The Insanity of Subsidy Politics in a Nutshell

For a change from all the election news, JLH has translated a German article about the incompetence and profligacy of the EU bureaucracy, the blinkered ideology of the Greens, and a tiny island in the Canaries. The translator includes this note:

You’ve heard of the canary in the coal mine. This is the Canary in the Atlantic, and it has something to tell us about massive bureaucracies and green dreams.

The translated article from Die Achse des Guten:

Self-Sufficient and FUBAR

by Wolfgang Rohl
October 31, 2016

You don’t know El Hierro? Small wonder. The second-smallest of the Canary Islands cannot be reached nonstop from the continent. It offers little for most tourists. No beaches. No really spectacular landscapes. Their cuisine consists mostly of the usual Canary fish on wrinkly potato, garnished with red and green mojo sauce.[1] No question, Hierro is splendid. If you like rugged, out-of-the-way places.

It is mostly serious travelers and divers that are drawn to this island, jokingly called by the 6,000 or 7,000 permanent residents “el cull del archipelago” — the arse of the archipelago. Jobs are rare. Industries non-existent. What goods make it to the island are mostly leftovers from Tenerife and Gran Canary. It is no secret that Hierro is not exactly a nest of go-getters. Anybody who knows which end is up leaves el cull and makes money on the large neighboring islands or the Spanish mainland.

Hierro is so backward that it sometimes flabbergasts even foreigners who have lived here for a long time. Women will not even take male acquaintances into their cars, if they see them on a lonesome country road — there could be talk. Visitors entering a property clap loudly, so that neighbors will notice them and know that the new arrivals do not intend to sneak up on strange women. This is not folklore — it is taken damned seriously.

Political Conditions Are Byzantine, If Not Erdoganic

The political conditions are byzantine, if not erdoganic. Anyone who hopes for orders or (as a creative artist or media representative) appropriations, must get on the right side of the matadors in the island administration, and praise them mightily. Critics of the cabildo[2] are closed out and stricken from the patronage list. Most Herreños consider criticism in and of itself to be inappropriate, which corresponds with a widespread social inhibition. An island saying is: A shut mouth gathers no flies.

And then, of course, the Civil War. Still firmly in the minds of many islanders even after 80 years. There were more than a few crimes and persecutions on little Hierro. The island was very Franco-affinitive. Whoever intends to investigate such cases must dress warmly.

Hierro leads, however, in one particular. More EU grant money per capita has been sunk into this island than into any other region. Just the outsize pier in La Estaca harbor swallowed up €20 million of the regional allowance. The pier is palpably unnecessary. Large ferries and giant cruise ships don’t come to Hierro. Why should they?

Also fabulously constructed (naturally with EU sponsorship) and kept in prime condition is the road network that reaches the distant mountainous regions. Serpentine driving on Hierro is really fun, since it is rare elsewhere. Other big projects, too, are distinguished by high cost in combination with complete mindlessness. For instance, a “conference center” at the cold and damp elevation of 900 meters, where unfortunately, as good as no conferences take place. For years, a saltwater swimming pool lay idle and unused.

Hierro is the Insanity of Subsidy Politics in a Nutshell

Certainly other regions are not backward in burning up European taxpayer money for risible “infrastructure projects” — note the millions gobbled up by the barely used two-track bike paths on the very windy isle of Fuertaventura. But on Hierro, the insanity of subsidy politics can be seen in a nutshell.

It goes like this. A local bigwig, who may be invested in an asphalt-producing firm which is majority owned by a relative, initiates, for example, a proposal for co-financing of wide, race track-viable roads in a deserted area, where only ATVs might find some use. In distant Brussels, the threadbare proposal is mindlessly waved through. The asphalt firm is grateful.

A few years ago Hierro made headlines with a project whose audacity at its highest seemed to rival that of Columbus, when he set out from Hierro in 1493, on his second voyage of exploration to the New World. The arse of the archipelago wanted to become the first island to be “energy independent.” See, the wind often sweeps powerfully over the mountaintops! A landmark of Hierro, near the Ermita de los Reyes, is a very photogenic juniper tree pressed down by the wind. What could be more natural than to “harvest” the wind?

In the future, five wind turbines on the top of a dormant volcano were to take over production of electricity from the old diesel power plant. Surplus electricity was to be used to bring water into a hydro pumping storage power station also built on the volcano. The hope was that this would bridge the doldrums which constantly occur in the middle of the Atlantic.

Critical Thinking Enthusiastically Cut Off

The project briefly named “Gorona”, up to 60% owned by the island administration, was put together with components from Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. Cost — €85 million. Small change, if you consider that Hierro would practically serve as a global “energy testimonial.”

The trend-setting project was not yet initiated when the usual media boys and girls were turning somersaults of joy. “El Hierro the eco-model” rejoiced Geo in August 2013. When the wind-turbine cum pump-storage combination went on line in June 2014, Wikipedia reported promptly that electricity on the island was being “completely produced by wind power.” The wishful thinking in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung was just as affirming: “The Canary Island, El Hierro, is the first island to be energy independent.”

