By Vicent Boix
Are renewable energies expensive? With the current premium model criticized even by environmentalists, yes, but in part they are needed because they are relatively new and need to be promoted, expanded and technologically grown. Wind power is already competitive and as Nabuo Tanaka, executive director of the not very environmentally friendly International Energy Agency, indicated last May.
The socialist government has just starred in a new twist, in the increasingly battered domestic economy of the ordinary citizen. On April Fool's Day, the public administration ratified a new rise in the electricity bill of 9.8%, to which should be added in 2010, the 4.8% increase in October and the increase in VAT in July. It was not, therefore, an innocent and having a liberalized electricity market, as it can be deduced, has not benefited the consumer at all, who will continue to tighten their belts.
This new word of ZP and its circumstances, has created oceans of bytes in the form of documents and articles of various kinds, which have been very contradictory depending on the source consulted. However, it is agreed that the electricity bill has increased because so has the "electricity deficit" to unsustainable points. And it is that since the year 2000, in the Spanish state not all the costs derived from the generation, transport and distribution of electrical energy are paid. The PP government froze rates and consumption soared during the years in which this country lived under the effects of developmental LSD. This short-term and “popular” measure was intended to maintain inflation but in turn generated an “electricity deficit” that for this year was around 20,000 million euros. Touch pay.
Renewables in deficit
Although there is some consensus when relating the increase in the electricity bill and that of the "electricity deficit", opinions begin to diverge when it comes to pointing out the factors that led to this increase in the deficit. Among the many hypotheses, one that has sounded quite strong during these days points to renewable energies as the main cause of the increase.
To better visualize it, it must be taken into account that of every 100 euros that are paid in a normal bill, 53.8 correspond to the energy consumed (34.4 from generation, 4.3 from transport and 15.1 from distribution) ; 18.2 to renewable energy premiums, 16.5 to taxes, 5.7 annual payments for the electricity deficit, 2.8 to off-the-island compensations and 4 to savings programs and others (1). With these figures and without further information, it can be understood that electricity from renewable sources is paid for as “consumed energy” and also receives an extra premium of almost 20% of the total.
Based on these data, many have called renewable energies -especially photovoltaic- as uncompetitive, expensive and as the cause of the increase in the deficit, while at the same time, it has also been heard that nuclear energy is very cheap for citizens . And with these data without more, indeed renewables would turn out to be very expensive and nuclear a bargain, but, to get closer to reality, we must take into account certain data that have been diluted by magic.
To begin with, and although it may seem contradictory, there are many environmental groups that are against the current system of premiums that renewable energies receive. Carlos Bravo, Head of Energy at Greenpeace, is not against renewables receiving state aid to promote their technological take-off - in the same way that other energy sources receive them and received them in their day - but he advocates a system where each energy source computes all its costs without premiums to alter them. But all costs, without exception.
As long as that does not happen, nuclear energy will continue to be very cheap because the construction of the plants has already paid for itself. It has been years since the public paid them through the electricity bill and currently this value is not computed.
Among the costs that should or should be included in the assets of the nuclear power plant are those derived from the dismantling of the power plants and the management of waste. Recent calculations quantify them at 13,600 million euros until the year 2070, and from there nobody has made the forecasts with what our grandchildren will already manage. In the same way, it will be the state or citizens, through the fee, who will pay for most of the fund that is intended to be created to pay for damages in the event of a nuclear accident. A legal text that is currently being debated and that is not final, establishes that companies must ensure a stipulated amount of 1,200 million euros to cover the expenses and compensation derived from a nuclear accident. The figure is high but clearly insufficient because if the accident were very serious, possibly with 1,200 million there would not even be for pipes. Despite this, no insurer wants to assume this amount so you can already imagine who will end up paying it for the most part.
So is nuclear power cheap? For the electricity companies, yes ... as long as the state builds them, collects nuclear waste and insures its extremely dangerous risks; and they only have to generate it, read the meters, pass the bill and proclaim to the four winds the benefits of this energy and globalizing neoliberalism.
Is nuclear energy cheap? As Carlos Bravo pointed out to me, in 1997 the nuclear moratorium ended and no one has planned any new power plant in Spain. If it is so cheap and ecological, why not? Why in that period of time, yes, more than 40 thermals have been studied, dozens of wind farms have been created ... and none nuclear?
Perhaps the answer to this question is in Finland, the only country in Western Europe, along with France, that is currently building a nuclear reactor. The project started in 2005 with an initial value of 3,000 million euros and an estimated execution time of 4 years. But today, the cost exceeds 5,000 million and commissioning is expected in 2012. The Finnish plant will have 1,600 megawatts. In Spain, the power currently installed with the reactors available exceeds 7,500. Therefore, building new nuclear power plants with a power similar to the existing one would imply an economic sacrifice so great that no private multinational company dares with them. Let it be the state that beats investment like Spain did in the 70s and now China does.
In addition, up to 2009 and according to the source consulted, the Finnish Nuclear Safety Agency, had found up to 1,500 problems related to safety and was still awaiting further corrections. The delay will prevent Finland from meeting its C02 reductions stipulated in the Kyoto protocol. (2)
Is nuclear energy cheap? As has been said, outsourcing to the people its hefty human and environmental costs and risks, it is. Because once the main expenses have been outsourced and amortized, the generation of nuclear electricity is very cheap and then -look at the data- Endesa, Iberdrola and company sell it much more expensive in the market, thus maintaining their lucrative business. This is why all are blessings for nuclear energy, but no one daring to build a new reactor. And here is why they want to extend the useful life of the existing ones.
Are renewable energies expensive? With the current premium model criticized even by environmentalists, yes, but in part they are needed because they are relatively new and need to be promoted, expanded and technologically grown.
Are renewable energies expensive? When comparing all the costs of all the models it is not the most expensive, because other sources outsource some of their costs and also receive subsidies and bonuses. Wind energy is already competitive and as Nabuo Tanaka, executive director of the not very environmentally friendly International Energy Agency, indicated last May, “Photovoltaic solar energy in homes will be competitive in five years. It will reach network parity [when it is as cheap to produce it at home as it is to buy it] in 2020, but in countries like Spain it can even be reached in 2015. (3) "
Therefore, sooner rather than later, the premiums in renewables can be abolished and, surely, with an amount of money less than the sum of the costs that other energy models generated and will generate (and that we all pay too), the Spanish state you will have an endless, clean, safe energy source that does not generate hazardous waste, that does not need to insure damage due to accidents, that does not shake when oil or gas rises, that does not cause climate change, that you do not need to buy carbon emission bonds, which is not a threat to the environment and which is not one of the many sources of air pollution… which is why nearly 22,000 people die in Spain prematurely and from respiratory diseases a year. Public health is a drama for society and another externalized expense for companies that renewables do not generate unless a solar panel or the propeller of a wind generator falls on someone's head.
And while the rate is raised for the people, renewable energies are questioned and the state pays for other costs derived from the generation of dirty energies; In 2009 Endesa earned 3,430 million euros, Iberdrola 2,824 million and Gas Natural-Fenosa 1,190. (4) Of these 1,190 million, 126,000 will be to pay Felipe González for advising Gas Natural-Fenosa or what is safer, to maintain talks and compadreos with his colleagues from the PSOE in Moncloa and Congress. Around here it would be easier to glimpse the increase in the "electricity deficit" to clear the x of the recent rate hike.
Vicent boix - Writer, author of the book "El parque de las hamacas" http://www.elparquedelashamacas.org