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Bonus Joules: Energy Babble

Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy

Energy Babble


We meet the confusing world of modern "energy speak”
Bonusjoules Blog 14 April 2005


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They say the darkest hour comes before the dawn. Well it sure has been dark of late. Maybe there are now glimmerings of dawn. This week the unbelievable happened and Don Brash announced they are going to alter their “mad” Electricity Reforms of the 1990s. Then, just when I had given up hope on Labour, Trevor Mallard widens the debate on TransPower’s Think Big proposals for Auckland. Aaagh, but it goes real dark again as I write. Here comes Contact Energy, the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and the Vector Flog-off on the radio.

“Mad Max’s Reforms” was how Labour used to describe the National (and coalition) Reforms of the 1990s that effectively disenfranchised communities from their electricity grids and destroyed any real chance of developing a truly intelligent grid. So it is heartening to hear Don B announce the National Party will revisit that legislation and say, “We will allow lines companies to re-enter the generation business and increase both supply and competition.”

This statement unfortunately is sandwiched between two other key proposals for ensuring we all have access to electricity – scrapping the Carbon Tax and gutting the RMA. These suggest the Nat’s mindset is still somewhere back mid last century. As does the announcement this week that National will remove school zoning. I cannot think of a quicker way of clogging our transport systems and wasting foreign funds purchasing oil. However a sliver of hope is still hope, no matter how small.

Its funny but I have just given up all hope for the Labour-led coalition and rearranged my life around a new job. They have had five years to amend the massive and crippling Electricity Market intervention inherent in “Mad Max’s Reforms” and have failed to. Until they do, they are pissing into the proverbial norwester in their attempts to develop a sustainable economy in the Post Cheap Oil Age. The Auckland community does have options and so the sliver of hope was almost blinding when yesterday Trevor Mallard referred the TransPower proposal to the Electricity Commission for wider review.

(Intrigued by Tuesday’s Nat Radio Outspoken programme on 7 O’clock TV I made up an aerial that could get TV1 last night. Maybe TV1 might be worth viewing post-Holmes? Oh dreary me. Susan Woods and her researchers deserve to die in bottomless poll. Auckland has heaps of options, including using solar energy, adopting intelligent building/grid design and burning Gas and wood pellets at peak times. Susan seemed determined to dismiss such considerations as part of an attempt by the Government to stall the TransPower decision till after the elections. The thought occurs that if Auckland is to have blackouts, then the least harm would be done if they occurred at 7-7.30 pm).


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Trevor has been let down by his predecessor, Pete Hodgson and both the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister. All have had ample opportunity to warn Auckland people that their control of Vector Ltd is the key to an intelligent and wealthy future and its float will cost the average person dearly. The transfer of control and wealth will dwarf that which occurred with the sale of Telecom and NZ Rail. Without that control, Auckland people will be doomed to the second rate existence that the Wellington region seems now heading for. Today’s announcement that the Auckland people are to effectively transfer control of Vector Ltd to a few overseas merchant bankers instantly wipes many great options the Electricity Commission can consider.

What can I say about the Auckland Chamber of Commerce? Their website states In summary, the Chamber is an "advocate for business" and will speak out on any issues that may jeopardise business vitality in Auckland. We are all judged best by what we do, not what we say. So what do they do? They dismiss Trevor Mallard’s proposal for a wider review as a recipe for disaster. What do they not do? They do not get out in the streets and protest against the loss of Auckland’s greatest asset in the Post Cheap Oil Age: Vector Ltd. It would seem they are far more an advocate for their own individual interests than that of the interests of the bulk of the Auckland Population.

Maybe they are just a little ignorant of the issues? Perhaps Chamber members spend too much time reading the website and advertisements of the darling company of the NZ Consumers’ Institute. I am talking of the company the Institute strongly recommends I transfer my custom to: Contact Positive Energy. Personally I see little hope in Contact Energy.


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They require huge subsidies to prop them up in the form of the half billion dollar TransPower transmission upgrade. This is because they have advanced plans to make fast bucks out of bulk burning our remaining Gas supplies at a new $400 million Otahuhu plant.

This is the company that charges their customers extra for the privilege of turning their hot water systems at times of peak demand. Sure, this makes sense if you profit most from peak loads but it is insane from a national point of view.

