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Taxes slow India’s solar power rollout but boost manufacture

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Taxes slow India’s solar power rollout but boost manufacture

BENGALURU, India (AP) — In May last year Fortum India, a subsidiary of a Finnish solar developer, won the bid for a solar power project in the state of Gujarat. The project was due to be completed three months ago and would have generated enough electricity for 200,000 homes.

But like many other solar power projects in the country, it’s been delayed as Fortum India struggles to source and pay for necessary components.

“For the last six months, we have not been able to finish developing any new projects,” said Manoj Gupta, who oversees Fortum India’s solar projects in India.

Gupta said solar panels and cells have become obstructively expensive because of protective taxes the Indian federal government implemented in April last year. The basic customs duty imposes a levy of 40% on imported solar modules and 25% on solar cells.

The government says it wants to encourage the domestic manufacture of components required to produce solar power and reduce the country’s reliance on imports.

But solar developers say homegrown producers, while rapidly growing and being pushed along by policy initiatives, are still too fledgling to meet demand. Current cell and module manufacturing capacity in India is around 44 gigawatts per year, just a fraction of what’s needed to meet India’s renewable aims.

In 2022, India had a target to install 100 gigawatts of solar energy as part of goal to add 175 gigawatts of clean electricity to its grid. But only 63 gigawatts of solar power were ultimately installed last year, according to Indian federal government data. India missed its 2022 renewable energy target by just nine gigawatts.

“Without these duties we would have easily achieved our targets for larger solar projects, at least,” said Jyoti Gulia of the renewable energy research and advisory firm JMK Research.

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Most solar developers in India and around the world rely on China, with the nation producing more than 80% of the world’s solar components, according to the International Energy Agency. Many countries have tried to encourage domestic production to limit dependence on the country. The United States’ recent climate law, for example, also incentivizes homemade renewable energy manufacturing.

“China controls the market and we saw during both the pandemic and the geopolitical conflict between our countries that they just stopped the supply chain completely,” said Chiranjeev Saluja from the Indian solar manufacturer Premier Energies. “I think the government wants to develop the whole solar ecosystem, that is the intent behind such policies.”

Saluja added that a bustling solar manufacturing industry also had wider economic benefits.

“The jobs in manufacturing are well-paying, secure jobs. And while developers employ only a handful of people, to manufacture cells required to produce one gigawatt of solar energy, you will need at least 500 people,” he said.

A 2022 report found that India’s renewable energy sector could employ more than one million people by 2030, but only if domestic manufacturing continued to scale up considerably.

Another Indian government policy that mandates that solar components can only be bought from government-approved manufacturers to ensure that the modules and cells are of good quality is also stalling projects, according to analysts.

Developers are unable to purchase from southeast Asian countries as manufacturers there have yet to be approved or have not applied. Many of those countries have free trade agreements with India which would make them exempt from import taxes.

“The situation is quite grim today,” said Vinay Rustagi, managing director at the renewable energy consultancy Bridge to India. “Global supply chain issues, material shortages and, of course, the duty on solar components has led to a lot of projects being postponed.”

Rustagi said the growth in domestic manufacturing as a result of the tax is “encouraging, but I do not think it is sustainable.” He added that the government “should be aiming to create strong domestic capabilities that can be a preferred choice without any taxes or duties.”

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Solar manufacturers do not agree.

“We have allowed for dumping from other countries for too long. Otherwise domestic manufacturing would have taken a strong root already,” said Gyanesh Chaudhary, vice chairman at Vikram Solar, an Indian solar manufacturer.

“These taxes and policies were announced well in advance and there was enough time to factor them into costs,” Chaudhary said. “Mandates such as the approved list of manufacturers are to make sure the quality of products coming into India are of a certain minimum quality.”

But Srivatsan Iyer of solar developer Hero Future Energies said the unpredictability of the sector made it hard to factor in the extra costs.

“Land, connectivity to the project site, supply chain issues are just some dynamic factors and, of course, the pandemic,” said Iyer of the difficult landscape for solar projects. “With these duties, clean power is just more expensive for India now.”

Iyer is worried that the extra costs could also thwart India’s next renewable energy target in 2030. But he’s hopeful the government might defer some duties in the upcoming federal budget announcement scheduled for Feb. 1.

The government hasn’t yet given any indication that it will make amendments to its tax policy.

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Follow Sibi Arasu on Twitter at @sibi123

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

 

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

BALTIMORE (AP) — Teams of engineers worked Saturday on the intricate process of cutting and lifting the first section of twisted steel from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which crumpled into the Patapsco River this week after a massive cargo ship crashed into one of its supports.

