By Mark Milke and Ven Venkatachalam
With the recent rise in the price of natural gas in Europe to five times where it was in early 2021, expect to see many more Europeans and those in United Kingdom plunged into what’s known as “energy poverty.”
From Greece to Great Britain and everywhere in between, the European electricity grid has increasingly been delinked from reliable affordable fossil fuels and hooked up to more expensive and intermittent wind and solar projects.
One result is Europeans pay twice for generated electricity: once for the existing sunk costs of existing fossil fuel (and nuclear in some countries) projects and again for renewable-based electricity projects. Another result is when wind and solar are not available, multiple nations in Europe and elsewhere are chasing the same available oil, natural gas and coal, pushing those fuel prices dramatically higher.
Canadians — and indeed everyone else around the world — should pay attention. That’s because what Europeans are enduring and will suffer through again this winter will intensify thanks to what governments worldwide are pushing at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) at Glasgow, Scotland: An even faster assumed “phaseout” of fossil fuels.
But it’s just that past policy preference that has caused substantial energy poverty in Europe even before the price spike this autumn. (For those unfamiliar with the term, energy poverty is all about citizens too poor to pay their utility bills on time and/or keep their homes adequately warm).
Stephen Bouzarovski, a University of Manchester professor and chair of an energy poverty working group, estimated pre-pandemic, 80 million Europeans were already struggling to adequately heat their homes. Meanwhile, at least 12 million European households were in arrears on their utility bills.
The European Union attempted to provide an objective measurement of the problem, but its best data is six years old. The EU Energy Poverty Observatory’s most recent estimate from 2015 showed 16% of EU consumers faced a “high” share of energy costs. “High” was defined as the proportion of European households whose energy expenditures relative to income was more than twice the national median share (of energy expenditures relative to income).
To get a better sense of the challenge faced by European households and energy poverty, we used 2008 as a start year and then compared the rise in household median incomes (with the full set of data ending in 2019) with the rise in electricity prices (ending in 2020) in 30 European countries.
We found for lower-income European countries that have seen strong growth in incomes since 2008 (mainly ex-communist states such as Estonia, Bulgaria and Poland as examples), most such states could handle the rise in power prices because median incomes rose faster.
This was not the case in mature countries where median incomes were already relatively high in 2008, but barely grew in the ensuing years, this while power prices zoomed up. For example, electricity prices jumped by 61% in France between 2008 and 2020 with median household income rising by just 19% (using 2019 as our end date given the limited data). The United Kingdom and Ireland saw a 51% and 48% rise in electricity prices in that period while incomes rose by just 14% and 11% respectively.
Worst off was Spain, where median household income was below more prosperous European states in 2008 (at €13,963 that year) and has barely grown since (to just €15,015 in 2019). Median household income thus rose by just 8% in the years available for comparison but electricity prices soared by 68%.
The response of some European governments to this has been to subsidize utility bills. But as with Ontario which does the same to mask the expense of past government policy which drove the province’s electricity prices dramatically higher, all that does is shift the burden of high power costs from the “consumer pocket” to the “taxpayer pocket.” Of course, it’s the same household that bears the cost, or their children and grandchildren if present-day utility bills are subsidized through government borrowing.
The source of high-cost electricity can be found in European Union and United Kingdom policy. Governments there have attempted to “transition” from fossil fuels despite their superior energy density (their “power punch” as Vaclav Smil, retired environment professor at the University of Manitoba characterizes it) vis-à-vis renewables.
The result can be seen in the declining share of fossil fuels in EU electricity production from about 50% in 2000 to 38% as of 2019, with nuclear-generated electricity also discouraged and declining from 32% in 2000 to just over 26% in 2019.
Meanwhile, renewables as a share of EU electricity production more than doubled, from just over 16% in 2000 to over 34% in 2019. That would be fine, except solar and wind are not inexpensive. They are also not as reliable as fossil fuels, something Brits just noticed again when wind power dropped and coal was again used to prop up that country’s electricity grid.
It’s been said the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It appears policymakers are gathering in Glasgow to speed up killing fossil fuels, precisely what already led to massive energy poverty in Europe.
Mark Milke and Ven Venkatchalam are with the Canadian Energy Centre, an Alberta government corporation funded in part by taxes paid by industry on carbon emissions. They are authors of Energy Poverty in European Households: An Advance Lesson for Canadians.
Krahnicle’s Cartoon: January 18, 2022
KAY: Why is Prince Andrew the only one being held accountable?
“All I am saying is that the price he is paying — a royal castaway, shunned for the sake of The Firm’s continued good health, and relegated to a social Devil’s island — is very, very high, much higher than would have been the case for an ordinary man.”
