Monday, April 07, 2008

Power Plant, Floriana Style

When I visited the Galapagos Islands last month, I visited one of the least populated- Isla Floriana. The population? 87.

The people of the Galapagos are very aware of their fragile environs. So, on an island where the total energy needs are so small, the power plant can look like this:
That's it! the whole plant! About 25' x 25', altogether. No smoke, no wires above ground leading away from the plant. Perfectly adequate for 87 people. They won't let you just walk through a coal-firing facility. In Floriana, they don't even have a fence around the werks. Ame and Isabel walk around with our guide, Rick.
Solar power. Makes perfect sense for an island within 75 miles of the Equator and a fragile environment.

That's an island that was starting from scratch. They chose wisely. Indiana isn't starting from scratch. There are already state-granted power monopolies in place, so it's illegal for an inspired would-be competitor to just go ahead and build a power plant. Under such conditions, could it be done here?
No. Unless state granted monopolies go away, this kind of innovation isn't likely to happen. Let's assume that they did disappear tomorrow, and there was a would-be competitor waiting to provide electric power on a small scale.
Begin with the purchase of that vacant lot in the neighborhood that's been little more than the regional dump since the fire, then erect the structure, bore conduit through the public right-of-way to junction boxes or transformers at the frontage of the property, then bore a duct to the customer- no poles or above-ground wires necessary. Fire it up and go. Lots of cost on the front end, but not a whole lot after that- just maintenance.
The electricians out there will argue that the reason power is on poles and not underground (unless mandated by law or new subdivision covenant) is the loss of juice underground. So what? I'll counter by saying that since the power source is closer to the end-user, you eliminate the line-loss of transmission from faraway plants. And besides, it's solar.
The lack of Equatorial sun-drenching a concern? No problem- place a windmill or two at the top of the structure. Many days here in Indiana, we get both sun and high winds.
I think we can do better by getting rid of the monopolies and the barriers to entry for would-be competitors, not worrying about too what an extra wire or two might be like, and see if we don't provided better rates and produce less pollution at the same time.

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