Keeping it simple — and stupid

Peter Jackson
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There’s political advertising. And there’s bad advertising. And then there’s both.

On the bad side, consider the Newfoundland Power TV ad from a couple of years ago. This is the one where a series of seemingly random  citizens offer a few words about the topic at hand — i.e. how not to get electrocuted.

Each citizen offers only a word or two about the ubiquity of electricity.

“It’s overhead. It’s underneath. It’s all around us. It’s everywhere. You can find it on a train. You can find it on a plane. It’s beside us. Inside us. Outside us. In front. No! Behind. Duck!”

Well, not quite, but you get the idea.

The message is mostly lost in this distracting shtick. That’s a shame, because it’s pretty important. High voltage wires are deadly, and so is the ground around downed cables.

Which brings us to the latest round of bad advertising — this one complete with a political agenda.

On Monday, the province launched its latest safety campaign. This one takes on a much more gradual, global phenomenon.

Lame warning

Heaven forbid I should criticize a warning about climate change — I prattle on about the subject enough, you’d think I’d welcome it with open arms. But this campaign is so asinine, it boggles the mind. And the thinly veiled political agenda makes it even more irksome.

In the first of two TV spots, we have a sequence of “ordinary” citizens pretending they barely follow the news:

“I get it.”

“I’ve heard about it, but now, lookin’ outside …”

“Yeah, I see there’s a problem.”

“It’s happening. Newfoundland and Labrador.”

“Climate change.”

“And we’re causing it.”

Our citizens then offer common sense tips, like composting and turning down thermostats and not driving everywhere all the time.

Then there’s this:

“Using clean, renewable energy. It’s a start.”

Short of installing a windmill, few people have access to “clean, renewable energy” unless it’s presented to them — like, say, through a giant hydro dam in Labrador on what may or may not be Muskrat Falls.

In the second TV spot, our heroic citizens play devil’s advocate:

“I just don’t think there’s a problem.”

“It can’t be happening here.”

“We’d all like it to be warmer.”

“Climate change might even be good for this province.”

Then we’re told to think again. Why? Because, “climate change is here. And it’s not making things better.”

What could happen?

“My buddy’s backyard fell into the sea,” says one young man, scarcely able to believe it himself. “It actually fell. Into. The. Sea.”

We get more tips: don’t idle the car, don’t leave your computer on all night.

And, again, there’s that trusty renewable energy. This time, we see brief footage of Muskrat Falls itself, followed by wind turbines for good measure.

Why would this campaign be launched within weeks of a renewed debate about the merits of the Muskrat Falls project? Pure coincidence, of course.

But as climate change warnings go, the whole thing seems a little silly and rushed. And the posters showing St. John’s immersed in flood waters are about as realistic as a Hollywood disaster flick.

I don’t blame the production company; the visual quality is superb. But the message is too simplistic, too disjointed, too reliant on contrived layman’s language.

And the “clean, renewable energy” plug? Far too blatant.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor.


Twitter: pjackson_NL

Organizations: Newfoundland Power

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Hollywood

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    September 20, 2012 - 13:28

    Simple and stupid seems to sum up the information on the TURN BACK THE TIDE and the TAKE CHARGE sites. Ignore the big energy savers that can seriously reduce our electric bills, cut polution and defer megaprojects with unsound economics, while promoting mostly meaningless energy tips with little benefit. This is reflected in Nalcor documents that show a projected savings going forward from energy efficiency of only 2/10 of 1 percent per year, on average $1.37 a year saving while upping the yearly cost to consumers by about $200.00 a year. Efficient heating can cut consumer cost for heating for a typical house from $2000.00 for heat to less than $1000.00. But those sites give no information on how to achieve this or the cost. I don't have a web site, but there is a need out there for factual information on this, for systems that work well in our climate. Wonder if I should develope a site with good information for homeowners especially who needs factual information and guidance on this, as the government and power company sites show little interest in serious energy savings for consumers. Anyone have a site that would be interested in having such information? Does the readers here think it would be beneficial?

