Ukraine’s GDP will fall deeper than expected – central bank deputy governor

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s GDP will fall deeper than expected this year because of Russian air strikes on the country’s energy infrastructure, central bank deputy governor Serhiy Nikolaychuk said on Thursday.

“The fall in GDP will be deeper this year than we had expected in October,” he told a news briefing. “Next year the economic recovery will be very lethargic and much lower than we had expected.”

(Reportign by Olena Harmash, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Ukraine faces ‘significant’ power shortages after Russian attacks

By Pavel Polityuk

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine enforced new emergency power cuts on Thursday as it tried to repair energy infrastructure damaged in Russian air strikes which the national grid operator said had caused significant supply shortages.

Russia pummelled power facilities across Ukraine in the latest big wave of attacks on Monday at a time of the year when energy consumption usually rises because winter is setting in.

“As of 11:00 a.m. on December 8, because of damage caused by missile strikes to power plants and the high-voltage network, the system has a significant shortage of electricity,” grid operator Ukrenergo said.

It said the situation was complicated by the weather, with western regions facing frost, rain, snow and strong winds that were causing wires to ice over, but that the most difficult situation was in eastern areas where fighting has been fiercest.

“In all regions, there is a lack of energy – up to a third of what is needed,” said Oleksandr Starukh, governor of the Zaporizhzhia region in southeastern Ukraine.

Monday’s attacks began as emergency blackouts were due to end, with previous damage repaired. DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private power producer, said there were now emergency power cuts in the capital Kyiv and the Kyiv region, in the southern region of Odesa and in Dnipro in central Ukraine.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, has increased attacks on energy facilities in recent weeks, saying strikes on vital infrastructure are militarily legitimate. Ukraine says attacks intended to cause civilian misery are a war crime.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko warned of an “apocalypse” scenario for the capital this winter if Russian air strikes on infrastructure continue. He told Reuters there was no need for people to evacuate now, but they should be ready to do so.

Blackouts have become frequent and the government has urged the public to conserve energy by reducing use of domestic appliances such as ovens, washing machines, electric kettles and irons.

In the event of a total blackout, mobile communications, television and radio would work for at least three days, said Yuriy Shchygol, the head of the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine.

(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Keadby 3 becomes first UK carbon capture power station to win planning permission

LONDON (Reuters) – Keadby 3 Carbon Capture Power Station in northern England has become the UK’s first carbon capture and storage (CCS) project to receive planning permission.

The project is backed by Britain’s SSE Thermal, part of SSE, and Norwegian energy company Equinor.

The proposed plant in north Lincolnshire has received a Development Consent Order following an extensive period of consultation, SSE said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

Keadby 3 would have a generating capacity of up to 910 megawatt (MW) and can capture up to one and a half million tonnes of CO2 a year, which represents at least 5% of the UK government’s 2030 target, according to SSE.

The power station could be operational as early as 2027.

“This news is a significant milestone for our joint ambition to deliver clean, flexible and efficient power to support intermittent renewable generation and maintain security of supply,” said Grete Tveit, senior vice president for low carbon solutions at Equinor.

SSE Thermal and Equinor are also collaborating on building Peterhead Carbon Capture Power Station in the northeast of Scotland. They are also developing Keadby Hydrogen Power Station and Aldbrough Hydrogen Storage.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; editing by Jason Neely and Susan Fenton)

Colombia awards infrastructure project worth $674.5 million to Spain’s Sacyr

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s government on Wednesday awarded a project worth 3.25 trillion pesos ($674.5 million) to Spanish engineering firm Sacyr for reconstructing and maintaining the Dique Canal, the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) said.

The Dique Canal is an artificial fork of the Magdalena River, in Colombia’s Caribbean region, which was built in the 16th century to ease passage between the river and the city of Cartagena.

The project will repair degraded ecosystems and mitigate the impact of possible flooding in a wide region of the South American country. It will initially run for 15 years and is expected to generate some 61,000 jobs.

The environmental mega-project is needed to help the transportation of goods through its waters to Colombia’s ports in the Caribbean, the ANI said in a statement.

