Greening Sullivan, by Dick Riseling

GREENING SULLIVAN

Greening Sullivan is a column by SASD Executive Director Emeritus Dick Riseling. It appears regularly in the Sullivan County Democrat, a local newspaper, based in Callicoon, NY.

GREENING SULLIVAN

 

Some Straight Talk About Energy

Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 (#318) – Maybe we can agree that it is good to know where you are before setting out on new ventures.

Planet Earth is going through the 6th Great Period of Extinction.  That is the consensus scientific conclusion from every field of inquiry.  The word “great” is important.  There have already been at least 14 periods of rapid extinction as well as 5 other great periods of extinction where rates of loss to biotic life are 100 or more times the rate in other rapid periods of extinction.

What’s the difference about today’s world that we live in?  Until 200 years ago, the photochemical processes of photosynthesis kept up and exceeded the need for Earth’s health.  For 50 years already, we have overshot that essential point in planetary physical governance.  For 165,000 years, carbon levels have never been above 315.  Today, carbon levels are approaching 400.

Every 12 years the human population grows by 1 billion people.  3 billion people living without connection to the world of electric consumption aspire to have the same benefits that we enjoy.  For this to happen, the United States population and the rest of the world would have to live the same energy usage of people in Equatorial Guinea.  This is not going to happen.

The problem isn’t lack of energy stocks in the United States.  We have enough coal to last for 1000 more years.  Similar deposits in Germany and many other countries match these coal deposits. Coal can produce all the energy that oil provides. The United States is not running out of oil either.  Estimates range from 200 to 400 years of oil exists.  Natural gas deposits are constantly being discovered. These energy sources could eliminate the annual $500,000,000,000 import of oil. The United States could be a net exporter of energy.  Following this path would greatly accelerate the pace of species extinction on planet earth.

The solution to fixing the planetary crisis starts with acceptance that it is real, includes everyone and that we can build a new energy system. The German state of Bavaria has the cloudiest climate on earth yet twice the solar electric power as Australia, the sunniest place on earth.  Richer than the United States in coal deposits, Germany has decided not to burn its coal but to leave it in the ground.  It has also decided to eliminate all nuclear power plants.  To supply energy needs from nuclear power would require the building of a new nuclear plant every 1.5 days for the next 200 years.  Every 50 years, nuclear power plants must be decommissioned so this technology is not a possible solution and has proven to be exceedingly dangerous.

A second starting point is recognition that the main problem is not energy shortage or cost, but climate change.  Climate change impacts are beginning to accelerate and even current levels are overwhelming budgets and causing major shift in funding priorities.  Within a few decades, entire infrastructures for transportation and housing may be rendered unworkable.  Human health demise will increase above the current catastrophe that has not yet been measured or understood.

Sullivan County can generate tremendous economic progress by getting serious about investing in new energy technologies. Next week’s column will specific how a new partnership with our sun and water resources can deliver energy solutions that are not harmful to human prosperity and longevity.

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 Better Future from Renewable Energy

Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 (#316) – Take a moment to visualize that stunningly beautiful picture of the earth taken a decade ago from one of our space rockets.  What a marvelous experience that first encounter was with this picture of our earth.  Many of us still receive inspiration, consolation, confidence and joy from that picture of the blue marble we call home. Tens of millions of earth flags, some carrying the legend, “space ship earth,” have been purchased by those who see the earth globe as their first flag of allegiance.

A quick look at more recent photographs of earth, focusing narrowly on the United States, includes different colors than the marvelous blue and green of just a decade ago. 2011 photos show that 56% of the US suffered from either severe draught or flooding.  A new historical record of 14 weather events costing more than $1b occurred.  Super Storm Sandy, 2012, had an initial cost tag of $8b but is already far higher.  Ocean water that was predicted to overwhelm lower parts of Manhattan in 30-50 years, completely flooded subway systems and knocked out power for tens of thousands in high rise apartments.  What passes for perfectly normal intensities of local storms in the past few weeks has left many Sulllivan households and businesses without telephone service for up to 10 days or more.

The case has been made scientifically that human economic choices are especially big contributors to this phenomenon.

Increasing uses of fossil fuels and overwhelming amounts of polluting debris, are opposing the physics and chemistry of our planet.  No one can know how fast, how large, how destructive this collision will bring.  However, it is clear that the life support systems worked out for millions of years are being weakened.  We live in the era of the Sixth Great Period of Extinction.

One question that is asked is, Why don’t the richest corporations in the world invest their fabulous wealth in solar, wind, geothermal, air source heat pumps and hydro installations which can pull us back from the cliff facing us?  These systems are or will be at same cost as fossil fuel power and have tremendous additional benefits to human health, happiness ad security.

The answer is, they don’t fold like the tobacco industry did because the richest companies, like ExxonMobil, are fossil fuel companies and they pull in more money than any other companies in history.  Globally, they receive $1.9 trillion in public subsidies. This failure of public policy or success of corporate capture of government the world over really compounds the problem. But the problem is far more profound.

The value of these energy companies is largely based on fossil fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we take global warming – or to put it more directly – if we take responsibility for our future seriously.  The world scientific consensus is that most of these petro reserves must stay in the ground – must not be burned – because they exceed the current global crisis by a factor of five. The carbon bubble that hovers over our daily lives must be deflated and soon – not expanded exponentially.

There is tremendous opportunity for local Sullivan county government, business and homeowner investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The fact is that local demand for such investment is much higher than local capacity.

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Solar Electric is a Good Investment

Friday, Sept. 6, 2103 (#315) – In 2012, 80% of all new energy capacity in the United States came from the renewable energy industries.  Wind was nearly 70% but solar electric is and will continue to be a growing share of total new energy.  There are many reasons for this steady progress in photovoltaic installations.

People with funds for investment have experienced much more difficulty in securing a return that beats current solar electric.  That includes the house or other building on or near which the solar electric system is installed.

A growing number of people are not only investing in solar electric installations for their homes and businesses but in the purchase of stocks in solar companies.  One major new development is the tremendous surge in financial service firm interest in solar electric.  Returns to date are higher than the historical average for purchase of stocks and bonds.  Of course, this surge in financing makes possible an explosion in new ways to finance solar electric manufacturing and installation.

There is a measurable increase in the number of people who are investing in solar electric capacity because they know it does not make sense to invest in most of the available stock opportunities, which simply proliferate the climate change and environmental destruction.  It makes no economic sense and it contradicts the goal of gaining a return that can be used to put a child through college or other pro-found goal to invest in an industry, product or service that ruins the life opportunity of their college student.

States and municipalities get solar electric.  During a recent trip to Vermont, using two different major north-south arteries, I saw from the road 9 solar farms.  Driving through small villages, 7 solar installations were seen on schools and 3 on banks.  These observations could be matched by 100% additional solar electric capacity in the area because I was not focused at all on looking for such systems but simply visiting family.

California and Arizona require all new home construction be solar ready.  Colorado and New Jersey require all new home construction firms to offer this option.

Two California cities require all new homes install solar panels.  The Town of Lancaster, California, with a median income no greater than that of Sullivan County, is a town that links this town mandate to the many cost advantages of such a program and the importance of doing something about climate change.  This very conservative town’s mayor states that the climate issue is a desperate one and the town can save money while helping fix the problem.  The mayor of Sebastopol, California, a small, much wealthier and more liberal community, states that it is the obvious way to go because otherwise, every time you build a house you’re making the situation worse.  Sebastopol is located in Sonoma County, which has a goal of reducing green house gas emissions 25 % below 1990 levels by 2015.

There are many other solar electric strategies such as community solar gardens, municipal solar power authorities, etc that will be explored next week.

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Solar News You Can Use

Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 (#314) — The White House recently announced for a second time that solar thermal panels and solar electric panels would be installed on the building.  This same installation was expected to be completed in 2011 but is now certain to actually begin operating in 2013. The symbolic and practical benefits are obvious.  Presidents Carter and Bush #1 ordered solar panels on the Executive Office Building during their administrations as well.

Solar thermal has been for many years the best buy per dollar.  In the past few years it has been included in the energy efficiency retrofit menu, which has given this hot water heating system a tremendous push.  Unlike solar electric, it requires no special training for installers.  It is really just a matter of good plumbing and can be attached to any pre-existing system as the first provider of hot water.  Most solar electric installers can also provide solar thermal systems and the two solar technologies are a very cost effective combination for lower total cost of heating, ventilating, air conditioning and domestic hot water as well as reducing air pollution and fossil fuel consumption.

There are several substantial solar electric systems already installed in Sullivan County and new multi-million watt systems under design.  Notable among solar electric or photovoltaic systems are those on farms.  One large producer has 400kw that produces nearly 500,000 kwh/year.  Several farms have 10 to 25 kv systems.

The Center for Discovery has several large solar electric systems as well as geothermal and solar thermal installations.  Sullivan County Community College is committed to a 3mw solar electric system, which will require almost 9 acres of panels. This installation joins a much earlier installation of geothermal technology throughout the campus and a small wind power initiative.  An estimate of total solar electric installations in the county is 180.  The number could be significantly greater.

This proliferation of solar electric systems by many home owners and small businesses is beginning to create the momentum for what is definitely the best solution to climate change and air pollution.

Solar electric systems are more popular than wind power, which is the other main source of electricity.  Wind power is more cost effective when produced from large turbines but confronts many obstacles in permitting and the reality that wind speeds capable of powering large electric generation are limited to only a few locations in Sullivan County.  Mapping of our hydro-electric resources is yet to be done.

Acquisition of a solar electric system is available through a combination of NYS state incentives including grants and tax credits, federal tax credits, with the system purchaser covering the balance or through a lease agreement in which the building owner leases the roof or adjacent land for the installation and receives a reduced cost of the electricity generated from the site.  A solar electric lease agreement may not require any up-front cost or a small initial payment.  My recommendation for even those with very limited funds is to avoid the lease agreement if at all possible in order to gain the very significantly greater return on investment as owner of the solar system.

Local demand for solar electric installation exceeds both small residential and commercial systems.  There is a business opportunity here.

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Comprehensive Economic Development Planning

Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 (#313) — Recently, the Sullivan County Legislature appointed a Steering Committee to work with its consultants on a Comprehensive Economic Development Plan. The Steering Committee meets every week through the end of September.  Four task forces composed of its membership also meet weekly. The task forces focus on three leading economic sectors of the Sullivan economy: 1) tourism; 2) agriculture; and 3) health care.  The 4th task force focuses on economic drivers that cut across the 3 economic sectors. What follows are some comments that should be considered by the Steering Committee.

The Sullivan energy sector should be added as a 4th component of the economic plan.  The aggregate size of energy consumption for space condition, HVAC or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning of all buildings in the county, powering commercial and manufacturing machines, and  fuel energy consumed by cars, trucks, buses is estimated to be as high as $400,000,000/y.  Almost all of this energy is based on fossil fuels which pollute the environment, have limited inventory for the future, and a large percentage are trucked in which is very inefficient and environmentally unfriendly. Renewable energy production is estimated at $8,000,000, which produces a small fraction of county energy on an annual basis.

Energy efficiency may be 3 or 4 times renewable energy production to date.  Both have enormous opportunity for growth.  Such growth requires a commitment within the Economic Development Plan to fund a full-time Office of Sustainable Energy.

The energy sector of Sullivan currently emits 198,762 metric tons of CO2 equivalent green house gas emissions.  This figure will rise very significantly if casino gambling is developed with its in-house high intensity of energy use as well as the huge increase in transportation fuel pollution produced by more vehicular traffic.  Of course, this will add millions of dollars to the local health care sector as residents suffer increased illness and death from environmental pollution, public safety and infrastructure costs.  Another direction is possible.

