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Sing low, sweet chariot

Worried the silent progress of electric vehicles may increase accidents amongst unaware pedestrians? You can rest easier. Finland-based energy company Fortum has introduced the Singalong Shuttle, an emissions-free taxi service that only accepts singing as payment . 

The fleet, which consists entirely of electric cars, began operating at the country’s Ruisrock Festival in July. 

“With Singalong Shuttle we want to show people in a joyful way how comfortable and easy it is to drive an electric car,” says Fortum’s brand manager Jussi Mälkiä. “The silent electric cars make it possible to enjoy singing without background noise and emissions.” 

Be aware Fortum also operates the largest electric vehicle charging network in the Nordic countries, with over 2,000 stations.

 

Drax-tic measures

As the only public company based exclusively around ownership of a single site power station complex, Drax has been a poster boy for the “no more coal” campaigners. Gradually it has been turning each of its 600 megawatt units from burning coal (boo hiss) into a burner of biomass in the form of wood pellets (hurrah, hurrah). By doing so, it has been the recipient of ginormous subsidies made available by the UK government to “renewable energy” generators 

 But, as a plc, Drax is obliged to publish an Annual Report. Its latest issue contains rather a surprising admission. It lists as one of its main strategic risks “biomass acceptability changes.” Translated into layman’s English, this means that they are warning shareholders that the UK government is starting to pay attention to the concerns of much scientific research . Practically all of which has concluded that, far from being eco-friendly,  burning trees for electricity is even worse for greenhouse gas emissions and air quality than burning coal.

 The government’s own advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, is just completing its own magisterial report on the joys (or otherwise) of biomass. I am reliably informed that it will conclude firmly that it is completely inappropriate for further bungs of public money to be on offer to sweeten the balance sheets of biomass champions. As the world’s biggest tree burner,  such “biomass acceptability changes' do indeed threaten the prosperity of Drax’s shareholders.  

 

Trump loses - official

You will recall how, with his customary overstatement, US President Donald Trump sought to intervene heavily in the US electricity generation market. He directed his  administration to “take emergency measures to keep coal and nuclear plants running, in order to protect national security.” 

So-called threats to “national security” is also Trump’s entire justification for launching trade wars with China, Japan, the EU, Canada, Mexico-  indeed practically every developed country in the world. Apart obviously from his Alma Mater, Russia.

 

Many of the coal and nuclear plants have shut in the face of plentiful natural gas, growth in wind and solar power, and stagnant power demand. More closures are expected in coming years. Trump wants  to save these ailing plants through subsidies. 

However the US power grid is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). All five members of the Commission- three Republicans, two Democrats - have stated categorically there is absolutely no emergency in the country’s electricity markets.

Kevin McIntyre, the chairman of the FERC and one of three fellow Republicans on the five member panel, is adamant there is “no immediate calamity or threat” to power plants operating or serving the needs of consumers. There was “no national security emergency in power markets.”

Another Republican, Robert Powelson, argues subsidising coal and nuclear would result in “significant rate increases, without any corresponding reliability, resilience or cyber security benefits.” Such intervention threatens “to collapse the wholesale competitive markets that have long been a cornerstone of FERC policy.” 

Richard Glick, a Democrat on the FERC, said Trump’s push to save ageing coal and nuclear plants would “clearly” raise power bills for residents and businesses. “The question is how much?” he said. FERC estimates that the country’s electricity bills would  rise by tens of billions of dollars. 

Fortunately for electricity consumers, these regulators constitutionally have the last say. So Trump  simply won’t get his subsidies for the power sources he just happens to favour. Would that the World Trade Authority had similar powers to stop him destroying world economic growth with his idiotic trade wars too. 

 

Floating generators

Clause 140 of the government’s Brexit White Paper makes it clear there can be no certainty that the UK  will be staying within the integrated European electricity market. Such a departure would have some ludicrous consequences.

For instance, thousands of portable electricity generators would need to be requisitioned at short notice, and placed on barges in the Irish Sea, just so as to help keep the lights on in Northern Ireland. That could involve bringing back  equipment from far-flung countries such as Afghanistan – where the UK is still part of NATO-led operations.

The eye-catching scenario is contained in a private government paper outlining  various negative consequences of Britain leaving the European Union without any deal. This situation would occur because Northern Ireland has shared a single energy market with the Irish republic for over a decade, one of the consequences of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Northern Ireland relies on imports from south of the border because it does not have enough generating capacity itself. Britain is hoping to negotiate a deal to allow that single electricity market on the island of Ireland to continue after Brexit.

But in the event of a totally disruptive rupture with the EU, Whitehall officials fear power providers in the republic might end the provision of electricity because the UK would no longer be part of the integrated European electricity market. That would mean the government scrambling to get hold of thousands of generators to prevent blackouts in the province. Officials are concerned about the availability of this many generators at short notice – thus the need to commandeer some from the military. 

Not  quite what Boris Johnson et al had in mind when, during the 2016 Referendum,  they were urging us “to take back control”.