($1 = 4,818.32 Colombian pesos)

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin, editing by Deepa Babington)

Britain approves first new coal mine in decades despite climate targets

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain approved its first new deep coal mine in decades on Wednesday to produce the high-polluting fuel for use in steelmaking, a decision which drew criticism from opponents who say it will hinder climate targets.

The Woodhouse Colliery, to be developed by West Cumbria Mining in northwest England, seeks to extract coking coal which is used in the steel industry rather than for electricity generation. It is expected to create around 500 jobs.

The project, unveiled in 2014, has come under criticism from the British government’s own independent climate advisory panel as well as opposition parties, climate activists and organisations, including Greta Thunberg and Greenpeace.

“This coal will be used for the production of steel and would otherwise need to be imported. It will not be used for power generation,” a spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said after minister Michael Gove granted permission.

“The mine seeks to be net zero in its operations and is expected to contribute to local employment and the wider economy.”

The majority of the coal produced is expected to be exported to Europe. Planning documents show that more than 80% of the coal the mine will produce annually is forecast to, after five years, be sent to an export terminal on England’s east coast.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal — such as in steel and power plants — are the single biggest contributor to climate change, and weaning countries off coal is considered vital to achieving global climate targets.

Paul Elkins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, said the mine did not make sense environmentally or economically.

“Approving it also trashes the UK’s reputation as a global leader on climate action and opens it up to well justified charges of hypocrisy – telling other countries to ditch coal while not doing so itself,” he said.

Britain has passed laws requiring it to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The chair of Britain’s independent Climate Change Committee, John Gummer, criticized the approval of the Woodhouse project.

“Phasing out coal use is the clearest requirement of the global effort towards Net Zero … This decision grows global emissions,” he said in a statement.

The coal mine, the size of roughly 60 soccer fields or 23 hectares, would take two years to build at a cost estimated in 2019 of 165 million pounds ($201 million). The mine is proposed to be operated for 50 years.

It will supply steelmakers in Britain and western Europe and employ just over 500 workers when it reaches peak production after five years, with more than 80% of them expected to work underground in coal production.

Critics also argue demand for coal in steel making is declining as the industry moves towards hydrogen.

Britain, the cradle of the industrial revolution, once employed 1.2 million people at nearly 3,000 collieries. Its last deep-pit mine closed in 2015.

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Muvija M; Additional reporting by Susanna Twidale, William James and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Michael Holden, Deepa Babington and Grant McCool)

Russians fired more than 1,000 times at Ukrainian power grid – Interfax

(Reuters) – Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at Ukraine’s power grid, which is still working despite taking major damage, Interfax Ukraine news agency cited a senior official as saying on Wednesday.

Volodymyr Kudrytsky, chief executive of the Ukrenergo grid operator, also told a meeting arranged by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that his officials were scouring the world for the complex equipment needed for repairs.

Eight recent waves of Russian air strikes on critical infrastructure have seriously damaged the grid and led to emergency and planned outages across the country.

“These attacks represent the biggest blow to a power grid that humanity has ever seen. More than 1,000 shells and rockets were fired at electrical facilities and lines, including substations,” Interfax Ukraine cited Kudrytsky as saying.

Ukraine now has a serious shortage of generating capacity, even though consumption is down between 25% and 30% compared to the pre-war period.

“The system is still working, it is integrated, not broken or disconnected,” Kudrytsky said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later said Ukraine was increasing the electricity supply every day but noted problems in Kyiv and several other regions.

“We should not forget … that it is impossible to restore 100% of the energy system, as it was before the beginning of the Russian energy terror,” he said in an evening video address.

“Time is needed. That is why scheduled blackouts continue in most of the cities and districts,” he continued.

Ukrenergo said last week it had secured 300 million euros($315 million) in EBRD loans to restore power infrastructure damaged in the attacks and improve financial stability.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)

Two solar developers vie for Enel’s assets in Chile –sources

By Isla Binnie and Andres Gonzalez

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sonnedix and Cubico, two renewable energy developers, are competing to buy Chilean solar power assets that Italy’s Enel has put on the block to help trim debt, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Sonnedix, which is owned by a group of institutional investors advised by JPMorgan Chase & Co’s asset management arm, and Cubico, which is owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, expect Enel to decide on a buyer by the end of this month, the sources said.