  • aka Thomas Didymus
    September 20, 2012 - 11:46

    John who appears to be a clone of Tony the Tory, why are you not back on the other site you were playing on this morning answering questions that were posed to you? Never have I seen you answer one question that has been directly posed to you. You are a real escape artist aren't you?

  • Winston Adams
    September 20, 2012 - 11:06

    John, you like to distort the truth it seems. Magical baseboard heaters. They are not baseboard heaters, but they do operate entirely by electricity. Obviously you are ignorant of what these systems can do. 60 percent average yearly saving on energy is typical. It may seem like magic, but world class manufacturers like Panasonic, sanyo, daikan and others haven't become world class by offering magic. All new government buildings here and many commercial use a version of heatpump technology that reduces energy consumption by 60 percent on average. Your comments suggest you may be less than an average Joe, when you do no research to verify factual information. You don't know fact from fantasy, confusing proven technology with magic. Close down Holyrood? No. But roll back it's use year after year, reduce the polution, but an important standby asset even if little needed for regular energy production.Shut down all diesel generators? No. But would allow some electric heating where it is now uneconomic. Cabin owners are already using small gas generators to operate these units to provide heat, as they need little power. Never build another dam? Didn't say that either. But it can extend our current hydro 20 or 30 years, and keep electricity costs stable without the huge increase coming with the Muskrat deal.Disconnect from the grid? I wouldn't recommend it. It reduces heating and hot water energy, almost like magic, by 60 percent or more. But as there are other energy needs out there , the total reduction on the grid would be more like 25 - 30 percent , achievable over a number of years. And this reduction is good for the grid. It's starting to get overloaded. Look at the rate hike requested by nfld power, trying to keep up with adding new distribution for these new house , using baseboard heaters than are so inefficient that they are banned in some countries. ENERGY SAVINGS OF 60-70 PERCENT. FACT OR FICTION? JOHN SUGGESTS FICTION. Let John name some expert who will support him on this. And I ask some other average Joes out there to check it out.Awareness is one large reason these systems are not in more use yet. Check TURN BACK THE TIDE , OR TAKE CHARGE for residential heating, and you will find nothing on it. WHY NOT? Don't deal in magic , hey John? Ignore the big energy savers and promote small ineffective items like compact lights. Are you a Fortis shareholder?This is the 21 century John. Get informed . It'll cut your energy bill big time, roll back polution, and if enough of us do it, it make Muskrat falls unnecessary for the island here for some decades. There's a lot better use for those billions of dollars, inn't there?

  • John Smith
    September 20, 2012 - 08:53

    Sure we don't need any electricity at all. Right guys? LOL We can close down Holyrood, shut down all the diesel generators across the province, nerver build another dam...yep...that's the way to go. We will all install these magical baseboard electrical heaters and we will be able to disconnect from the grid. You guys crack me up. keep up the good work, always good for a chuckle...

    • Scott Free
      September 20, 2012 - 12:25

      Careful not to get too excited John Smith and have the spring pop on your bobblehead for you'll be rendered disengaged.

    • Laughing Hard
      September 20, 2012 - 13:21

      LOL, you mean never heard of a heat pump? Unbelievable. They are efficient and do save money but they are expensive to buy. They will cut down on electric heating costs but keep in mind that you may consume electricity for other uses besides heat (e.g. appliances, hot water tank, etc).

