Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Valcour Fantasy

Smugglers Cove, Valcour Island

Every time I walk the wooded trails on Valcour Island, I have a recurring fantasy.  This fantasy goes way back more than 30 years since I started coming here.  I fantasize that I am the owner and sole resident of this island, and that I use it to demonstrate energy self sufficiency to the world.  I would build a magnificent house using only local materials and local natural sources of energy.

You see living comfortably on Valcour Island would take lots of energy.   The winters here are long and cold making heat the largest category of annual energy use.   Cooling in summer would the second biggest.  Transportation, the third biggest,  followed by lights and electricity for everything else.   

To meet all those energy needs I would eschew wind or solar power.  There just isn't enough of either year round.  What Valcour does have in abundance is clean cool water from the depths of the lake, and countless downed tree trunks.   I would base my energy needs on those two sources.   In the house I would run a series of pipes that carry cool water in summer and steam in winter. Most fun of all, I would create an extensive collection of steam powered vehicles and tools.

I visualize myself having great fun traversing the island in my steam ATV, using steam powered saws and winches to retrieve, cut and transport the trunks of downed trees.   There are so many of them, and the supply is constantly renewed, so that the supply would be endless.   The impact of my footprint on the forest would be negligible.  The fun part of my fantasy involves designing, building and using these many steam and/or electric powered machines.   Of course the largest and finest such machine would be the electric power plant.  Electricity would be plentiful on my island.  I've worked on design and operation of power plants for many years, and I'm a great admirer of such.

To be sure, my fantasy is just a dream, lacking the practicality of a plan.  Where, for example, would I get all the iron for the pipes and boilers?   Where would I get glass for the windows, or copper for wires.   I most certainly need broadband Internet, and that certainly doesn't come from local resources.   The nice thing about dreams and fantasies is that one needn't bother with the inconvenience of reality.

What about food?   Well, I probably could fantasize about food self sufficiency here too, but I don't,   I'm an engineer by background, not a farmer.  If Libby or Jenny could fill in the food part of a complete fantasy..

But I wouldn't be greedy.   In my will, I would donate the island to the public as a shrine for energy self sufficiency.  An alternate ending to my fantasy would be to allow the island to become the operations center for operating the freshly combined New England and New York electric power grids.  After all, Valcour Island is not attached to the mainland of either New York or New England -- which makes it the perfect neutral ground.  The isolation of the island makes it easier to secure from terrorist attack.  In exchange for letting the grid operators use my island, I would require them to provide me with the world's best super-high speed fiber optic Internet connection.






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