On the lighter side

By Pam Boschee

The past month offered up several instances of news related to the energy industry that were downright amusing to me. I hope you’ll enjoy these as much as I did.

First, Russian President Vladimir Putin obviously misjudged his audience when he opted to make a joke at the opening of a five-day World Climate Change Conference in Moscow. He had just finished contending that Russia needed more time to analyze the Kyoto Protocol before ratifying the deal, which will fall through without the backing of Russia after the U.S. refused to ratify the treaty.

In a classic demonstration of poorly timed delivery, he quipped: “In Russia, you often hear, either as a joke or seriously, that Russia is a northern country and it would not be scary for it to be two or three degrees warmer. Maybe it would be good and we could spend less on fur coats and other warm things.”

In spite of having a ring of truth to it, his Russian brand of humor did not amuse representatives of other chilly northern latitudes, such as Norway’s Environment Minister Boerge Brende or his Canadian counterpart, David Anderson.

Brende said, “Climate change is the biggest and most serious environmental threat we face. In Norway, it will lead to much more extreme weather. It could, in the extreme, weaken the Gulf Stream [referring to the warm ocean current that moderates Western Europe’s weather].”

Anderson noted that Canadian Arctic indigenous people were seeing “weather conditions that even the oldest residents have never known and have no tradition of in their historical oral records.”

He added, “The Permafrost will thaw and big parts of Russia will become uninhabitable.”

I’d like to have had the opportunity to hear Putin’s belly-splitting response to that one, since he seemed to be on a roll.

Then there was Italy’s power failure, which left nearly all of that country’s 57 million people in the dark–fortunately on a weekend night. The majority of the outage was restored within about 8 hours.

The blame was lobbed at Switzerland and France. Initial findings suggested that storms may have resulted in a tree branch falling onto power lines in Switzerland, which then started a chain reaction by overloading another Swiss line and knocking out power from French lines into Italy. Switzerland and France blamed Italy for failing to react quickly enough, while Italian officials said they were given only four seconds to respond.

Paolo Scaroni, CEO of Italian utility company ENEL, said that nuclear power imports from France are cheaper than energy production in Italy. Its imports can account for 17 percent of the country’s power during the day, rising to 30 percent at night. Anti-trust restrictions, according to Scaroni, limit the amount of energy ENEL can produce, currently 50 percent of its capacity.

Watch for scrutiny of Italy’s reliance on imported power and debates about the effects of Europe’s deregulated electric industry.

I was amused when I heard a National Public Radio report refer to one of the most-often voiced complaints during the blackout: Espresso was unavailable.

And certainly, any that was available must have been getting cold as the blame game heated up.

Finally, how could this commentary not include mention of the California gubernatorial recall? Arnold Schwarzenegger? (Don’t you wonder how he would have handled the California energy crisis?)

I’m not suggesting he’s the least qualified by any means. Of the 135 governor wannabes, you’ve probably seen a sampling of the oddities flash across your TV screen, without any kind of parental warnings, in snippets of news updates or during the Jay Leno show. He had about 90 of the motley crew on his show one night–fortunately on one late night when children were safely tucked away in their beds.

The Sacramento Bee recently reported that Schwarzenegger said he’ll make up for what he lacks in experience with his ability to lead the state.

“I don’t have the experience to create the biggest budget deficit in the history of the state of California,” he said on one radio show. “What I do have experience in is leading. I can go up there and clean up the mess.”

The recall vote will have been held by the time you read this. October 7 is the day Californians cast their votes. At press time, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed 63 percent of probable voters surveyed said they would vote yes on recalling Davis. In a separate vote to choose a replacement for Davis, Schwarzenegger was the choice of 40 percent of respondents.

Sometimes, the best coping mechanism or anti-stress tactic is to hang on to your sense of humor. Remember: He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

Pam Boschee, Managing Editor

Editor’s note: In Tony Sleva’s article “Can electrical subsystems prevent the next big blackout?” (Sept. 2003, pg. 5) the denominator in the equations should be “system impedance.” Also, in equations 1 & 2, “general” should read “generator.”

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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