Ed Clark just told me the story of how he scared the fireman on the
registered S.S. El Costan in 1942, the year of my birth. Ed was in the
marines. El Costan was a twin-stacked steamer built in 1927. She made15
steady with 6 boilers and she was the perfect target. But it wasn't a
"U" boat that got her; it was a North Atlantic blow and a barrier
reef off of Iceland.
The ship had lost both engines and had gone broadside till the waves
set her on
the reef. The fireman was only firing one boiler to run the big dynamo
the pumps. They had repaired the big pump in the stern and the captain
for a volunteer. There being none, he looked at seventeen year old Ed
"You'll do Red. Go to the boiler room. Tell the fireman to stoke that
boiler. We'll need it to run this pump."
At 17, Ed had no fear of death, but even in the retelling at 79 his
with the excitement and wonder at the forces battling around him. The
the engine room was through a shaft tunnel. Just the sound she made was
awesome, and when he emerged into the ship's engine room, what he saw
surreal. As he stood there, he watched rivets pop like corks and erupt
spurting streams of water. There were places where whole seams in the
plate were letting go. She was coming apart.
The fireman had always kept a ladderback chair where he sat when he
working. He now had the chair propped up on two legs, balanced against
the ship, in the space between two boilers. With his feet on a steam
his eyes closed, he was playing his harmonica. When Ed walked up behind
fireman and put his hand on the man's shoulder, he let out a shriek and
from the chair and the harmonica went skyward. His name was John
Parsons and Ed
said he was the bravest man he ever knew.
Ed and I started out with grand illusions about running existing low
to provide non-polluting power for New England.
We did it for idealistic reasons but the environmental folks have done
they could to put us out of business from the start. In 1979 and 80 we
that Jimmy Carter's PURPA legislation would help. It didn't. It just
every sleazy lawyer and engineering firm who thought they could rip off
government with tax schemes and grants for phony feasibility studies
the business. The New Yorker printed a highly romanticized article
almost effortless success of Mark Quinalin and Ed Fallen on two
on the Deerfield
managed to sell both sites
for a handsome profit shortly after the article came out and shortly
spring runoff carried the rotten timber crib dams away. The frenzy to
"make money while you sleep" with tax credits to boot, drove prices
unrealistically high. Mill owners who had previously thought of their
liabilities started to see dollar signs. Sites that would be hard
pay off at twenty thousand dollars went on the market for ten times
PURPA required host utilities to pay alternate energy suppliers at the
cost of fuel. I put on line one of the first hydro sites in the country
Carter's energy legislation and got eight cents per kilowatt for my
month's production in 1980. I have never gotten eight cents per
kilowatt in the
twenty years since. In 1980, all 40,000 members of the Department of
their heads together and couldn't determine the avoided cost of fuel.
decided to let the utilities determine the cost. With the fox now
chicken coop, New England Power and some creative accountants
avoided cost to be that of fuel in the ground without drilling,
mining or shipping charges or about two and a half cents per kilowatt.
In 1985, the hydro tax credits ran out, as did most of its investors.
Corporations ate their losses and anyone who did not have equipment
dropped their license applications. People like Ed Clark and myself who
invested everything we had in the rehabilitation of fine old
generators and massive low head turbines didn't have the option of
We had to stay with our investments or go completely personally
Some, like Gary Whipple in Montville,
Connecticut did, but even
bankruptcy does not relieve one of his obligation to the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission for dam safety. Even after FERC had bankrupted
fines and bureaucratic requirements, Whipple had to pay to cap the dam
yards of concrete just so he could give the whole site away and get out
liability. The irony of it all was that the horseshoe shaped, tiered,
block dam built by 19th century craftsmen was probably one of the
in the state. Before his skirmish with FERC, Gary had owned a small logging
had hoped to add about 12,000 dollars gross to his annual income with
of his small hydroelectric site.