Sparks could be seen flying from a section of bent and crumpled steel in the afternoon, and video released by officials in the evening showed demolition crews using a cutting torch to slice through the thick beams. The joint incident command said in a statement that the work was being done on the top of the north side of the collapsed structure.

Crews were carefully measuring and cutting the steel from the broken bridge before attaching straps so it can be lifted onto a barge and floated away, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said.

Seven floating cranes — including a massive one capable of lifting 1,000 tons — 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats were on site in the water southeast of Baltimore.

Each movement affects what happens next and ultimately how long it will take to remove all the debris and reopen the ship channel and the blocked Port of Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

“I cannot stress enough how important today and the first movement of this bridge and of the wreckage is. This is going to be a remarkably complicated process,” Moore said.

Undeterred by the chilly morning weather, longtime Baltimore resident Randy Lichtenberg and others took cellphone photos or just quietly looked at the broken pieces of the bridge, which including its steel trusses weigh as much as 4,000 tons.

“I wouldn’t want to be in that water. It’s got to be cold. It’s a tough job,” Lichtenberg said from a spot on the river called Sparrows Point.

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The shock of waking up Tuesday morning to video of what he called an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline falling into the water has given way to sadness.

“It never hits you that quickly. It’s just unbelievable,” Lichtenberg said.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

One of the first goals for crews on the water is to get a smaller auxiliary ship channel open so tugboats and other small barges can move freely. Crews also want to stabilize the site so divers can resume searching for four missing workers who are presumed dead.

Two other workers were rescued from the water in the hours following the bridge collapse, and the bodies of two more were recovered from a pickup truck that fell and was submerged in the river. They had been filling potholes on the bridge and while police were able to stop vehicle traffic after the ship called in a mayday, they could not get to the construction workers, who were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The crew of the cargo ship Dali, which is managed by Synergy Marine Group, remained on board with the debris from the bridge around it, and were safe and were being interviewed. They are keeping the ship running as they will be needed to get it out of the channel once more debris has been removed.

The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk.

The collision and collapse appeared to be an accident that came after the ship lost power. Federal and state investigators are still trying to determine why.

Assuaging concern about possible pollution from the crash, Adam Ortiz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, said there was no indication in the water of active releases from the ship or materials hazardous to human health.

REBUILDING

Officials are also trying to figure out how to handle the economic impact of a closed port and the severing of a major highway link. The bridge was completed in 1977 and carried Interstate 695 around southeast Baltimore.

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Maryland transportation officials are planning to rebuild the bridge, promising to consider innovative designs or building materials to hopefully shorten a project that could take years.

President Joe Biden’s administration has approved $60 million in immediate aid and promised the federal government will pay the full cost to rebuild.

Ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore remains suspended, but the Maryland Port Administration said trucks were still being processed at marine terminals.

The loss of a road that carried 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters, but also U.S. consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

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Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C.; Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tennessee; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed.

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The Texas attorney general is investigating a key Boeing supplier and asking about diversity

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The Texas attorney general is investigating a key Boeing supplier and asking about diversity

DALLAS (AP) — The Texas attorney general has opened an investigation into a key Boeing supplier that is already facing scrutiny from federal regulators over quality of parts that it provides to the aircraft maker.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said it began looking into Spirit AeroSystems because of “apparent manufacturing defects” in parts that “have led to numerous concerning or dangerous incidents.”

In a statement Friday, a Spirit spokesman said, “While we do not comment on investigations, Spirit is wholly focused on providing the highest quality products to all our customers, to include the Boeing Company.”

Paxton asked the Wichita, Kansas-based supplier to turn over documents produced since the start of 2022 about communication with investors and Boeing about flaws in parts and corrective steps the company took.

The request goes into detail in seeking internal discussions around Spirit’s efforts to create a diverse workforce “and whether those commitments are unlawful or are compromising the company’s manufacturing processes.” Paxton asked for a breakdown of Spirit’s workforce by race, sexual orientation and other factors, and whether the makeup has changed over time.

Since a Spirit-made door-plug panel blew off an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max in January, some conservatives have tried to link aviation safety to diversity at manufacturers.

Paxton is a conservative Republican who this week agreed to pay $271,000 in restitution to victims and take 15 hours of training in legal ethics to settle felony charges of securities fraud. Paxton did not admit wrongdoing in the 9-year-old case.

The Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation into Boeing Spirit after the Alaska Airlines incident. An FAA audit of manufacturing procedures in Spirit’s factory gave the company failing grades in seven of 13 areas.

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Boeing is in talks to buy back Spirit, which it spun off nearly 20 years ago, as part of a plan to tighten oversight of manufacturing in its supply chain.

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