By George Harvey
Paul Biebel of Prudent Living, based in Windsor, Vermont, has worked with his crew to build a large museum-grade scale model of a town with a theme, “How America makes energy and how we use it.” It was built in the tradition of a model train setup, but it goes far beyond that, with much more emphasis on the community and the activities in it. Paul says it illustrates the advances of the past six decades in how we produce and use power.
The scale model town can be seen at LaValley Building Supply in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. It is well worth looking at. It shows our past, and it shows the technologies we might expect for the future. Energy technologies represented include those from the past – coal, natural gas, nuclear, and oil — and renewables for the future – wind, solar, biomass, and hydro.
Various technologies are illustrated by facilities showing extraction, production, transportation, use, and in some cases waste disposal. They are included in ways that can help educate people about the advantages and disadvantages of different power sources, without making political commentaries in the process.
A list of every model feature related to energy is probably too long for a short article, but it is worth mentioning a few examples. One element that stands out in the model is the Coal and Gas Railroad, for moving cargoes of fossil fuels. It connects a coal mine, an oil well, and a natural gas plant.
Contrasting with this is a series of renewable energy systems. A number of homes standing in a neat row have solar panels on their roofs and backyard vegetable gardens. A farm field has more solar panels elevated above a hay field with bales of hay in it. The farm also has a biomass plant, representing Cowpower. A number of the renewable resources are connected by the Upper Valley Railroad, which delivers logs to another biomass plant, among other things.
Other renewable power sources include three wind turbines and a hydroelectric dam. The designs for these come from actual facilities in Vermont. They are served by the Dam and Nuke Railroad, which also serves a nuclear facility. Since neither the dam nor the wind turbines need any fuel, they get very few deliveries by rail. The nuclear plant, however, produces waste from its fuel, and our society’s lack of ability to deal with nuclear waste is reflected by the fact that the train goes back and forth, endlessly looking for a place to unload.
There is a lot more going on in the town. A superhighway has cars and trucks running along it. It carries a far smaller load of traffic than the railroads, but occupies a lot of space and shows a lot of fuel usage. It provides a look at the relative efficiencies of road traffic, which uses a lot of fuel to move very little weight, and rail, which uses a relatively small amount of fuel to move massive loads. Innovative installations of power capacity include mountings for solar panels, some of which are above parking areas to double as shade for cars.
Of course, as in any community, some care has to go into a comfortable lifestyle for the residents. People operate boats on the small river carrying water away from the hydro dam. There is a drive-in movie theater for the residents. It is easy to imagine the residents of the town living active, fulfilling lives in a community dedicated to the production and use of power.
The display is intended to be educational, to show what we are moving away from – a wasteful environment fueled by fossil fuels and nuclear – and what we are moving toward – a future in which renewable power supplies us with what we need to have: communities which produce much of their own energy, use it wisely, with net-zero carbon emissions. By law, in Vermont all residential and commercial buildings must be net-zero, starting in 2030. Since what we need to do the job is already here, Paul Biebel asks, “Why wait?”