The shutdown of the smelly power plant would mean a yearly drop of 18,700 tons of CO2, 100 tons of sulfur oxide and 400 tons of nitrous oxide. Generation of power by wind and water would be 23% better than before; the price of electricity would probably drop. TV weisenheimers did not want to take a backseat to those and similar songs of praise, whose authors had apparently switched off their thought processes. “El Hierro, visionaries at the end of the world” was the title of a euphoric feature by Arte in 2015, which was to boomerang immediately.

After the first year of operation, the good news was that the dream of sustainably taking care of 100% of the island power needs had been fulfilled. “Highest expectations exceeded” exulted the firm, Gorona. The bad news: The 100% had only been achieved on a single day in 2015 — for all of 2 hours. During the first half of the year, “clean” energy contributed only 30% to energy production. In later months, between 49 and 55 percent.

A Pump Storage Pool Too Small by a Factor of 200

The announcements of success were all from the operating company. The blog ridiculed the “bitter end of an energy fairy tale,” noting that the company was distinguished by its “creativity” in the interpretation of facts. More than a few islanders — including a large number of Germans residing on the island — seriously doubt that the statements of the windy company bear any resemblance to reality.

While the faithful, dirty old diesel hammered away down at the harbor — perforce without halt, to keep the net stable — the brouhaha was enormous. It slowly became clear that — all the whitewashing and self-deception notwithstanding — the cardinal error of this frivolous affair was to set up five butt-ugly wind turbines and a basin full of water smack in the middle of a UNESCO biosphere reservation.

This 150,000 meter square basin that was to provide hydroelectric power when the wind failed, would have had to be — according to recent calculations — at least five times, if not twenty times, as large, in order to be able to bridge the windless doldrums. In an updated entry on Hierro, Wikipedia even writes that a 200 times larger water storage would be needed for independent energy production.

Project Independence in the Ditch, Money Gone, Laurel Wreath for Advancement Wilted

As always, pools of such dimensions are not only enormously expensive, but very dangerous in earthquake-prone regions. There were catastrophic results from a burst mega-storage unit on La Palma in 2011. After a costly repair, the storage basin of Barlovento was cautiously filled only halfway — a flop in any business management manual.

So what can the battered Herreños learn from this? Project Independence in the gutter, money kaput, trophy for advancement rusted out. Forget the imagined delegations from other islands that would have been able to see on Hierro what the future of energy looks like. And no more wet-behind-the-ears reporters from Germany. No TV teams with hard-wired eco-agendas.

And no more talk of the laughable, almost merkelesque plan for all island autos by 2020 to be replaced by electromobiles, and thus (as the NZZ enthused) rise to become the “first emission-free spot in the world.” The sudden energy wealth of the poor people of Hierro is like other visions which once caused Helmut Schmidt to suggest that their visionaries should seek medical help.

What could Hierro do to tone down the uproar? Use what the island already has! The above-mentioned conference center could become a “competence center,” offering year-round specialist seminars. For responsible officials from the Brussels bureaucracy, for instance, money-saving regional aid programs. Or for politicians who want to study on location what comes of an “energy revolution.” Or for journalists who could learn on harshly beautiful Hierro how to research without preconceptions about the EU and energy revolutions.

Possible themes for the meetings: “Hustlers in Green Threads — How to recognize eco-swindlers,” “Con Men, Smugglers, Grant Grabbers — How Local Cliques Target EU Aid Millions.” Or simply: “Megalomania at the Arse of the World — Example, El Hierro.”

Photo: Juniper tree (Wolfgang Rohl)

1.   Olive oil, salt, water, local pepper varieties (called pimienta in the Canary Islands), garlic, paprika, cumin or coriander and other spices
2.   Cabildo — administrative unit of a Canary Island

15 thoughts on “The Insanity of Subsidy Politics in a Nutshell

  1. Heh. Nothing wrong with energy independence… the real stuff. The more we have it, the less money to Saudi despots.

    But for folks who want to see what real energy independence looked like in the Hebrides in the 19th century on the treeless island of St Kilda —
    1) people walked or used old-fashioned boats
    2) they fed themselves from short season agriculture, sheep and cows, and sea birds (plus the once a year import from the mainland in exchange for some of the birds)
    3) light was from bird oil
    3) they heated their dirt-floor houses thus: when cold hit, the cows were brought inside, and manure of cows and humans and food remains mixed with straw was accumulated over time on the floor, and the maturing compost provided heat along with the cows; come spring, the compost was spread on the fields and gardens as fertilizer

    Any takers?

    • ‘Any takers?’
      Not quite sure what point you’re making?
      that if we lived on a remote island in the North-Atlantic, that had bare contact with the modern world, until arguably the 19 century, one would have to make do?

