Pray­ing for rain on the plain

What do the sun, win­dows, im­per­me­able sur­faces and toi­lets have in com­mon? Tax, my friends, tax.

Element - - Healthy Homes - TE RADAR

Atax on sun­shine? In­con­ceiv­able you might say. Au con­traire. Or should I say por lo con­trario? I’m not sure. Es­panol is not my forte.

Nev­er­the­less “Spain to tax sun­shine!” ex­claimed the head­line. “Pre­pos­ter­ous,” I mut­tered, while con­ced­ing that the idea is cer­tainly not un­prece­dented.

From the 17th to the 19th cen­turies Eng­land, France, and Scot­land all had an in­di­rect tax on sun­light. This was achieved by tax­ing the num­ber of win­dows in a build­ing. Os­ten­si­bly a rort to im­pose a form of in­come tax on an un­will­ing pop­u­la­tion, the the­ory was the wealth­ier you were, the more new-fan­gled win­dows you had, and the more you should pay.

Un­sur­pris­ingly peo­ple were not all that keen on this, so they can­nily be­gan in­stalling fewer win­dows in new build­ings, and brick­ing up ex­ist­ing ones. Prov­ing that no one is as in­ge­nious as the tax col­lec­tors though, a tax was then im­posed on bricks.

This is not the ap­proach the cash-strapped Span­ish govern­ment in­tends to take. They in­tend to tax the col­lec­tion of the sun’s rays as they are con­verted into so­lar elec­tric­ity. The fine for il­le­gally col­lect­ing en­ergy from the sun could be as high as 30 mil­lion Eu­ros, the equiv­a­lent to $50 mil­lion. That’s quite the dis­in­cen­tive.

Spain is one of the world’s most ad­vanced gen­er­a­tors of so­lar power. As so­lar panels have be­come ever cheaper, and the Span­ish govern­ment sub­si­dies their in­stal­la­tion, many peo­ple, from large com­pa­nies to or­di­nary house­hold­ers, in­stalled them to har­vest the sun’s sup­pos­edly free en­ergy.

Bril­liant, you may well think, un­less you own a tra­di­tional power sta­tion. If you do, you will no doubt be keep­ing a ner­vous eye on the sky, in the hope of a lit­tle cloud cover that may in­di­cate rain about to fall on the plain.

You can then in­crease your elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion to fill the gap caused by the in­clement weather, gen­er­at­ing both power and much-needed profit. And therein lies the prob­lem.

Tra­di­tional elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion meth­ods need to be con­stantly on standby for a rainy day, or a wind­less day should you be us­ing wind tur­bines. This is ob­vi­ously very ex­pen­sive, so by tax­ing so­lar gen­er­a­tors Spain’s “sun­shine tax” is es­sen­tially the power bill you get when you are not buy­ing any power, but may wish to at some stage in the fu­ture.

It is not just the sun that is be­ing taxed. The Amer­i­can state of Mary­land in­sisted its var­i­ous coun­ties in­sti­tute a “rain tax”. This tax is based on the amount of im­per­vi­ous sur­face one has, such as con­crete drive­ways, roofs, or as­phalt car park­ing ar­eas. While it may seem a tad ex­treme, the idea was to en­cour­age peo­ple to use more eco friendly de­signs to re­duce storm wa­ter run-off, which was harm­ing lo­cal lakes and rivers by flush­ing tox­ins into them. Surely this had to be a good thing?

County politi­cians clearly felt that if they in­tro­duced the tax the greater harm would be to their re-elec­tion prospects. Obliged by law to act Fred­er­ick County com­plied by sim­ply charg­ing an an­nual one cent flat fee to all prop­erty own­ers, prov­ing that if there is one thing clev­erer than a tax col­lec­tor, it’s a politi­cian.

What next you may well ask? A tax on us­ing the toi­let? Well, yes. And this time it’s been sug­gested by some of our own.

The Mata­mata-Pi­ako Coun­cil mooted the idea of a tax on toi­let flush­ing. They wanted to charge each non res­i­den­tial prop­erty the princely sum of $681.39 per toi­let per year in or­der to help pay for wastew­a­ter sys­tem up­grades. The idea was sub­se­quently flushed.

There is a cost to ev­ery­thing, es­pe­cially to schemes de­signed to im­prove en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes. The ques­tion is al­ways who pays. The an­swer is in­vari­ably “we do”, whether di­rectly through taxes or charges to rec­tify things, or in­di­rectly through con­tin­ued degra­da­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment. Day­light rob­bery in­deed.

Bullish: res­i­dents of Spain are in for pain; rain or shine.

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