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May, 2008:

Light Pollution A Real Dilemma

Updated on May 28, 2008 – SCMP

In Hong Kong you see so many colourful neon signs and other forms of lighting on Nathan Road and parts of Mong Kok.

Friends of the Earth has argued that these garish signs are a waste of energy and affect people’s health.

However, the government faces a problem as the lights are very popular with tourists and the tourism industry is important to Hong Kong.

However, light pollution is a serious issue.

Some residents in Mong Kok have already said that the strong lights from advertising signs disturb their sleep. Some research has shown that it can adversely affect the sleep of babies in Hong Kong.

Do we need to use so many lights?

Some of the more garish signs do appear to be a waste of energy, just designed by companies to attract customers.

Friends of the Earth is actually organising tours to show how wasteful these lights are (“Nathan Road tours to expose lighting abuses”, May 13).

Businesses have to ask themselves if they really need to install so many bright spotlights.

From an environmental protection point of view I can see a case for banning spotlights. However, we do not want to harm the economy.

The government must try to strike the right balance between the needs of the environment and the protection of our economy.

Irene T. S. Diu, Tsz Wan Shan

Solar Energy To Replace Rising Coal

Google, Chevron bet on solar energy to replace rising coal

Natural gas prices, emissions limits support case for switch

Bloomberg in San Francisco – Updated on May 24, 2008

Along a dusty two-lane highway in California’s Mojave Desert, 550,000 mirrors point skywards to make steam for electricity. Google, Chevron Corp and Goldman Sachs Group are betting this energy will become cheaper than coal.

Ausra’s 1,000-acre plant uses concentrated sunlight to generate power for as many as 112,500 homes in Southern California.

Rising natural gas prices and emissions limits may make solar thermal the fastest-growing energy source in the next 10 years, say backers including Vinod Khosla, the founder of computer maker Sun Microsystems.

Costs for the technology will fall below coal as soon as 2020, the United States government estimates.

JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo last year invested in the biggest solar plant built in a generation, Chevron and Google are funding research while Goldman is seeking land to lease as demand outpaces wind turbines and geothermal.

“Solar thermal can provide a substantial amount of our power, more than 50 per cent,” Mr Khosla said. “This is an industrial-strength solution.”

Developers need to overcome limited power lines and the need for energy-storage systems, while lobbying for the extension of tax credits.

“They have to prove their technology,” said Reese Tisdale, a senior analyst at consulting firm Emerging Energy Research, which estimates solar thermal will lure more than US$85 billion in investments by 2020. “There need to be some significant technology jumps.”

The Ardour Solar Energy Index, covering all forms of solar power, climbed 55 per cent in the 12 months to Thursday, outperforming an 8.5 per cent decline in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Unlike photovoltaic solar panels that convert sunlight to electricity, solar thermal focuses sunrays with mirrors to heat oil in glass pipes to about 370 degrees Celsius. The oil turns water to steam, which spins an electric turbine.

Nine solar-thermal plants built in the California desert from 1985 to 1991 still operate, with Juno Beach, FPL Group running seven.

They have combined capacity of 354 MW, enough to power 230,000 Southern California homes.

Development slowed when Congress eliminated tax credits for alternative energy in the early 1990s. Laws put in place in 2005 give solar investors a 30 per cent tax credit.

At FPL’s solar-thermal site in the Mojave, about 145km northeast of Los Angeles, sunshine beats down 340 days a year.

The parabolic reflectors have an efficiency of more than 90 per cent, compared with 80 per cent for a typical bathroom mirror.

FPL uses 15,000-litre trucks to spray water weekly to clean the surfaces, 2 metres off the ground.

“There’s always been a solar resource here,” said Harvey Stephens, a production manager and one of 100 workers at the plant. “It’s just that it hasn’t been cost-effective enough.”

At noon on a typical workday, technicians in a two-story control room monitor a dozen screens showing the heat generated by each array of mirrors.

As temperatures creep past 700 degrees, icons blink to red from green, indicating the centre is ready to feed electricity to the California grid.

Temperatures and power production drop as clouds blow across the sky. Solar-thermal companies are trying to develop backup heat storage using pressurised boiling water or molten salt that can be warmed to more than 1,000 degrees.

Solar power “fits with our peak demand very well as long as the sun is co-operating”, said Michael Yackira, the chief executive of Sierra Pacific Resources, the company that owns utilities serving Las Vegas and other Nevada cities.

“When it’s cloudy, when it’s raining, when it’s dark, it doesn’t produce power.”

A solar-thermal unit that begins operation in 2010 will produce power at 14.2 US cents a kilowatt hour, almost triple the 4.8 US cents for a plant using pulverised coal, the Energy Information Administration estimates.

