Turkey’s energy policy is expensive and lethal (1)

It is election time and that should mean, normally speaking, that all major issues of concern to Turkish citizens are being discussed by the parties running for Parliament. That is, to put it mildly, not always what we are witnessing these days.
Inevitably, much time and energy is spent discussing the chances of the Peoplesand’ Democratic Party (HDP) to pass the 10 percent threshold and the effects that would have on President Recep Tayyip Erdoganand’s chances to write his desired presidential system into a new Turkish constitution.
That is, of course, an important feature of these elections. Most Turks, however, are concerned about economic issues such as unemployment, private debt and the prospect of the Turkish economy running into serious difficulties. Realizing they will have a hard time explaining and defending these risks, the ruling party keeps trying desperately to shift the focus to identity-related issues and the sort of ideological struggles the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is best at.
For good reasons, the main opposition has decided to focus on the economic hardships experienced by many Turks — combined with the lavish spending on, for instance, the presidential palace. That makes sense and it is the most effective way for Republican Peopleand’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kiliandcdaroilu to attack the AKP where it hurts most.
Having said that, I fail to understand how coming up with his own and”crazyand” project of a new and”megacityand” in Central Anatolia will help the CHP leader present himself as the one who knows best what ordinary Turks care about. Or has the construction virus also infected the CHPand’s thinking about the future of the Turkish economy?
What is, unfortunately, totally missing in this election campaign is Turkeyand’s future energy policy. Do the opposition parties have an alternative view on where the country should be heading? Or do all politicians basically agree with the main points of the AKPand’s energy policy: Invest in fossil fuels (oil, gas but especially, coal) and treat renewable energy as a marginal sideshow?
If that is true, it would be a dramatic mistake for at least two reasons: money and health. Last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revealed that fossil fuel companies are benefiting from global subsidies of $5.3 trillion a year. That is a staggering amount, equivalent to $10 million a minute every day. Direct subsidies and government discounts account for only 6 percent of that enormous sum. Half of the IMF figure is made up of the money governments worldwide are forced to spend treating the victims of air pollution and the income lost because of ill health and premature deaths. By far the biggest beneficiary of these subsidies (that is, costs that are not paid by the polluters such as power plants) is coal, the dirtiest fuel in terms of local air pollution and carbon emissions that cause climate change.
Turkeyand’s role in this incredible story of subsidized pollution is a prominent one. First, because Turkey has a tradition of spending huge amounts of money on fossil fuel subsidies, trying to lower the costs of fossil fuel energy production, increase the price received by producers and decrease the price paid by consumers. New research by Sevil Acar, assistant professor of economics at Istanbul Kemerburgaz University, shows that in the period 2001-2011, the Treasury spent around TL 6.9 billion on consumer and producer subsidies for coal, oil and natural gas. As in other countries, these subsidies are a heavy burden on the national balance of payments, lead to insufficient allocation of resources and hinder investments in efficient and clean energy sources.
To prevent any misunderstanding: These are only the direct subsidies that, as the IMF study shows, are only a tiny portion of the total fossil fuel subsidies. Also in Turkey, on top of these, the state is obliged to spend enormous amounts of money dealing with the health problems caused by burning coal and other fossil fuels. Recently, a report on how coal power plants in Turkey make all of us sick was published. I will come back to that unpaid heath bill and the plans of the government to build another 80 new coal plants in my next column.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman