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B. Joules: EECA's struggle to Save the Impossible

Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy

EECA's struggle to Save the Impossible


Bonus Joules wrestles with an epic problem.
Bonusjoules Blog 18 May 2005
Chapter 2.4 EECA Conserving Energy


Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

A quick quiz to energize you:

Quiz Q No 1: When did EECA last impact on your awareness? This year? Last year? 2003? 2002? 2001? Not this century? Hands up those who recall last noticing its existence in 2003 (and then back in 2001). Don’t worry. You are not alone. And it may be a darn good thing.

Quiz Q No 2: When did Contact Energy last impact on you? Today? Yesterday? Last week? All this century? Don’t worry if your hand is not up for the Today category. It’s not a crime to not tune in to TV, radio, daily broadsheets, Hardware store ads or the Internet each and every day.

Quiz Q No 3: The principle of the Conservation of Energy states energy cannot be destroyed or created and can change its form. Hands up those who think this means humans can conserve energy. Sorry, wrong. Humans can only conserve energy forms. Big difference. Don’t beat yourself up -your mistake is understandable. That’s what our government teaches through EECA and our schools.

Quiz Q No 4: When did New Zealand get its first Minister of Energy?c1990? c1980? c1960? c1920? Forever? I know there will be hands up for the last option. Journalists, teachers, policy writers and “energy experts” have all assured me we have always had a Minster of Energy in New Zealand in some form or another. Wrong.

Quiz Q No 5: How many of you are bored comatose at the mention of energy? Wow. There are a lot of hands up for the question. Don’t worry. It is just your sad fate to be born into the so-called Age of Energy Consciousness. The sad part is that it is a lie. More true is we live in an age where we are estranged from energy. It’s a pity because it could well mean our civilisation is about to collapse because of this estrangement. I note some hands are not up? Those near these comatose people might like to attempt to wake them.

I don’t use the word “lie” lightly. I have explored Parliamentary records, the media, school materials, packaging you name it. In the last two decades they have become riddled with Energy Gobbledygook. It is little wonder the symbol “energy” now drives you spare. The PR industry has re-engineered it to evoke such mean, ugly sensations in us – fear, doubt, deprivation and, disempowerment. Disempowerment? Yes, that reminds me. They have also screwed the wonderful science symbol “power” as well but that has been a longer process. It started about 1890 in the Lala Land of Gobbledygook; yes you guessed it, The USA.

You may be wondering about the answer to Q4. The rot is recent and we were first blighted with our first Minister of Energy in 1977. It is interesting to note that for some inexplicable reason we knew a brief period of enlightenment in the period 1996-1999 when there was no Minister of Energy. What makes this perplexing is that the Government during that period created some of the most ignorant and unsustainable legislation of the last Century with its Electricity Reforms. For those who want to jump ahead in the journey, the Bonus Joules cartoon explores the scientific nonsense of the symbol Minister of Energy in Chapter 4.

I hope you all had the opportunity to hear Kim Hill’s interview with the physicist Simon Singh on Saturday. He wrote the best selling books Fermat’s Last Theorem, The Code Book and now Big Bang. This is Science’s latest consensus of an explanation of the beginning of our universe. It suggests at that point there was this humungous, mind-boggling explosion of time and space. This week’s NZ Listener also reviews the book (p46).

This search to understand the true nature of energy is truly exciting stuff. Sure there is great drama in the soaps on the TV, radio and in the movies. However it is pretty insipid in comparison to the search to understand the nature of energy. This drama contains every element you could want. It’s the epic beyond scale and when we get it wrong whole civilisations are wiped out, foundering in a swamp of petty egos and human pride, of continental scale bitching and brawling.

I loved his story from Calvin and Hobbs, which so happens to be my favourite modern times cartoon strip. (See, I am not blind anti-American. Indeed my favourite strip of all time is George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. I love the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Farside. I think Robert Crumb is astounding in his skill and honesty. I can also understand why Robert fled USA Incorp to live in France in order to maintain his sanity. Art lovers –check this great tribute to him at The Guardian.)

