Sunday, February 6, 2011

Explaining Spain's HSR again

Several blog entries below this one -- from several days ago -- discussed the Spanish problem. No, not the Inquisition, the high-speed train they built so lavishly and for which they receive so much envy from us.

(See:  2/3/11 blog:  The Trains in Spain Give Spain a Pain.)

The underlying facts about their much admired HSR system are rarely broadcast.  Instead, all that the rail promoters cite is that Spain's train is a great example of what we also must do, here in the United States, to get ahead.

Well, maybe not.  In Spain, a country in severe economic crisis, HSR may not have been the smart thing to do.  There are serious downsides.  Renewable energy, upon which they depend, has seen prices skyrocket.  If jobs have been gained as a result of the train, more jobs have also been lost.  The train seriously underserves the population (as it does everywhere else as well). It requires massive government subsidies to operate.

In short, it costs far too much, is too great a financial burden on the host country, and under-performs on every measure and category.  In the US, which hasn't built any yet, HSR will be too expensive, and like in Spain, isn't needed.   As we've said before, you can see that same realization evolving in China.

Apparently, the US isn't very good at learning it's lessons, either in school or from the wider world that we ought to be studying more carefully.    

The Spanish example is a warning
 Feb 6, 2011


The president's State of the Union Speech 
was thoughtful and well delivered. It was 
optimistic and pretty much a litany of pie-
in-the-sky goals that are hard to disagree 
with in principle; however, for two of his 
major points, renewable energy and high 
speed rail, we need only look to Spain to 
see the path the president wants us to 
travel leads to fiscal disaster.

Ten years ago, Spain made a government 
commitment to greatly increase the amount 
of electricity it obtained from renewable 
sources. Today, it gets 30 percent of its 
electrical energy from wind and solar. 

Spain has achieved this with huge 
government subsidies that now result in 
Spain having some of the most expensive 
electricity in Europe. Energy-intensive 
industries have either closed or moved out 
of the country. If solar-generated electricity 
has been an expensive proposition in 
sunny Spain, what will it be in cloudy Ohio?

Spain doesn't have a lot of fossil fuel 
sources in the country, and so one can 
understand why an emphasis was placed 
on renewable energy there. The U.S., 
however, is fossil fuel rich with coal, oil and 
gas reserves in abundance, which for 
misguided reasons, the current 
administration wants to shun. Pushing us 
into costly renewable energy paths when 
less expensive alternatives readily are 
available is like forcing Cleveland to get its 
potable water supply from desalination 
plants located on the Atlantic coast. It is 
something that could be done, but good 
luck getting Clevelanders to accept that as 
a good idea, much less pay for it.

In the process of expanding the generation 
of renewable energy, Spain has become a 
leader in solar and wind technology, and 
Spanish companies are involved in the 
proposed solar plant in Noble County. 

However, a study by a Spanish economics 
professor concluded that each green job 
created by Spain's renewable energy 
subsidies cost the Spanish consumers 
$774,000 since 2000. In addition, it's 
estimated that for every green job created, 
2.2 other jobs were destroyed.

Spain also plunged into high speed rail and 
now beats France in having the largest high 
speed rail network in Europe. However, 
only 3.5 million high speed rail trips are 
taken per year in a country where 400 
million rail trips are taken annually. Most 
travelers still use their cars because the 
high speed train is too expensive. As a 
recent Spanish newspaper article said, 
"The big difference between Spain and 
other European countries is that the others 
plan services while we just plan spending."

Spain now is the fourth European country in 
line behind Greece, Ireland, and Portugal 
most likely to default on its international 
debts, and they started from a sound 
national fiscal position 10 years ago. The 
U.S. already is in poor fiscal condition, and 
we have just begun to chase the renewable 
energy and high-speed rail utopias that 
have helped bring Spain to its knees.

Why would we do that?

Robert Brems Sr. is a citizen member of 
the Coshocton Tribune Editorial Board.