Consisting of around 500 megawatts (MW) of operating and newly built sites, the portfolio is expected to fetch up to 1 billion euros ($1 billion).

Enel and Cubico declined to comment. Sonnedix did not respond to a request for comment.

Pension and infrastructure funds have been buying stakes in low-carbon energy generation for many years, attracted by their predictable returns.

Rising regulatory and social pressure to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change has increased their appeal, pushing some of those groups to create their own development units and enter projects at earlier stages.

Buffeted by swings in demand prompted by COVID-19 and energy market havoc since Russia’s war in Ukraine, Europe’s second-biggest utility is cutting down its business in far-flung markets to focus on a planned 37 billion euro investment drive in six main markets in Europe and the Americas.

The solar sale is a pure cash-raising exercise, one of the sources said, as Enel aims to lower its net debt to 51 billion to 52 billion euro by the end of 2023 from 69 billion at the end of September.

(Additional reporting by Valentina Za and Francesca Landini in Milan; editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Putin says Russia could be fighting in Ukraine for a long time

By Mark Trevelyan and Tom Balmforth

LONDON/KYIV (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday his army could be fighting in Ukraine for a long time, but he saw no sense in expanding a call-up of 300,000 reservists from September and October after serious Russian battlefield setbacks.

Earlier, Russia’s ally Belarus said it was moving troops and military hardware to counteract what it called a threat of terrorism, amid signs that Moscow may be pressing Minsk to open a new front in Ukraine as the war has bogged down.

Putin has rarely spoken about the war’s likely duration as Russia has been forced into a series of significant retreats in the face of Ukrainian counter-offensives, waged with increasing stocks of Western weaponry, in the east and south since July.

Russia launched what it calls its “special military operation” in February, saying Ukraine’s deepening ties with the West posed a security threat. Kyiv and its allies say the invasion amounts to an imperialist land grab.

“As for the duration of the special military operation, well, of course, this can be a long process,” Putin said during a televised meeting of his Human Rights Council, where the Ukraine war took centre stage.

He said there was no reason for a second military mobilisation at this point, after the autumn’s mass call-up.

Around 150,000 of those 300,000 reservists were deployed in Ukraine, 77,000 in combat units, he said. The remaining 150,000 were still at training centres.

“Under these conditions, talk about any additional mobilisation measures simply makes no sense,” Putin said.

Russians, he said, would “defend ourselves with all the means at our disposal”, asserting that Russia was seen in the West as “a second-class country that has no right to exist at all”.

Putin further said the risk of a nuclear war was growing – the latest in a string of such warnings apparently meant to deter Kyiv’s Western backers from more robust involvement – but that Russia would not threaten recklessly to use such weapons.

Despite recent retreats on the battlefield, including the loss of Kherson, the one Ukrainian provincial capital Russia captured, Putin has said he has no regrets about launching a war that is Europe’s most devastating since World War Two.

He said Russia had already achieved a “significant result” with the acquisition of “new territories” – a reference to the annexation of four partly occupied regions in September that Kyiv and most members of the United Nations condemned as illegal.

PLAYING THE BELARUSIAN CARD?

In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, who relied on Russian troops to put down a popular revolt two years ago, has allowed his country to serve as a staging ground for Russia’s invasion of their common neighbour.

He has so far kept his own army from joining in, but recent weeks have seen increasing signs of involvement in Belarus from Moscow. On Saturday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu flew unannounced to the capital Minsk. He and Belarusian counterpart Viktor Khrenin signed amendments to the two countries’ security cooperation agreement, without disclosing the new terms.

On Wednesday, the Belarusian Security Council, quoted by state news agency Belta, said troops and hardware would be moving in the country over the next two days, with imitation weapons used for training.

It gave no details about the number of troops or types of hardware that would be moved, or to what locations or of the nature of the training exercises. In Minsk, residents said there were no outward signs of unusual activity there.

Thousands of Russian troops have deployed in Belarus since October, Ukraine says, and Belarus authorities have increasingly spoken of a threat of “terrorism” from partisans operating from across the border. Lukashenko has ordered his military to compile information about reservists by the end of this year.

STRATEGY SHIFT?

