job and 11 years with the company. Having overseen GE’s fiscal activities during a period of intense restructuring, Miller will remain in office while the GE board is looking for a successor.

Siemens HR boss quits

Aug 1 – Janina Kugel, Siemens chief HR officer, is leaving the company amid an apparently scattered working relationship and stark personal differences with CEO Joe Kaeser. Her contract will expire by mutual agreement on January 31, 2020.

ABB standardizes eBus chargers

July 31 – Zurich-based ABB, a member of the ASSURED consortium, is working on standardizing the specifications for automatic charging of heavy vehicles. The aim is to drive down the total cost of ownership for electric fleet operators, helping increase adoption of eBuses and eTrucks. Conformance and interoperability tests will be carried out in Q4-2019.

U.S. Senate helps fund EV charging stations

July 30 – The need for expanded electric vehicle charging infrastructure is greater than expected given that there had been over 1.75 million electric vehicles (EV) in North America at the end of 2018, a nearly 60% increase from the previous year. To help fund additional charging stations, among other things, the U.S. Senate approved the $287 billion America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA).

PNOC, Lloyds to develop merchant LNG-to-Power projects

July 29 – Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Lloyds Energy to develop a 1,200 MW LNG-fuelled power plant in partnership with Mitsubishi. Dubai-based Lloyds Energy is looking at ways to develop integrated LNG import facilities and gas power plants on a merchant basis in Bataan and Batangas provinces.

Macquarie finances CCGT in Mexico

July 26 – Macquarie Capital has chosen Credit Agricole, Natixis and SMBC to co-finance a $380 million combined-cycle gas power plant. The 560 MW plant is designated to be built in San Louis Potosi, a city in central Mexico.

Naturgy cashes in on gas network

July 25 – Spanish gas utility Naturgy has posted a 7% rise in core earnings for the first half of the year due to strong gains from its gas network business that helped offset falling revenues from power generation and slimmer LNG margins.

French court rejects appeal against Total CCGT

July 24 – Judges at an appeal court in Nantes have thrown out an appeal by environmentalist against Total’s planned Landivisiau combined-cycle gas power plant in Brittany. The 440 MW project, initiated by Direct Energy which was since acquired by Total, is over two years behind schedule. The French grid operator RTE has singled out the Landivisiau CCGT as “critical” in guaranteeing supply security in winter 2020/21 due to the planned shutdown of four coal power plants.

U.S. gas production falls in wake of ‘Barry’

July 23 – Shut-ins related to Hurricane Barry have scaled back U.S. gas production by 1.6 billion cubic feet per day, compared to last week, while power sector gas demand rose by just over 2.0 bcf/d. Consequently, there is significantly less gas available for storage so the injection rate has halved, according to Energy Aspects figures.

Blackout after fire at Madison substation

July 22 – Electricity is gradually being restored at Madison, Wisconsin, after 13,000 people experience a blackout following an explosion at a substation near Madison Gas & Electric’s 100 MW gas-fired Blount Generating Station. No injuries were reported.

Fuel switch could abate 1.2bn tons of CO2

July 19 – Some 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 could be abated by switching to gas using existing infrastructure, if prices and regulation are supportive. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), this would be enough to bring global CO2 emissions back down to where they were in 2013.

IEA launches methane tracker

July 18 – A new ‘methane tracker’, launched by the International Energy Agency (IEA), provides up-to-date estimates of current oil and gas methane emissions by drawing on the best available data. Analysts stressed methane emissions could be reduced by nearly half at no net cost.

Canada’s CO2 tax also affects gas power

July 17 – Change in Canada’s carbon tax regulation for new power plants has changed to also affect cleaner-burning, gas combined-cycle power stations starting from 2021. The move could cause SaskPower to reconsider its planned upcoming Moose Jaw gas power station.