Friday, 12 April 2013

How green is my island

You know how you get really hacked off when you get something in the post like a bank statement or a utility bill and the envelope is stuffed with gratuitous extra leaflets and whatnot? Well I certainly do. It's probably a conpiracy to force you to go paperless but I'm absolutely buggered if I'm going to let the Royal Bank of Scotland (to name but one offender) off the hook from posting me a hard copy of my monthly statement in accordance with time honoured tradition.

Anyway, for once I was remarkably interested in a brochure enclosed with - as it happened - my electricity bill from EDA (Electricidade dos Acores). It showed in commendably simple graphic form the sources of generation of electricity on each island of the Azores:-

The brown bit of each doughnut (filhos) represents the proportion of energy generated by oil. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, the smallest island - Corvo - is 100% fossilly fueled whereas the largest island - São Miguel - has the largest proportion of renewables. That's mainly due to its access to geothermal energy, what with its hot springs and all. Flores is the second greenest island due to its high proportion of hydro-electricity. I know there's a hydro reservoir here but have never been there - note to self to remedy that shortissimo.

That's the reservoir on Flores as seen on Google Earth. To my untutored eye, it doesn't look big enough to generate more than a quarter of the island's electricity but what do I know ...

But anyway, thanks for that EDA - I was very interested in these stats. Nice one.

It was, however, all something of a contrast to an insert with another delivery in the same post - a DVD off Amazon of a film called Cockles and Muscles. I've seen this on the telly before and it's the sort of thing the Sunday Express would call "a delightfully sexy romp". But I was unprepared for the brochure in the padded envelope. My suspicions were tipped off by the inside of the front page:-

Oh Lord, I thought, bloody artsy-fartsy Euro films. But I should have realised the drift when I spotted the company was called Peccadillo Pictures.

Feeling somewhat queasy about what might be revealed under "Rites of Passage" or "Saffron Hill" (you do NOT want to know), I inevitably skimmed straight to "Women in Love" where I was rendered positively billious to be confronted by none other than Sharon "Cagney" Gless:-

Does Harv know? Who's going to tell Harv Junior? Was he played by John Goodman or am I thinking of someone else?            

Thursday, 4 April 2013


This is the big headline in the Azores just now: "Passengers delayed in the islands may have to pay for accommodation".

It's referring to the fact that, at present, if your flight is cancelled due to weather conditions, SATA (the inter Azorean airline) will accommodate you in a hotel (with lunch, dinner and breakfast including wine) for as long as until your flight can get away (in our longest experience, two days).

It usually follows a fairly predictable pattern. If, on a day of dubious weather, your plane doesn't board within +/- 20 minutes of the scheduled time, then you wait for a couple of hours punctuated by periodic announcements promising novas informações (further information) in half an hour. And you know they're just sitting waiting for a better weather forecast until the crew's duty time runs out whereupon the announcement is "A SATA informa que o voo SP587 com destinho Flores foi cancelado ..." whereupon eveyone dashes to the desk without without waiting to here that it's "... por causa das condições climaticas ...". In fact the clever people are already huddled round the desk so as to avoid the queue to be informed of the time of the flight tomorrow and be given a hotel voucher. Then the luggage is brought back out and it's on to a waiting minibus into town where lunch or dinner is usually just about to be dished up.

Hotel Avenida, Ponta Delgada - scene of a very pleasant night's stay at SATA's expense

Of course, SATA doesn't do all this out of the goodness of its heart - it's mandated by a European Directive. Nor is it totally free in as much that the risk is priced into the cost of your ticket - in effect Brussels is forcing you to buy a travel insurance policy. This is the sort of thing that plays right into the hands of British Eurosceptics - "How DARE a motley bunch of namby-pamby, wishy-washy, lefty socialist, cheese eating, garlic honking boche, frogs, dagoes and wops abrogate our constitutional right enshrined in Magna Carta not to have to buy travel insurance (but nevertheless complain bitterly to the tabloid press about how shabbily we are treated by damned foreigners when our flights are cancelled)? Did the blessed Margaret earn herself the soubriquet in Europe of Madame Non for this?"

And the low cost airlines, who are in the business of selling you nothing that you don't pay extra for, hate it as well. As witness Ryanair having to accommodate people who'd only paid £5 for a ticket for weeks on end during the ash cloud fiasco a couple of years ago.

The funniest thing about the ash cloud was the CEO of British Airways, wee Willie Walsh (an Irishman), running out of patience with Eurocratic dithering and ordering his fleet stranded at out stations like Cape Town and Singapore to take off en masse for home.

"Bomber" Walsh shrewdly calculated that the 15 hours or so before massed ranks of Airbuses appeared over the horizon would be enough to focus the attention of Brussels on whether 0.00001% of ash per cubic whatsname was really that much of a threat. Meanwhile, girls looking like Susannah York were cycling with gas masks in bags over their shoulders to Nissen Huts to push models of 747s around a big table marked with a chart of Western Europe with Iceland conspicuous at top left and lines snaking their way to Brussels like the title sequence of Dad's Army ("Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Barroso ...?"). And at 39,000 feet over Morocco, to the tune of the Dambusters march, square jawed airline captains looking like John Mills are saying to squared jawed first officers looking like Christopher Plummer: "Tell 'em to stow the drinks trolleys - we're going to be coming in for some flak but it'll take more than the European Commission's ash cloud [read "Goering's Luftwaffe"] to prevent me putting this kite down at Heathrow [read "Biggin Hill"]."

 But I digress. It's not the pleas of low cost airlines which have melted the cold heart of Europe but those of small regional airlines. Hence, the proposal is that the right to free accommodation in case of a cancellation will not apply in the case of flight less than 250km operated by a plane with 80 or less seats (unless the flight cancelled is a connection from a >250km or >80 seat flight).

Applying that to SATA, their fleet are all 80 seats or less (tick). There are regular direct flights from Flores to Horta (Faial), Terceira and and Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel). Of these three, only Horta is less than 250km away (tick). So if you happen to be flying from Horta and your flight is cancelled, you don't get put up whereas if it's PD you do. This matters because people mostly don't CHOOSE which other Azorean island they're flying to/from, it's generally dictated by where they are sent for medical appointments etc. I'm not talking about tourists here, although that's another hornet's nest - the central point is it would be ludicrous to discriminate between the Azores according to the accident of +/- 250km distance between them.

For us personally, it doesn't really matter because we will usually be flying the  less than 250km flight to Flores as part of a connection from Lisbon so if it's cancelled at Horta due to the weather at Flores, we'll still be OK for a free nosh up at the Hotel de Fayal (above).

It's also relevant here that SATA is not a "for profit" organisation. It's bankrolled by the Azorean Government to provide an otherwise unprofitable public transport service round the islands. In this respect, it's exactly the same as Scotland's Caledonian MacBrayne ferries (who, I may add, do not put you up if a sailing is cancelled because there's no law that says they have to.)

But if I were entrusted with the judgement of Solomon over this and couldn't bring myself to say that SATA inter island flights will all continue to offer the same service as regards accommodation for cancelled flights regardless of distance, then what I would propose is this: there are two tariffs of ticket, one equal to current fares where the accommodation in the event of cancellation is included as at present and a cheaper fare where it's not. But even for those who select the cheaper fare, the "infrastructure" will still be there in terms of the pre-booked taxi and room etc, it's just they will have to pay 50 Euros (or whatever) where those on the current fare won't.

Does that sound reasonable?