Friday, April 22, 2011

The Body Electric: Cars and energy

At Puerto Alcúdia's recent spring fair, one of the exhibits was that of an electric car. The fairs are often the venues for environmentally-conscious propaganda and promotion. The local environment ministry is always to the fore with its recycling bags and leaflets. Planet saving has become a tradition of the traditional.

The local environment ministry has a thing about electric cars, or should I say electric buggies. They are described as buses, but they are like what you get on a golf course except bigger - the electric multi-people carrier. Not that these buggies would ever set wheel onto a golf course, if the environment ministry had its way, because golf courses, more of them, there would not be.

The regional government, courtesy of the environment ministry, bought three of these buggies in 2006. They cost 60,000 euros. Five years on and the three buggies are unused, as they have been unused ever since they were acquired. One of them would be especially hard to be usable. It was never actually delivered. Who was ultimately responsible for their purchase? Jaume Font, he of the new La Lliga, and then the Partido Popular's environment minister.

They were bought because ... . Well, why were they bought? No one seems to have really known what they were going to do with them. And they don't move very fast. Indeed, so slowly do they go that they weren't considered appropriate for somewhere with as slow a pace of life as the Albufera nature park. Visitors apparently would prefer their bird- and wildlife-watching on something with a bit more zip. Whether they would have even been suitable for the terrain is quite another matter. What about using them at the Mondragó park in Santanyí? Well, what about doing this? The buggies were despatched, and there they remained. Unused.

For two years, at a cost of 4,000 euros to rent a space at Mondragó, the two bus-buggies which did turn up stood idle. Finally, when the PSM Mallorcan socialists got hold of the environment ministry early last year, they had the good sense to move them again. Not that they were going to be used for anything, just that they were on their way to some government land where it didn't cost to store them. Maybe the university might now want them? Maybe it would. Or maybe the government should just sell them to a golf course at a no-doubt knocked-down price.

At a time when the cost of petrol rises by the week - it is now an average of 1.363 euros per litre - the attractions of electric vehicles grow. President Antich, one eye on the environmental vote no doubt and critical of the previous administration's lunatic purchase of vehicles that didn't do anything, has announced that he hopes that, by 2015, there will be some 7,500 electric vehicles knocking around the Balearics.

As ever, figures can be put on what this would mean. A 67% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, for example. How is the figure arrived at? Pass. But arrived at, it is. This fleet of quietly-moving vehicles, and it should be noted that electric vehicles are criticised on safety grounds because you can't hear them coming, would not solely be those of the government. Far from it. The car-hire sector has been engaged in discussions.

Electric vehicles are all well and good. They are well and good for the environment, potentially. But how is the electricity created? Currently, so we keep being reminded, the power station in Alcúdia is one of the main culprits when it comes to emissions. It may move to being fuelled by natural gas, but it would still emit pollutants, admittedly at lower levels than coal. And then there are the renewables, solar energy in particular.

The regional government, at a cost of nearly 200,000 euros, commissioned a study which suggested that it would be possible to generate all the Balearics' energy needs with clean renewables. When might this happen? Ever? A bit over one per cent is at present from renewables, and the prospects for much more, any time soon, aren't that great. They have not been helped by the fact that central government has turned down over 40 projects that might have contributed to increasing substantially the amount of solar energy in Mallorca.

Herein lies the rub. You can create greener vehicles, but the advantages of doing so need to be complemented by how you create their "fuel". There again, there is one way you can be sure of not polluting the atmosphere; that's to buy vehicles that you never use. Just ask the environment ministry.

Any comments to please.

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