There is a far more dismal side to the Consumer Institute’s darling. Of all the Bulk-electricity sector companies, Contact Positive Energy is by far the worst polluter of popular images of energy. They are really screwing up our kids and destroying awesome scientific concepts with their weird ideas of the nature of energy. Which brings me to a topic dear to my heart: our screwed up images of energy and Energy Babble.

Energy Crisis! Energy Crisis! The media blare on about it. Politicians blatt on about it. So: what in hell is an “energy crisis”? And why in heaven’s name do I ask that question? Indeed I could have asked, “What in heaven is an “energy crisis”? Why didn’t I?

Maybe it is because the concept of an energy crisis cannot exist in heaven. Maybe it is just one hell of a concept. Maybe it is just one of those things we funny old humans create to make our lives miserable. Maybe its what happens when we develop real screwy ideas of the nature of energy?

Developing screwy ideas of the nature of energy is a risky activity. After all energy enables the universe to work. You cannot get much more vital than that and archaeology reveals only to clearly that flawed images of energy doom a civilisation and fast. Time and again civilisations have confused valuable energy forms such as trees with energy. They soon wiped themselves out. It is a great question isn’t it? What exactly was that Easter Islander thinking as he or she cut their last tree down?


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So you would think we would lavish great love and care on our choice of images. You would think we would wish our children to know the most sustainable images possible. You would think we would teach them that how bounteous energy is and how it is constantly being transformed and how we are wise to conserve valuable energy forms. Most of us sense the truth and beauty in such an image and yet so many of us are unable to live and articulate it. Something in us cannot truly believe it. Something in us even denies it. Something in us cannot communicate its beauty to our children.

We fill their young minds with monsters called Looming Energy Crisis and Deepening Energy Crisis.There is even a website called energycrisis.com.

No group obscures and denies the bounteous nature of energy more than the image engineers in the public relations departments of the large corporations. Mind you, small companies display their ignorance too. Think of how many little consultancies call themselves names like GoEnergy and how many 'alternative' food companies call their product a name like Natural Energy. However the Bulk electricity-Fossil Fuel sector bods are the supreme confusion artists of them all.

The Imagineers all have one thing in common: they wish to generate associations between their products and the beauty and vitality we associate with energy. So they call their products energy. Yes. Get this. They redefine energy as their every little commodity. So we surrounded with talk of energy, energy, energy to the point where you just want to lie down and go into a coma.

If it is not energy, it is power, power, power.... The corporations fill our universities and our media with people who do not know the difference between energy and an energy form, between power and a use of power. The result: Energy Babble. Confusion. War. Misery.

It’s a dark murky world these guys would have us live in. Go Energize. Check out this New Zealand website but be prepared. The sun does not shine in this place. There is not a single mention of it. There is only the dim light of an ancient, inefficient 19 Century incandescent light bulb. Such is the miserable world of our gas industry.

Yes, the confusion is extraordinary. We are surrounded by high priests called “energy experts” who worship at “power summits”. Check out one of our very own Kiwi “power summit”. You guessed it. Just another bunch of rich bods who make a lot of money from Bulk-generation of electricity who can afford over two grand to sit around in luxurious surroundings discussing how they can keep us dependent on their product.

In the 1980s, Western societies even began appointing individuals as Ministers of Energy. In the 1990s we even began describing ourselves as living in the Energy Conscious Age. At the same time we began adopting some of the most unsustainable uses of energy on a scale unprecedented in the history of humans. By 2000 we were being terrorised by reoccurring images of “energy crises”. We wring our hands and ask what is going wrong? Somehow we are turning energy into a nightmare.

It is 2001 and I am caught in the tide of confusion. I am getting older now. I want to pass on the best to our children. I want to clear the crap and confusion. Even as I start creating the cartoon of Bonus Joules in Search of The Knowledge Economy, New Zealand is sending our armed forces off to slaughter the Afghani peoples to protect our “energy industry” and delay another “energy crisis”. E-rumours are that the Iraqis are in for it next and will be the next victims to be sacrificed on the "energy" alter.

In my bones I know the vision of energy and power of all these bods is wrong. Every time I look in to my breath or look out to a cloud I am reminded that there is more to life. Every time I am reminded how alike energy and love are. Both, by their very nature, are constant, sustained and conserved. Both come in a vast number of ever-changing forms. To experience them is to experience a great sense of bounty.

Maybe that is the state some call heaven? And maybe it is closer than we dare to believe.

ENDS

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