Saturday, November 25, 2017

Es Murterar - Should We Be Concerned?

Madrid has blocked the regional government's plan for the progressive closure of the Es Murterar power station in Alcudia. The national energy ministry has justified this on cost grounds. The regional government is furious. Més, good eco-nationalists as they are, will be proposing to the Balearic parliament that a defence is made of the islands' energy sovereignty.

The discussion about the closure of Es Murterar, far from reaching a conclusion, has therefore only really begun. Meanwhile, the government's plans for renewable energy (exclusively of a solar variety) and for zero emissions by 2050 are thrown into confusion. The regional energy minister, Marc Pons, says that photovoltaic projects will still go ahead. Even Madrid, with some 60 million euros plus European funds at its disposal, appears well disposed to using part of this cash for Balearic renewables. More confusion, or so it may seem.

Against this background, we now have a report from the International Institute of Law and Environment. This maintains that contamination from Es Murterar is responsible for 54 premature deaths per year. Almost 70% of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity production are said to come from Es Murterar. In addition, there are high levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. It doesn't sound too clever, does it.

If we take the institute's report at its word, then there is good reason to be concerned, not least for those of us for whom the chimney of Es Murterar is a constant and ominous presence in the near distance. Without access to the science that has gone into the report and indeed without the knowledge of the science, it is impossible to dispute or verify the institute's findings. But the institute seems convinced, so who are you or I to suggest that it is wrong?

Endesa, it is understood, will be forking out some 100 million euros on limiting the emissions. It will do so in order to comply with European regulations for emission reduction by 2020, the same year that the government wanted to close two of the four production groups. The institute reckons that this investment makes no sense. What does make sense, in its view, are the shutting-down of groups that are over 35 years old and the gradual elimination of coal.

The cost arguments have taken over from the mere environmental or health ones. But it now seems that it is high time for all of these arguments to be presented to the public in a meaningful and transparent fashion. While some will be alarmed at the news of those premature deaths, there will be others who simply fail to comprehend why there should be any further delay in moving full steam (so to speak) ahead with the introduction of solar energy. It seems such an obvious step to take, so why isn't being done? And just what are Madrid's cost justifications for holding back on the closure of Es Murterar?

This latter question is easy to answer. Coal-fired power stations such as Es Murterar are cheap. Renewable electricity generation is not. Electricity from wind farms, it is said, costs twice as much as that from traditional sources like coal. Solar is even more expensive. Or this is the conventional wisdom at any rate. But solar technology is constantly advancing. It is in the interests of societies that it does, except for those wedded to old industries and unpersuaded as to climate change or even to public health. With the advances, so electricity generation from solar becomes cheaper. It is this type of equation that the public should be informed about. We should have the evidence presented, not in a partisan way as one would get from Més, for instance, but in an independent way.

It is a complex subject. No-brainer it may seem to have solar in Mallorca, but there is obviously more to it, and this includes the need for back-up. If the sun doesn't shine for a protracted period, then what? It's just like solar panels for houses. A conventional reserve is still needed. Or other forms of renewable energy are needed. The Balearic government doesn't envisage there being other forms. It's solar and only solar.

For people in Alcudia (and Sa Pobla and Muro), this whole subject needs to be elevated to the highest level of priority. People in the vicinity of Es Murterar live with the power station. An issue is whether they die with it as well.

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