Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Underground, Overground, Infrastructure Isn't Free

It is easy to forget just how much Mallorca has developed in a relatively short period of time. The island's "industrial revolution" is not even 50 years old; mass tourism in terms of massive tourism across Mallorca didn't become fact until the '70s. It is unsurprising, perhaps, that the infrastructure to support this revolution has taken time to become a reality.

Gas, natural gas, is the latest infrastructure development. The connection from the mainland came on-stream in late 2009. One of the things holding up the creation of the network is the inevitable process of getting agreement from all parties, not least owners of land who will be affected by the installation of pipes. The first phase of taking the gas into the regions, from Palma to Andratx, has run up against exactly this obstacle.

Objections are not solely being made on grounds of environmental disruption. There is also the safety angle, and the objections seem bizarre, quaint even, for those of us used for years to natural gas in the UK. Local fears are of the unknown, of the new-fangled. Yet, you couldn't get much more old-fangled than what natural gas would ultimately put an end to - butane supply. Natural gas would have an enormous benefit not just because of its convenience; it would mean an end to hernias and pulled back muscles. The "butaneros" of Mallorca may find themselves out of a job, and so may many a chiropractor.

Natural gas would have an additional benefit, that of putting a stop to the butane scams. Two separate actions by the police forces are currently ongoing. For this reason alone, the arrival of natural gas will be a huge bonus, as it will also be if it means not seeing the flames flicker and then go out on the hob and having to go outside in a howling gale and horizontal rain in order to mess around with changing the gas bottle.

The supply of gas has not, as yet, run up against a different obstacle, one facing electricity cabling from the mainland. How exactly does it happen that a town hall, Sagunto in this instance, can suddenly turn round and say that the supplier, Red Eléctrica, does not have permission to occupy land in the mainland municipality and also has to pay a tax in order to continue work on laying the cable to the Balearics? The how probably has something to do with this latter aspect. Some bright spark at the town hall eyes up the opportunity for some extra revenue.

Whatever the infrastructure development, there is some hassle associated with it. A new road, such as the so-called "via conectora" in Palma to take some strain off of the creaking road system around the city, becomes mired in objections. The siting of train lines encounter similar squabbles. Re-development of Playa de Palma, ditto. It makes you wish for the old days when a Franco-esque official would have come along one day, nailed the order for works to commence to the head of a passing peasant and the next day sent in the boys with the shovels.

And back then, whatever was built would have been as cheap as chips. Today? How much might we end up paying for natural gas? Don't bank on it being cheap. Don't bank on it being operated in a fashion that might be competitive and with the consumer first in mind.

Telecommunications are another element of infrastructure which has come on in leaps and bounds. Sort of. Time was, really not so long ago, the start of the '90s, that parts of the island weren't able to moan about Telefonica because they had no lines to moan about. Parts of the island still can't, because phone lines can't be laid across some of it. But where it is, the service is neither inexpensive nor satisfactory. Let me give you a personal example.

For some time there has been a problem with my ADSL. It has finally emerged that I have been paying for three megabytes (only three) which cannot be adequately supplied because of the distance I am from the exchange. I have, in fact, been getting little more than one megabyte. The internet provider, Orange, does at least see my argument, that perhaps I am entitled to some form of recompense.

Regardless of this, internet provision is absurdly expensive. And one also has the honour of forking out for Telefonica's line rental when the phone itself is barely used. This rental brings you to another sort of rental, that of the "potencia" contract for electricity supply.

Can anyone explain this to me? It seems to have no rhyme nor reason, other than to stuff the coffers of Endesa. It was not something I paid much attention to (I seem to be one of the few people in Mallorca never to have had much of a problem with electricity bills, while my "potencia" is low) until some correspondence I received and some checking with neighbours highlighted the apparent iniquities with this charge, to say nothing of why it is made in the first place.

Yes, Mallorca has developed greatly in a relatively short period of time. Developed in terms of constant objections, expense, uncompetitiveness and the Heath Robinson; current-day utilities don't get much more Heath Robinson than faffing around with a butane bottle. Not yet 50 years of industrial revolution. In another 50, they may just have got round to something like reasonably priced efficiency.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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