Simon has already pointed out the term Big Bang was coined as a derisory term by Fred Hoyle in an interview in 1948. Calvin observes that the term Big Bang is a silly one for such a grandiose theory. Hobbs asks “What would you call the beginning of the universe then?” Calvin suggests “The Horrendous Space Kablooie”.

Simon added that some physicists have since adopted this phrase. Personally I am lost for words when I attempt to describe the magnitude and majesty of the possible genesis of our universe.


Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

God, I love Wikipedia. I didn’t know how to spell Kablooie and it took me to a wonderful page of Calvin and Hobbs quotes. I’ve picked a few examples and will add comments so I can pretend there is a thread through this blog.

“You can lead people to truth, but you can't make them understand it: the story of my youth, as seen from the present.”
Comment: Oh well, I guess I will never grow up.

“But for my own example, I'd never believe one little kid could have so much brains!”
Comment: The older I get the more in awe I become of the potential of kids.

“Everybody I know needs a complete personality overhaul!”
Comment: Hmmmm

“History is the fiction we invent to persuade ourselves that events are knowable and that life has order and direction. That's why events are always reinterpreted when values change. We need new versions of history to allow for our current prejudices.”
Comment: This kind of sums up Simon’s message –the Big Bang idea is not his major revelation. That revelation is the extraordinary drama of the thought process that enabled it.

“I go to school, but I never learn what I want to know.”
Comment: As Simon points, even the greatest scientists have created extraordinary and complex metaphors of how energy works to avoid learning what they did not want to know.

“I hate to think that all my current experiences will someday become stories with no point.”
Comment: I guess that is why even the greatest scientists are unable to truly live the Principle of Uncertainty. The irony is some of the people who least imagine they are scientists are able to and are able to enjoy a life of humility, tolerance and humour. Who are the real scientists among us?

“I think nighttime is dark so you can imagine your fears with less distraction.”
Comment: I guess that is why the PR industry spends such huge sums keeping us in the dark.

“I used to hate writing assignments, but now I enjoy them. I realized that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!”
Comment: See previous comment. The Spin Doctors for sectors like Bulk Electricity generators, Fossil Fuel, Food and Beverage should be ecstatic. Never has so much Gobbledygook and Spin been generated around the fine scientific images of energy and power in the history of humanity.

“I'M SIGNIFICANT!...screamed the dust speck.”
Comment: I just like this quote. Full stop. Maybe it is because sometimes I do attempt to confront the fact I am a spot of stardust or nuclear waste.

“If mom and dad cared about me at all, they'd buy me some infra-red nighttime vision goggles.”
Comment: Now we are really talking. Every classroom should have a set of goggles. Then our kids can know their Thermal Beings and see what thermal shacks our generation is bequeathing on them and the stupidity of SUVs.

“There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”
Comment: So profound. Doing nothing can open the mind to infinite possibilities. Even to the nature of energy. I guess that is why our governments work so hard to prevent us having time to do nothing. Relaxed and reflective people are so much harder to scare silly with “energy crises” etc.

“To make a bad day worse, spend it wishing for the impossible.”
Comment: No wonder we often feel pretty flogged. Think of how “energy experts” and policy makers try to run our world using policies based on dreams of impossible things like Renewable Energy, Sustainable Energy, that Earth’s energy system works like a greenhouse and that humans can conserve energy

“What assurance do I have that your parenting isn't screwing me up?”
Comment: A real good question when our education curricula are now framed and determined by the above-mentioned PR Spin Merchants.

“You know how Einstein got bad grades as a kid? Well, mine are even worse!”
Comment: I love it. There is still hope for me though I got 7% for Physics and not much more for Chemistry in my final year at college. I got about 12% for Maths. My father squinted at the small print on my final College report and said. ‘Huh. Hmm. Might pay to find a patch of strong sunlight.’ The small print warned the report could fade if left in sunlight.

