John J.B. Miller, Kerrville, Texas: Despite encouragement
from environmental groups for alternative energy, tremendous
resistance from municipalities still exists. When I tried to
put up a wind turbine, the objections were that it could be
noisy, unsightly, and lower property values. Ultimately the
city came around to permitting them, but required that the proposed
property site be at least an acre. Since my lot is less than
that, I couldn't have one.
So I went to solar panels, but these must have an "inverter"
that converts the direct current generated by the panels (a
wind turbine would be the same) into alternating current to
be used in my house, with the excess fed back into the city's
power grid. But to go solar I ran into the requirement that
I carry a million dollars liability insurance, with the city's
public utility board as named insured, to protect them against
failure of my inverter, (which could conceivably affect their
power grid, even though the inverter is certified by Underwriters
Laboratories to have automatic cutoffs to prevent this type
of power failure).
Until these obstacles can be overcome, wind turbines and
solar panels will remain an option only for those people living
in rural areas.
Kurt Yeager responds: It is indeed regrettable that
so much potential technical progress in electricity today is
being stifled by shortsighted bureaucratic self-interest intent
on maintaining the status quo. Technical change, by its very
nature, is disruptive to the status quo and most of the issues
that were used to discourage Mr. Miller could have been positively
dealt with through simple innovations rather than negative resistance.
For example, it is worth noting that six states (California,
Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington) have already
prohibited additional insurance requirements for net-metered
(i.e., small-scale) energy facilities. Five other states (Idaho,
New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Vermont) have limited the
liability insurance requirements for such facilities. Furthermore,
in Mr. Miller's own state, the Texas Public Utility Commission
has rejected insurance requests for such systems but it apparently
has no jurisdiction over municipalities in the state.
Properly designed and installed small-scale photovoltaic systems
present little cause for liability concerns. However, the interface
standards and protocols that would facilitate the connection
of such systems to the power grid continue to be resisted in
many locations--to the detriment of air quality and energy efficiency.
One exciting development that is being stymied as a result is
DC (direct current) Microgrids. Such local power networks, when
connected electronically to the main AC (alternating current)
utility grid, would integrate a variety of distributed DC power
sources, such as solar panels, without the need for expensive
individual invention. These Microgrids would also serve to fundamentally
improve local power reliability, reduce the cost of digital
end-use appliances and computers -- thus eliminating the digital
divide -- and enable much higher levels of customer choice in
terms of the cost, quality, and sources of electricity.
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