Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Gas To $4 A Gallon?

I say, "Who cares?" I have to drive to wherever I'm working, in whichever state it is, so I'm going to pay what the price is at the pump.

I find it interesting to observe some Democrats pandering now to those who would like to see the costs held down in light of all the Democrats who remarked when fuel was cheap on how a higher price would be a good thing, because it would spur conservation. Well, which way is it?

I also get a kick out of the assertion that people won't take the weekenders anymore. Well! Let's do the math!

Say I'm going to ditch terrain-challenged Central Indiana for Kentucky's Red River Gorge. It's a trip we've made 4 times in the last two years. It happens to be a round 250 miles from home, or a 500 mile round trip. In the Saturn Vue at 20 mpg, we're burning 25 gallons of gas. At $4/gallon, that's $100.

Well, spank my ass and call me Charlie, at $2/gallon, it would have been $50!

Forget Obama, I want CHE GUEVARA! Shut down free enterprise immediately, suspend habeus corpus, declare the USA a commune-do ANYTHING to spare me 50 bucks! Cough.

Look, if 50 bucks is the difference between a weekender or not, you have no business even considering the weekender. You need a second job. You need it now.

The same people who are yelling about high gas prices did nothing to stop the increase of sales taxes, food & beverage taxes, and the inkeepers taxes- all of which have about the same impact as the rising price of fuel.

I realize I'm on the other side of that argument, but I'll temper it thusly: I believe that a producer of gasoline should be able to charge whatever it wants. It brought the stuff out of the ground, refined it, and made it available to me. It's theirs until I buy it. The seller should have the right to name his price, just as we have the right to walk away from it. Where does anyone get off saying that they have a right as a consumer to some good at their price? Isn't that some kind of bondage for the producer?

I walk away from the inkeepers taxes by pitching a tent. If gasoline prices trouble you so greatly, buy the Prius, ride the bike, or walk even.

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.
Utility Deregulation?

I had a young man representing the "Citizens Action Coalition" stop at the door today. Normally, the name "Citizens" in the name is enough for me to shut the door, as it tends to stand for little else than "we want to use the power of government to squish someone".

In fact, that's still the case here, but I was in the mood to listen. His organization wants to sue Duke Energy, in order to stop coal-burning electricity generation. I get the environmental impact, but I also want electricity on demand, and I want it pretty cheap. So, I'm not so sure I'm entirely on board. He was very down on deregulation, and when thinking "electricity deregulation" I think of California and Enron- which wasn't deregulation at all. It was re-regulation. And it was a miserable disaster. Deregulation got the bad name, even though the problems were rooted in regulated stasis in the face of a dynamic spot energy market.

He gave me some literature, and I found the first paragraph very interesting:

"Indiana's major utility companies (Duke, AEP, IPL, Vectren, NIPSCO) provide retail electric service essential to the health and vitality of Indiana, its economy, and its citizens. They have been granted state franchised monopolies that protect them from competition and guarantee them profit in exchange for providing adequate and reliable electricity service at the lowers reasonable cost to the public."
I think the whole problem is the state franchised monopoly. There's no competition to spur competitive pricing or innovation, so it doesn't happen unless a mandate comes down, or a lawsuit kicks a butt or two. So, why not let's do away with the state franchised monopoly? Let an outfit string up competing cables, bringing electricity generated by windmills or solar panels. The state shouldn't be interfering with that.

Heck- I'd have even written the guy a check if CAC was fighting the right fight- against the monopolies.