  • Winston Adams
    September 19, 2012 - 22:12

    Mount Pearl Guy, guess you haven't followed postings on Muskrat Falls much,as I have stated this a number of times. As you missed it , here it is: electric heating by baseboard heaters is essentially 100 percent efficient with the electricity directly heating the element. But by the compression and evaporation of a gas, like how your fridge and car air conditioner works, this can create either cold or heat. This was developedin the 1940s, nothing new, but has been constantly improved. Whats important is that it produces heat entirely with electricty driving the compressor but takes only a fraction of the electricity that a baseboard heater does. Its performance is describes by COP, coefficient of performance. Units vary from cop of 2 to 6 depending on the outdoor temperature. 2 means it uses 1/2 the electricity of a baseboard heater. 6 means it uses 1/6 the electricity of a baseboard heater. Expect 2 at minus18C winter condition, and 6 in spring and fall when the units operates at only part load. These systems are certified to international standards for performance. Not all manufacturers perform at our winter temperatures. But there is 5 or 6 that does . Most are Japanese made and are used worldwide. Generally this type of system for commerical buildings have been used here for decades. But residential models thats don't require duct work are ideal for new or older homes, so are excellent for retrofit. They are called heatpumps. But heatpumps come in various types. These particular ones that are super efficient use inverter technology, which means they are variable speed compressors as well as fans. They use valves to control the gas and heat that can control the heat to within a half degree F. Installed cost is about 10,000 for a 1200 sq ft house which would typically have 2 heating heads on the main level and 2 in the basement , or 3 on the main and 1 in the basement. This is less than half the cost of another type, the ground source heatpump, which gets a lot of use in large institutional buildings here. This variable speed unit has a outdoor component , and in our climate here 60 percent reduction is the average yearly for electricity used for heating. I installed the outdoor component in the attics, where it must be properly vented, and it gets average 70 percent reduction in electricity use, as it benefits from solar gain there. It is important not to undersize the units, if so they will not save energy to their full potential. Hope this helps explain. As similar technology also heats water, with 160,000 houses here , we can in theory reduce the demand on our grid by about 600 megawatts. However , because these units use much less energy, most would therefore heat their basements etc more than before,and maybe use radiant heat in a bathroom etc, so 400 megawatt reduction is a more practical aim if all houses uses this technology. That's still more than the 300 mw allocated for the island from Muskrat, at about 1/4 the cost. If you google mini-split heatpump , look for the heat output and divide it by the electricity input and you can calculate the COP . The COP is at 47 degree F outdoor conditions . The manufacturer has a chart available that shows the COP at various outdoor conditions. If a unit doesn't operate down to at least 5 degree F, avoid it. These are some contractors installing such systems here. They are rapidly gaining acceptance and pay for itself in about 8 years from energy savings, without subsidsy. Instead of Muskrat Falls, at this time , the government should pay half to stimulate energy savings, lower heating costs, and reduced CO2 from Holyrood. That's my suggestion.

  • Mount Pearl Guy
    September 19, 2012 - 14:16

    Enlighten us Winston , what is this technology that can reduce heating efficiencies by 60-70%, everyone comes on here with the same nonsense about conserving energy. If there is something that can heat your home reliably it would be nice to know what it is.

  • Winston Adams
    September 19, 2012 - 08:58

    You will not find a thing about efficient electric space heating for houses in the new TURN BACK THE TIDE internet site released by our government released 2 days ago. Efficient heating can reduce energy use for residential heating by 60-70 percent and winter peak demand on the grid by hundreds of megawatts, at a cost 1/4 that of Muskrat falls. This technology is being hidden from the public, rather than making them aware.And instead, they promote items that is largely misleading and ineffective in reducing energy use. There is either incompetent people formulating this information or they are following orders to keep relevant information on the large energy savers away from the public.

  • Eli
    September 19, 2012 - 08:08

    I heard Randy Simms disagree with this column about half an hour ago. It was one of my rare visits to VOCM. He was in 'what planet am I on' mode.

  • Adam
    September 19, 2012 - 08:03

    The biggest mistake a Government can make is assuming it's people are stupid. It's also usually their last mistake.

  • Robert P
    September 19, 2012 - 07:48

    The cleanest energy is the power that's never used. Why this province isn't stepping up and promoting conservation in a big way is beyond me. It would cost a fraction of the money required to build the so called 'green' project of Muskrat Falls. I can only guess that meaningful actions don't support their agenda.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    September 19, 2012 - 07:21

    Yes, Muskrat Falls is the ultimate Climate Change Project --- all $8.5 billion of it --- paid for, lock, stock and barrel by island ratepayers. A totally 'public sector', ratepayer paid for project that targets an 8% emitter (Holyrood), while a 73% greenhouse gas emitter (the province's 'Transportation' and 'Large Industry' sectors) account for 73% of the province's emissions and whose emissions will continue to increase. Some project, some plan. See