Saturday, August 06, 2011
Over the last 2 decades the Norwegians have revolutionised their transport infrastructure cutting 900 tunnels with a total length of 750 km (1). They have done these at the remarkable cost of under £4 million per kn which means the entire process has cost about the same as the new Forth crossing is promised at.
How is this possible and why does it matter to Scotland?
It is possible because tunneling technology has improved and is still improving year on year. You can get a "slightly used" tunnel boring machine for $300,000 nowadays (2). It matters because, by definition, if something has been done it is possible to do it. Despite John Swinney's assurance to Holyrood that 2 km of Forth tunnel would cost £6.6 billion (1/2 the cost of the proposed rebuilding of the Panama Canal and about 200 times what am equivalent Norwegian tunnel would be likely to cost) it is possible to build at these prices if we simply do it without spending years on paperwork and lawyers. When the will was there we have already done this because the price of the Glendoe Hydro Scheme (£140 million) (4) shows that the 14km of tunnels must have been cut at about Norwegian prices.
What is needed is simply to hire a tunnel drilling company, possibly the same Norwegian ones, on a fixed price contract, with the Act endorsing it giving them total freedom to build, with a waiver of any further government or regulatory inteference within, say, 500 m of the tunnel heads
Would it improve Scotland's infrastructure as much as Norway's has been?
No. We would gain far more. However good Norway's roads the distance from Oslo to Tromso will always be 700m whereas the driving distance from Gourock to Dunoon can be reduced from over 100 miles to less than 2 (they do have a ferry but in another example of Scottish progress on 30th June it was reduced to passengers only). Scotland is an inherently more compact country and there is no reason why the Mull of Kintyre should not be just over a 1 hour drive from Glasgow and Islay less than 2.
The history of human progress is closely related to the history of the reduction in travel times. 1,000 years ago the most powerful parts of Scotland were the islands and roads were little more than cattle tracks. The early Scots kingdom was built around the west Highland islands and shores. Thorfin the Mighty, Earl of Orkney warred on more than equal terms with the King of Scots. Sutherland gained its name because it was to the south of the centre of power. These small communities could be wealthy because the important lines of transport lay on sea lanes. The sea was a highway not a barrier.
The Highland Clearances happened because the Central belt had better communications. Time and again development plans for the Highlands and islands failed because of the expense introduced by poor or non-existent communications. The improvement in tunnelling technology means we can reverse the trend.
Islay (population 2,000) was once the seat of the Lord of the Isles, far more important than the slightly smaller Isle of Man (pop 80,000). Iona is perhaps the ultimate example of the importance of the change of transport patterns - the burial place of Scottish kings, as central as Westminster Abbey is to English history, it was chosen because it was in the midst of the sea highway of the Scots kingdom. Now it would hardly be more remote from most of us if it were in Australia. It could become a 120 mile, 2 hour, road trip from Glasgow.
Cutting these tunnels and building these roads would nearly double the accessible shore line of Scotland. The economic effects are, by their nature, not really classifiable and would grow over the the years in line with frowing populations. People routinely live in Glasgow and work in Edinburgh, or vice versa, a distance of 44 miles. Glasgow to Tarbert, Mull of Kintyre could be the same and Islay only another 25.
The thing to remember is that, despite Scottish government projects routinely costing 8 to 200 times their engineering costs there is no question that this can be done at the costs given. If something has been done at that cost then by definition, it is possible to do it for that cost, when the political will is there.
I will assume that Ulster, Man and Orkney (which has an oil fund) would pay for at least 90% of their connections. That leaves us with about 120 km, most of them dualled and about the same again in new connecting roads. At £4 million per km of tunnel and assuming half that for traditional roads comes out at £1 billion or less.
The Scottish government assure us any repair work on the Forth Bridge not involving its closure but merely "over a sustained period, involving lane and carriageway closures, would potentially result in: ...economic output falling to a level in the order of £1 billion" (4). Part time reductions to 1 carriageway are very far short of closure so we can assume a full closure would cost at least £4 billion annually. We can balance the fact that even closing the Forth bridge doesn't exactly make Fife impossible to enter with the relatively high population there .
Working from that estimate opening up 10 new routes would be likely to increase GNP by £40 billion. Of course this depends on that initial government figure but obviously nobody in government disputes that. £40 billion annually is thus as reliable as any other estimates Holyrood uses to make policy. It amounts to an increase in GNP of abour 1/3rd. OK so the estimate is only as reliable as government promises but the project would clearly be justified at a small fraction of that gain.