In the past, some Western diplomats have been sceptical that Belarus would join the war, noting that it had a comparatively small military, and Moscow would be wary of rekindling public opposition to Lukashenko that would weaken him for little gain.

Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Belarusian opposition leader-in-exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, told Reuters he thought it would be “political suicide” for Lukashenko to send Belarusian troops into Ukraine.

“Soldiers will not obey, elites will split, new protests will start. He (Lukashenko) knows this. Belarusians will not swallow this, and the whole system will crumble,” he said.

Ukrainian officials have also said they doubted Russia had enough troops in Belarus to attack from there yet, and action near the border could be intended instead as a decoy to lure Kyiv’s forces away from key eastern and southern battlefronts.

But some analysts say the flurry of activity in recent weeks could also be a genuine sign Belarus might send troops.

‘APOCALYPSE’

In Ukraine, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko warned of an “apocalypse” scenario without power, running water or heat in the Ukrainian capital this winter if Russian air strikes on infrastructure continue. He said there was no need for residents to evacuate now, though they should be ready to do so.

Authorities were working to repair the latest damage to the power grid inflicted by a barrage of Russian missile strikes on Monday, hours after apparent Ukrainian drone strikes on two air bases deep inside Russia.

Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for the drone strikes but has celebrated the apparent demonstration of newfound capability to penetrate Russia’s defences.

The United States has made clear to Ukraine its concerns about any escalation of the war with Russia and did not encourage it to strike the two air bases, the White House’s national security spokesman said on Wednesday.

But “unlike the Russians, we respect Ukrainian sovereignty”, including decisions about how Kiev uses weapons supplied by the United States, John Kirby told reporters in Washington.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and John Stonestreet)

California offshore wind auction ends with $757.1 million in high bids

(Reuters) – The Biden administration’s sale of offshore wind development rights off the coast of California drew $757.1 million in high bids from developers seeking a foothold in the domestic industry’s expansion to the Pacific Ocean.

The auction, which began on Tuesday and stretched into Wednesday, is part of the administration’s plan to put wind turbines along every U.S. coastline to tackle climate change and create jobs.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Mark Porter)

Kyiv winter ‘apocalypse’ possible says mayor Klitschko, but urges calm

By Max Hunder

KYIV (Reuters) -Kyiv’s mayor on Wednesday warned of an “apocalypse” scenario for the Ukrainian capital this winter if Russian air strikes on infrastructure continue and said although there was no need for people to evacuate now, they should be ready to do so.

“Kyiv might lose power, water, and heat supply. The apocalypse might happen, like in Hollywood films, when it’s not possible to live in homes considering the low temperature,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko told Reuters in an interview.

“But we are fighting and doing everything we can to make sure that this does not happen,” the former world heavyweight boxing champion said, raising his booming voice to drive the point home.

According to Klitschko, 152 civilian residents of Kyiv have been killed and 678 buildings destroyed since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, but the city faces fresh tribulations this winter as Russia regularly pounds Ukraine’s power grid with missiles.

The picture is bleak: Kyiv lacks enough heated shelters to take in all 3.6 million residents in the event of complete outages and people should be ready to evacuate if the situation worsens, Klitschko said. Nearly 500 autonomous heating hubs had been prepared “but for a city of 3 million, 500 points is nothing,” he said.

Klitschko painted a picture of a harsh future ahead for the more than 1,500-year-old city. He sketched out one possible scenario in which it could be left without central heating at a time when temperatures can fall as low as -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit).

“If electricity supply continues to be absent while outside temperatures remain low, we will unfortunately be forced to drain water from buildings,” he said.

“Otherwise the water can freeze and break the entire water supply network, and buildings will then be totally unfit for further use.”

Klitschko urged residents to prepare emergency supplies of food and water, as well as to have clothes and documents ready for a quick departure if the heating supply is turned off.

However, he said there was presently no need to evacuate as the city only had a 20% power deficit and conditions remained stable.

“Right now there is heating in Kyiv, there is electricity… everything works, there is no need at present (for evacuation),” Klitschko said, but added residents should be ready for “various scenarios.”