      Self-reliance in a pre-industrial age is one thing, energy independence in the now, something else.
      With modern technology, St Kilda is a different place to the one you describe.

      St Kilda is one of these ineffably beautiful yet immensely bleak places in the middle-of nowhere, where an estimated 80-100 people at most, at any one time, had clung on for millennia….,_Scotland
      …..but when touched by the modern world and WWI, evaporated in a few generations; eventually replaced by the occasional tourist, researcher, conservationist or military personal operating the nuclear-missile tracking radar, which most likely runs on diesel-electric.
      ( and there was talk of MoD turning it into an unmanned base.)
      There’s a moral there somewhere, not sure it’s energy self-sufficiency though.

  2. I always thought that the future might lie with wind + pump storage… and pump storage does a good job in many places, like the US, Scotland or Poland. But such projects need good management and planning – which EU projects notoriously lack… I’ve heard of colossal waste of EU money in many other fields, so not surprised in the least by this story.

    • We sure had our share of “colossal waste” – e.g., Solyndra, one of Obama’s pet companies–

      With a businessman at the helm, the subsidy projects will have a much tougher sell. Trump’s mantra is “on time, under budget” and he holds his managers accountable. As an example from his campaign, his own data manager was his son-in-law but he was held to the same high standard. And he could prove to Trump they had the numbers – where and how. Which is why Trump could sound so confident.

      I’m looking forward to his infrastructure repair. Our bridges and roads are in bad shape. I’ll bet some of them haven’t been improved since Eisenhower had them built.

      As for replacements for petroleum energy…well, there’s the human nature factor. While it’s available, people will drag their feet looking for replacements because oil is relatively cheap in comparison to anything else. Few of us can afford hybrid cars and fewer still want them. Oil and coal are about to come into the US domestic supply in great amounts because Trump is oil-friendly. Always has been. The environmentalists (I doubt even one of them voted for him) hate Trump and will scream at each new “degradation of the environment”. The problem with the E’s is they oversold their belief and now they’re suffering from Cry-Wolf-Syndrome.

      When our carbon products REALLY dry up, then you’ll see some amazing innovations. And I expect Israel to lead the pack when it gets crucial. Which it’s not yet. But that’s why investors like Bill Gates have put so much money into Israeli innovation and start-ups.

      • “Few of us can afford hybrid cars and fewer still want them”.

        Which brings us onto another topic of German and EU genius… some bigwigs in Germany and Brussels want the sale of gasoline-powered cars to be phased out altogether by 2030. In which case – will the only people who can afford to travel by car be EU officials?

        • Can the bigwigs really kill the European car industry? Because that is what it will do. Will car manufacturers put up with this? Hard to imagine.

          See the European Car Manufacturers’ page:

          They’re not going to lie down for the EU elites.

    • I sincerely hope you are, but you’ll note nothing has happened yet, and I suspect you’ll be bombarded with “Oh well, these things take a lot of time…” etc., etc..

      In other words, I think ‘they’ don’t want you to go…. ‘They’ being as you said, a lunatic asylum!

      • Our MPs are in for a very rude awakening if they screw up from what I hear on the streets in London. And, remember, London is white minority.
        Clay club I attend from time to time has just had its membership busted considerably. People will not take it with their tails between their legs anymore.

  3. Even with electric vehicles and wind power something would have to be done about the flatulence of the natives and tourists for it to become “the first emission-free spot in the world”.

  4. I´m a Spaniard who happened to “visit” the island of Hierro while doing my military service. I´would like to make some points a little bit more plausible, when not real:
    1) in Spanish, arse is “culo”, not “cull”. Even many Americans know it.
    2) Hierro is an small island, located out of tourist routes and, as you say, with a small economy. The fact that they have evolved into a subsidized economy is not surprising.
    3)notwithstanding point two, what you say seems to be the norm in many parts of Europe, and, by the way, I thing that also in the USA. The real economy is being substituted by a politically subsidized economy. Only the firms which comply with the democratic theocracy (Merkel, Hillary, or whoever conservative licking their culos be in power) get access not only to permissions, but also to subsidies and lack of persecution by the authorities (judges, ngo´s, the lugenpresse, syndicates, and the rest of the priesthood). Independent bussiness men are doomed to failure, because they don´t belong to any logia, and, therefore, don´t count with any defense.
    4)Franco died in 1975. I don´t think he has the ability to harass any one trying to shed light on the times of the dictatorship, unless his been ressurrected. On the other hands, the powers today in Spain are totally “antifranquistas”, even though they are, on the most part, the descendants of those who enjoyed the best with Franco. But that, as in number three, nothing is new in this world.

  5. The cleanest energy in the world is nuclear. It burns nuclear fuel, thus rendering Earth less radioactive. That said, it’s pointless to talk endlessly.

    Besides, I have taken the vow to completely disappear from the online life and take good care of my second PhD in chemistry.

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