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Wind: It’s Free, Plentiful and Fickle

Matthew L. Wald, NY Times
Wind, almost everybody’s best hope for big supplies of clean, affordable electricity, is turning out to have complications.

Engineers have cut the price of electricity derived from wind by about 80 percent in the last 20 years, setting up this renewable technology for a major share of the electricity market. But for all its promise, wind also generates a big problem: because it is unpredictable and often fails to blow when electricity is most needed, wind is not reliable enough to assure supplies for an electric grid that must be prepared to deliver power to everybody who wants it – even when it is in greatest demand.
(28 Dec 2006)

Australian PM puts faith in nuclear power

Katharine Murphy, The Age
PRIME Minister John Howard has stepped up the case for nuclear power, telling reporters the Government would be “crazy in the extreme” if it blocked the development of nuclear energy in Australia.

Indeed, Mr Howard would not object to a nuclear plant being built next door to his Sydney home. “I wouldn’t have any objection, none whatsoever. I’m serious, quite serious,” Mr Howard said when asked if he would want a reactor next door.

“I believe very strongly that I’d be failing Australia if I didn’t factor in nuclear power as part of the solution (to global warming),” he said. A nuclear industry would not happen “tomorrow”, but over a period of 10 to 20 years. “It is foolish and backward-looking and old-fashioned of people to say we will always oppose the use of nuclear power.”

His comments followed the release of the recommendations of his hand-picked nuclear energy taskforce, lead by former telco boss and nuclear physicist Ziggy Switkowski.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd immediately condemned Mr Howard’s decision to give the industry the green light.
(30 Dec 2006)

Biofuels may cut into Carolina cotton acreage

Roy Roberson, Southeast Farm Press
With the 2006 cotton crop mostly harvested by Thanksgiving, growers began to look toward 2007 a year sure to be filled with more questions than answers, especially when it comes to grain production for alternative fuels.

“We expect a 10 percent or more reduction in acreage in 2007 to corn production. The price of corn ($3.86 per bushel as of late November) has been driven up by ethanol production and uncertainties over the farm bill could push reduction well above 10 percent,” says Billy Carter, executive director of the North Carolina Cotton Growers Association.

“I expect we will be in the 700,000 to 725,000 acre range in 2007,” Carter says. His colleagues in South Carolina and Virginia expect similar, though somewhat smaller reductions in cotton acreage.

David Ruppenicker, executive vice-president of the Southern Cotton Producers Association and the Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association, says a high percentage of gins in the Southeast are cooperatively owned by farmers. A gin’s profitability is directly tied to its volume, it’s doubtful we will see large cuts in acreage based on corn prices. He agrees that a 10 percent reduction is more likely.

Though corn and cotton are physiologically very different crops, in the upper Southeast the two are closely tied. Much of the land in the Coastal Plain of the upper Southeast is ideally suited to produce two-bale per acre cotton, but not so well suited to high yields in corn. The agronomic reality, some analysts contend, will reduce the number of acres of cotton lost to corn. However, soybeans, grown for biodiesel and still selling at close to $7 per bushel may well push the acreage loss to 10 percent or higher.
(22 Dec 2006)