Archive | January 2013

Retiring from a ‘dying breed’ of costumer designers

When Christine Pawlicki was three, she sewed her finger on her mother’s sewing machine instead of her dolls’ clothes. Her mother pulled out the needle and put a Band-Aid on the wound and young Christine went straight back to sewing.

At least, that’s how her mother tells it. Pawlicki, now 49, doesn’t remember the incident. But given subsequent events, it could well have happened.

Pawlicki is opening her new shop, Christine’s Place, on Saturday, February 2, with a big sale of materials and clothing as well as costumes she has made for Canberra theatre shows, including kimonos from The Mikado and Queen Victoria’s dresses from The Department of Heaven.

Pawlicki sees herself as one of a dying breed of old-school, versatile costume and clothing makers who made garments to last. For many years she worked out of the garage at her home but now her husband has his “man-cave” back, she says.

“Between the musical theatre I love to sew for, my gorgeous bridal and formal gowns, the dancing girls and all the costumes I make I needed to make the decision to move out.” And she wants to clear some space for her new venture.

Pawlicki was born in Corowa but has lived most of her life in Canberra. Her mother, a tailor, taught her about making clothes. She remembers when she was six that she was sewing patches on her two-and-a-half-year-old sister’s skirt – while her sister was wearing it.

“I kept stabbing her, several times. She was wiggling – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Her first professional job came when she was 15: she made a formal dress for a friend and made $40.

Pawlicki received further instruction from a textiles teacher at school whom she didn’t like – the woman’s nickname was Steel Wool, on account of her hair – but says she learned a lot. “She taught me the most fantastic things I still use today: she was such a perfectionist.”

When she left school, Pawlicki worked in a series of jobs, each of which taught her something that would come in handy. From a florist, she learned about colour coordination and how to place things; from a dry cleaner she learned about speed.

“You had to move. I could put a zipper into a pair of jeans in 15 minutes: I still can.” And from a curtain shop she learned measuring and cutting skills and the importance of precision.

Working at a Singer Sewing Centre and a fabric shop also added to her body of knowledge. She married her husband, Alex, in 1985 and had two children, Kirsten in 1989 and Christian in 1991.

When her daughter was five and studying at Legs Dance Studio she started designing costumes for the children but eventually, she says, she got “sick of the mums” and went to work at Aldi for a few years. But the September 11, 2001 attacks made her realise she didn’t want to do that for the rest of her life and she went back into clothes-making – wedding dresses, outfits for formals, and much more besides.

The costume budget for a show is usually between $1000 and $2000 but sometimes she will supplement it if she wants to make something special. Some companies have kept the costumes; other times she will keep them and rent them out herself. She makes sure they can easily be taken in and out to fit different bodies.

Among her many other projects have been designing outfits for Canberra Pops concerts, ensuring conductor Ian McLean and guest artists such as Jon English, Rob Guest and Queen Van De Zandt (“my favourite!”) looked good and working backstage at the Australia Day concerts.

“Making sure all the acts are dressed and looking fabulous is such a highlight of my year.”

Harking back to her childhood, Pawlicki says she recently managed to “sew” herself again recently, this time with an industrial sewing machine. “I pulled it out with a pair of pliers myself and stuck my finger in a bottle of Dettol … it hurt like hell,” she says.

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Is where wind comes in

The province in one way is already a leader on the wind front. Tiny Nova Scotia ranks third behind Ontario and Alberta in numbers of farms while its 324 megawatts in current capacity puts it in fifth place country-wide.

The young industry has had a bumpy start in Nova Scotia, where commercial wind projects are awarded under a request for proposals process. Though turbines have been turning in this province since 2002, the real wind capacity only started coming onto the grid two years ago.

Talk about bad timing. That coincided with the start of the global recession and a slump in the worldwide wind sector.

The upshot: a restructuring of the province’s wind sector which saw many smaller players lose their toehold in the industry.

In 2009, Nova Scotia Power, essentially the only market for Nova Scotia wind producers, jumped in to buy two wind farms that had stalled because of their owners’ dire financial problems. A year later, Emera Inc., Nova Scotia Power’s parent company, bought a distressed farm in Digby Neck. In 2011, Sprott Power of Toronto bought out a farm near Amherst from Spanish wind power giant Acciona Energy, which had been hobbled by the economic meltdown in Europe.

Part of the problem is the price of getting into the game: $2 million to $2.5 million per kilowatt hour of wind power produced. The latest batch of wind farm awards underscores that the sector isn’t for the little guy.

Oxford Frozen Foods, controlled by the Bragg family, and Minas Basin Pulp and Power, controlled by the Jodrey clan, were given the go-ahead to spend $200 million on wind projects in Lunenburg County. In both cases, their partner is Nova Scotia Power, which also joined the Municipality of the District of Guysborough on a $25-million wind farm near Canso.

That only became possible after the Nova Scotia government revised rules that barred Nova Scotia Power from investing in wind power operations. But the power company’s sudden ascendance has raised some eyebrows. Andrew Younger, the Liberal energy critic, is worried about the potential for conflict of interest.

“NSPI, which controls the grid, is competing with those who want access to the grid,” he said.

The decision by the provincial government’s renewable electricity administrator to award the new sites to a pair of prominent Nova Scotia business families with little experience in the wind world also drew criticism.

“It’s a tough business at the best of times,” said a former wind company executive, now out of the industry, who did not want to be identified. “To go out and try to compete against these kinds of companies makes it almost impossible.”

The industry already has an image problem that goes beyond a few wealthy folk like Anne Murray complaining that turbines ruin their view of the ocean — and, in some cases, a heavy-handedness in dealing with local communities. Medical complaints against wind turbines are credible enough that Health Canada is conducting a study on the connection between turbine noise and health.

The uproar from the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) crowd is sure to grow as increasing numbers of retirees head for pastoral rural Nova Scotia — precisely where any new wind farms are sure to be located.

One possible solution: put the farms out in the ocean. Offshore wind has become a key component of many coastal countries’ plans — particularly where opposition to onshore farms is stiff.

A dozen countries, almost all in Europe, have offshore wind turbines. The United States, where wind farms are in the works for the waters off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is about to join that group.

Could Nova Scotia be next? Not in the foreseeable future, from the looks of it. A worldwide survey released last month put the price of offshore wind at about $5.1 million per megawatt of capacity — double what it costs onshore in this province.

Eye on Maruti earnings

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may finally give in to the government’s prodding by announcing the first cut in interest rates in nine months, reported Reuters. RBI is expected to cut rates by 25 basis points to 7.75% on Tuesday next week.

Overnight, Wall Street’s S&P 500 touched a five-year high intra-day as signs of economic improvement in the US and China offset a sharp fall in Apple shares, reported Financial Times. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.3%, S&P 500 closed flat and Nasdaq Composite was down 0.8%.

Asian markets were trading mostly higher on Friday morning following further acceleration in the Chinese economy. The flash China purchasing managers’ index by HSBC rose to 51.9 in January from 51.5 in December.

Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average was up 2%, China’s Shanghai Composite was flat and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.2%, reported MarketWatch.

In India, RBI raised the ceiling for foreign institutional investors’ holdings in corporate bonds and government securities by $5 billion to $75 billion, reported Business Standard. This would attract more foreign funds into the bond market and may help curb the current account deficit.

Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) may see some action following an Economic Times report that the telecom arm of RIL may buy a stake in Reliance Infratel. The deal includes leasing around 50,000 towers over a 10-year period at Rs.8,500-10,000 crore.

The Bombay Stock Exchange will float its initial public offer in the first quarter of FY14 through the offer-for-sale route, becoming Asia’s first stock exchange to list its own shares, reported Mint.

Larsen & Toubro Ltd may continue to remain in the limelight after it reported better-than-expected December quarter results, Its order book jumped 14% to Rs.19,545 crore from a year ago and was on track to achieve its yearly guidance, erasing fears of a slowdown.

Tata Motors Ltd may continue to remain under pressure after its Jaguar Land Rover unit warned investors that it may post a lower operating margin in the December quarter as its UK unit sold higher number of the cheaper models and spent money on introducing a new Range Rover.

HDIL may continue to see some action after management in a conference call with analysts and investors clarified that stake sale by the promoter was done to raise funds to pay for a land acquisition in south Mumbai, reported Business Standard.

Suzlon Energy Ltd will be in the limelight after it reached a deal for corporate debt restructuring of $1.8 billion. This will give the wind turbine maker enhanced working capital facilities of $350 million.

Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) is set to import coal from its Mozambique mine where production will commence this year, reported Business Standard. JSPL plans to import about 500,000 tonnes of coking coal from the Africa in 2013.

Lastly, towards the end of the first day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, a panel of five judges released their shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize which has 10 finalists, with Kannada author U.R. Ananthamurthy, the only one from India, reported Wall Street Journal India.

Wind Energy PTC Implementation Rules

As the initial relief and excitement over the extension of the wind energy production tax credit (PTC) begin to subside, many developers are seeking clarification on what the changes to the legislation’s language mean for their projects and future development plans.

As most in the industry know by now, projects must begin construction – rather than enter operation – by Jan. 1, 2014, in order to qualify for the PTC. The change in language was welcomed by many developers, which are now afforded more time to complete their projects. However, the new verbiage also introduced a number of questions, such as what it technically means to begin construction.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is seeking to clear up some of this confusion. Although some of the details are still up in the air, AWEA is currently working with congressional leaders and other stakeholders to quickly attain answers for the industry, the association said at a recent webinar.

Tom Vinson, AWEA’s senior director of regulatory affairs, said the association is pushing for the latest rules to be the same as those established under the Treasury’s Section 1603 cash-grant program, as the industry is already familiar with that guidance. New rules would delay the development process and render the PTC extension less useful, he noted.

“AWEA will pitch that [the new PTC guidance] needs to be timely and based on prior precedence that has proven workable,” Vinson said.

Under the old PTC rules, beginning construction meant starting work “of a significant nature,” which could include steps like building access roads and foundations, but not initial work such as environmental reviews and geophysical studies. Moreover, beginning work on one turbine qualified as construction on the entire project.

However, the previous guidance was less clear about whether construction had to be continuous in order for the project to qualify for the PTC. Now that the PTC deadline has been modified from a placed-in-service date to a start-construction date, this specificity will be of utmost importance, as projects could potentially begin construction and then sit idle, and still qualify for the PTC.

In order to address this concern, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury Department could add a continuous-construction requirement, which could be bad news for projects being built in cold climates or for those that face seasonal wildlife restrictions.

Alternatively, the agencies might tack on a placed-in-service deadline to the new PTC rules, Vinson said, noting that this could be an interest of the Joint Committee on Taxation, which is working with the IRS and the Treasury on the guidance.

Despite the extended timeline afforded by the new start-construction language, developers should be aware that the same changes were not made to the requirements for bonus depreciation: The fiscal-cliff legislation extended the 50% bonus-depreciation allowance for property (i.e., equipment) placed in service before Jan. 1, 2014.

Vinson said AWEA is working to clarify all of these requirements in order to provide developers with more certainty. Although the Treasury will be involved in the process, the new guidance will have to come primarily from the IRS, which will complete the initial drafting of the rules. According to Vinson, those rules will most likely come in the form of informal guidance, rather than a full-fledged rulemaking.

Whereas the Treasury and the IRS took about five months to provide the previous PTC guidance, Vinson said he expects that this time, the process will take somewhere between two and four months. However, he added that AWEA will continue to push the agencies for a quicker turnaround.

Cutting-edge cancer robot for WA

WA will be the first Australian State with a revolutionary cancer treatment that uses highly targeted radiation on tumours once considered untreatable.

The robotic machine, known as CyberKnife and costing $9 million, will be installed at the State Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

An Australian physicist developed the technology about 20 years ago and it has been used in 300 centres worldwide, including in the US, Europe and Asia.