Asked what items the city needed most at present the mayor, without missing a beat, said “a new air defence system.” However, he added that “tens of thousands” more generators and industrial fan heaters were also required.

“Our needs are currently quite significant, and that is just in the city of Kyiv … In other cities, towns and villages, this (deficit) is rather large.”

Klitschko said that the economic effect of the war on Kyiv, which he said was hard to assess but could total “tens of billions of dollars”, had hobbled the administration’s ability to maintain the city.

“As of today, there is no budget for development, we are not fixing the roads, we are not investing in the development of our city … all the money goes on the protection (of our city).”

Klitschko dismissed criticism last week by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy about preparations for winter, saying he believed it was driven by politics and that it looked “strange” to foreign governments that are supporting Ukraine.

Klitschko, now in his ninth year as mayor, was seen as one of Zelenskiy’s highest-profile political opponents before the Russian invasion.

“I am convinced that politics is behind this, because representatives of one political group began to run around trying to find faults (in Kyiv),” Klitschko said.

(Reporting by Max Hunder; editing by Tom Balmforth, Timothy Heritage and Grant McCool)

Hungary parliament approves lifespan extension of Paks nuclear power plant

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s parliament on Wednesday approved extending the lifespan of four existing Russian-built reactors of the Paks nuclear power plant, greenlighting the government’s plans of operating them up to 20 years longer.

Parliament approved the legislation submitted by deputy PM Zsolt Semjen with 170 votes in favour, eight votes against and one abstention.

(Reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by Mark Porter)

EDF-sponsored welders school aims to plug nuclear sector gaps

By Benjamin Mallet

La Hague, FRANCE (Reuters) – One of the many woes plaguing French utility giant EDF as it races to put its record number of offline nuclear reactors back in service is a lack of specialist welders.

EDF’s nuclear output has been reduced to a 30-year low because of the unprecedented number of outages, adding major stress as Europe scrambles to cope with the impact of the war in Ukraine and avert power cuts.

To address the lack of specialist workers EDF has sponsored, alongside other industrial groups, a new school to train welders – and to do so fast.

“We have to be inventive and … reduce the time it takes to acquire those skills,” said Corentin Lelievre, the director of Hefais school, which opened in October.

“There is a real urgency because we have major industrial projects in the coming years,” said David Le Hir, who is Hefais’ president and also director of EDF’s Flamanville 1 and 2 nuclear plants.

The nuclear industry will need about 1,000 welders by 2030, from around 500 now, he said.

The school will teach basic welder skills for entry-level work in nuclear plants in nine months. But training a highly skilled nuclear welder usually takes five to seven years. Hefais will aim to do that faster, though Lelievre declined to give a specific target.

Key tools to speed training include virtual-reality practice of technical work, as well as real-life training on the type of piping welders will encounter in nuclear plants.

Some 40 welders will be trained at the school this year rising to 200 a year from next year.

French nuclear fuel firm Orano, shipbuilding companies Naval Group and CMN and local authorities are co-sponsoring the school, for a total investment of around 10 million euros ($10.50 million).

The lack of welders comes as France, like other Western countries, has long suffered a skills mismatch. Despite relatively high unemployment, manufacturing, construction, engineering and IT industries complain they can’t get the workers they need.

The causes range from an education system less focused on practical skills to a perception of industry as “dirty” and a dead-end for careers.

Unions and industry officials also blame the French government for what they say was a U-turn on nuclear. Before the war in Ukraine, successive administrations sought to reduce France’s reliance on nuclear energy, not build new reactors, they say.

($1 = 0.9520 euros)

(Reporting by Benjamin Mallet; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

French stock market watchdog AMF extends EDF buyout offer after legal challenge

PARIS (Reuters) -French markets regulator AMF said on Wednesday it had decided the French state must extend its offer to buy out minority shareholder in nuclear power group EDF pending a Paris court ruling on a legal challenge against the AMF’s earlier approval of the offer.

The offer that opened on Nov. 24 was to due expire on Dec. 22. AMF said it will soon publish a new timetable for the offer.

An appeal was launched on Dec. 2 by a group of employee shareholders asking the court to cancel AMF’s aproval of the offer.

France is buying out the 16% of EDF it does not already own to take the company private and have a free hand in running it as European governments seek to secure its energy supplies.