It was with a pang that I was informed by People.com that “Queen Elizabeth strips Prince Andrew of [his eight] military titles and patronages amid sexual assault lawsuit,” as the headline read. A day after a judge rejected Prince Andrew’s attempt to have a civil lawsuit quashed, alleging sexual misconduct against him in 2001 by one of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre, the axe fell.
Thursday, the royal palace announced, “With the Queen’s approval and agreement, The Duke of York’s military affiliations and royal patronages have been returned to the Queen.” Although still nominally a prince, Andrew will no longer have the right to be addressed as His Royal Highness (HRH). No more public duties for the dozens of charities for whom he has been a patron. “The Duke of York is defending this case,” the statement informed us, “as a private citizen.”
Why do I shudder slightly at those words, “private citizen,” and greet the news in general with a “pang,” though? Prince Andrew is nothing to me personally. He got himself into a very tawdry mess through his own appallingly bad judgment. The allegations surfaced in 2019, so this was no surprise. And it is not the first occasion in which bad judgment and a sense of entitlement has led “Randy Andy” into temptation of one kind or another, and thence onward to, at best, unethical behaviour, and at worst — oh dear, oh dear.
Let us not, though, count the ways that make this ultimate disgrace a deserved punishment for Andrew’s sins. Or rather, let other commentators — those who experience an uprush of joy or schadenfreude in their hearts when white males of extreme privilege are brought low, instead of a pang — do that.
When I unpack my pang a bit, what comes to mind is I know this had to be done; I know he deserved it; I know he is a wastrel. But oh, the mortification! And not for love, like Harry’s for Meghan or his great-uncle, Edward VIII’s for Wallis. At least they got to ride off to the colonies believing at the time they made the decision, anyway, their lives as royals were well lost for the glittering prize that had chosen them.
Even though he was of weak character — a suspected Nazi sympathizer, amongst other cases of bad judgment — Edward, Duke of Windsor was still a duke in exile. He was given royal sinecures to keep him busy. He was still a social asset outside Britain. Harry isn’t technically a Royal; he gave up his title voluntarily, but he’s good enough for Hollywood. So he has all the perks of royalty — money-making sinecures, constant attention, lots of social adulation — and none of the tedium. And when he comes home to visit, he still gets to mingle with the family. He has disappointed his family by quitting The Firm, and embarrassed them by foolishly airing private laundry, but he has not brought shame on the House of Windsor. He was not cast out. He left.
But for Andrew it’s the opposite. He cannot leave, but he has been “effectively banished.” There is no corner of the English-speaking world in which he can relax and just be himself. Himself? What would “himself” look like, stripped of what has defined him as a human being for all his 61 years? A turtle without a shell to retreat into. And no natural habitat. His gorgeous military uniforms will hang lifeless in his closets. Forever. I am trying to imagine what a future social life might look like. But I can’t.
Of course, there’s the saving grace of ex-wife Fergie to keep him company. Nobody is less likely to be judgmental, or more likely to empathize with the results of bad judgment in a buddy than Sarah Ferguson. I suspect she will eventually be remembered for her loyalty to Andrew in exile. He will have company watching Netflix. (Do you remember the scene in The Crown where the Duke — played by the wonderful actor Michael Kitchen — and Duchess of Windsor are watching Elizabeth’s televised coronation from their home in France? Oh, the suffering etched on Kitchen’s face.)
Andrew is often referred to as his mother’s favourite child, and that is how he was portrayed in The Crown as a boy on the cusp of manhood. He was buoyant, confident and ready for adventures of all kinds, military (at which he excelled) and prankish — even then, a bit of a wild card, but endearing to his mother on that account. In Philip’s general mold, but without Philip’s maturity, intellect and sense of duty.
But back to my pang. Consider: Stupid as he was, the woman accusing him of being party to her sex trafficking was 17 at the time of the alleged encounter. The age of consent in the U.K. as well as in 32 U.S. states is 16. A lot of other rich and famous men palled around with Epstein and made use of his private plane and visited his island home(s). How come their names didn’t come up in Maxwell’s trial? So maybe my pang has something to do with the murkiness surrounding the alleged encounter, and the fact that Andrew seems to have been cut from the herd to keep all eyes on him and all eyes off the American guys.
The only other man Giuffre publicly charged with sexual assault was celebrated lawyer Alan Dershowitz in 2019, who had defended Epstein in his 2005 sex-trafficking charges. Dershowitz immediately counter-attacked Giuffre in his typical take-no-prisoners style, and that turned into a nightmare of a legal circus that is apparently still unresolved. I imagine Giuffre took a lesson from her challenge to a lion. Next to Dershowitz, Andrew must look a lot like a sacrificial lamb.
Andrew is what he is, and I am not making the case he shouldn’t have paid an appropriate price for his bad behaviour — bad whether he slept with Giuffre or didn’t. All I am saying is that the price he is paying — a royal castaway, shunned for the sake of The Firm’s continued good health, and relegated to a social Devil’s island — is very, very high, much higher than would have been the case for an ordinary man. There is no court of appeal for this lifetime sentence.
Barbara Kay is a senior columnist for the Western Standard.
THOMAS: Gondek’s legacy could very well be an empty parking lot
“There can be no doubt that more than a few Calgarians, who are against using public money to help build the Event Centre, have benefited from the owners’ largess.”
Most of the people who have held the office of mayor of Calgary probably hoped to leave a legacy that people recognize as a positive contribution to the city.
Some did. Some didn’t. A couple of ‘dids’ come to mind.
As mayor from 1980 to 1989, Ralph Klein’s legacy is as being part of the team that brought the 1988 Winter Olympics to Calgary, which resulted in the Saddledome being built, which brought the Calgary Flames to the city.
Dave Bronconnier, mayor from 2001 to 2010, also left a legacy near the Saddledome.
East Village: It’s the area directly east of city hall, stretching to Fort Calgary, with the Bow River on the north and 9 Ave. southeast on the south side.
When ‘Bronco’ took over the mayor’s chair, East Village was the most dangerous area of the city. Totally run down, it was a centre of illegal drug activity and the ‘office’ for sex workers. In earlier years, it served as the Calgary dump. It was not an area you wanted to be in, especially after dark.
Bronco, vowing to clean it up, approached the development community to gauge any interest in participating.
There was no interest. Developers told him the cost to remediate the area was too high, but if the city undertook the task, there would be interest in building condo-apartment buildings.
So, the mayor introduced the Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) program, with the blessing of the Alberta government. The way a TIF works is, an area for redevelopment is identified and for 20 years, all taxes collected in that area are used to pay infrastructure costs incurred by the city to get the job done.
No tax money comes out of the city’s general revenues. Only money from taxes collected in the designated area.
It obviously worked. The TIF helped pay for, among other things, the new central library, and East Village is now an urban oasis of apartments and retailers.
The TIF worked so well, city council decided to expand the area it financed, calling it the Rivers District, which runs from the banks of the Bow River south to 25 Ave. S.W., with Macleod Tr. as its western border. Eventually, the Bow Building was added to the Rivers District because of the high taxes it would pay, which would contribute greatly to the TIF, now renamed the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL).
Here, from the City’s website, its (abbreviated) definition of the CRL.
“(The) Community Revitalization Levy substantially funds the delivery of the Rivers District Revitalization Plan. The levy provides a means to segregate increased property tax revenues in the Rivers District, which result from redevelopment into a fund that will be used to pay for the new infrastructure required. The end result is improvements in the Rivers District are self-funded without any additional tax burden on the balance of the city, and at the end of the CRL period, the amounts that were charged under the CRL would become general property tax revenues and flow into the general revenues of the city and the province.”
There’s a lot of work going on in the East Victoria Park area within the Rivers District, including the RoundUp Centre upgrade, the demolition of the Corral and a lot more to come. Plans include homes for 8,000 new residents in the community, with approximately four million square feet of absorbable mixed-use development, a Stampede Trail retail street and the LRT Green Line extension. All of this development might even give some justification to converting the empty downtown office buildings into residences.
Up until about a month ago, the plans included a new Event Centre, to be built on a couple of mostly empty parking lots north of Stampede Park. The cost of the centre would have been shared by the Calgary Flames organization and the City of Calgary.
That deal is dead.
How vital was/is the Event Centre to the success of the Rivers District?
If the district was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Event Centre would be Tom Brady.
The Event Centre would be home to more than the Calgary Flames. It would put Calgary in the big leagues in attracting major concerts and other events (hence the name). Under the dead deal with the Flames, the City of Calgary would have received a percentage of ticket sales to every event. There are other opportunities for revenue generation for the city that are now in jeopardy.
However, without the Flames as a partner in some fashion, there isn’t likely to be an event centre.
The Flames ownership group is first and foremost a collection of very successful and astute business people. They are not the billionaire robber barons some Calgarians claim them to be.
Bringing NHL hockey to Calgary was a great contribution, but their greatest contribution is the millions and millions of dollars they have donated to charities, to build major medical facilities and more. There can be no doubt more than a few Calgarians who are against using public money to help build the Event Centre have benefited from the owners’ largess.
Without a new, reasonable deal would the ownership group move the Flames out of the city?
They absolutely would.
That would be Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s legacy.
Myke Thomas is a Western Standard contributor. He started in radio as a child voice actor, also working in television and as the real estate columnist, reporter and editor at the Calgary Sun for 22 years.
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