Costs for solar thermal may fall as low as 3.5 US cents a kilowatt hour by 2020, according to a report commissioned by the US Department of Energy.

Meanwhile, coal expenses may rise. Congress is considering limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

The purchase of pollution permits may be required under a measure the Senate will begin debating next month.

Ausra’s plants would produce electricity at 10 US cents a kilowatt-hour starting in 2010, and the price would fall to eight US cents a few years later as it adopts systems with fewer parts that would be less costly when widely deployed, the company said.

Lights turn night into day

Updated on May 24, 2008 – SCMP

I am always completely amazed at the light pollution in Causeway Bay, in particular, the area with huge advertising billboards on and opposite the Park Lane Hotel.

The lights are so bright that I get confused and think it is daylight when in fact it is night.

Is this level of extreme brightness really necessary? What a huge waste of energy.

M. Scully, Discovery Bay

Power Firms Asked To Cut Down On Coal

22nd May 2008 – SCMP

The two power companies have been asked to use more natural gas and less coal during the Olympic Games in an effort to improve air quality.

Environment Minister Edward Yau Tang-wah told legislators the suggestion had been made in talks between the government, CLP Power and Hongkong Electric.

“We approached the power companies about how to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by adjusting the use of coal and increasing the use of natural gas,” he said.

Hongkong Electric said it was having talks with a supplier about getting extra gas.

Meanwhile, a CLP spokesman said it was aware concerted efforts were needed during the Games’ equestrian events.

Exxon Investors Rebel Over Climate Change Planning

Monday 19 May 2008 – by: Andrew Clark, The Guardian UK

A shareholder revolt at ExxonMobil led by the billionaire Rockefeller family has won the support of four significant British institutional investors who will call on Monday for a shakeup in the governance of the world’s biggest oil company. has learned that F&C Asset Management, Morley Fund Management, the Co-Operative Insurance Society and the West Midlands Pension Fund are throwing their weight behind a resolution demanding that ExxonMobil appoints an independent chairman to stimulate debate on the company’s board.

Exxon is facing a rebellion from its investors over its hardline approach to global warming. The firm has refused to follow rival oil companies in committing large-scale capital investment to environmentally friendly technology such as wind and solar power.

The Rockefeller dynasty, whose ancestor John D Rockefeller founded the original oil business at the core of ExxonMobil, have sponsored four shareholder resolutions demanding changes at Exxon. One of these calls on Exxon’s chief executive Rex Tillerson, to relinquish his role as chairman in favour of an outsider to bring in an alternative point of view.

The London-based corporate governance advisory service Pirc intends to recommend that institutions support this proposal, which is in line with best practice on corporate boards in the UK.

F&C Asset Management’s director of governance and sustainable investment, Karina Litvack, said it could pave the way for a different attitude at Exxon towards the environment.

“Despite top-notch individual directors, the company’s record over the last decade, particularly regarding climate change, demonstrates that debate has been lacking,” said Litvack. “By bringing in an independent chairman, the company can better leverage that creativity and challenge, and avoid over-dominance by management.”

Exxon maintains that present green technologies are not financially viable. But critics on Wall Street and in the City fear that the company’s reluctance to explore alternative energy will prove to be bad business judgment in the long run as rivals such as BP seek to capture public affection by re-branding themselves as environmentally sensitive enterprises.

The Rockefellers point out that Exxon has $25bn (£12.77bn) of capital investment planned in carbon-based fuel but its environmental commitment is centred pn a relatively modest $100m to fund a Stanford University project on climate change.

If the rebellion continues to gather pace, Exxon could suffer an embarrassing defeat at its annual meeting in Dallas later this month. At last year’s meeting, 40% of investors’ votes were cast in favour of a similar call for an independent chairman and the Rockefellers’ involvement this time has raised the profile of the battle.

In the US, three advisory firms – RiskMetrics, Glass Lewis and Proxy Governance – have urged fund managers to support the Rockefellers’ resolution. The result of the vote is not binding on Exxon but the company has said that its board will reconsider any of its policies challenged by successful shareholder resolutions.

An Exxon spokesman last night responded to the British institutions’ stance by re-asserting the company’s position that its board is better placed than investors to decide on the leadership structure.

In a written response to the shareholder resolutions earlier this month, Exxon said its board members possesses “considerable experience and unique knowledge of the challengers and opportunities the company faces”.

Power Chief To Head Chamber

Scarlett Chiang – Updated on May 16, 2008 – SCMP

The chief executive of electricity supplier CLP Holdings, Andrew Brandler, has been elected General Chamber of Commerce chairman, replacing Lily Chiang Lai-lei.

