March 29, 2015

The Lie of “100% Renewable”

It’s been recently reported that Georgetown “plans to be the first city in Texas entirely powered by renewable energy”. Of course, “plans to be” is a long way from “is”, but the first problem in most such reports is that they are talking only about electrical energy. Other energy consumption, such as for heating and transport, is not affected, so it is misleading indeed to say “entirely powered by renewable energy”.

Earlier this year, it was more accurately reported that the city of Burlington, Vermont, “became the first in the country to use 100 percent renewable energy for its residents’ electricity needs”. The news was further spread with far less care (and predictably) as, e.g., “the first city in the U.S. to be powered 100 percent by renewables”. Again, it is about electricity only, which is only about a third of our overall energy use. (Note should also be taken of the qualifier of “residents’ needs”: The University of Vermont, for example, is not included in this accounting.)

Even stated accurately, however, it remains misleading. Georgetown will be purchasing wind and solar power from faraway facilities. That means that they will in fact be using the same electricity on the grid as neighboring towns. The decision was strictly financial, not because wind and solar are cheaper, but because the country as a whole subsidizes them and the required new powerlines so that they can sell the power relatively cheaply. Furthermore, for Georgetown to find the price particularly attractive, as well as considering their non-ideological view, they will probably not be buying the Enron-invented “renewable energy credits”, i.e., they will not actually have the “right” to claim the purchase as “renewable”. (Instead, someone else, who also gets the same electricity from the grid as everyone else, will buy the RECs to claim the “green credit”.)

Sale of RECs also benefits Burlington, which sells them for its woodchip-fired plant and their ownership of wind plants in Georgia and Sheffield. Technically, they can therefore no longer claim that electricity themselves as “renewable”, although they account for almost two-thirds of the city’s electricity. As Burlington Electric itself shows, in 2013, ignoring their selling of RECs, 95% of their electricity was renewably sourced. After selling the RECs, that percentage dropped to 39%. And 67% of that was represented by the purchase of RECs.

Again, everything these cities do not generate themselves is taken from the regional grid, a pool of electrical energy that does not distinguish among its many sources. Georgetown will be using the same electricity as its “nonrenewable” neighbors. Burlington generates about half of its own electricity from wood chips, a little hydro, and negligible solar and wind. The rest is from the same pool as its “less renewable” neighbors.

And besides the charade of exclusive claims on renewable electricity that everyone shares equally on the grid, electricity is itself only about a third of their total energy use.

March 27, 2015

The true waters of Chapelizod

Over at Facebook, Olaf Errwigge of Copenhagen has revealed some interesting facts about Phoenix Park and the ‘home street’ of Séipéil Iosóid, both of them out west from Dublin.

Regarding Phoenix Park, a correspondent had asked: How did it get its name?

And Errwigge replied:

Phoenix is said to be from fionn uisce, meaning clear water. But what clear water that would have referred to is not so clear. Instead it seems that it was originally fíor uisce, true water, referring to the distill’ry est’d there at the Liffey by Holy St Patrick to compete with the domestic ales.

The name Chapelizod also is a curiosity. Patrick est’d a house to purvey his distill’ry’s products to the public, which he called An Capall’s an Ógh, The Horse and the Virgin. It became a popular gathering place for the young people after their hurling matches in the nearby fields, and was soon known as the Capall’s Óg, Horse ’n Youth. In time it was simply referred to as ‘The Chapel’, along with the village that had grown up around it. When King Mark (Eachmharcach) of Dublin sent out his tax assessors, it was found that this village was not named in their records. His men asked in at Patrick’s house what it was called, this village out there from this famous ‘Chapel’. Patrick’s man, thinking they were asking about ownership, not wanting to be liable for the taxes on the distill’ry toward which they seemed to be gesturing, replied in what he thought was good official Norse, ‘I sold it’. The taxmen dutifully wrote it down, and as Chapel-Isolde, later Chapelizod, the place was known thenceforth!

That story may be spurious, however, as the name would seem more likely to have been simply corrupted from Capall’s Óg.

March 17, 2015

A bit of Myles (na gCopaleen)

I find it very hard to conquer this neurotic weakness of mine, reading newspapers. In this (very) paper the other day I read the following:
‘The Department of Defence announces that persons who are not in receipt of a military service pension, or in possession of a military service certificate entitling such persons to a pension, must apply for a medal to the Secretary, Department of Defence. Such application will not be necessary from persons in receipt of a military service pension or in possession of a certificate.’
I’m not very sure about this. Suppose the population of this country is three million and suppose that 5,000 citizens have these pensions or certificates. That leaves a total of 2,995,000 persons who must apply for a medal. For that proprietary fraction, my own part, I have no objection (in the world) to applying for this medal, providing reasonable arrangements are made to deal with the vast hordes of people who will be converging on the Department of Defence. But I have one serious doubt. Is there not an important principal at stake here? Is it wise to compel so many people to apply for a medal? Is it judicious to introduce into our democratic civilisation the ugly word ‘must’? If I concede the right of a state department to compel me to apply for a medal today, how do I know that tomorrow I will not be compelled to call to some dispensary and swallow a bar of chemical chocolate? And the day after to have all my teeth extracted in the public interest? Do réir a chéile seadh tuitid na caisleáin.

Conceiving my liberty to be threatened, therefore, I have decided after the fullest consideration of all the relevant facts (funny how nobody bothers considering the irrelevant facts) to refuse to apply for this medal, and if need be to suffer jail or any other punishment that may be (visited) upon my head. (I digress again to remark that I am thankful that punishment is always confined to the head, which is a thickly-boned eminence and well able to endure it.)

Of course, I realise the awful futility of all this. I make a noble gesture in the cause of human liberty. I will not apply for or accept a medal. I sacrifice myself. I go to jail. I suffer. I lose weight. It is whispered that I am ill, nay, dying. People pray for me. Meetings are held. the public conscience is moved. A protest comes from the Galway County Council. There is a strike in Portarlington. Milk churns are upset at Athlone railway station. From my lone cell I issue an appeal to the people of Ireland to remain calm. High political personalities are closely guarded. Anonymous ballad-mongers sanctify my cause. The public temper mounts. Sligo County Council makes its voice heard (in no uncertain manner). The Banner County is next with a sternly-worded resolution. The Gaelic League comes into the open, calling me a martyr. Muintir na Tire dissolves itself as a token of mourning. The sea-divided Gael, meeting in solemn conclave, at Chicago, pledges its ‘inalienable community of feeling with the people of Ireland in their devotion to the glorious martyr now lodged in the citadel of Mountjoy.’

And it all works. I am released. Cheering crowds bear me from the grim fortress. It is 8.15 of a winter’s night. Grotesque torchlights enflame the city. I am wheeled away in Parnell’s coach. Massed piper’s play ‘A Nation Once Again’. Where are we going? Dorset Street, O’Connell Street, Nassau Street. The Mansion House! Doyle is there and all the boys. The wan emaciated figure is assisted to the platform. Speeches. Different people keep standing up and sitting down. Speeches speeches speeches. Then I find that some very distinguished person has walked over to myself and is talking to me. What’s this? I struggle to my feet. What has he there? A little black box. More talk. Then he opens it. A medal!

Then the crowd goes mad, but they don’t feel half as mad as I do.

—Myles na gCopaleen (Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)), ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’, Irish Times, reprinted in The Best of Myles, 1968, Dalkey Archive Press, 1999