Spain anger over ‘energy poverty’ deaths
By Paul Homewood
H/Ts Joe Public/Wolsten
From the BBC:
Spain’s economy may be recovering, but the recent deaths of a 12-year-old girl and an 81-year-old woman in house fires are reminders of the hardship that millions of households still face in the country’s deep-rooted crisis.
"Rosa PV" (as she is described in the media) died alone, choking on fumes from a fire started by one of the candles she used for light in her flat in the city of Reus, south of Barcelona, early last Monday.
It emerged that her electricity had been cut off for non-payment of bills. Rosa’s solitary plight caused protesters’ voices to be raised in unison against energy poverty as winter approaches.
There have been demonstrations of sorrow for Rosa and anger at the failure of the authorities to take care of such an elderly citizen, in Reus, Barcelona and elsewhere this week.
The leader of the anti-austerity Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, said his "blood was boiling" over the failure of Spain’s administrations to stop companies cutting off basic supplies to the vulnerable.
A week before the death of Rosa, fire also claimed the life of 12-year-old Lucia Fuoli after an apparent short-circuit. The blaze was possibly caused by the use of a defective electric heater and it engulfed the fifth-floor Zaragoza apartment.
Image copyright EPA Image caption Firefighters inspect the charred window of the Zaragoza building where 12-year-old Lucia Fuoli died in a house fire
The fire in the living room cut off Lucia and her father from the door to the apartment. Clambering out of a patio window at the back of the building, seeking safety from the flames, Lucia slipped and fell while her father helplessly watched, clinging on to a television antenna.
"In November temperatures go down and people need more heating. Sadly in many homes, families simply cannot meet the costs of this increased expense," said Fernando Cuevas, head of a project for the extremely vulnerable, run by the NGO Cruz Roja (Red Cross).
Spain is set to end 2016 with GDP growth above 3% for the second year running, but with unemployment still standing at 19% and low-wage temporary jobs making up the majority of new posts. The poorest remain extremely vulnerable.
"We attended to 500,000 people in extreme poverty in 2013 and last year that was up to 650,000," says Mr Cuevas. "The macroeconomic statistics are just not reaching the homes of the most vulnerable."
In 2014, 11% of Spanish families, or some five million people, could not afford to heat their homes adequately in the winter months, according to a study by the country’s Environmental Science Academy. The study found that the average price of gas and electricity had increased by 67% and 73% respectively, since the onset of Spain’s economic crisis in 2008.
Strangely, there is no mention from the BBC of the contribution of renewable energy to the problem.
In compliance with Directive 2001/77/EC, Spain established that 29% of gross electricity consumption be produced from renewable energy sources by 2020. To achieve this, the Spanish government set up various subsidies for renewable operators, but the cost of these subsidies simply added to the government’s deficit.
Eventually, in 2012, the government was forced to start passing some of this cost onto electricity consumers. In particular, a tax of 7% was imposed on electricity production.
Retail electricity prices in Spain are not the highest in Europe; that privilege is reserved for Denmark and Germany. Nevertheless, they are higher than in the UK.
There are many economic problems in Spain, and fuel poverty certainly is not a simple issue. But deliberately adding to energy costs, so as to pay subsidies for renewable energy, can only exacerbate the problem.
But you won’t hear that from the BBC.
Detail on Spain’s electricity market reforms is here, Page 19