Chiang, the first woman to head the group, has been charged with fraud.

She has been on leave of absence since January after the Independent Commission Against Corruption disclosed charges alleging she was involved in a HK$7.5 million share-option fraud.

Mr Brandler, the former deputy chairman, had been acting chairman until yesterday’s election at the annual general meeting.

Chiang did not seek re-election as a committee member and did not attend the meeting.

Asked about the relationship between the chamber and Chiang, Mr Brandler said it was “not appropriate to talk about it”.

“I appreciate the active work she has done in the past 16 years as a member and the contribution she made as the chair,” he said. “I wish her well.”

Mr Brandler would not say if Chiang was still a member of the chamber, saying just that her company was.

Ernest & Young senior adviser and Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk was elected deputy chairman.

The three vice-chairmen are managing director and deputy chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings) Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, chief executive of Bank of China (Hong Kong) He Guangbei and chairman of KK Yeung Management Consultants K.K. Yeung.

Mr Brandler predicted that the economy would continue to grow, although inflation would slow the rate of growth later in the year.

Asked about a possible minimum-wage law, Mr Brandler said legislation was not the best way to solve the problems of the poor. .

“We question whether legislation on a minimum wage is the right way to do that,” he said. “Looking at other countries, a minimum wage drives up unemployment.”

The chamber’s chief economist, David O’Rear, said he expected first-quarter GDP, to be announced today, would continue to show strong growth.

WindPower To Add Up To 10 Plants

Carol Chan – Updated on May 14, 2008 – SCMP

China WindPower Group plans to add eight to 10 plants with a capital commitment of about 700 million yuan (HK$781 million) every year to tap the growing demand for clean energy on the mainland, chief executive Liu Shunxing said yesterday.

“Installed capacity of wind power in China will increase rapidly in the future as Beijing hopes to have 10,000 megawatts of wind-generated energy installed by 2010, from 1,260 megawatts in 2005 to reduce reliance on highly polluting coal-fired power plants,” Mr Liu said.

China WindPower, a traditional Chinese medicine chain operator in Hong Kong until it changed its business last year, is running four wind power plants with a total installed capacity of 169.5 megawatts and is building another six with a total capacity of 297 megawatts.

Mr Liu said the company, formerly Hong Kong Pharmaceutical, would add more plants in ventures with state-owned companies.

Most of its plants have designed capacity of 49.5 megawatts each but as demand picks up and new technology becomes available, the company will build bigger scale projects.

It recently secured the rights to develop a 200-megawatt wind power project in Gansu province with Guohua Energy, a subsidiary of the mainland’s top coal producer China Shenhua Group.

Total investment of the Gansu project totalled 1.8 billion yuan. The two companies will sign the joint-venture contract in the second half this year and China WindPower could get a 25 per cent to 49 per cent stake, according to Mr Liu.

Mr Liu said the company had obtained the rights to develop wind power resources in Inner Mongolia and Hebei province with potential capacity of 6,000 megawatts, which was enough for the company’s development in the next 10 years.

Nathan Road Tours To Expose Lighting Abuses

Green group says it will show visitors the wasteful use of garish signs by businesses

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on May 13, 2008

A green group is organising tours along bustling Nathan Road to expose what it says is the city’s abuse of, and obsession with, lighting.

The tours aim to challenge the common perception that the colourful neon signs and commercial lights are a sign of prosperity and affluence.

It is part of the group’s campaign against light pollution in Hong Kong.

A lights-out event will be held on June 21 and so far, 38 buildings, including iconic ones in Central, have agreed to join.

Organiser Friends of the Earth said the tours, starting on June 6, would target locals and visitors from the mainland and Taiwan. The group has written to the Travel Industry Council asking for co-operation.

Tour participants will be led to 10 spots along Nathan Road that the group says represent the city’s distorted lighting culture, which wastes energy and disturbs residents’ lives.

A survey by the group found 1,693 neon signs hanging from exterior walls and commercial displays using spotlighting along the 3.6km road from Tsim Sha Tsui to Boundary Street. Eleven sites had at least 20 spotlights, with one in Cheong Hing Plaza, Prince Edward, having 76. Some were near residences but remained switched on at 4am.

Some outlets selling luxury goods were lit up well after closing for the day, when there were no shoppers around.

The group said people on the free tours would see a jewellery retailer’s neon sign in Jordan that changed and flashed 21 times a minute, some blank advertisement boards lit by rows of spotlights, and overlapping neon signs fighting for shoppers’ attention in Mong Kok.

The green group’s environmental affairs manager, Hahn Chu Hon-keung, said Friends of the Earth was not totally against neon signs and commercial lighting, but there was room to minimise their impact on residents and the environment.

