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Future Winter Olympics Threatened by Energy Subsidies!

OK, so the title is a bit over the top but it got you this far so keep reading and see if this collection of information might make you concede there is some relationship between energy subsidies and the winter Olympics.


I live in Vancouver BC and it was just 4 years ago that we hosted the 2010 winter Olympics and you may recall that on our local mountain there was very little natural snow.  For some events they had to fly in loads of snow by helicopter from a source further inland.  Here we are in 2014 and once again our local mountain has very little snow and the operators have manufactured the equivalent of 160 football fields of snow to a depth of 30 cm just to open a few ski runs.  The frequency of low snowfall years is increasing.


Today’s newspaper has a headline ‘California drought could boost B.C. produce prices – Driest period in 500 years may be a boon to B.C. growers’.  Add to that the never ending series of winter storms in eastern North America, below normal temperatures, 2000 cars abandoned on Atlanta freeways when snow fell and you have to concede that the climate is a mess.  Global warming is a fact and one of the biggest contributors is the use of fossil fuels as an energy source.  The impact is greatest in the arctic which is the source of much of our climate conditions.


In 2009 the EU passed Directive 2009/28/EC to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources that supports the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020. Renewables include wind, solar, hydro-electric and tidal power as well as geothermal energy and biomass.  Many member states provide subsidies to encourage development of renewable energy sources through research and development, creating production facilities and sources of raw material.

The Mill Products and Mining industry segments are well known as large energy consumers and in a lot of cases the companies generate their own energy supply by hydro-electric and biomass conversion.  This has been a trend in the forest products segment that has traditionally used waste biomass and liquid by products from production to generate in house energy supply but in the last few years have expanded to create revenue generating business.  This is global in nature with examples like UPM (Finland), Weyerhaeuser (US), Klabin (Brazil), Tembec (Canada) using a variety of energy sources and creating new products like biodiesel.  UPM even lists Energy as a business unit on their website with ‘Approximately 80% of the electricity generated by UPM comes from CO2-free or renewable sources (hydropower, nuclear power, biomass).”  Most companies take advantage of government programs to invest in energy generation.

Reality of the economic downturn is changing the attitude of governments to subsidize the energy initiatives.  In Nov 2013 it was reported:  ‘the European Commission issued new guidelines Tuesday which could end costly and controversial subsidies for renewable energy, opening the way for state-aid backing of gas or coal-fired electricity generation projects.  “When the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, electricity must still be produced,” Oettinger’s statement underlined.

To ensure back-up generating capacity, new power plants would be needed, and these could get state backing. (Source: Phys Org website).


This week RISI Newsletter reported that UPM likely to delay decision on biofuel facility at Stracel mill in France.

The key reason for the delay is the lack of clarity on regulation. The European Union has negotiated revision of the Renewable Energy Directive since late 2012 and the work is not yet finalised. Regulation will have an important impact on the profitability of the investment and therefore UPM has not proceeded with the decision,” the spokesperson said.


Now back to the winter Olympics and a stretch of imagination:  suppose that it is not economical to produce energy with renewable resources without public support (subsidies).  Further, the statement that new gas or coal fired electricity generating plants are used instead of renewables could mean we can expect an increase in levels of greenhouse gas affecting conditions in the arctic.


A warmer artic could mean continued changes in winter weather, less snowfall and who knows – no winter Olympics in the not so distant future.

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