The Comprehensive Economic Development Plan should focus on the new NYS economic development strategies, including the recently published Mid-Hudson Sustainability Plan, which specifically mentions Sullivan County-based major projects such as Energy Districts, which use energy efficiency and renewable energy technology to provide 100% of their energy on a fossil fuel, pollution free energy basis.  Smart metered, micro grids are another large-scale opportunity for several areas in Sullivan County that are singled out in this study.

Funding is available.  In fact, funding is available only on the basis of being most efficient in reducing green house gas emissions and job creation.  Renewable energy generates at least 40% more jobs than conventional energy and has almost no green house gas emissions. Current businesses, schools, and towns should be applying for the new sources of funding.  Casinos should be required to be at least 80% reliant on renewable energy technology.  The construction of a new jail can be paid for entirely over 20 years by savings from energy efficiency and renewable energy materials and technology.

Next week, some suggestions for an adequate County Government Planning Department and a mandate for all County Departments to follow the Economic Development Plan that emerges in the weeks ahead.

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Agricultural Possibilities Galore

Friday, Aug. 16, 2013 (#312) — Let’s begin with dairy farming, one of our most challenged agricultural practices.
In our lifetime there were hundreds of dairy farms.  Now less than 30 farms produce milk and several of this small number may go out of business soon.
This can be turned around in short order. In Otsego County, New York, yogurt production from locally produced milk went from start-up to $1 billion in sales in 5 years.  850 dairy farms send their milk directly to this production center.  Direct employment at this milk plant is 1,300. In Fulton County, New York, a different yogurt company opened a plant in 2008 at a municipal industrial park and is now constructing a $100,000,000 expansion and planning to add an additional 150 jobs at the site.

Sullivan County has every asset and opportunity possessed by these rapidly growing agricultural enterprises.  In fact, we have greater assets. For instance, our Congressman requested to be on the House of Representatives Agricultural Committee, has an office in Liberty and is often seen at local events.  One of the two NYS Senators to Washington, D.C. is also a member of the Senate Agricultural Committee.  We have new leadership in county government on Agriculture, at Cornell Cooperative Education and at Sullivan County Community College.

Sullivan County dairymen and women want to make milk.  They would be happy not to pay commissions for advertising their product and for shipping to distant production facilities.  Less cost to the dairy farmer and a premium price for milk going to yogurt or other dairy product, such as the ever expanding and highly profitable cheese market, our close proximity to major markets and the industries clear preference for the high quality of New York State milk for value-added dairy products, is a potent recipe for local dairy success.

Expansion of dairy production in Sullivan County would yield many additional
economic, social and environmental benefits.  Milk products require flavors.  Our maple syrup enterprises could grow in size and number.  Fruit flavors could be produced locally on a year around basis utilizing hoop house and field production methods.  Food fabricators could open businesses.  All could sell their product to local dairy product manufacturing as well as to major markets.
Repopulation of our extensive agricultural land base would add to the natural beauty of the county. Unemployment and other social expenses would decrease by several million dollars a year and tax revenues would increase by millions of dollars.  The health of our neighbors would improve.  The signal would go out that Sullivan County is and will stay a very beautiful and healthy natural environment for living and visiting.  Our educational systems from K-college would gain new support and meet the needs of more of our youth while in school and provide them with the skills to take the hundreds of ever increasing local good paying jobs.
Steady, locally planned, financed, controlled economic development of agricultural enterprise, anchored by the dairy sector which now is close to extinction, is a profound opportunity that should stir the wealth of local talent and finance to assign this sector of sustainable economic development highest priority.  No other invest- ment better supports tourism and health, the other major economic sectors of our local economy or provides the number of jobs we need.

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Food Producers Needed

Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 (#211) — Nothing contributes to the sustainable local economy of our future as immediately, directly and with as much value as naturally, locally grown food.

This column focuses on the need for new partnerships to recruit, train and fund start-up vegetable and fruit producers.

This narrow focus is imperative because this is the sector of food production where the greatest economic opportunity already exists and where we have the least product for local and external market sales.  Recent progress in value-added dairy product development and expansion of the number and size of meat producers is occurring already with a lot of room to grow.

The demand for fresh and naturally grown fruits and vegetables is far greater than our region can supply.  Distribution systems are increasing in number and effectiveness.  Funding for one food hub is in hand and another is expected to be funded this year.  Retail and wholesale prices offer profitability.  Public sector programs to give preferred place to local, naturally grown foods are increasing. Affordable land via multiple-year leases or small acreage acquisition is available.

However, there is a problem.  There is a lack of product. Current fruit and vegetable growers, with a few exceptions, do not want to substantially increase production.  This leaves the obvious need for many more, new, full-time, trained, highly committed vegetable and fruit growers who can provide product to local stores, eateries of every kind, our schools, caterers, as well as sell into the major metropolitan markets..

It will take the formation of a very focused new set of partners to achieve high numbers, (20-30 every year) of new vegetable and fruit producers.  It is much more difficult to achieve this goal than to secure grants for food hubs, etc.

The requisite organizations are in place.  Our school districts, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sullivan County Community College, Sullivan Renaissance, Sullivan County Agricultural Advisory Board, Sullivan County Farmers Network, the Farm Bureau, the Watershed Agricultural Council, the Steering Committee of the Sullivan County Comprehensive Economic Development Plan and many other sources should be convened for the single purpose of developing an action plan to capture the economic, social and environmental benefits from and for a 20 or more per year increase  of fruit and vegetable growers.

Most of these new Sullivan County farmers will opt for season extending production of fruit and vegetables through the use if what is called high tunnels – plastic covers over metal or pvc hoops.  Some will opt for glass but the numbers on profitability and affordability indicate that plastic hoop houses produce at least 65% of the product of glass covered structures at 10% of the cost.

Season-extending food production may be for 8-10 or even 12 months.  Heat will be necessary and the goal should be established to use little to no fossil fuels like propane or natural gas.  Solar electric, solar thermal and a new class of small wind turbines attached to conventional and new more efficient heat appliances complete the design of this new major opportunity for expansion of Sullivan County agriculture.

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#318  Some Straight Talk About Energy

Sept. 17 — Maybe we can agree that it is good to know where you are before setting out on

new ventures.

Planet earth is going through the 6th Great Period of Extinction.  That is the consensus scientific conclusion from every field of inquiry.  The word “great” is important.  There have already been at least 14 periods of rapid extinction as

well as 5 other great periods of extinction where rates of loss to biotic life are 100 or more times the rate in other rapid periods of extinction.

What’s the difference about today’s world that we live in?  Until 200 years ago, the photochemical processes of photosynthesis kept up and exceeded the need for

Earth’s health.  For 50 years already, we have overshot that essential point in planetary physical governance.  For 165,000 years, carbon levels have never been above 315.  Today, carbon levels are approaching 400.

Every 12 years the human population grows by 1 billion people.  3 billion people living without connection to the world of electric consumption aspire to have the same benefits that we enjoy.  For this to happen, the United States population and the rest of the world would have to live the same energy usage of people in Equa-torial Guinea.  This is not going to happen.

The problem isn’t lack of energy stocks in the United States.  We have enough coal to last for 1000 more years.  Similar deposits in Germany and many other countries match these coal deposits. Coal can produce all the energy that oil provides. The United States is not running out of oil either.  Estimates range from 200 to 400 years of oil exists.  Natural gas deposits are constantly being discovered. These energy sources could eliminate the annual $500,000,000,000 import of oil. The United States could be a net exporter of energy.  Following this path would greatly accelerate the pace of species extinction on planet earth.

The solution to fixing the planetary crisis starts with acceptance that it is real, includes everyone and that we can build a new energy system. The German state of Bavaria has the cloudiest climate on earth yet twice the solar electric power as Australia, the sunniest place on earth.  Richer than the United States in coal deposits, Germany has decided not to burn its coal but to leave it in the ground.  It has also decided to eliminate all nuclear power plants.  To supply energy needs from nuclear power would require the building of a new nuclear plant every 1.5 days for the next 200 years.  Every 50 years, nuclear power plants must be decommissioned so this

technology is not a possible solution and has proven to be exceedingly dangerous.

A second starting point is recognition that the main problem is not energy shortage or cost, but climate change.  Climate change impacts are beginning to accelerate and even current levels are overwhelming budgets and causing major shift in funding priorities.  Within a few decades, entire infrastructures for trans-portation and housing may be rendered unworkable.  Human health demise will increase above the current catastrophe that has not yet been measured or understood.

Sullivan County can generate tremendous economic progress by getting serious about investing in new energy technologies. Next week’s column will specific how a new partnership with our sun and water resources can deliver energy solutions that are not harmful to human prosperity and longevity.

#316  A Better Future from Renewable Energy

Take a moment to visualize that stunningly beautiful picture of the earth taken a decade ago from one of our space rockets.  What a marvelous experience that first encounter was with this picture of our earth.  Many of us still receive inspiration, consolation, confidence and joy from that picture of the blue marble we call home. Tens of millions of earth flags, some carrying the legend, “space ship earth,” have been purchased by those who see the earth globe as their first flag of allegiance.

A quick look at more recent photographs of earth, focusing narrowly on the United States, includes different colors than the marvelous blue and green of just a decade ago. 2011 photos show that 56% of the US suffered from either severe drought or flooding.  A new historical record of 14 weather events costing more than $1b occurred.  Super Storm Sandy, 2012, had an initial cost tag of $8b but is already far higher.  Ocean water that was predicted to overwhelm lower parts of Manhattan in 30-50 years, completely flooded subway systems and knocked out power for tens of thousands in high rise apartments.  What passes for perfectly normal intensities of local storms in the past few weeks has left many Sullivan households and businesses without telephone service for up to 10 days or more.

The case has been made scientifically that human economic choices, especially

Increasing uses of fossil fuels and overwhelming amounts of polluting debris, are opposing the physics and chemistry of our planet.  No one can know how fast, how large, how destructive this collision will bring.  However, it is clear that the life support systems worked out for millions of years are being weakened.  We live in the era of the Sixth Great Period of Extinction.

One question that is asked is, Why don’t the richest corporations in the world invest their fabulous wealth in solar, wind, geo-thermal, air source heat pumps and hydro installations which can pull us back from the cliff facing us?  These systems are or will be at same cost as fossil fuel power and have tremendous additional benefits to human health, happiness ad security.

The answer is, they don’t fold like the tobacco industry did because the richest companies, like ExxonMobil, are fossil fuel companies and they pull in more money than any other companies in history.  Globally, they receive $1.9 trillion in public subsidy. This failure of public policy or success of corporate capture of government the world over really compounds the problem. But the problem is far more profound.

The value of these energy companies is largely based on fossil fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we take global warming – or to put it more directly – if we take responsibility for our future seriously.  The world scientific consensus is that most of these petro reserves must stay in the ground – must not be burned – because they exceed the current global crisis by a factor of five. The carbon bubble that hovers over our daily lives must be deflated and soon – not expanded exponentially.

There is tremendous opportunity for local Sullivan county government, business and homeowner investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The fact is that local demand for such investment is much higher than local capacity.

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The Core of Local Economic Planning

Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 — A new round of discussions is about to begin on a comprehensive economic development strategy for Sullivan County. A consultant group has completed their report consisting of interviews and a review of selected economic development and planning documents of current and vintage age. What follows is a point of reference for this new effort to move the local economy toward a more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable future.

