Archive for the ‘Gazprom’ Category

I’m about to propose something to make Daniel Davies cry. Specifically, it’s a solution to a problem we currently deal with by a cash transfer through the tax and benefit system. But I think I’ve made a good case that trying to deal with high energy prices by paying the poor to burn more energy is not sensible, except perhaps as temporary relief of the symptoms. Instead, I suggested, why don’t we pay them to insulate, or to install £1,895 air-source heat pumps, and get rid of the problem; after all, we subsidise the rich to do these things to their property. And I suggested that, if we’re too stingy or the government is short of cash, we could use the money now paid out as winter fuel payments.

Terrifyingly, there’s a chance someone might pick up on the idea – because it turns out they’ve got one like it in exciting America. Surely it’s got to be good. The Californian municipality in question is offering loans to carry out energy-saving improvements, to be paid back through property tax. I’m not quite sure how it works, although here are more details; but it seems to be restricted to homeowners, and I’m far from sure if the repayments are additional to the property tax you’d already pay or not.

My brilliant scheme has the distinction that, rather than the user repaying it, it’s repaid from the benefits they would otherwise claim. In a sense, it capitalises the stream of WFP cheques over ten years. Government gets to save on the benefit payments over and above the amortisation period of the heat pumps or insulation; the recipient gets to save hugely on heating; and society saves three to four units of energy from gas for every unit of electricity the heat pump uses. (The technology is wonderful.) And it hits the cheapest way of saving bulk CO2.

Here are some numbers. The two main groups of WFP recipients get £200 and £300 respectively; this is currently planned to go up quite sharply. (Another reason for my brilliant scheme is that tying bits of the government budget to prices that might rise without apparent bounds is stupid.) To be conservative, and also because I could have tried harder, here are some data from 2006. £1.98bn was spent. Elsewhere, it looks like 11,407,000 individuals received money, but the relevant number is a number of buildings not people. It seems 8 million households received WFP, which is a fair enough proxy. That gives us an annual payout per premises of £247.50; with a full-heating ASHP at £1,895, that’s a bit over seven and a half years to pay it off.

We’ve already got a list of recipients, and we write to them every autumn. Obviously there are people who don’t want to be bothered, and probably they are right, so we’ll give them the choice of fuel payments or [whatever silly name our friendly local special advisor comes up with]. Given the usual take-up rate for optional benefits, I’d reckon the pressure every year should be manageable enough; but if we felt militant enough we could make it voluntary-but-automatic.

One question I’d raise against myself is why this pensioner obsession. Don’t a lot of them own their homes? What about children? Well, for some reason they are the only group in our society we find it necessary to give special help with their energy requirements. Minister, I am a mere technocrat. I don’t bother my head with these things…but you might want to look at the numbers for some of the in-work benefit schemes.

Jamie Zawinski links to a campaign to have a Californian sewage works renamed after George W. Bush. I disagree, strongly. Who on earth would associate something as civic, egalitarian, and useful as sewage treatment with the Commander Guy? Not just that, but it’s a publicly-owned sewage plant, part of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Hunter S. Thompson thought Richard Nixon should have been flushed into the Pacific through the sewers; he didn’t confuse the sewer with the shit. As he so wisely said, politics is the art of controlling your environment.

Yer man knows better: like this.

Whilst we’re on the subject of public works, by the way, may I point out that hitting up Centrica with a windfall excess-profits tax would be completely stupid if the intention is to fund a pre-election sweetie special winter fuel payment. The causes of high natural gas prices are well known – we used the North Sea gas to screw the miners and get Lord Wakeham a seat on the Enron board, and now we’re stuck with a lot of gas-fired power stations and noninsulated Victorian buildings, while the import infrastructure consists of three pipes, two of which pass through about six middlemen before getting to the big tap next to Vladimir Putin.

Even if Chris Dillow’s perfect power ponies plan had a chance of being put in effect, it still wouldn’t actually solve the problem. Just giving people more money to spend on expensive fuel doesn’t actually get us any more fuel or any more heating; in fact, in so far as the recipients spent the money on fuel, it would go right back to the gas merchants.

What would help would be to use the money to, ah, fix the problem. I therefore refer everyone to my proposal to upgrade every home in the kingdom as close to passivhaus standard as possible, starting with the poorest (say, current fuel payment recipients as a kickoff). Of course, there are a lot of buildings around that you can’t do much to (see above), so instead we could fit air-source heat pumps. Strangely enough, there is actually a small government project that already does this in the Yorkshire ex-coalfield, which has a lot of houses built on the assumption coal would always be very cheap, with poor people in them. And here’s a bloke in Sheffield who makes them.

