Saturday, September 16, 2017

Will Es Murterar Become Another Power Station Ruin?

There is a sight which is distinctly incongruous when one is walking in the Albufera Nature Park. Look in one direction and looming above the vegetation is the chimney of Es Murterar: the power station abuts one edge of the nature park.

It has been there for forty years, an ominous presence looming over the tranquility and environmental sensitivity of Albufera. Once upon a time the coal trucks went through Puerto Alcudia in order to deliver their loads. Since the Bellevue bypass was built, the trucks have been in convoy passing at the foot of the Puig de Sant Marti. I've not personally noticed but I am told that coal dust flies and settles. Even covered, the trucks can allow particles to escape.

And for all these years there has been the Es Murterar roar. At times there can seem to be no rhyme nor reason for this bellowing. Guests at the Lagotel in Las Gaviotas are among those who have noticed it and have therefore complained about it.

There is something else which is incongruous: Balearic energy policy. A region blessed with ample sunlight (as well as other potential sources of renewable energy) can manage a mere two per cent of electricity production from renewables. There are parts of Spain where it is one hundred per cent.

The Balearic government, which has for so long spoken about renewables, now has a clear plan. In the fight against climate change there will be zero emissions by 2050. One trusts that this won't be too late. Much earlier than this - by 2020 - two pollutant groups at Es Murterar will be shut down; basically, this means that half the production lines will disappear within three years. The previous government, that of José Ramón Bauzá, had targeted 20% renewable production by 2020, a goal in line with EU ambitions. Good words and of course nothing happened. It was always possible to hide behind the shield of austerity and economic crisis. Alternative energy costs money and requires investment.

There is also a cost involved with the progressive closure of Es Murterar. The regional government is attempting to calculate it. If the costs are reasonable, says Balearic energy minister Marc Pons, then the national energy ministry will look upon the plan favourably.

A further cost is the one that affects the workforce. The government says that there will be job relocation. It has in mind the photovoltaic plants either planned or under way. One of these is by Es Murterar; others are in Manacor, Llucmajor and Ciutadella in Menorca. The workers don't believe the government. They reckon that there is little realistic chance of relocation. They want a slower process. They accept that coal cannot simply carry on, but the government's timeline is, in the word of the workers, "precipitous". They believe that the plan for Es Murterar is being designed with elections in mind. These elections are less than two years away.

Up to 800 jobs, both direct and indirect, could be affected. One also has to wonder about the impact on the port. Salvem el Moll, which has been agitating about the coal shipments (considering them to be not entirely legal), will doubtless be delighted, but the eventual loss of coal will be bound to have an impact on the port's commercial operations. There again, it is surely a price that not only has to be paid but should be paid. The economics of energy transition can never be wholly benign for all business or indeed all jobs.

Endesa agrees with the workers. The plan is too hasty. As a company it anticipates an end to its coal plants by 2035. It has an alternative - an investment scheme to modify the most polluting groups. The current politics of renewable energy will probably scupper this.

And eventually, what will become of Es Murterar? The roar will be quietened. It will fall silent. No more will the coal trucks rumble along the bypass, inadvertently releasing particles. Es Murterar will then sit there, like Alcanada has ever since Es Murterar was commissioned. Will they be arguing over its future at the end of this century?

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