(Reporting by Dominique VidalonEditing by GV De Clercq)

Dutch conclude lobbying didn’t influence Uber International’s taxes

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Experts for the Dutch government have found that an Uber lobbying campaign between 2013 and 2015 did not lead to special tax treatment for the U.S. company in the Netherlands, where it has its international headquarters.

The panel of experts was appointed by the Finance Ministry to review the Dutch tax office’s treatment of Uber after an international consortium of investigative journalists in July reported on leaked company communications about European tax strategy.

“The conclusion of the investigative report is that no advantaging of Uber took place,” the document sent to parliament on Tuesday said.

“Whatever Uber thought or hoped it would achieve in terms of special fiscal treatment did not succeed.”

Uber said it welcomed the panel’s conclusion.

“Uber pays all applicable taxes required by law in every country it operates in,” a spokesperson said.

The Dutch subsidiary Uber International BV has around 1,000 employees in Amsterdam.

The Dutch government has sought to improve its reputation as an enabler of tax avoidance by multinationals after criticism from other governments and tax fairness groups.

Dutch tax authorities do not reveal information about how they treat individual companies and parts of the findings were redacted.

In one redacted passage, the review said that pressure from Uber and the Dutch government’s agency tasked with attracting foreign investment “was resisted in an effective way” by the Dutch tax office.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Nick Macfie and Elaine Hardcastle)

Ukraine’s Naftogaz says Russian attacks damaged 350 gas facilities

LONDON (Reuters) – Recent Russian attacks on Ukraine have damaged 350 natural gas facilities in the country though production should be largely restored by year-end, Oleksiy Chernyshov, chief executive of Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz said on Wednesday.

Speaking at an event of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Chernyshov said the loss of gas production capacity amounted to a value of around $700 million.

“We have started the heating season – we expect it to be the hardest ever,” said Chernyshov.

“We all understand that the energy is another weapon…and we’ve been seriously attacked by Russian missiles in some part of our infrastructure and gas production infrastructure has been hit.”

Chernyshov, who was appointed in early November, said getting the firm out of default was another of his priorities.

“We should come out of the default and have the consent solicitation with our Eurobond holders,” he said.

Naftogaz tipped into a messy default in July, becoming the first Ukrainian government entity to do so since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

The company announced in mid-November it was intensifying cooperation with its creditors to resolve the situation after bondholders of two of its main bonds did not back a payment deferral plan.

(Reporting by Karin Strohecker; editing by Marc Jones)

Ukraine appears to expose Russian air defence gaps with long-range strikes

By Pavel Polityuk and Sergiy Chalyi

KYIV/NOVOSOFIIVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) -A third Russian airfield was set ablaze on Tuesday by a drone strike, a day after Ukraine demonstrated an apparent new ability to penetrate hundreds of kilometres into Russian air space with attacks on two bases.

Officials in the Russian city of Kursk, around 90 km (60 miles) north of the Ukraine border, released pictures of black smoke above an airfield in Tuesday’s early hours after the latest strike. The governor said an oil storage tank had gone up in flames, but there were no casualties.

On Monday, Russia said it had been hit hundreds of kilometres from Ukraine by what it said were Soviet-era drones – at Engels air base, home to Russia’s strategic bomber fleet, and in Ryazan, a few hours’ drive from Moscow.

Ukraine did not directly claim responsibility for the strikes, but nonetheless celebrated them.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday, “We are not enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We are not encouraging Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.”

He added that there was no confirmation the strikes were carried out by Ukraine.

Price said the United States has not provided Ukraine with weapons that are to be used within Russia.

“We have been very clear that these are defensive supplies,” Price said.

‘SMOKING’

Russia’s defence ministry said three service members were killed in the attack at Ryazan. Although the attacks struck military targets, it characterised them as terrorism and said the aim was to disable its long-range aircraft.

The New York Times, citing a senior Ukrainian official, said the drones involved in Monday’s attacks were launched from Ukrainian territory, and at least one of the strikes was carried out with the help of special forces close to the base.