Paying for it
1) All but 3 MSPs voted to spend £2.3 billion on a new Forth Bridge and they made it quite clear that they should all be willing to stand together against public protests when the promised price is exceeded. This proposal includes not 1 tunnel equivalent to that bridge but 2, built on fixed price contracts, as merely a small part of the overall project. What MSP could object to paying only 40% as much for that out of normal spending?
Perhaps we will know when one of these MSPs is willing to express an opinion, something which they have unanimously refused to do since I first proposed this in 2006. (5)
And now to the zero cost options, at least zero for Holyrood
2) Make them toll roads as the Norwegians have done. I don't like this because I think tolls are an inefficient system, though they have the advantage of being transparent. Possibly the civil; disobedience of the people of Skye, in objecting to payment of tolls on a bridge, though they had not objected before it was completed, may have scunnered any future use of tolls.
3) Land capture tax. Charge, say, £10,000 on any new build house in land beyond a tunnel which has risen in value after the tunnel is completed. and reserve it to the builders. The difference in value between agricultural land and building land is many times that £10,000 per plot.
4) The same but paying for the tunnels from a government mortgage secured on the value of the land capture tax. The risk is ultimately borne by government rather than borrowers but would involve no profit/risk costs.
5) That companies cutting the tunnels and roads should be allowed, as payment, to purchase land either from government or compulsorily at fair value; with automatic full planning permission; a waiver on all possible government regulations; and the option on a permanent rates waiver so long as the owner provided all council services.. I suggest 1 square km for each km of tunnel cut. This costs us absolutely nothing. It would kickstart the building of new communities. The "environmental" effect would be minuscule. Possibly 300 km built on out of 78,772 km across Scotland. It would also produce areas which are effectively Enterprise Zones and we would see if these could be successful without being under the care and protection of local councils. If competition works elsewhere a little competition in governing structures might be beneficial. Seeing Mr Trump has, so far, spent 5 years on his project with little to show for it, I suspect this would get both transport infrastructure and new communities built quickly.
My preference is option 5 with perhaps the Islay tunnel being financed by a separate Islay Development Corporation having extensive powers over the whole island. Is there a mahority in Holyrood for allowing this to go ahead if it costs them nothing and if not why not?
None of these ideas are set in stone (sorry). Ground conditions or traffic layout might mean a few should be moved along the coast a few miles. The Iona link might well be better done by a causeway. A Forth link beside the current bridge may be unnecessary because the current bridge can be maintained and indeed expanded cheaply. I have taken the Arran crossing by the "back door" because it us the shortest way but a link from Bute or even Ayrshire might, though costing more, provide a better cost benefit ratio etc etc.e,
I have also made no suggestions for tunnels purely on land, because none of them would have nearly such a spectacular effect as island tunnels. However most Norwegian tunnels are land ones and the potential is there. The A90 is a less than straight route because the Grampians get in the way but they need not be always be so impassable. Technology is progressing, particularly strength of materials technology so longer, faster and cheaper tunneling is coming.
(1) Norway's tunnels http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/2244
(2) Slightly used tunneling machine http://seattletransitblog.com/2009/08/22/for-sale-slightly-used-tunnel-boring-machine/
(3) Glendoe http://www.hydroworld.com/index/display/article-display/cdcba140-0af2-4004-8102-89e998e30ac1/articles/hrhrw/News/UK_utility_completes_tunneling_for_100-MW_Glendoe.html
(4) Official estimate of cost of minor traffic slowing on the Forth crossing http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2010/10/forth-bridge-government-reply.html
(5) Originally suggested 2006 http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2006/12/scottish-tunnel-project.html
Friday, August 05, 2011
"World Recession"? There is No World Recession Merely Deliberate Destruction by Our Political Nomenklatura
4 Taiwan 10.823
5 India 10.365
6 People's Republic of China 10.300
8 Argentina 9.161
11 Zimbabwe 9.006
20 Ethiopia 8.008
27 Belarus 7.600
31 Brazil 7.490
117 United States 2.834
147 United Kingdom 1.251
Thursday, August 04, 2011
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a thousand-page report on the future of renewable energy, which it defined as solar, hydro, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal and biomass. These energy sources, said the IPCC, generate about 13.8% of our energy and, if encouraged to grow, could eventually displace most fossil fuel use.
However this, while not technically a lie, assuming you accept their definitions, is deliberately dishonest
the great majority of this energy, 10.2% out of the 13.8% share, comes from biomass, mainly wood (often transformed into charcoal) and dung (note this is energy figures not electricity, burning dung is mainly confined to the 3rd world). Most of the rest is hydro; less than 0.5% of the world's energy comes from wind, tide, wave, solar and geothermal put together.- of which wind is 0.2%
then there is nuclear power. Uranium is not renewable, but plutonium is, in the sense that you can "breed"
What are the prospects for shale gas in the UK, and what are the risks of rapid depletion of shale gas resources?