“There's more to this world than just people, you know.”
Comment: Try getting some people to believe it.

“Calvin: People think it must be fun to be a super genius, but they don't realize how hard it is to put up with all the idiots in the world.
Hobbes: Isn't your pants zipper supposed to be in the front?”

Comment: I love everything about this. It’s a bloke’s nightmare. I consider myself a most lucky man – I have learned many people are grateful to idiots. I figure it is up to us idiots to make the possible mistakes so others can learn off us. And at least we get to dance (and have a leak if we need). Those who are afraid of appearing to be an idiot sit huddled in their paradigms, even if they doubt them, too nervous to stand up in case the ideas are revealed as impossible

“Calvin: "They say that all the world's a stage. But obviously the play is unrehearsed and everybody is adlibbing his lines."
Hobbes: "Maybe that's why it's so hard to tell if we're living in a tragedy or a farce."
Calvin: We need more special effects and dance numbers.”

Comment: Help! I read the other day Las Vagas is doomed and here we are modelling the world on it.

Calvin: Verbing weirds language.
Comment: No more so than in the weird obscurifacating world of Energy Gobbledygook. The noun/verb “use” does not exist and we have “energy crises” rather than “energy use crisis”; some types of electricity cease to power us and become “power” and the symbol “global warming” is associated with bad things.

It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy... Let's go exploring!
Last line of the final Calvin and Hobbes strip

Comment: I have yet to view that final C &H strip but I like to think that those will be my last words too. That’s the spirit I started the Bonus Joules cartoon journey with. I have such difficulty subscribing the tired, miserable vision of how our universe works evoked by our Government, our scientists, our schools and our media. Each sector uses the same crumby symbols because the others do and in the process all the magic that is energy is lost.

Here is an example of the “verbing weirds language” and how it is generated. There are countless examples I could use. The Greater Wellington Regional Council puts education material in my letter box teaching me that energy is something different to things like transport, plants, soils and water. Recently they made a media release talking of stuff called Renewable Energy. The universe I live in is one that has energy that is naturally renewed. So I wrote to them:

“…This is probably a question no one has asked you before. What is ‘renewable energy’?”

I received this very kind reply:

“Dear Dave,

The English language like most languages continues to evolve over time. While in a purest sense I agree with you that energy is usually only transformed from one form to another, the term renewable energy seems to be well embedded in our every day speech. The link below is to the Ministry of Environment's web page that is titled Renewable Energy,

http://www.mfe.govt.nz/issues/energy/renewable.html

Then there are several pages on the EECA web site that include Renewable Energy in the title; the link to one of these is below.

http://www.eeca.govt.nz/publications/PublicationDetails.aspx?s=p&id=42

Like it or not the term Renewable Energy is in common usage.

Regards,

(Greater Wellington Regional Council)

These people, as do many other educators, clearly place great faith in the A word in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. But does common usage mean that something cannot be stupid? And is EECA really an authority on the nature of Energy?


Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

EECA’s publications are loaded with references to saving and conserving energy. In fact the symbol EECA is testimony to their belief in this possibility. I cannot think of a more effective way of making a bad day worse than by struggling to do the impossible: conserving that which is already conserved. Surely it would be more helpful to attempt to promote the conservation of valuable energy forms, to focus on uses of energy? I cannot see how they have energy to even think.

What’s interesting is that for the last five years the “Minister of Energy” who is charged with responsibility for EECA has also been Minister of Science and Technology. The new “Minister of Energy” has been Minister of Education for that period. Who has been teaching whom what where? Talk about creating “an intimidating and impenetrable fog”.

Does this matter? Well yes it does if New Zealand’s national authority on energy has got it all wrong and we are basing our attempts to develop a Knowledge Economy on their teachings. How do we teach our children that energy comes in many forms when EECA teaches that some energy forms are energy? When, for instance, it teaches that Bulk-generated electricity is energy, how do we teach our children that it is a great idea for every dwelling to generate as much as possible from local energy sources, including generating its own electricity?

Far worse, EECA teaches our children that conserving energy means to use less energy. Personally I would teach our kids that its wise to conserve valuable non-renewable energy forms and to focus on getting the best use out of direct solar resources. The difference? EECA evokes deprivation. I evoke bounty.

Does that really matter? Well, possibly not if you are indifferent to living in needless poverty, poorer health and greater misery. Mind you, if you happen to be one of ultra-wealthy merchant bankers who benefit by billions of $NZs from this situation you may well sponsor and promote the activities of EECA through your corporations, which effectively includes NZ’s Bulk-electricity State Owned Enterprises. The last thing these bankers want is resilient, “smart” local electricity grids and energy wise communities.

Recall I mentioned the likelihood that the last time most of you were aware of EECA was in 2003 and previous to that, 2001. Each of those times, millions of dollars were suddenly found so EECA was in your face just like Contact Energy is now. Suddenly there was EECA exhorting you to “conserve energy” and turn the lights off. We saw pitiful pictures of families obliging and risking their lives surviving by candlelight to “save the country”. Then when it rained and the hydro lakes refilled, suddenly EECA was gone again. To use a confusing but accurate phrase, it evaporated with the rain.

What’s the story? In a paragraph, it’s about electricity and Gas use driven by the desire to maximise short-term dividends to the few principal shareholders of the Bulk-electricity industry. They want you to consume as much of their product as fast as possible. The last thing they want you doing is using energy efficiently –like designing your town to maximise solar energy, for instance.

EECA is great for these guys. It helps foster creates the illusion they and the Government care. It can be used to keep profits up in periods when the hydro-electricity storage is low while not altering fundamental habits. It has AUTHORITY and so maximises PR Spin. It obscures the nature of energy. It teaches energy efficiency = deprivation. This is particularly useful as fear- filled people are easier to manipulate. As any competent Spin Doctor. It’s also great for the incumbent politicians.

The State Owned Enterprises are mandated to mirror the profit-making activities of private sector companies. The dividends the latter send overseas are not easily available but I heard some one (Brian Leyland?) say on the radio last year that the Government received a three-year dividend or tax from the SOEs of over $700 million dollars.

Bulk-electricity sales to residential consumers in 2003 were still $1619 million, despite the “energy crisis”. According to my idiot-level calculations, that’s an additional $600 million or so in consumption tax for the three-year period. What Minister of Finance is going to turn off that cash flow from our communities– especially when billions of state subsidies are required to prop up the Oil Co activities and keep sunset industries like airlines and motorways foundering on.

Do EECA people really believe humans can conserve energy and does it matter? Well it matters if you are attempting to teach wise uses of energy. Recall the last Bonus Joules cartoon panel featured “the shutters coming down” at EECA? It really happened. EECA funding officials were given a viewing of the revised Energy Action programme about 2001. This resource used to be funded into our schools by the community owned utilities before the Electricity Forms destroyed them. The little “energy efficiency” firm I worked for knew the programmes proven success in promoting wise uses of resources like electricity, Gas and water. So it risked all in revising it in 2000.The officials’ eyes seemed bright enough until I uttered the fatal words “We teach that energy is conserve and cannot be created or destroyed…”

As my employer, Grant Dunford, put it afterwards: “Jeez mate, did you really have to do it? Didn’t you see all their shutters come down? As soon as you mention about this Conservation of Energy stuff, didn’t you see the bloody lights go out in their eyes? You gonna have to give it a way a bit…””

He was near despair. He stood to lose his firm now without EECA support for the resource. (Remember: local community-owned Power Boards were now gone.) Yet when I asked whether he rather we taught a lie he said no. Remarkable man! He was electing near penury.


Click through to Bonus Joules Cartoon Strip

Two years ago if you rang EECA for a resource they still referred you to Grant and Energy Action.

Early this year an EECA official told me they had been discussing the need for an education resource. Its helpful I did not get too excited. An email soon arrived saying there is no money for one. Understand that EECA’s annual budget in 2004 was over $30 million).

And remember the Government gets $400 million a year now off Bulk-electricity sales alone - plus taxes off fossil fuel use. It has a $7 billion budget “surplus” in the coffers. Yet it still is unable to put an energy efficiency resource into our schools. If a couple of local communities could put Energy Action into 1400 (half our schools) in the 1990s then it is clear the Government is not motivated by community concerns. Perhaps it puts to much store in its belief in “Industry-derived solutions”, as it terms it.

I checked with EECA again the other day. No, it is “outsourcing’ to other education resources. It so happens I know these resources rely on EECA as their authority, as does the GWRC mentioned above. And one in particular, Enviroschools, is the best example I know of Government Greenwash and Clean Green Image Spin. It's classic. And so ignorance breeds itself.

I just checked out EECA a bit more. Perhaps it is a good thing EECA is not more active in our schools. Try and make sense of these statements on its website:

Title: Renewable Energy
Energy is a hidden cost.

Renewable energy is just as it sounds - energy that can be recycled or is self-restoring. Non-renewable energy is sourced from fossil fuels, like oil and gas – once it’s used, it’s gone.


Comment: So that’s what Renewable energy is. What is energy then? Aaagh, the static. Is life just a cost too? Is every breath more debt somehow? Hint. How much less painful if they had talked of (non)renewable energy forms and sources.

Title: Energy supply

Where does our energy come from in New Zealand? Basically, from a combination of renewable and fossil fuel resources

Comment: Help. I live in New Zealand. I am getting an Out-Of-This- Universe feeling. Or, hint, are they just saying the obvious – energy enables the universe. If so, so what? Everyone senses that.

Energy nasties

Nasties lurking in your home
You may not realise it, but there are some real energy nasties lurking about your home – hidden monsters that sap power supplies or let your precious heat out in winter.

Comment: Quick. Lock away your children. Seeing is believing…

Yes but does all this matter? It does seem a bit nitpicky. Well, I hope you picked up Russell Brown’s commentary on Media Watch on Sunday. He discussed the sad state of New Zealand telecommunications and the attempts of the two dominant private-owned corporations (Telecom and Telstraclear) to screw our local Internet for all they can by attempting to charge website owners for letting you see their websites. Seems like no one is paying up and so this duopoly is indulging in activities like “perverted routing”, if I heard right. Whatever, it sounds uncomfortable, if not obscene. This involves shunting of data around the world even if you are based in the same room as the web source, thus creating delays, inefficiencies, security risks and, in general, shonky service.

Does this ring alarm bells? It does for me! It sounds just like our Reformed (deformed) electricity grid. Talking of perverted networks, I just discovered they have made a film of Enron. Its called 'Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room' Sounds great value. Snip. Snip:


Seeing Is Believing
By Noy Thrupkaew, AlterNet. Posted April 22, 2005.
http://www.alternet.org/movies/21840/

“As a new documentary shows, at Enron, perception was reality. And through the lens of free-market capitalism and deregulation, with the help of multiple shady plots, all that could be seen was piles and piles of money.

The tale of Enron unreels like an ancient parable -- something out of the Old Testament, perhaps, or maybe a gory Greek tragedy: clever men allowed to rise to impossible heights, and then dashed to the depths for the sin of pride and hubris. Director Alex Gibney knows as much -- he opens his savage dissection of the 2001 energy-company collapse with a shot of the church that stands next to the corporation's glistening, mirrored offices. "Jesus Saves" is written on the church's façade, dwarfed by the Enron building. When men have tried to fashion themselves into gods, the scene seems to point out, divine intervention is the last thing they can expect when they fall.