Ukraine never publicly acknowledges responsibility for attacks inside Russia. Asked about the strikes, Defence Minister Oleskiy Reznikov repeated a longstanding joke blaming carelessness with cigarettes. “Very often Russians smoke in places where it’s forbidden to smoke,” he said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych went further, noting that Engels is Russia’s only base fully equipped for the fleet of huge bombers Moscow has used to attack Ukraine.

“They will try to disperse (strategic aircraft) to airfields, but all this complicates the operation against Ukraine. Yesterday, thanks to their ‘unsuccessful smoking’, we achieved a very big result,” he said.

The damage to the warplanes also caused grumbling among Russian military bloggers, whose social media posts can provide a window into the mood in Russia on the course of the war, which began more than nine months ago with Russian forces invading Ukraine.

“And I, a naive civilian fool, thought that planes were kept under concrete shelters during war, no?” wrote Vladlen Tatarsky. “It turns out that small drones, the danger from which was so neglected, can attack strategic aircraft.”

NEW BARRAGE

The huge Tupolev long-range bombers that Russia stations at Engels form a big part of its strategic nuclear arsenal, similar to the B-52s deployed by the United States during the Cold War. Russia has used them in its campaign since October to destroy Ukraine’s energy grid with near weekly waves of missile strikes.

The Engels base, near the city of Saratov, is at least 600 km (372 miles) from the nearest Ukrainian territory.

Russia responded to Monday’s attacks with what it called a “massive strike on Ukraine’s military control system”, though it did not identify any specific military targets for what Ukraine called Moscow’s latest strikes on civilian infrastructure.

Moscow claims military justification for attacks on Ukraine’s civil infrastructure. Kyiv says the strikes are intended to hurt civilians, a war crime.

Missiles across Ukraine destroyed homes and knocked out power, but the impact seemed less severe than barrages last month that pitched millions of Ukrainians into darkness and cold.

Meanwhile on the battlefields of eastern, northeastern and southern Ukraine, Russian forces kept up their shelling of towns and villages, the Ukrainian military said in its Tuesday evening report.

On Tuesday, Zelenskiy visited troops in the eastern Donbas region that has seen the war’s heaviest fighting.

He praised soldiers in a selfie video filmed in front of a sign on the road outside Sloviansk, near the city of Bakhmut that Russian forces have been trying to encircle for weeks. He also presented medals and shook hands with troops in a hangar.

RESISTANCE

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. deputy secretary of state said Russia must remove all its troops from Ukraine.

Wendy Sherman, speaking at an event in Rome, said the United States had sufficient arms stockpiles to keep helping Ukraine, and that Western states backing Kyiv must “stay the course”.

No political talks are under way to end the war. Moscow insists it will not negotiate unless Kyiv and the West accept its sovereignty over Ukrainian lands it claims, while Kyiv says Russia must leave all its territory.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday talks would only be possible when Russia achieves the goals of its “special military operation”, which he did not define.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool; Editing by Gareth Jones, Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. will consider new priority areas for solar energy on public lands

(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Monday said it would begin a process to identify new areas for solar development in the Western United States to ramp up permitting of clean energy projects on public lands in order to combat climate change.

The Interior Department said in a statement that its Bureau of Land Management will update an Obama-era plan that established special zones for solar projects based on access to transmission, solar energy potential and protecting natural and cultural resources.

The agency said the new plan would reflect advances in solar technology, new transmission and the administration’s ambitious clean energy goals.

It could also expand beyond the six states included in the 2012 plan, Interior said. The six were: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

President Joe Biden wants to decarbonize the U.S. electricity grid by 2035, something that will require rapid deployment of large amounts of new solar. Interior, specifically, has a congressional mandate to permit 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on federal lands by 2025.

The agency said it was initiating reviews of three new projects in Arizona that would add a gigawatt of power to the grid.

Under Biden, Interior has sought to address concerns by wind and solar companies that public lands are less friendly to development than private lands due to higher costs and more onerous permitting.

“The Bureau of Land Management is working diligently to ensure that its processes and pace maintain the momentum we are seeing from industry,” Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Laura Daniel-Davis, said in a statement.

Shannon Eddy, president of the Large Scale Solar Association, an industry trade group, said in an email that she was “hopeful the new process can result in more pathways for solar siting.”