Of first importance is placing at the center of all economic discussion two related realities that are often ignored or misunderstand in terms of their import:

1)   all of the life support systems on planet earth our being destroyed by the toxic results of current economic activity, and

2)  humanity is just a part of the local community of life.

It is always amazing that these fundamental realities of our daily life do not figure prominently in our local planning and activity.  It is equally amazing that current energy practice is still not seen as the link to destruction of life and wealth or the primary way to a better future. For example, energy is not included as a key economic sector in the most recent economic study.  Renewable energy is dismissed.

Let’s go back to the center of our reality.  Time is running out for human life as we know it.  Urgency, readiness for investment in very different priorities and saying no more to many current policies and practices are required.

This column has suggested that we stop seeking economic growth and develop a thorough understanding of the sustainable economy and its very different investment profile.  It’s really very simple and we all know most of what is necessary.

We know that our lives are connected to the health of the water, air, food and wild life systems.  We know that there are severe limits to current energy sources and that their cost and toxic impact on life is increasing. We also know that there are unlimited opportunities for health, wealth and greater beauty for all that live in this marvelous place if we choose to live wisely.  Time and time again, however, we are told and comply with studies and assertions from leadership that we cannot afford energy efficiency and renewable energy generation.

It is for certain that this failure to grasp hope for the future through locally appropriate sustainable energy production and energy efficiency measures will end.

The only question is, when will we commit the resources to build the planning, design and investment capacity to implement this new leading sector of the local economy?

A major obstacle is local capital formation and investors to drive this clear path to a better future. Outside capital groups identify what we do not identify.  There is great wealth to be made from the natural health and beauty of the area. But, only if it is locally controlled can the base of that wealth – our natural environment and the people and institutions that live here prosper. Local regulation and effective monitoring of large, externally-based corporations is not obtainable.  Local profitability for our institutions and workers is seldom sufficiently secured.

The core of economic planning for a sustainable future is investing in local capacity to tie the fate of our lives with the natural wealth of our area.  A major investment in energy expertise and other sustainable practices is absolutely essential to bring us to a sustainable future.

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Independence Day Resolution

Thursday, July 4, 2013 (#307) — The hay fields are rich.  Standing as high as six feet in the lower end of fields where the water runs and then stands in fields that could have been cut more than a month ago, hay harvesting is chocked by the constant hammering of rainfall.  In another part of the country, an entire group of expert fire fighters are killed as wind driven fire burns the completely dry earth. Looking again at the local scene, flooding and extreme heat spread their crushing destruction and cost in patterns that now seem normative.

Climate disruption is already well under way.  The climate regime that was established over hundreds of millions of years leading to the advent of human existence has lost its ability to support itself without pushing back with full planetary power. We cannot achieve independence and separation from the necessities of planetary power.  But, we can jettison what we know to be causing this growing local, national, and global calamity.

Such a declaration of independence will start with accepting that local action influences the rest of the nation and world.  Will we wait in our communities until we are hit by even worse degrees of additional loss and cost?  Accepting responsibility in our individual lives and collective actions via government and business decisions will start with the resolve to break out of current patterns.

There is a growing conversation about the weather but what we doing about it, as the saying goes, is far too little and often no help or causes further loss.  Why leader-ship continues to support practices that create more problems and/or simply delay actions that can eventually bring the relief that is essential for social cohesion and our safety is hard to fathom.

We know what to do.  It is affordable.  It can be done right now – even with our extremely precarious economic budgets and recessionist economy.  Investment in different strategies and technologies are required.  These investments must come from some additional spending as well as from very substantial changes in current investment practices. These investments must contain the character of being not only self-financing but also proven sources of substantial savings while producing better results.

The goal should not be to greatly expand total spending. It goes against the natural order of planetary governance and our human capacity to afford.  The goal is to provide local governance and financing for supporting the conditions of life we wish to enjoy.  Current patterns cannot get us there and we are losing time while the threats, loss and cost continue to rise.

Casinos require exponentially more energy infrastructure and consumption with all of its well known environmental and social polluting effects.  It is one of the most pernicious Industries. Hydrofracking for natural gas threatens the natural health, which are our life support system and the foundation of local economic prosperity.

There are energy reduction and renewable energy projects ready for installation that will generate profits, jobs, local control, and strengthen the social and natural systems required to restore a workable relationship between us and nature.  We should be building locally owned and controlled power utilities and forming many new companies that deliver tremendous energy efficiency.

On this Independence Day, who will declare sufficient independence from the morass we have lived under for more than a generation and projected policies that are band-aids or worse?

Two Good Projects

Friday, June 21, 2013 — Community Energy Districts and Smart Microgrids are two methods for realizing the tremendous savings and revenue benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy generation.  They can work independently or can be integrated into the same area.

CEDs are proving to be very strong economic development drivers.  They attract new business and businesses, save participants energy and money as well as bring jobs and energy system reliability. Each district can tailor the mix of resources and strategies that fit the circumstances within the district. They also require a different mindset and formation of new partnerships.

Microgrid development within the CED or associated with it would enable businesses and other participants to lower energy savings costs and receive revenue from electricity markets that are not available without the shared investment that gives sufficient capacity to be profitable. They operate connected to the existing utility grid, but can also operate independently since they provide a second energy supply which provides reliable power supply and consistent high quality energy.

A short sketch of how this would operate at two levels follows.   Start with the Health and Family Services Complex east of Liberty.  On the energy supply side, geo-thermalize the lake to provide heat for the Adult Care Center. Install heat pumps to provide air conditioning. Erect the 2 megawatt wind turbine that has been designed for this site.  Expand the solar electric system by 300% that is already up and running at the Travis building.  Perform deep retrofits of building exteriors so that the energy efficient, non fossil fuel energy system benefits are secured.  Provide energy storage for all of the on-site produced energy.  Build charging stations for 10 or more electric vehicles as a pilot on reducing transportation cost.  At a 65% savings in energy obtained from current electric vehicles, $3000/year fuel savings for government vehicles and subsidies for purchase of such vehicles, this is very affordable and makes a significant contribution to our understanding of financial and environmental savings in the transportation sector.  When the vehicles are not running, they will provide continuous and back-up power to buildings.  The 2 mw wind turbine and larger solar electric installation will provide 100% of the HFS complex energy needs and make available sufficient additional electricity to power the government center in Monticello or to the immediate HFS neighbors. No fossil fuels are used

There are several ways to power the county government center and its neighbor buildings and enterprises.  Creating another energy district for Monticello or some sections of it, for example. However, a preferred strategy is to stay in Liberty and form a smart, microgird of neighboring enterprises, shopping malls, Sullivan County Community College, New Hope Community, residential clusters, and the town and village of Liberty itself.  By forming a contractual partnership with NYSEG, smart meters can be installed on the low and medium voltage distribution system.  Just a few meters on this energy distribution loop can capture the energy consumption of all participants.  This will lead to demand response energy savings that save money and generate extra revenue by collaborations among participants to lower energy demand during peak periods.

Local control and collaboration is they key to opening a better future. It may be our only way out of the vice grip of increasing costs.  Who will invest the talent and finance to move toward a sustainable future?

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Gaining Perspective

Friday, May 17, 2013 (#300) — The world-wide scientific community announced this week that the earth’s atmosphere has now passed the 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. The last time earth experienced such a condition was tens of millions of years ago. 400 parts per million is an earthly condition that does not support healthy or prosperous life for the human. Also announced this week was that Plymouth Island, Massachusetts, the first successful colony of Europeans will be completely below the ocean surface in the near future, not 150 years from now as projected just a few years ago.  Let’s connect the dots.

We know that fossil fuel energy production and consumption is a major cause of these environmental changes. The United States in recent decades, and especially in the first decade of the 21 century, greatly ramped up its energy production– mainly fossil fuels such as natural gas – which is one of the most prominent local issues. Governor Cuomo may permit hydro-fracking of the Marcellus Shale or the two or three additional layers of oil embedded in other rock as far as 6 miles beneath our communities, for a short time our economy may lessen its dependence upon foreign produced petro energy. This case is not certain for some studies indicate that the shale oil in our region may not be useable as an energy source. If the Obama Administration permits the XL Pipeline carrying Canadian tar sands oil to traverse the north-south extent of the USA, our national economy will have what some call cheap fossil fuels for another two or three decades even if we retire hundreds of coal-fired energy plants.

The alternative is to consider local investment in large scale energy efficiency and renewable energy production.  New York State has an excellent energy efficiency program.  Its design is superb but its funding and marketing is very limited.  Funding for production of renewable energy also lags behind many other states.  Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts, followed by New Jersey and Connecticut lead in forming private-public partnerships that encourage citizens to invest along with state legislative appropriations in forming energy cooperatives where dollars and jobs multiply and stay local.  All local educational and commercial enterprise is invigorated by this new demand for skilled workers, and the supply of cheaper energy that also saves millions in environmental and public health.  Local smart grids that employ a host of new technologies such as programmable energy meters in homes, businesses and public buildings that can manage energy consumption and sell for substantial profit locally produced energy to the utility during times of  high grid demand, have also been installed in other states.

Projects like these, and others, such as pursuing large solar electric and wind power installations where we know they can produce that same triple bottom line of economic, environmental and public health benefits, are being discussed in Sullivan County and the regional Sustainability Planning Consortia.  What is needed is greater human and financial resources to bring these essential developments to our communities without further delay.

We will soon lose Plymouth Rock.  We have already lost a lot.  We can at least slow down the human and environmental damage and revitalize our economy and local communities best by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

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Spring Sizzle in County Agriculture

Friday, May 3, 2013 (#298) — Take a drive through the western part of the county and you will see at least two important scenes.  What can’t be missed are the innumerable panoramic views that trumpet the magnificent beauty of this county we call home.  Also to be seen on a daily basis is the trek of tractors spreading manure that brings on the sudden flush of grass for first cutting of hay.  On display is the partnering of the other than human animal population and the local farmer in closing the loop of ecological abundance that optimizes current energy flow to nourish the land and feed the human community.  Taking a few minutes to pull over to the side of the road and observe this fundamentally important partnership and to consider as well the tremendous pressure this eco-economic partnership is under should also be a part of this experience.  On the way back to the main routes of travel no one can miss the predominant landscape of abandoned farm buildings that speak of personal and environmental loss that is compounded every year. Special investment programs can repopulate these very important sites of healthy living and food production.

A careful, informed inspection would also discover the resilience and innovation of many agricultural initiatives.  Sullivan County has several relatively new large scale meat producers as well as dairies that market large animals each year.  Pork and beef operations head the list but sheep and goat numbers are also growing.  A major chicken and egg producer recently stop operation but there are still several boutique and large-scale chicken and egg producers. An Inventory will soon be completed that will indicate that Sullivan County farmers in a variety of innovative operations of many sizes is contributing to sustainable economic development through large local meat production expansion. Completion of the long awaited local meat processing plant would be a tremendous boon to current producers.

A new major composting operation is in production.  Using state of the art technology, it generates valuable soil amendments for local sale and keeps local natural resources local.

Local honey producers continue to replace hives that are lost each year due to as yet unknown causes.  Without billions of local honeybees, the natural cycle of plant fertility will be sharply curtailed. Who does not enjoy the taste of pure honey?

Maple syrup production has increased exponentially.  One of the largest maple producers in the state is located in the county.  This natural product can be used in many food-processing operations as well as fabricated into several end-use products.

The number of small scale, intensive producers of vegetable and fruit continues each year.  Many integrate fowl and ruminant animals to close the nutrient cycle and benefit from this synergy.  Multiple grants are being prepared for acquisition of a local food hub building and establishing the marketing, collection and distribution of locally grown fresh food.  Much more investment is needed to harvest the available opportunities.

The Foodstock event at the Villa Roma on Saturday, May 11th is a good opportunity to see and taste all of the above plus locally produced wines, liquors, breads, pasta, and many other healthy food items.

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More Opportunities for Economic Prosperity

Friday, April 26, 2013 (#297) — Last week’s column promised more detail about opportunities for a surge of sustainable economic development in our communities.  The opportunity is framed by the economic design “reduce and produce” – reduce use of fossil fuels and produce more energy efficiency and renewable energy.  A short list of reduce opportunities was included.  This column focuses on producing more renewable energy.

Our opportunity starts with several very large potential financial resources even though the word is out that our financial ability to fund new programs is exhausted. Success in moving toward a sustainable economy that delivers solutions to our several decade slump depends largely upon capturing opportunities that current leadership does not include.

Recent bonding for county-wide radio upgrades for our emergency responders and for repairing just a few miles of county roads have exhausted our bonding authority even in a bond market with very attractive financial rates.  Pressure is being exerted for building a new county jail at a recent reported cost of $80-100,000,000.  Waiting for attention is some remedy for changing the personal and environmental health challenges that threaten and injure so many thousands of our neighbors, funding of school and college programs, assistance to our agricultural sector and a host of renewable energy projects.  Which will be funded and where will the funds come from?

Let’s start with renewable energy.  The fuel is wind, water and sun.  They are delivered in fabulous supply every day free of charge.  We know how much it would cost to harness this free energy, that it is self-financing, would keep hundreds of millions locally, as well as save additional hundreds of millions in personal and environmental health costs.  The problem is getting started.  This need not be a problem.

Iberdrola/NYSEG is before the Public Service Commission for a large increase in electricity rates to upgrade their grid infrastructure. Between federal Super Sandy funds and PSC rate increases, a billion or more is involved. That’s a very different scale than the statewide sustainability fund of $90,000,000.  We can partner with NYSEG by offering to mobilize our towns to install energy saving smart meters on our buildings and ask for their participation in joint-ownership of community owned power authorities that would supply clean, renewable energy and all the commercial and environmental benefits that accrue.  We can start with setting up a LDC which would own and operate the power authority through local management.  It could be a cooperative corporation in which residents could invest. A combination of utility, federal and state subsidies, and local private investment from banks and residents will supply more then ample funding.

Of course, the opportunity is much greater than this single power authority. For example, a local micro smart power grid – the Town of Liberty, the County Health and Family Services Complex, New Hope, Sullivan County Community College, the large vacation complexes in the area, represent several hundreds of millions in investment which quickly pays for itself and brings multiple streams of savings and revenue.  Others could be added throughout the county.  Funding can come from the sources named above and from EPT and other developers of the Concord projects.  They are being offered more than $200,00,000 in tax abatements that come from our wallets that would otherwise go into public funds. $200,000,000 from them in exchange for a little more than that from us is just plain fair and good business.

A much longer list is available for this very conventional direction of economic development.  It’s just a matter of time and organization.  The time is now.  Where is the organization?

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An Opportunity Report

Friday, April 19, 2013 (#297)  — In a few months, the first round in the state-wide competition for $90,000,000 in sustainable energy funding from New York State begins.  Since one of the stated standards for award success is projects that leverage these funds to garner 9 times their amount, this is a significant opportunity for Sullivan County to take a big step in building an energy efficient and renewable energy economy.  This can be achieved at no additional cost, generate 40% more jobs than the fossil fuel-based energy we now use, and save tens of millions in environmental and personal health related costs.  By the way, that is the definition of a sustainable economy – no extra or even lower cost but very substantial benefit being shared on a far more equitable basis.

This column focuses on local electric energy because it will be the predominant energy source of the sustainable economy and healthy living environment of our future.  A few facts are in order for context.  Like other sources of energy, local  electricity has increased in cost – 33% since 2000 – with new applications for a stiff increase before the Public Service Commission.  Current dependence upon large remote fossil fuel based electric generation plants entails the loss of 2/3 of the energy produced at these plants before it arrives at the use point.  A quick look at a residential electric bill confirms that the delivery charge is more than the energy charge.  No new electrical generation has been licensed since 1993.  41% of the total regional electric generation comes from two nuclear power plants, Indian Point 2 and 3.  The next largest source is hydropower sites dating from the 1920’s although many of these facilities have received recent renovation.  The transmission and distribution lines receive upgrades at a rate far below what is necessary, the maintenance is very expensive, the lines leak 30% or more of the energy they carry, and cannot stand up to the new weather extremity that is our future.  All this being said, electricity is the best source of energy for our future.

Here is a short list of ways of garnering millions of dollars in electrical energy savings and revenue.  It is a matter of reduce and produce or greater energy efficiency and renewable energy production.  Just a few methods of energy efficiency include purchase of efficient appliances and installation of smart meters.  NYS has a large program to subsidize the purchase of electric appliances that are 5 or more times more efficient.  Another NYS program makes energy audits and energy saving retrofits available at no out of picket expense. Utilities in our area are considering smart meters to reduce peak demand, which is very costly and often hard to manage with failure costing billions in a very short time.  Smart meters would also allow building owners to control their electric use on a day-to-day basis.

On the production or supply side of electricity, we can build local solar and wind systems to cover a very large part of our electricity requirements. The best sites have already been identified and measured.  More on this in next week’s column.

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Let’s Change the News

Friday, April 12, 2013 (#295) — Earlier this week the front page of this newspaper featured a major article about  the rising rate of serious crime,  county health rankings at the lowest in the state, a crisis is foster care and the lack of funds to maintain necessary repavement of our roads. It also indicated the county was postponing appointment of a new Planning Commissioner and considering a restructuring of the Planning Department.  (I will come back to this point later below.) This article continues on page 3 with mention of a new effort to understand the high rate of long term unemployment. Right next to it is news of retrenchment at our college campus. Last week retrenchment at our major agricultural institution was the big story. The week before, agreements were announced to give more than $200,000,000 in tax rebates to outside investors to develop new tourist facilities.

These articles indicate that our current direction of economic development is not working in a socially or environmentally responsible manner. This is nothing new nor is it different than the economy at large in the nation. But, we can change our local economy for the better very quickly.

The core of our economic problem is the almost obsessive focus on economic growth of any kind. Growth as the goal must be replaced with the concept of economic sustainability. It requires an understanding that the economy lives on solar power and the ability of plants to interact with water, air and soil to provide food and a vast array of life supporting systems. It also requires commitment to develop an economic plan that sets local resources at the center of our investments.

Two local resources that should set the priority agenda for a restructured county planning department are energy and agriculture.

We spend several hundred million a year importing fossil fuels which continue the destruction of our environment and health.  Non-polluting solar energy is delivered free every day in quantities that are 6000 times greater then we can use. We have measured our wind resource. Our forests are very extensive and contain vast biomass energy. We have the programs, the expertise, and the experience to lead in a full built-out of a renewable energy economy that can provide our transportation, home and commercial energy needs as well as many good paying jobs.

We are also the closet food shed to a great metropolitan area that seeks more food than we can possibly produce.  There are tremendous agricultural opportunities waiting for development.  Growing vegetables and fruits in green houses that extend the growing season to 10 months or more is a proven and highly profitable industry.  Many areas of Canada supply New York, Boston and Philadelphia with such products.  Immediate investment in education and training programs by our college and schools would invigorate these institutions.  Local bonding authority to create large scale agricultural revolving loan funds could jump start local food enter-prises, and increase personal and environmental health.

Give a new Department of Planning priority funding for sustainability and agricultural development along these lines and the news of our communities and neighbors will change to reports of a good life being enjoyed by all.

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The Promise of Spring

Friday, April 5, 2013 (#294) – Finally, we are warmed by at least a few hours of brilliant sunlight and excited about the first greening of our meadows. Perhaps this spring of 2013 will be the year when we more deeply understand the meaning of our role in greening where we live.

When that happens sufficiently, we shall provide tens of millions in tax abate- ments to power our lives with renewable energy and turn all waste into wealth and food. Our schools, houses of worship, jobs, homes and families will be turned towards a regenerative ecology that both dictionary and life experience defines as being a single household, a democracy of interdependence, where we are fellow citizens with all life and none are masters or servants. Then we will no longer speak of economic growth but of economic sustainability where profits, jobs,  and health for all of life are in greatest supply.

We will do this best by learning from nature as a first principle of our economic activity. Plants and other life forms have hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary head start on us.  They have successfully engineered solutions to the same questions that challenge human existence and done so without threatening the habitat that gives them life.  They learned how to power, feed and reproduce themselves without destroying the web of life that supplies the essential opportunity for all species.

The record of human history is that no civilization that has failed to work in harmony with the natural world has been able to reverse the fate of total collapse and extinction.  Our current economic activity includes burning our share of 100,000 years of fossil fuels every year and spewing toxins into our water, air, soil  and manufacturing food that is so industrially engineered that it is often dangerous to health.

It is our world but it not just our world. We are late-comers to earthly life but nature invented us with tremendous innovation capacity. But, our adaptability has been limited by the genetic code of profitability for the few rather than sustainable life for all.

This hubris of the few ignores the great scientific revolutions in understanding the natural world which is called the tipping point, This new paradigm or mind-set shift needs to become another first principle of our economic activity. Understanding the tipping point teaches us it is a catastrophic error to presume that the natural life support systems respond to degradation slowly and that we can see and predict the advancement of great destruction.  At least in the human time frame, nature’s resilience may not be capable of restoring her web of life to support us.  Except for a few in Congress and local and distant centers of corporate power, most people know the science that says we are running out of time.

All of us who share this column live in an environment suffused with the geniuses of nature’s wealth and health.  This spring is the time to learn from her, protect and restore her with the promise of a shared sustainable future for all.  Walk and converse with nature.  Invest tens of millions in nature’s spring genius and we shall do well.

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  The Future Is Ours

Friday, March 29, 2013 (#293) – The true and confidence-building title of this column needs slight amendment and then completion.  Take out the “s” in ours and add “ responsibility.”  Unlike neighboring areas where the built environment already deeply compromises sustainable economic development, we still have the opportunity to safeguard our fabulous natural wealth and develop large-scale, local investment in a sustainable economy.  The essential next step is forming new partnerships and reassigning responsibilities and roles.

This effort must start with understanding that our very carbon-based local economy must be radically changed and all consideration of hydro-fracking for natural gas stopped. We have been given the fabulous wealth of a water system that is unmatched anywhere else on planet earth. It must be kept safe. It is essential for life. There is no substitute.

Shifting to non-carbon based energy is very possible, much less expensive, and more profitable. Financing for energy audit and building retrofit for households and every other building is available at no or minimal cost. Financing for building retrofit with savings of 30-50% is also available.  Hundreds of millions of local dollars are freed up.

Some of this windfall should be invested in further reducing the carbon burden we place on our health and natural environment by investing in nearly carbon-free renewable energy generation as the predominant source of county energy.

A solar electric system can be leased at no cost. Ownership of such a system is also available to everyone because it pays for itself in a few years and provides much higher rates of savings. Just a small 5kw solar system will offset the same carbon as planting of 13,500 trees or not driving 875,000 miles.

Municipal and/or municipal-private solar projects are very smart investments. A recent measurement of the roofs and suitable land owned by our towns and villages in Sullivan County indicates solar capacity for 35mw of solar energy.  That’s thousands of times bigger than a 5kw solar system. Adding 1000s of MWs of solar energy by formation of municipal-private partnerships that issue common and preferred stock certificates with low ($50 and up value) would provide universal public participation, create investment funds of hundreds of millions of dollars, generate a majority of the entire local economy electrical power, yield a higher rate of return on investment than bank accounts, many new good jobs, better personal and environmental health as well as the opportunity to redesign the way energy is distributed.  Smart meters and burying wires are among the many afford- able and cost effective measures that can be achieved when local control is secured.

Contrast these opportunities with current proposals such as Super Sandy Storm public subsidies in the billions of dollars going to oligarchic utilities and utility applications to the Public Service Commission for substantial electric rate increases who will construct the same weather-vulnerable energy distribution infrastructure that caused billions in private unreimbursed losses.

The future is ours and it can be a marvelous future if we take responsibility for getting it right.  Formation of local public and private energy saving and renewable energy enterprises is the best next step for our future.

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Wanted: County Manager

Friday, March 8, 2013 (#290) – Job Description. She or he shall be entrepreneurial, committed to sustainable economic development, expert in energy financial markets and experienced in renewable energy production.

Advantages of the Sullivan County Manager position include: competitive salary; live and work in one of the most beautiful, healthy and ideally located areas in the United States; strong local financial sector; a built environment that is compara- tively free of major industrial and social barriers to a sustainable economy; local government and population ready for engagement in sustainable economic development as the design for their future.

If the reader of this advertisement and this column take a closer look, they will see the merit of this opportunity.  Finance is the key to large-scale projects.  Like energy, it is the power to get things done. There is plenty of local private and commercial finance.  Many ways of engaging general public investment in sustain-able economic projects are available and local household and business subscription could be $500,000,000 or more.  Current local purchase of harmful, inefficient fossil fuel energy substantially exceeds this amount although energy expenditures and their impacts of other costs and quality of life are ignored in almost all economic development studies.  Additional finance is available through local government bonding and the special powers of our economic development agencies.

Local utilities will be getting a lion’s share of this money for energy infrastructure repair.  The employment of a County Manager with financial and energy market experience could provide the kind of leadership that forms an effective collaboration with the utility companies in designing the character of the billions of infrastructure installations. Locally sited energy production, not nearly so dependent upon extremely vulnerable and inefficient power lines could be jointly financed, but locally controlled.

Solar, wind, water and geothermal resources are already here.  There is almost no delivery charge compared to current energy bills where the delivery charge is larger than the actual energy we consume. Most of this energy is fossil fuel based and we have the science to prove this is very destructive of health, is far more expensive then renewable energy and energy efficiency, and threatens the future of our way of life within a few generations. Local energy production will keep several hundred million in the local economy where the positive local multiplier does its magic to bring prosperity for the entire population. Additionally, the costs of travel, operating our homes and businesses and government decrease significantly, our health improves, tens of millions are saved and good jobs multiply.

We know the places where the natural energy resources are most productive.  We already own them.

Developing these resources would invigorate our educational system, end the scourge of poverty which remains a hidden travesty in our communities and cut the cost of governmental assistance.

The reason casinos and gas drilling make such headway with our leadership is that local government and the general population do not take responsibility for economic development as a first priority of self-governance.

We are a beautiful, wondrous place that millions will comes to see for their benefit and ours. To protect it from being spoiled and leased to outsiders who do not have the essential sense of belonging to this place requires a serious proposal like that advertised at the head of this column and commitment by local sources of power and wealth to prioritize sustainable economic development.

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What We Know

Friday, March 1, 2013 (#289) – We prefer local control and have the law and tradition to support it.

We have great attachment to where we live because its beauty and space gives us the intelligence to understand what is important and what is destructive to our lives.

We are aware that our local economy has been in a recession for an entire generation. Our taxes are too high and local government assistance cannot keep up with the costs of poverty and climate caused infrastructure destruction.  Our energy and food costs rise and wages stay the same for the majority.  Unprecedented numbers of us have recently and continue to lose their homes and jobs. Our general health index is at the bottom.

We know we must change our economic develop thinking.

However, casinos and hydrofracking are the two largest strategies for turning our local economy around.  These are two whacky ideas right up there with the idea that we can continue to pursue growth on a finite planet that is already consuming the natural resources essential for the well being of the next generations.

Hydro-fracking has not provided much revenue in the several years that it has been proposed for local development.  It has divided our communities, consumed fabulous energy and intelligence that could have been better invested in the many alternatives that do not sacrifice the natural beauty and health giving services of our environment. If it should come, it will go and leave devastation behind that binds us to the failed history we have lived for decades.

Casinos will bring millions of people here for short stays, thousands of jobs held mainly by people outside Sullivan County, new social costs that surpass local economic revenue, pollution, overwhelming of our schools at the same time we are selling several schools, higher not less local taxes. Most importantly, casinos (and hydrofracking) postpone the building of the sustainable economy.  These parasitic industries, dominated by every changing but always majority profit exporting corp-orations, cannot be made friendly to our future.

Let’s take the tens of millions in sales tax and other tax abatements that these uneconomic industries are asking for and spend it on municipal and private energy utilities and smaller installations powered by wind and sun.  The jobs, purchasing, planning, control and profits will be local. Our empty buildings will be filled with light manufacturing enterprises.  The cost of operating our homes, businesses and local government will be lowered and have a hedge against future increases.  Taxes can come down.  Our residents will have better incomes and our young adults will find sustainable employment.  Savings in local health costs will be in the millions and much suffering avoided.

This is what self-governance looks like.  It is also what sustainable economic development looks like – better health, more comfortable homes and places to work, study and worship in, less poverty, more hope and enjoyment of each other’s company and the beauty of our place. Let’s spend on our selves what some would give to others who have no interest in us. There is a job for every one of us in order to accomplish this.

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Getting Practical with Solar Thermal

Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 (#288) – While this column tries to stay local in its focus it sometimes, like last week,  describes major threats to our local economy and then ends with a short description of a practical alternative to mitigating these challenges.  That emphasis is reversed in this column through a very close look at locally available solar thermal systems which have taken a back seat to solar electric, geothermal and air source heat pump systems in the last few years. These are fine systems.  However, solar thermal systems for domestic hot water and home heating have a lot to offer.

Starting with commercial solar thermal systems, details below describe a small and a large system:

1. Commercial solar thermal system with USDA/RD grant and replacement of existing electrical hot water heating system.

  • Small ST system – total project cost $10,400, NYSERDA incentive $4,000, cost to owner before USDA grant and Fed’l tax credits $6,400, USDA grant $2,600, Fed’l tax credit $1,920, final cost to owner $1,880.
  • Large ST system – total project cost $45,000, NYSERDA incentive $25,000, cost to owner before USDA grant and tax credits $20,000, USDA Grant $11,250, Fed’l tax credit $6,000, final cost to owner $2,750.  Application deadline for the USDA grant is April 1.

Commercial solar thermal system without USDA grant and replacement of existing electrical hot water heating system.

  • Small ST system – total project cost $9,800, NYSERDA incentive $4,000, cost to owner before tax credits $5,800, Fed;l tax credits $1,740, final cost to owner $4,060
  • Large ST system – total project cost $44,000, NYSERDA incentive $25,000, cost to owner before tax credits $19,000. Fed’l tax credit $5,700, final cost to owner $13,300.

Residential solar system information for all electrical heating replacement:

  • Standard 80 gallon domestic hot water system where solar thermal replaces electric water heating – Total project cost $9,800, NYSERDA incentive $4,800, cost to owner before tax credits $5,800, Fed’l and NYS tax credits $3,190, final cost to owner $2,610.

Solar thermal system for existing building tied to existing hot water heating system:

  •  Small  ST system – total project cost $22,000,cost to owner before tax credits, $22,000, Fed’l and NYS ax credits, $11,600, final cost to customer $10,400.
  • Large ST system – total project cost $31,000, cost to owner before tax credits $31,000, Fed’l and NYS tax credits $14,300, final cost to customer $16,700.

Solar thermal system for new construction home heating with ST system tied to existing hot water heating system:

  • Small ST system –total project cost $22,000, cost of regular heating system $20,000, cost to owner before tax credits $42,000 Fed’ and NYS tax credit $17,600, final cost to consumer $24,000, net cost of solar thermal component $4,400.
  • Large ST system – total project cost $31,000, cost of regular heating system $31,000, cost to owner before tax credits $61,000, Fed’l and NYS tax credits $23,300, final cost to customer $37,700, net cost of solar thermal component $7,700.  If a still larger new heating system is installed, the net cost of the solar thermal component could fall to zero.

Bottom line is – the tax credit fund balance we have been paying into for decades comes back to our homes and businesses, our schools and businesses and new local jobs and revenue are created.

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Reality Check

Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 (#287) – The United States economy has multiplied 8 times since the 1950’s and our President says we are steadily making progress out of the Great Recession. There is downward pressure on electricity costs due to the abundance of natural gas. Food  and water remain abundant. The stock market is higher than ever before. According to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, this is the script of a Ponzi economy.

A Ponzi economy can only last as long as new investment resources are sufficient to sustain the high rates of returns promised to previous investors. Those who run a Ponzi operation know it will eventually collapse but are willing to take the benefits of the tidal wave of personal benefits without regard to impacts on others.

The current economic policies that include the apparently positive attributes at the top of this column are a midway episode in a Ponzi economy that is both local and global.

It was also in the 1950’s that the US economy began to consume more new resources than the Earth produced and to spew more toxins into the atmosphere, land, water and air than earth could cleanse.  By 2009, consumption of Earth’s annual yield of natural assets was exceeded by 30%.  All known water aquifers are being over pumped and glacier melt portends water scarcity for billions of people in the near future. Three-quarters of fisheries are being over fished and some may never recover. Land-based animal production is already challenging the availability of possible new grasslands.  The actual cost of a gallon of gasoline is $12 without including all of the costs to human and environmental health. The actual cost of the price of natural gas and other fossil fuels is trillions of dollars more than the current bill we receive.

Paul Hawkens describes this as “stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic profit.”  He indicates that it is just as easy to develop an economy based on healing the future instead of stealing it.  Amory Lovins tell us that doing so is also less costly.

These are the realists.  The so-called free market is neither free of massive manipulation and domination by private commercial interests and government subordination to such interests.  The majority of economists remain in unsustainable patterns of thought; they issue false facts and figures.  The error is not marginal but stunning, huge and very destructive.

Here in Sullivan County we must engage far more comprehensively with this crisis of societal organization and governance.  We have the resources to do so effectively.  Many opportunities and programs are available to assist.

The Home Performance with Energy Star program provides a free residential energy audit and no out of pocket retrofit of homes for energy efficiency.  Partici-pation in this program actually saves the homeowner significant dollars from day one. A 7kw solar electric system, large enough to produce 90% or more of all the electricity for an energy efficient home, is available at final cost to owner of $9000. This price provides electricity for 25 years and reduces pollution impacts on personal and environmental health.

Compare that to the cost of the recent purchase frenzy of fossil fuel fired generators with their pollution and short life.  It’s perfectly clear which choice to make to build a Sullivan County sustainable economy worthy of its magnificent natural wealth.

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The Importance of Energy Literacy

Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 (#286) – Driving through the rural landscape since winter arrived and tree foliage loss allows a closer look at the terrain, I have been struck by the very substantial increase in new power line poles.  I do not know whether this is scheduled maintenance to make our local power grid more reliable or amounts to an expansion in power distribution.  I do know it is important for all of us to know the answer, one which could be easily provided via the already existing communication systems.

We engage in very intense local advocacy about sources, increasing costs and negative effects about energy,  but do not have a shared understanding of the basics of energy literacy. Knowing about local and regional energy production, distribution and consumption is one of the most essential aspects of citizen responsibility.

A very brief summary of current energy facts include the following:

1)   Current energy policies and use is the single most important subject for our personal and national security and prosperity. Locally, economic develop- ment focusing on energy dense casinos and hydro racking for natural gas are two of the worst possible threats to our health and economy.

2)   Current production and consumption choices are unsustainable at any price for we are burning up tens of millions of years’ of fossil fuels in mere decades’.  There are no technical fixes or substitutes.

3)   By releasing billions of tons of carbon we are creating atmospheric conditions that resemble the pre-historic period of 650,000,000 years ago.

The result is the extinction of many species that provide valuable resources, death and mass suffering within the human community and a threat to our survival as a specie within a few generations time.

4)   We have overpowered the ability of the earth’s natural systems to sustain its stability and evolution.  The result is weather chaos, climate change that overpowers our ability to protect and provide for our safety, way of life, and economic sufficiency in the decades ahead.

5)   Reduction of energy use and renewable energy production, after several decades of development still lag in citizen, commercial and governmental preference. Radically reducing energy use of every kind and rapid development of affordable clean renewable energy can provide within a few decades 90% or more of the power we need.  By itself it will still not prevent the growing damage caused by green house gases.

6)   Corporate and financial power to make key energy decisions for society and their expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars propagandizing their profit-driven goals creates the energy illiteracy and misinformation that prevails in our society.  This must be stopped.

These basic choices and acts of citizens, government and commerce are terrific crimes against society and nature. The justice system has to date decided it will prosecute companies but largely leave individuals free of prosecution. The “get mine” attitude that prevails defeats the reality that community must always come first if there is to be sufficient social coherence provided by equitable relations rather than the costly, ugly, undemocratic society seen locally and nationally.

An essential fact of our lives is that becoming literate about what energy is, current and alternative impacts on planetary and personal health, prosperity and safety is one of the top subjects for increased literacy.

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An Energy Economy That Fits Nature’s Economy

Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 (#285) – Super Storm Sandy flooded major parts of New York City with ocean water levels that were not predicted for several decades ahead.  Several blocks of residences burned to the ground.  Tens of thousands still live in one-room motels from week to week without any assurance of financial, food, work, mail assistance. The winds and rain were not that great.  Yet the devastation and the 1100-mile extent of the same storm system, was unprecedented.

To understand what is happening to us we need to understand the actual results of our energy economy.  Several descriptions are available.  The one the next several columns will focus on is: our energy economy is toxic to nature, people and good

government. I cannot think of a more devastating ghastly or truer statement.

Prevailing economic development, including local authorities, is based on the catastrophic assumption that we are Managers of the Natural world, which is limitless in its resources.  This results in the absurd insistence on growing the economy and doing so without confirming to the laws of nature’s economy.  By far, the greatest single error is the misunderstanding of the changing impacts of energy.

For the half of the human population that lives in industrial society, energy, even more than tens of trillions of dollars, is the most important issue of governance.

Industrial society persists in economic activity that assumes that the early commitment to fossil fuel energy rests on limitless natural supply and natural eco-system absorption of the toxic wastes of industrial production can continue until human ingenuity finds new solutions to its energy addiction.  The fact is that the fabulous fossil fuel ride has already crashed.  We may find more fossil fuel resources, adapt to higher prices, but the natural world upon which all life is totally dependent, is already 50 years into the poisoning of the biosphere where all life support systems exist, including, atmosphere, land, water, air. Every year, locally and globally, weather events, reacting to human energy production and consumption, remind us of the closing window for human commitment to an energy economy that satisfies the requirements the natural world and human society. Of course, this is too short and partly false.  Humanity is but one of the Earth’s living communities and is just another part of the natural world and subject to its laws.

All of this has immediate practical impact on local private, not-for-profit and government economic development planning. Thousands of families, businesses and municipalities in our area have recently invested several millions of dollars in gas, propane or electric generators. Thousands of new generators, burning fossil fuels to generate energy increase the toxicity of our air, cost tens of thousands of new dollars every day they are turned on.  Their life expectancy is around seven years, partly because of poor maintenance and the increasing incidence of poor quality fuel. Given the dramatic fall in solar electric prices, the same investment in solar electric panels would shift to clean, renewable energy with a decade or more of free energy.

Future columns will identify many more positive outcomes that are readily available.  We can build a new energy economy that is appropriately scaled to mirror the local natural energy economy and provide security and prosperity on a sustainable basis for everyone.

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January Thoughts

Friday, January 25, 2013 (#284) – Perhaps some January thoughts will help us see more clearly the marvelous opportunities ahead of us as we continue in this sixth year of the Great Recession.

Still young in its progress, this winter has already provided us with such beautiful landscapes both day and night.  Every human heart that is open to the healing and inspiring ministries of local natural glory draws tremendous life benefits from this elegant array.

The hope is that we will take these experiences as we turn to our daily lives to sharpen and deepen our understanding that the earth is not an infinite storehouse of resources for our use.  It is a living blue ball, hurling through space, that has perfected a delegate natural economy of life over billions of years that made it possible for us to arrive and prosper.  It is also a living space that is becoming toxic and destructive to life and natural balance

In little more than 200 years, the economic activity of the human species has be-gun this massive poisoning of planet earth.  Emerging from our success are unintended consequences so hideous and ghastly that our failures may overpower our astonishing accomplishments.  We are, in fact, engaged in an ever more rapid shortening of human history as a progressive development on planet earth.

Two powerful and everywhere available remedies are waiting for our adoption.

We must lessen our demand for energy to what is available by current or every day supply through natural systems and we must move with radical speed shift to non-carbon based fuels such as wind, solar and water power so that we are a beneficial fit into the web of earth’s creatures and the earth’s 15 mile biosphere where all life takes place. When we do this is entirely up to us.  It is less expensive than our prevailing energy economy and has much fewer unintended consequences.  So we shall save ourselves, our economy and our future.

It is true that every energy choice has its costs.  Large wind farms do change mountain ridges and other places of great value.  But they provide time for us to radically diminish our demand for energy and for the invention of new means of using the energy that is naturally available every day. We invented them, put them up and we can haul them down and convert them to other infrastructure that is more beneficial to life and earth’s requirements.  These renewable energy resources and consumption reduction systems are completely within our control.

The same in not true for hydro-fracking for natural gas.  From local and national political arrangements, local and national law itself, the increasing prevalence of corporate power over community benefit, to the direct destruction of air, water and soil health, hydro-fracking is a catastrophe of human making.

Becoming more energy efficient and moving rapidly towards 90% renewable energy sources is possible within a generation.  The jobs are far more numerous and they are better jobs. For the sake of our health and a sustainable future, let’s spend our local dollars locally on renewables and energy efficiency.

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Wind Power for Sullivan County

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 (#282) – The 2-year study of wind power in Sullivan County is nearly complete.  Here is a summary of the report which provides specific detail on 2 potential project sites, a county-owned and a privately owned wind site.

The county-owned site is the Health and Family Services Complex in Liberty. A single 2 megawatt wind turbine that can provide 4,580,000 watts of electricity is recommended.  It would provide all of the electrical needs of the site plus make more than a million watts of electricity available through new remote net metering opportunities to offset other county electrical costs such as the Government Center.

The wind install cost is $5,192,000 with a 12-year payback and savings of $1,600,000.

This site received a 100% funded 50 kw solar electric system that began producing clean power in August 2012 and will save $236,000 over the next 20 years.  Plans are being designed for creating a Community Energy District to include not only wind and solar, but also wood and grass fuel furnaces, as well as geo-thermal technology that harvests the heat in the lake by the Adult Care Center and air source pumps for cooling all of the buildings powered by the electricity from solar and wind power. An educational office that explains and demonstrates how this site is powered without use of fossil fuels at substantial savings to taxpayers and environmental benefits is also part of the plan for this site. The wind turbine and other aspects of the Community Energy District may be submitted for Mid Hudson Regional Economic Development Council funding.

The second site is a small wind farm of 4 megawatts on privately owned land. While the report only covers 4 megawatts of power – enough power to power 800-1000 homes, this could be a much larger wind project.  In contrast to the county-owned wind turbine where all power is consumed at the site of production, the small wind farm would sell all power to the regional grid.  Several ownership models are described including private-municipal partnerships.  The cost of the small wind farm is $11,000,000 with a 7-year payback and a savings of $5,540,000 over 20 years.

The purpose of this wind feasibility study, 100% funded by the USDA office of Rural Development and garnered and managed by the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development, was to investigate wind resources and provide a template for developing many wind projects in Sullivan County and areas around the nation that have similar attributes. Municipalities and private land owners and wind development companies have complete access to all of the information necessary for site selection and turbine selection, permitting requirements, project development, power production and project finance options.  This report will save tens of thousands of dollars and up to a year of planning time to any party interested in developing wind power.

In the course of developing these relatively large scale wind project designs, expertise was also gained on smaller wind systems. Copies of the Report will be available in February, 2013.  See this column for date and source.

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What’s In Our Front Yard

Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 (#281) – Energy is the blood and oxygen of the Sullivan economy.  The heart of Sullivan is our collective ability to implement policies and projects that sustain a robust economy and preserve public and environmental health.

Here is a report on how we are doing in the energy sector.  It should be remembered that wind and solar energy 1000 times greater than is needed to power everything we do is delivered free of charge every day. This was always so. Today, investing in the technology to harvest this fabulous and safe gift of the natural world represents one of the most cost effective and life sustaining opportunities human kind has ever seen.

Meanwhile, Sullivan County energy use contributes 1,647,860 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent pollution into the air, water and soil within our borders. Pollution figures are available for every sector of the local economy. For example, all numbers representing a ton of pollution, our local transportation and residential  sectors lead the way in polluting our lives, with 741,113 and 347,421 tons respectively.  These two sectors are followed by annual energy pollution in other local sectors such as solid waste: 167,428, industrial processes: 56,219, energy supply deliver: 29,047, agriculture: 20,274, wastewater treatment: 14,735, and commercial 1,406 tons.

The amount of pollution, sector by sector for all 15 towns and 6 villages is also known.  Such a list can be obtained from the County Office of Sustainable Energy, 807-0578.  Taken together it is a stunning picture of self-inflicted damage to our economy and health as well to weather extremity and climate change.

There is an alternative.  Super storm Sandy left the message that if we do not invest in an alternative energy system, more climatic chaos is coming.  Our personal and municipal budgets now require substantial sums, often unaffordable, just to bring conditions back to the previous state of our infrastructure and health, which is in rapid decline.

A lot is known about the energy efficiency and renewable energy alternative to the prevailing energy policy. We know our towns and villages have sufficient roofs and useable land area to install 34 megawatts of solar electric and that solar electric pays for itself in 7-10 years or less and thereafter continues generating essentially free energy.  It is clean, safe, provides lots of good paying jobs and is our future, sooner or later.  At 400 homes/megawatt, that is enough electricity to provide for almost 50% of our occupied county residences.  Install energy efficiency measures through the Home Energy Performance Program, previously called, Green Jobs, Green New York, which features no up-front and no out-of -pocket expense ever as well and we gain 30%  in reduced cost.  Add 3 or 4 local municipal solar power cooperatives or authorities using available open space or agricultural land.  Develop our tremendous bio-mass forestry, agricultural and food waste resources and the jobs, savings and revenue for private and public benefit increases dramatically. Move ahead with the recently completed county-wide wind study.