What are the implications of large discoveries of shale gas around the world for UK energy and climate change policy, including investment in renewables?
What are the risks and hazards associated with drilling for shale gas?
How does the carbon footprint of shale gas compare to other fossil fuels?
Is there a case for calling a moratorium on shale gas exploration until the local pollution and global-environmental impacts are better understood?
The British government faces a public backlash against its green energy agenda as consumers are unwilling to spend more on power and gas bills to pay for investment in low-carbon forms of energy, a parliamentary committee warned on Monday.
"Our evidence points to the danger of a backlash against the government's green agenda if it means rising bills for consumers," the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee said in a report.
It urged the government and the energy industry to better engage with the public to explain underlying factors that create higher energy prices.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Reprise of BBC Manipulation of the Hacking Story
These days, people don't seem to be very good at noticing that news story X, which everybody currently agrees is the biggest and most unique and most newsworthy story of all time, is an awful lot like news story Y from a few years ago*, which everybody has completely forgotten about already and didn't even pay much attention to while it was in the papers.
For example, as I pointed out in my last Taki's Magazine column, the wrongdoing in the ongoing brouhaha over Murdoch newspapers in London hiring a private investigator to tap into voice mail is an awful lot like the wrongdoing in the last decade's now forgotten Hollywood scandal in which moguls and stars hired private investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap people they wanted to abuse.
Monday, August 01, 2011
it costs US$25,000 per kilo to lift things into space on a shuttle. Thus, whatever is mined in space in the future, it will have to be in high-enough demand to subsidise the cost of launching it.This is especially true for prospecting missions beyond the Moon. A mission to retrieve Helium-3 from Jupiter’s atmosphere, for example, would take ten years, and businesses will likely be reluctant to wait a decade for a return on such a pricy investment, says Genge.
Another potential lunar resource – water – could fuel these future missions into deep space. Orbital scans suggest there are at least a billion tonnes of water frozen on the Moon after impacting in craters of the Moon’s surface – usually in the darker areas where temperatures can be as low as 35 degrees Kelvin.
Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company has already begun operations aimed at mining the Moon within the next few years. The company’s plans for mining and refining operations would involve melting the ice and purifying the water, converting the water into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen, and then condensing the gases into liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen and hydrogen peroxide, all potential rocket fuels.
Shackleton CEO Dale Tietz says the water extracted would be used almost exclusively as rocket fuel to power operations both within Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – such as space tourism and the removal of space-debris – on the Moon, and further out into space.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Links on Government
Certainly suggests, that with it being 50% in the UK, 60% in Scotland would be realisticGovernment current consumption as a share of total current consumption in Scotland has risen over the period and has remained consistently above the figure for the whole of the UK.
Public sector jobs as a percentage of all jobs in Scotland is also consistently higher in Scotland than in the UK
I have served in five different positions under both Republican and Democrat administrations and have had some modest success in cutting authorized spending. But the experience has been difficult and has caused me some personal problems. I am afraid this will be the case for anyone who tries to cut spending -- in the face of an entrenched bureaucracy that thrives on ever-increasing budgets....-------
-----------------Although smoking has been banned in public places since 2006, there has been an exemption to allow smoking to continue in designated rooms in mental health institutions.
Following a recent consultation, Public Health Minister Shona Robison announced today that guidance would be produced to help mental health service providers move towards banning smoking altogether...
-------------------------Detailed scrutiny of annual reports, accounts and Freedom of Information requests show that a huge range of British political groups received significant public funding.
The key findings are:
Over £37 million was spent on taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning in 2007-08. That is nearly as much as the £38.9 million all three major political parties combined spent through their central campaigns at the 2005 election. But, the true amount spent on taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning may be much higher as this report has taken a conservative approach, focusing just on the most clear-cut examples.
This report’s estimate is composed of a) public sector bodies spending on lobbying, by hiring political consultants and funding trade associations, and b) spending on taxpayer financed political campaigns and think tanks.The report does not include the huge amounts spent by councils and other public sector bodies on publicity, though a certain proportion of that is definitely going on lobbying and public affairs.
"A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government. "
"The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments."
"Whoever in discussion adduces authority uses not intellect but memory."-- Leonardo da Vinci"Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program."-- Milton Friedman
"Governments never learn. Only people learn.