But it has never been available in Australia, prompting some people to pay up to $100,000 to have the treatment overseas.

Despite its name, CyberKnife is not a knife but fires beams of radiation at a tumour from virtually any direction via a robotic arm, without affecting healthy tissue.

The tracking software detects any movement of the tumour or patient and automatically corrects the robot position before targeting the tumour with multiple beams of high-energy radiation.

The treatment is so accurate, it can treat tumours previously seen as inoperable or untreatable.

Because it gives significantly more targeted radiation, it is 100 times more potent and treats patients much faster, with most only needing three to five visits compared with up to 50 with existing radiation treatment.

Professor David Joseph, head of radiation oncology at SCGH, said he had lobbied for 10 years to get the technology in WA.

“This is a very exciting development for the people of WA and will revolutionise radiation treatment by allowing us to use a pencil beam to deliver incredibly precise radiation to the body,” he said.

“For prostate cancer, for example, it will mean much less toxic treatment that can be given in a much shorter time.”

The CyberKnife can treat many cancers including in the lungs, head, neck, spine, abdomen and prostate. In WA, it will initially be used on head and neck cancers.

A full-service Longmont, Boulder, and Denver area CNC machine shop, is pleased to announce today the acquisition of a new precision coordinate measuring machine (CMM), adding to its increasing inventory of cutting-edge CNC machining tools. Owing to the recent upswing in the manufacturing sector, Colorado based APM has experienced steady growth since beginning operations in 2005, allowing for recent expansion.

Through the years, Advanced Precision Machining has provided comprehensive machine shop services from blueprint, to machining high quality parts, to inspection services. Attention to detail, and a strong customer commitment now enables the company to upgrade its facilities with this long sought after precision manufacturing tool.

This year’s International Machine Technology Show in Chicago showcased the best machine shop tools in the industry, and provided APM the inspiration for purchasing one of the best CMMs in the business; a Zeiss Spectrum II Coordinate Measuring Machine.

Kirk Tuesberg, co-owner at APM states, “In our quest to provide our customers the best service and quality in the precision machining industry, we are of the opinion that the Zeiss machine delivers unmatched accuracy, reliability, and efficiency.”

Co-owner Gerry Dillon adds, “Our fully certified machinists have earned a reputation for meeting and exceeding our customers’ needs for highly accurate parts, and the acquisition of this machine allows for the further pursuit of perfection, which this industry demands.”

France’s offshore wind power tenders

The French government has launched its second public tender for the construction of two circa-500MW capacity offshore wind farms, with an expected total investment of EUR3.35bn. The tender comes in the context of small but growing anti-nuclear sentiment, as well as the need to replace aging nuclear capacity and meet its 25GW wind power target by 2020.

France currently has 6GW of wind capacity. In 2011, wind generated 11.8TWh of power and contributed to 2.1% of the country’s total electricity generation. Nuclear generation currently dominates France’s electricity generation mix, making up 75% in 2012. However, under the leadership of the current socialist government, France aims to reduce the share of nuclear generation to 50% by 2025 and instead turn towards solar and wind energy.

In this context, the government has launched a fresh public tender for two 500MW-capacity offshore wind farms in northern France, near the islands of Noirmoutier and Yeu on the Atlantic coast. France awarded the first tender for offshore wind farms in April 2012, which had a capacity of 2,000MW at an investment of EUR7bn.

22 out of the current 58 reactors in France will complete their lifespan by 2022, leaving the government with the option to either decommission or extend their lifespans. The significant reduction in nuclear generation desired by the government, growing anti-nuclear public sentiment in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, and finally the high-capital costs of refurbishment are all factors driving the decision to shut down the aging reactors. Indeed, the Fessenheim 1 and 2 reactors located in northeastern France with a total capacity of 1,760MW, will be shut down by 2017.