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. power use to hit record in 2022 on economic growth, hotter weather -EIA

(Reuters) – U.S. power consumption will rise to a record high in 2022 because of increasing economic activity and hotter summer weather, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) on Tuesday.

EIA projected power demand will climb to 4,044 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2022, from 3,941 billion kWh in 2021, before sliding to 4,004 billion kWh in 2023 as temperatures moderate.

That compares with an eight-year low of 3,856 billion kWh in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic depressed demand, and an all-time high of 4,003 billion kWh in 2018.

EIA projected 2022 power sales would rise to 1,514 billion kWh for residential consumers, 1,376 billion kWh for commercial customers as more people return to work in offices and 1,011 billion kWh for the industrial sector.

That compares with all-time highs of 1,470 billion kWh in 2021 for residential consumers, 1,382 billion kWh in 2018 for commercial customers and 1,064 billion kWh in 2000 for industrial customers.

EIA said natural gas’ share of power generation would rise from 37% in 2021 to 39% in 2022 before sliding back to 37% in 2023. Coal’s share will drop from 23% in 2021 to 20% in 2022 and 19% in 2023 as renewable output rises.

The percentage of renewable generation will rise from 20% in 2021 to 22% in 2022 and 24% in 2023. Nuclear power’s share will slide to 19% in 2022, from 20% in 2021, before rising back to 20% in 2023.

EIA projected 2022 gas sales would rise to 13.60 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) for residential consumers, 9.67 bcfd for commercial customers, 23.42 bcfd for industrial customers and 32.89 bcfd for power generation.

That compares with all-time highs of 14.32 bcfd in 1996 for residential consumers, 9.63 bcfd in 2019 for commercial customers, 23.80 bcfd in 1973 for industrial customers and 31.78 bcfd in 2020 for power generation.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Octopus Energy takeover of collapsed UK rival Bulb faces legal challenge

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government’s decision to approve collapsed energy supplier Bulb’s acquisition by Octopus Energy faces a legal challenge from rival suppliers in early 2023, after a judge at London’s High Court refused to hear the case next week.

British Gas, E.ON and Scottish Power are challenging the takeover of Bulb, which had around 1.5 million domestic customers and was one of the largest energy suppliers to collapse last year.

The British government’s official budget forecaster said last month that support for Bulb will cost around 6.5 billion pounds ($7.8 billion).

The deal for Octopus to buy Bulb was approved by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in October and, last week, a High Court judge set a date for the deal to go ahead on Dec. 20.

Paul Harris, representing British Gas, said “there may well have been a mess up in the decision-making procedure”, adding that the government is mounting “an attempt to cover up” by saying the suppliers’ case should be heard next week.

He said British Gas, E.ON and Scottish Power were not told during the bidding process for Bulb that there were “enormous state subsidies on offer, running to literally billions of pounds” and that the suppliers may have bid if they had known.

But Octopus’ lawyers said the legal challenge must be heard before the end of the year or the deal could collapse.

David Pannick, representing Octopus, said in written submissions that the case must be heard quickly in the interest of energy consumers, “who require certainty and continuity of service, support and energy supply this winter”.

Patrick Halliday, representing BEIS, said that the rival suppliers’ delay in bringing their challenge had created the “extreme urgency”.

Judge Jonathan Swift said that hearing the suppliers’ legal challenge after the deal has gone through could lead to uncertainty and leaves open the possibility that the transfer of Bulb customers to Octopus “might need to be unpicked”.

But the judge ruled that delaying the case until early next year was “the least worst option”.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; editing by Barbara Lewis)

Power back in capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region – state affiliated media

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Power services have been restored in Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, for the first time in over a year, state-affiliated Fana Broadcast said on Tuesday.

Fana quoted state-run Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) spokesperson Moges Mekonen as saying power was restored after maintenance of a 230 kv high voltage line was completed.

The power supply was disrupted after war erupted in Tigray in November 2020, pitting regional forces against federal troops and their allies from the neighbouring Amhara region and from Eritrea.

The fighting has killed thousands, displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands facing famine.

The two sides signed a permanent cessation of hostilities on Nov. 2 after talks mediated by the African Union in South Africa.

(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Estelle Shirbon)