Well, actually he doesn’t; in fact he imports cheap ones from China. But this does mean that he can supply one big enough to provide your space heating as well as hot water for £1,895 + VAT; which is less than the government’s existing Low Carbon Buildings Programme grant. So yes, we are already giving away enough money per LCBP grant to buy one outright. The only problem is that LCBP grants are directed at people who own their homes and care about selling them in the future. This excludes, of course, precisely those people who can’t afford their gas bill and usually live in houses with the insulating qualities of a mankini. Further, the price is now in the rough area where the existing value of winter fuel payments could be capitalised over a reasonable period of time – so it could be close to budget-neutral.

You want a workable, egalitarian, green policy for this autumn, Gord? One that actually combines wonkosity with bashing? Or you, Nick? It’s become almost routine to read about the search for ways to combine bottom-up development and environmental protection in Africa, say – but perhaps we should apply some of the same thinking here. It is, after all, very much the case that society offers solutions to the problems of the rich but only relief from the problems of the poor.

James Glanz of the NYT reports at great length on the electrical siege of Baghdad, with detail, network maps, and more. Great.

Obviously, this being a blog, the primary meaning of this is an excuse to moan about the press. Why didn’t Glanz (or anyone else at the NYT) report on this back in 2004, say? It was a commonplace as early as the summer of 2003 that electricity production was a crucial indicator, that pylons were being destroyed and wire dragged away to sell. John Robb was writing about it then. So was this, ah, blog.

Did I say I loved the FT? Check out this story (subreq) on Gazprom, and especially the Robbtastic pipeline map (direct link (swf).)

James Glanz of the NYT reports at great length on the electrical siege of Baghdad, with detail, network maps, and more. Great.

Obviously, this being a blog, the primary meaning of this is an excuse to moan about the press. Why didn’t Glanz (or anyone else at the NYT) report on this back in 2004, say? It was a commonplace as early as the summer of 2003 that electricity production was a crucial indicator, that pylons were being destroyed and wire dragged away to sell. John Robb was writing about it then. So was this, ah, blog.

Did I say I loved the FT? Check out this story (subreq) on Gazprom, and especially the Robbtastic pipeline map (direct link (swf).)

It’s been a weird political week, no? There was “Loyalist” (scarequotes included because my definition of loyalty doesn’t include shooting fellow citizens, constables & c) nutbag Michael Stone’s public freakout-cum-terrorist attack on Stormont. I haven’t laughed as much in years – seriously, ten years ago this would have meant blood in the streets, all 39 Brigade leave cancelled, Belfast burning. These days he gets pistolwhipped with his own gun by a woman who isn’t even officially a security guard and publicly ridiculed. It’s progress of a sort. Slugger was of course all over the story, and has the details on his motive: apparently he wanted to be put in a cell for his own safety. It’s also progress that you can barge into Stormont with a gun to get yourself arrested, rather than simply shot.

I rather liked the commenter who suggested that the whole thing was an exercise in performance art by the amateur painter Stone, designed to mock the NI politicians’ desperate efforts to get the world’s attention.

Much more depressing is the death of Alexander Litvinenko. The Viking catherd has details on polonium-210 and comments that it was “a curiously elegant and vicious assassination method”. Indeed. The horror of it should be argument enough against the notion that he administered the poison to himself to discredit Vladimir Putin. Suicide-bombers, after all, go out in an instant, and self-immolation (Buddhist/Prague style) is both easier to arrange and more publicly theatrical. And where would he have laid hands on enough of the stuff? Any theory of his assassination must first climb the mount improbable of his killer having access to something found only in quantity in a nuclear reactor or linear accelerator, and in a form pure enough to be handled safely and innocuous enough to be administered easily.

Steinn points out that, at least within the US, small quantities of it are on open sale, but the amount required to kill would have cost $500,000, not to mention being a very noticeable sale. George “Dick Destiny” Smith points out that half a gram in a capsule would reach 500 degrees Celsius – “Litvinenko was cooked from the inside”.

There is something about this story, though, that almost makes the suicide theory plausible – the rainswept November streetscapes of London and the doomed radioactive exile wandering towards death through the flickering mobs of Christmas shoppers. There have always been exiles and foreign secret policemen conspiring in obscure corners of the city, and Litvinenko’s death is almost uncannily fitted to the genius loci. I am reminded of “The Professor”, the prototype suicide bomber and proto-fascist in Conrad’s Secret Agent, who carries an explosive charge triggered by a pneumatic bulb in the sleeve of his jacket, ready to blow himself up if arrested. In conversation with a comrade, he lets slip that the fuse is not instant – twenty seconds must elasp before the explosion, to the comrade’s utter horror and astonishment.

But a suicide-weapon that means not seconds, but weeks of irreversible radiation sickness, is innately improbable. The Government, of course, is desperately hoping against hope that it was anyone, anyone but Gazprom the Russians.