France is a predominantly nuclear-led country; however, favorable policy and geographical conditions mean that it is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for renewable investment. Firstly, France has one of the strongest feed-in mechanisms in Europe promoting wind energy, especially for offshore projects: the feed-in tariff in France for offshore wind was EUR0.13/kWh in 2012, which has been constant since 2008. Secondly, France benefits from long coastlines including the English Channel, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic, thereby allowing an average wind speed for offshore turbines of 13.5 knots.

These strategic advantages have motivated significant investments in wind, comprising of both domestic and foreign direct investment. For example Boralex, based in Canada, acquired the 32MW La Vallee wind power project located in the department of Indre, France, while German Enercon has also expanded its presence in the Picardy region in France. In 2013 France’s EDF acquired 321MW of wind capacity in partnership with GE Energy and MEAG, which is the asset management arm of Munich Re and ERGO. Foreign investment has also extended to the domestic supply chain, with Japanese and Danish technology giants such as NTN and Vestas having set up extensive turbine assembly sites in France.

Datamonitor expects wind energy to be instrumental in helping France to achieve its aim of 23% electricity generation from renewable sources by 2020, which will be an unavoidable part of the generation landscape if France is determined to reduce its nuclear capacity. With a debt-constrained EDF and some 25GW of wind capacity to be met by 2020, France would appear to be an obvious candidate for foreign utilities and component manufacturers looking to expand.

Europe’s Bright Future

A year ago, when German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble claimed that within 12 months Europe’s leaders “will have banished the dangers of contagion and stabilized the euro zone,” he was accused of groundless optimism. But it appears he was right, at least for now. During 2012, the euro zone provided proof of its will to stay together.

In 2013, Europe must demonstrate its resolve to modernize economic structures and restart growth. Otherwise, progress made in 2012 will be jeopardized, not just in Europe but around the world.

As leaders gather to discuss the global economy at the World Economic Forum in Davos in the coming days, I am optimistic that these improvements will be made. This is not because structural reforms are easy. They will be more painful than the changes in regional monetary and financial arrangements.

Rather, my optimism comes from Europe’s inspiring history of reform and progress, which includes Spain in the 1980s, Sweden in the ’90s and Estonia in the 2000s. These stories are catalogued in “Golden Growth,” the World Bank’s assessment of the European economic model. It is not difficult to be upbeat in a region where policy reforms have historically led to shared prosperity.

Europe will still have to make many changes in the next 12 months. It needs a region-wide regulator and supervisor of banking activity; this is already under way. It also needs reforms to put public finances in order, make social services and public programs more efficient, and regulate work in ways that encourage effort and enterprise.

But while fixing the faults and failures of their economic model, Europeans must not forget their continent’s strengths and successes. Three achievements deserve note.

First, unprecedented integration has enabled more than a dozen countries—including Ireland in the 1980s, Portugal in the ’90s, and Slovenia and the Slovak Republic in the 2000s—to become advanced economies in a hurry. This did not happen by chance. The European “convergence machine” is the product of vigorous trade and financial flows enabled by the single market and nurtured expertly by the European Commission.

Second, economic integration has helped “Europe” become a global brand. Since the mid-1990s, European enterprises have generated jobs and exports. European goods and services—German cars and French resorts—are desired around the world. Again, this is not accidental. These countries have made it easier to do business.

When it comes to improving the investment climate, Central Europe has picked up the pace during the last 10 years. The euro-zone economies that have decelerated their reforms should take note. Tight interlinkages create growing gaps in competitiveness in Europe.

Third, by translating peace and progress into an enviable work-life balance, Europeans enjoy the highest quality of life. But a good thing can be taken too far. As prosperity brought better health and longer lives, Europeans have shortened their work week, taken longer vacations and retired ever earlier. Retirees and jobless workers rely ever more on the state and ever less on the market.

Today, with 10% of the world’s population and 30% of its GDP, Europe accounts for 60% of global social-protection spending, i.e. pensions, unemployment benefits and social assistance. Most countries in Europe are finding it difficult to provide generous social protection without sacrificing growth. The results are permanent fiscal deficits and growing public debt.