“These spotlights and flashing neon signs are proliferating, but there is a vacuum of rules governing them. This is a problem we cannot afford to ignore,” he said.

Edward Ng Yan-yung, a professor of architecture at Chinese University, said Hong Kong should consider enacting a master plan tailored to various land uses and limit the brightness of individual neon signs and commercial lighting.

He said overseas countries allowed only important landmarks such as government buildings or historic architecture to be lit with spotlights.

“We are definitely not against lighting,” Professor Ng said. “But it seems that we are about to enter a vicious cycle where people are competing against each other on the brightness level and the public is being forced to adapt to brighter and brighter lights.”

He said lights could still have a visual impact even if they were dimmed, as long as there was a contrast between light and dark.

Professor Ng warned that if the trend continued, Hong Kong would not just be over-lit, it would aggravate the urban heat-island effect.

Amended Air Pollution Law Will Lead To Drastic Emissions Cuts

Updated on May 02, 2008 – SCMP

I refer to David Renton’s letter (“Change in pollution law relaxes controls over power plants”, April 19), regarding our proposed amendment to the Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

Quite contrary to what he thinks, the proposed amendment is an important step towards achieving the 2010 emission reduction targets agreed with the Guangdong provincial government. Through the amendments, the Hong Kong government proposes to establish the necessary control mechanism to ensure a timely and transparent implementation of the emission caps for the power sector and to cater for possible tightening of the caps in future.

To achieve the 2010 emissions caps, which provide for a radical scaling back of the key air pollutants produced by the power sector by 24 per cent – to 54 per cent of the emission levels in 1997 – the two power companies will have to install additional emission reduction facilities, such as an advanced flue gas desulfurisation system and low-nitrogen-oxides technology. These facilities should be completed in phases starting next year. The amendment bill also proposes to allow the power companies to participate in cross-border emissions trading as an alternative to meeting the emission caps.

The emission trading scheme requires the seller of emission credits to embark upon additional emission abatement projects to achieve further emission reduction beyond statutory limits. Only then will emission credits be generated for trading. This trading framework will offer a flexible and potentially more cost-effective option for power plants in the region to meet the emission limits, thereby help improve the air quality of Hong Kong and the region. To ensure no adverse impact on the local air quality in the vicinity of the power station, the director of environmental protection may also impose any necessary terms and conditions upon the approval of the use of these emissions credits.

Power generation is the largest emission source in Hong Kong. Emissions must be reduced greatly if we are to improve air quality. The proposed legislative amendments aim to do just that.

Pang Sik-wing, principal environmental protection officer, Environmental Protection Department

HK-Shenzhen Technology Project Launches


Hong Kong and Shenzhen have launched the first major technology co-operation project under the Shenzhen Hong Kong Innovation Circle to form a solar energy research and industrial platform in collaboration with DuPont.

Financial Secretary John Tsang said the project is a major co-operation initiative between Hong Kong and Shenzhen to upgrade the environment and boost the development of renewable energy.

“It also marks a significant milestone for the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Innovation Circle. The benefits of our joint efforts will be extended to other parts of the Mainland and Asia,” he said.

Innovative milestone

The Solar Energy Research & Industrial Platform is a major co-operation initiative between Hong Kong and Shenzhen to improve the environment and to promote the development of renewable energy. It also marks a significant milestone for the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Innovation Circle. The benefits of our joint efforts will be extended to other parts of the Mainland and Asia.

According to the letters of intent signed today, the Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corporation will establish a solar energy research and development support centre at Hong Kong Science Park to aid the development of solar energy and related technologies in the city and the Pearl River Delta region. DuPont will join the centre as the first anchor tenant by locating its global thin-film photovoltaic business, research and development centre in the park.

Meanwhile, the Shenzhen Municipal Government will collaborate with Hong Kong to provide land and other facilities to support the downstream development and manufacturing of solar energy products.

Cleaner energy

At the signing ceremony, Mr Tsang said solar energy is a clean and sustainable energy source and its development will help cut the use of fossil fuels in power generation.

“This will help reduce air pollution and the effects of global warming. The joint solar energy research and industrial platform is a major co-operation initiative between Hong Kong and Shenzhen to improve the environment and promote the development of renewable energy.

“We are pleased that DuPont has chosen to locate its global thin-film photovoltaic business, research and development centre in Hong Kong. The decision reinforces our position as a prime location for innovation and technology-based companies in the region.”

The latest studies show there is a growing global demand for the use of renewable energy. Secretary for Commerce & Economic Development Frederick Ma said the joint project will help meet this demand and bring about significant economic benefits to Hong Kong as it will create new jobs and spur further technological developments in this field.