The point is, we know a lot about a different future for our lives. We also have an increasing eagerness in our communities to implement this better future. In the face of projected economic stagnation, deteriorating health conditions and tremendous damage from climate change, when and how will we take the opportunities in our front yard to live better lives?

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 Fairness and a Sustainable Economy

Friday, December 7,2012 (#280)– A sustainable economy is the only kind of economy we can aspire to because by definition an unsustainable economy is one that fails the majority contained within it.  An unsustainable community is one that lacks coherence, social order and civility, decency for its people and health for its environmental systems.

The United States is now in the 4th decade of a trend toward greater levels of non-sustainability, i.e., becoming a failed state.  One of the most effective means of changing direction is setting fairness at the center of national policy promulgated by our two effective governing systems – elected, official government and privately appointed corporate decision-makers.

A lack of fairness is rampant at the local as well as at the regional and national level.  A food service worker in our communities makes less in a week than a local attorney charges for one hour of service.  The food service worker and the local attorney – we can add a lot of other job titles here – both require all of the daily life supporting services of transportation, food, lodging, energy, clothing, insurance, health care.  These essential daily life support factors are not available or inadequate for the food worker.  Many producers of food make even less income than food workers.

We have heard directly from Presidential candidates as well as some of our neighbors that this is the way it should be.  People who are poor should make their lives better by making different decisions.  The economic sufficiency or surplus income and wealth held by others is proof that they are more socially and personally responsible.  Both deeply held ideas have more ideology than truth.

It is easy to see how clearly this is the case when it is recalled that we aspire to live in a democracy and claim its privileges and benefits. Equality is not a goal of democracy.  But fairness and a social contract among the entire populace – and now we know this contract has to be extended to the natural world –must be at the very center of our democracy and the principles, organization and operation of its economy.

There are certain essential goods and services that are essential to a fair chance for human decency and a democratic economy.  Fairness in sharing the results of economic activity is the number one rule for structuring and evaluating this distribution. The undeniable fact is that the local and national economy is far less fair than it was one or two generations ago. It is also clear that our culture is divided about whether this undemocratic and unfair state of affairs is acceptable. Com- pounding this sordid state of society, the costs of the basics of life have increased substantially.

Waiting is the wings for the will of the people to claim its many benefits are energy efficiency and renewable energy generation – the best economic oppor- tunities for fairness in all things necessary for a vibrant and just economy and good health to people and the natural environment.  In the near future, we will build community controlled utilities offering substantially lower costs of living  as homes, businesses, manufacturing and transportation become far more efficient.  Such a commitment will generate thousands of jobs that are sustained at living wages and eventually lessen the immense cost of weather chaos.  Let’s get started.

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Challenges and Options

Friday, Nov. 22, 2012 (#279) – Great weather storms like Irene and Sandy are telling us that the natural world which governs and operates all life support systems is no longer able to maintain the predictable and stable parameters we have become accustomed to for organizing our lives.  It is clear the human community has achieved great influence in the natural state of life. But, the partnership remains extremely unequal. The human economy must simply restructure itself to fit the requirements of planet capacity to support us.

We have a lot to build on.  Every day enough solar and wind energy are delivered at no cost to power our needs for 3 years.  Human ingenuity can surely find a way to harness the one in a thousand units of this fabulous daily energy resource to give us all the green house gas free energy we need without disturbing Earth’s necessary work to sustain the human experience. Research and project development to sequester green house gases in rock formations below and even above ground are underway. Solutions to storing wind and solar energy in alcohol are possible. We already have the marvelous opportunity for everyone to have a free energy audit and retrofit their home with clean, affordable renewable energy and energy efficient insulation and appliances at no out of pocket expense. But, we must summon the will to apply for such programs and invest in these technologies.

The utility companies are busy around the clock restoring power through repairing the conventional transmission and distribution electric lines.  A better solution, available to people in many countries is to bury the power lines.  It would dramatically improve the beauty of every corner and mile of our area, radically reduce the 30% loss of electric power lost in transmission from remote power generating plants, and cut the costs of power loss. At stake are millions of dollars saved, lives and livelihood protected, quality of life enhanced and promotion of the area as the smart and best place to live and visit.  But, burying the power cables costs about $1,300,000 per mile in our area and the utility companies have not been willing to maintain adequate investment in the outdated, dysfunctional power grid.

The pattern is clear.  We have solutions to the historic challenges facing up. But, we do not support or require policies and investments to serve the needs of our communities and the natural world.

Lack of money is always the reason for our failure to change direction. Hidden in this argument is the obvious fact that we continue to pay ever greater sums of our income for conventional energy resources which are causing  great threats to human and environmental health.  Within months, we can expect a utility suit before the Public Service Commission, requesting a very significant increase in the cost of electricity.  Liquid fossil fuel costs will track upwardly as well.

On the other hand, a recent survey of land owned by the county, our towns and villages of Sullivan County could host enough solar electric panels to provide our energy needs.  Forest and grass biomass could be added, allowing us to export energy to our neighbors.

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Time’s Up, Change Course

Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 (#278) – With some people still without electric power from the largest storm to hit the Northeast, we have some idea of its cost. The bill for repairs is estimated to be $33,000,000,000 for New York State.  The loss in revenue is more than twice that figure.  This storm was 1000 miles wide and another 1000 miles long.  It killed more than 100 people and ruined the lives of 100,000s.  Experts predict we shall have more storms like this on a more frequent basis and they will be more extreme.

However, there is much that we can do to limit the damage, loss of life and livelihood from weather chaos.  It appears that our local leadership is clear that the utility companies need to answer a lot of questions about their business model, maintenance of infrastructure and response in times of natural disasters.

Steps for local utility companies include:

1)   Bury the electric lines. There are many profitable systems that do so.

2)   Phase in renewable energy systems organized on clustered high demand centers so that the grid is not so brittle and the delivery charge (which is greater than the actual cost of the power) can be significantly lowered or eliminated ( and lower the demand charge as well).

3)   Create a SREC – solar renewable energy credit system, or FIT – feed in tariff, that gives market driven incentives to local producers of renewable energy.

4)   Substantially tighten up utility programs for energy efficiency.

Utilities have special responsibilities.  They also receive special benefits that other private corporations do not.  There is a substantial asymmetry between their benefits and their performance of responsibilities.

There is also a large role for local municipalities in filling the huge gap in providing affordable, reliable energy and limiting the loss from the weather chaos that is now a regular cost item in municipal, commercial and residential budgets.

One way to become aware of the opportunities for making major shifts in our energy and climate planning is to attend the next meeting of the Mid-Hudson Regional Sustainability Plan public informational session which will take place Thursday, November 29th at 6:30pm at the Westchester County Center. Doors open at 6 pm.

This meeting will introduce the draft of the regional sustainability plan that proposes to empower the creation of more sustainable communities by funding smart development practices related to land use, infrastructure, energy, transportation and environmental practices.  It will also identify and discuss project ideas that will significantly improve the economic and environmental health of our region.

Several Sullivan County individuals have contributed to this plan and to project design.  The Community Net Zero Energy District project for the Health Care Complex in Liberty is just one of several that is being submitted for integration into a regional application for funding.  Local municipal solar power authorities is another project under design. To review the Plan, obtain ideas for your town and business, and give your comment on the dozens of projects listed, visit the fully interactive public outreach website, www.EngageMidHudson.com. The first funding round will begin in March, 2013.

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Local Solutions Need Priority Now

Friday, Nov. 2, 2012 (#276) – Sullivan County has been in an economic recession for more than a generation of its people. The beauty and health of our natural environment has always made life more than tolerable.  The local impact of Hurricane Sandy is this week’s lesson that we may be losing this absolutely fundamental support for our lives. The weather chaos that has been hitting our local economy and natural environment very hard  for several years seems to be ramping up.  What will this winter bring us?

What can we do about a 1000 mile wide, $100,000,000,000 storm?  The answer is – we can do a lot.  We have ideas, plans, and projects.  But, will we support them and make the responsible, essential commitments to redesign our priorities and ways of conducting our public and private economic activity that provide local solutions and begin the long-term investment in economic behavior that diminishes the threat of global weather chaos?

Perhaps we can see more clearly as we remain in the grips of this hurricane that our economy is like a living creature where the energy system that is its oxygen and blood and social policy which is its brain are overwhelmed by the results of their failure to respond to nature’s laws.  Perhaps we can turn toward new directions, new commitments that build prevention, protection and a path to a sustained, safe, and prosperous local economy.  Now is the time to make such a commitment but there is very little evidence of support.  We need to change this condition.

Here are some locally available projects:

A Community Net Zero Energy District project for the Health Care and Social Services Complex in Liberty.  The idea is simple.  All energy consumed will be produced on-site by publicly owned utilities.  There will be no power lines to be brought down by wind or trees, no delivery charges with their fabulous demand charge spikes, 80% or more reduction in fossil fuel consumption and atmospheric contamination.  Costs of operation will diminish dramatically rather than constantly increase.  Buildings scheduled for replacement or sale will have another 50 year life and give the benefits of a more comfortable and healthy in-door climate to those who work and visit there for service.  Energy reliability will increase. Experience from this pilot project will be applied progressively, beginning with the first year, to similar projects for the County Government Building complex, downtown commercial and industrial building clusters, schools, etc.

Inventories of county solar, wind and biomass energy are being conducted and sites identified for construction of renewable energy generation. Such planning can provide the great majority of all local energy needs, on a more safe, affordable basis. It will support our educational institutions and create a high rate of new jobs in light manufacturing, engineering, installing, maintenance.  Equally important, these current plans can be financed locally through energy cooperatives and municipal-owned power authorities that help build the new culture of sustainability and community solidarity.

Now is the right time to support such projects. Otherwise, there is just greater cost and loss ahead. The question is: will we sustain our commitment and give adequate support to continue their development?

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Bioenergy: Another Path to Sustainability and Prosperity

Friday, Oct. 5, 2012 (#274)  – If our local economy is to shake off the 40 years of recessionary economic conditions that have eroded the quality of life for tens of thousands of our neighbors, we need to set policy that gives highest priority to public and private investment in local renewable resources that gives us greater savings, better results, and increased revenue. A recent local symposium on bio-mass energy opened another major opportunity for Sullivan County to capture these benefits.

Our area has some of the highest energy costs in the nation and our higher dependence on fossil fuels for heating locks us into fuel sources that are the most polluting and the fastest rising in price.  Propane and oil heating expenses in Sullivan County are $66,000,000 and $52,000,000 of those dollars of ours are exported from New York State.  We can keep 80% of that heating cost in county and do it in a way that keeps energy prices from going up.

We can lower the cost of heating, generate new jobs and revenue for local businesses while gaining substantial benefits to personal and environmental health.

For example, oil costs per million btu is $27.54. The equivalent cost for wood pellets is $18.93, wood chips $7.75 and grass bales $6.52.  There is some loss in energy density in these natural, renewable, local products, but the overall local savings and revenue generation are in the tens of millions.

Bio-mass products are abundant in Sullivan County.  There has always been a tradition of using wood for heating.  New innovations such as wood and grass pellets, more efficient residential stoves and commercial boilers, have added a convenience factor that favors rapid expansion of bio-mass product. The weight and the high volume of these products also mean local manufacturing as well as con- sumption is essential for profitability. New local zoning and priority promotion by our economic development agencies can incentivize such facilities and local job creation.