Based on the 2003 bestseller of the same name by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is a devilishly entertaining film, tracing the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of the seventh largest U.S. corporation with meticulous zeal. The company's demise was a financial scandal on an epic scale -- one that relied on the complicity of a huge array of Enron executives, lawyers, financial advisers, banks and perhaps even the White House, the film alleges. The consequences for employees were staggering: 20,000 jobs and two billion dollars in retirement funds and pensions evaporated when Enron went belly-up. Meanwhile, the execs at the top had cashed in their stock options before the company hit bottom…

Enron does a bang-up job clarifying the imposingly complex schemes and "accounting" behind Enron's spectacular failure. "People perceive [the Enron story] as a story that's about numbers, ... " says McLean in the film, "but in reality it's a story about people."

The film brings those people into sharp relief through interviews with former employees, C-SPAN footage, phone recordings, and, most devastatingly, through internal Enron promotion videos. One such recording -- a comedy skit, no less -- shows former Enron CEO and president Jeffrey Skilling har-har-ing over his new invention……

…At Enron, says one observer in the film, "Perception is the reality." The company seemed to turn the Cartesian declaration of "I think, I am" outwards: I think, therefore it is.

As depicted in Enron, the company's corporate culture was ruthless, a nightmare brew of Ayn Rand and Social Darwinism...

..Enron is impressively sourced and researched, and takes its audience through the labyrinth of the company's daunting array of back-door deals and unethical schemes with admirable ease. Among them:..

…Perhaps the most notorious of Enron's disastrous plots was its role in the 2000 and 2001 California energy crisis. Desperate to dig themselves out of a hole, Enron execs began exploiting loopholes in California's energy deregulation policy -- the company's traders began ordering power-plant shutdowns to drive up the price of electricity. As images of California brush-fires and rolling blackouts flicker across the screen, Enron plays recorded conversations between the corporation's traders as they whoop with glee at the rising price of energy, wish a plague of natural disasters on the state, and guffaw over the possibility of retirement "by the time we're 30." The cost to California? $30 billion and one recalled governor, the film alleges….

My big question is: How come New Zealand did not make the movie? We got the cameras. We got the directors. We got the scenery. What a great opportunity to show case ourselves. Com’n Wellington. We can Positively do it. We can showcase the insides of the City Council chambers and the reveal secret dealings that went on when WCC Capital Power was transferred to TransAlta. We got the same ethos, the personal trauma, the sackings, the community suffering, the debt… cripes we even got the same Restructuring architects (Arthur Andersen and Co) and we got the mother of all corporate collapses with the implosion of OnEnergy – it was the “biggest energy trader in the country” too. Like it just didn’t collapse because they “misjudged their hedges” anymore than Enron did. I guess you had to see it to believe it.

Oh darn, I just remembered what’s missing. We don’t have investigative journalists and Congressional Committees like the USA. Which reminds me of Wayne Brown’s recent comment in the Sunday Star Times talking about the flog-off of Auckland City’s Vector Ltd (Its Electricity/Gas and Optic fibre Network):

“We are now backing to accountants and lawyers making these decisions and a weak business press championing a new float.
Will we ever learn?”

Maybe not but someone some day is going to make a great film at our expense on this Vector float. Its got even greater ingredients than the OnEnergy collapse. Like its got vast telecommunications networks exploitation potential thrown in as well. Recall the present chaos that Russell Brown spoke of. As he pointed out, Citylink, the Wellington community-created optic fibre network remains the sole point of sanity in the scene. I figure when a lot of New Zealanders see this movie, if they can afford to go to it, they will be spewing at the transfer of Vector to a couple of incredibly rich merchant bankers.

Hey I have run out of time. Other excitement this week was finally getting a response from the new Minister of Energy. I’ll just have to carry that one over to next blog.


ENDS

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