Bio-mass agriculture and forest underutilized resources are a very efficient source of heat for our churches and synagogues, schools, government, commercial buildings.  A energy district is currently under design to integrate bio-mass with solar electric, solar thermal and wind from which we will save several hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and learn a lot about how to customize locally produced energy resources that are far more affordable, cleaner, renewable, produce jobs and keep dollars here.

We can unite our communities by using local, renewable bio-mass natural resources rather than natural gas. Municipal and private local energy cooperatives can qualify for seed money to kick start the planning process while public education and much more effective engagement with private sector local financial institutions and householder investment in these new energy producers garners all the investment needed.

Bio-mass energy is definitely a major new path to helping our households and businesses by creating savings at the same time as revenue increases.  The three bottom lines – local economic, environmental and social equity – are at the center of this opportunity that is waiting for local private and public leadership.

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Food Opportunities

Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 (#273) – For the past two weeks I have been making the case for accelerated investment in local vegetable and fruit production.  The potential for economic development from this activity is very high. Eating healthy, local food will save millions of dollars in lower medical bills and lost days at work as our neighbors experience a reduction in illness and obesity, more local food producers find greater demand for their product and our beautiful region expands its attractiveness to tourists and families who wish to live among us. As more of our food dollars stay local, many new jobs will be created.

These benefits are far from trivial.  Much of the food we eat lacks adequate nutritional value. It may satisfy the taste and give a sense of satisfaction while at the same time actually damaging our health every day. A recent study placed Sullivan County 61 out of 62 NYS counties in terms of negative health wellness. We can substantially move toward vibrant health for ourselves and our economy by  producing wonderful food for our region as well as export it to our profit instead of exporting millions of dollars and many jobs.

A food production plan and civic group leadership is needed to implement such a plan on a scale that matches local resources and market opportunities.

The opportunities are huge and just waiting for response.  A list of opportunities includes:  1) evident interest of local restaurants, resorts, schools in purchasing locally produced food; 2) success of farmers markets; 3) availability of food brokers; 4) new momentum of support from economic development agencies; 5) growing expertise in what to grow and how to grow it at the scale that achieves economic viability; 6)  warmer weather and new, affordable techniques and materials that  extend the growing season by several weeks; 7) the availability of land and buildings with low-cost lease agreements that can put food growers into production and others into processing of value added food products; 8) the synergy between tourism, renewable energy and agriculture that is beginning to appear – all based on the natural resources of this region that are unmatched by any other place.

Other reasons to give highest priority to local agricultural development include: 1) every day, there are 291,000 more people sitting at the table than the day before which develops pressure on food supply and prices; 2) weather chaos that ruins billions of dollars of food every year; 3) the control of our national food system by a very few, largely unregulated corporations; 4) the inefficiency of our food system that results in 40% of our food never being consumed as detailed in last week’s column; 5) the growing number of people in our own country slipping into poverty and experiencing hunger and lack of nutrition to meet their physical and mental development requirements.

We will soon finish the fifth year of the Great Recession.  For our region, it can continue for another decade.  Let’s take on the responsibility of feeding ourselves well and creating jobs for our neighbors.  It will take a very different level of effort than I have heard about.  It’s a great opportunity.

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Local Food is Better

Friday, September 21, 2012 (#272) — As the cooler and shorter days remind us that the sumptuous tomatoes and other vegetables and fruits from our gardens and local farms are about to disappear for another year, we should think about how this marvelous eating can be extended and even turned into a major engine for economic development and good jobs.

We have a lot going for us in going this route. The local grocery stores, big and small, are willing to give local product space. Local B and B’s, resorts, schools and restaurants will purchase locally produced fruits and vegetables.  A growing list of successful farmers markets are doing well. Several notable food events are strongly supported.  Thousands of our neighbors could benefit from a healthier diet supplied by local food producers. Many new jobs could be created just from expanding local consumption of locally grown vegetables and fruits.

Local food brokers and distributors are available to market and move a large volume of vegetable and fruit product to more metropolitan areas where the demand is greater than the supply.  The price of food has increased faster than many other essential products in the past few years which provides an opportunity for local food producers to get the price they need.

Discussion has begun to develop vegetable and fruit production curricula for our high school and college students.  A growing number of local public interest organi-zations are developing expanded programs to support more local food production.

More focus is being given to vegetable and fruit production where we are currently less well developed than for meat production.  These are positive corrections of mistaken policies that have been continued for decades.  Production of both by new and existing farmers as well as collaborative local marketing is on the increase.

Vegetable and fruit production can be less capital intensive than meat production and require less land and equipment.  Landowners are willing to lease sufficient acreage for new start-ups at very low cost.

Grants are available. The SARE grant, see nesare,org., has a very simple applica- tion process and provides an award of up to $15,000 that will pay you for your time,  expert advice and other variable costs.  It will not cover fixed costs – for equipment or buildings.  The application deadline is October 27 which is doable and help is available.  The VAPG – Value Added Production Grant is a much larger program – offering up to $100,000 in planning grants and $300,000 in working capital, has an October 15 deadline which is probably too soon to act on this season.  For those who are ready, give it a try.  The applications is daunting, however, so you may decide to get ready for this program next year or apply for the $50,000 or less grant which allows use of a simplified form. Cornell Cooperative Extension and County Planning can help.  $60,000 or more is available from the County Planning Department, with a October 12 deadline, for creamery equipment.

Finally, extending the season of our vegetable and fruit production is now more profitable than before with the advent of affordable environmental control shelter combined with natural and renewable energy resources.  Let’s get organized and focused.

Bon appetite and many new good jobs.

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Food and Waste

Friday, Sept. 7, 2012 (#271) — As the autumn approaches and local gardeners are processing a wide variety of the best and most delicious food they will eat all year, a report from the Natural Resource Defense Council reminds us of our profound responsibility for using food and its associated resources in a sustainable way. This report traces the inter- connection between food and all of the other sectors of our society and gives us a failing grade in managing our food system.

We waste a stunning 40% of all food.  The economic value of this food waste is $165 billion. That’s 20 pounds of food per month per person and ten times the rate of wasting food compared with the 1970s! A family of four wastes $2000 of food every year. At the same time, one in six of us, mainly children and the elderly, go hungry.

Food production consumes 50% of our land resources, 80% of our fresh water and 10% of our national energy.  Food waste rotting in landfills produces 25% of the methane emissions which are causing the global warming that threatens human existence in two generations time and in the meantime, the weather chaos  that causes hundreds of billions in economic loss. Food waste squanders fresh water, nutrients and other scarce and valuable natural resources.

Like so many other areas of national failure to operate in a sustainable manner, there are many local solutions.  Sullivan County can be the food shed for NYC  as well as its water shed.

A short list of local solutions available to us include:

1)   Support local food growers and fabricators
2)   Buy from local farmers markets
3)   Invest every year in a CSA (community supported agricultural) share of food
4)   Start or expand a personal garden
5)   Instigate and work at a community garden or a school garden
6)   Purchase all of your meat from a local farm
7)   Apply for one of the Sullivan County grants for an agricultural project administered by the Division of Planning or the Industrial Development Authority
8)   Participate in Cornell Cooperative Extension training programs that teach
how to raise your own meat and/or become a Master Gardener
9)   Learn water conservation, plant propagation and composting techniques
10) Extend vegetable and fruit production through use of high tunnels to a 3 or even 4 season basis
11) Integrate energy conservation and renewable energy generation into food production
12) Make some of your land available to new farmers
13) Attend the Sullivan Agricultural Advisory Board Meetings
14) Purchase food that is in season locally
15) Select food that has no wrapping or packaging
16) Use a root cellar or other device to store food for months at a time without using energy
17) Establish a close relationship with food pantries
18) Join the local Farm to School Program
19) Insist on local, fresh, nutritious food
20) Avoid the industrial, chemical, sugar, salt, preservative product called food that comes from the mind of a food engineer and huge corporation.

Enjoy the humor, health and savings that come from locally produced food.  It will build a sustainable future, a more united community and yield a much higher quality of life.

Getting Wind Energy Ready for Sullivan County

Friday, July 27, 2012 (#270) –Recent blackouts of electricity in several of our towns reminds us how fragile our connection to this marvelous source of energy really is.  Included in this experience should be the growing realization there is enormous expense as well as loss of property and health support systems when the power goes out.

The electrical grid is a fabulous achievement but it is creaky, inefficient and wasteful.  Utility investment has not kept up with the demand for maintenance and replacement. Weather extremes continue to add to the challenge of reliable and affordable energy and by direct extension, increase the vulnerability of personal safety and community security.

One response has been individual, corporate and municipal investment in back-up generators using gas or diesel fuel.  The local purchase and installation cost of these generators is several million dollars.  Designed as a back-up system, they are seldom turned on and when operating, they spew pollution into the air and burn an increasingly expensive and scarce fuel.  They do nothing for the great majority in their homes who cannot afford to purchase a generator.

Our inefficient, vulnerable, expensive, polluting power grid needs help. Our local economy and our personal lives do so as well. Help may be coming soon.

A grant from the US Department of Agriculture has been funding a feasibility study on community owned wind generation in Sullivan.  Its managers, a locally-based, not for profit organization, has now identified two sites for the conduct of a very thorough investigation and design of wind turbine installations.

It needs to be emphasized that this is not a project that in itself includes erection of wind turbines.  It is a study of where is the wind resource, community support, topographical and connection to the existing grid conditions, that make wind power economics work.

More than 80 sites have been investigated and dozens of land owners and public officials consulted.  Over the next 4 months, the feasibility study will complete design and funding models for the two sites selected.  The model for the first site, located in Parksville, will consist of 2 turbines, each rated at 2 mw,(2 million watts) and will be connected to the existing power grid.  This model gives local developers and energy customers experience that is needed to develop much larger local wind power projects. The second site, located in Liberty, will consist of a single 2mw turbine that will be connected to an on-site facility which will consume all of the generated electricity.

Wind power is notorious for taking many years and several millions of dollars in just the start up phase.  The goal of this community owned wind feasibility study is to greatly reduce the time and start up costs as well as open up the process for citizen and municipal government participation in design, governance and ownership. The final product is a template that outlines how to develop a profitable, affordable wind farm or other large and medium sized wind system in our communities.

The many land owners and others who have been approached but who sites were not chosen for this very focused final investigation, will be provided opportunity to learn more about how this wind power feasibility study can be directly applied to their property.

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Solving Our Problems Locally

Friday, July 20, 2012 (#269) – It’s now commonplace to acknowledge that our lives are challenged by economic, environmental, economic and political crises.  It’s clear that our representatives to Washington D.C. are engaged in a public auction rather than a fair and honest electoral and policy-formation process.  Addiction to military actions tied to securing other people’s oil for our self-destructive fossil fuel binge is just one of many examples of the grotesque character of the national failure.  Brown lawns and persistent 90 degree plus temperatures, a looming 2013 major uptick in home mortgage foreclosures and lack of employment opportunities in our communities, are but a few of the many local challenges we face.

The world has changed radically in just a few decades and with it, life chances.  There is growing consensus that the next generation with live shorter lives and at lower incomes.  This reversal of one of the most profound links between the generations is further evidence that we must engage in a more rapid and comprehensive review of how we organize our collective and personal lives.

At the top of the list for change is our basic assumptions and current structure for food and energy production. We must learn to produce the great majority of the food and energy we consume.  If we decide to do so, we will bring prosperity to our communities, businesses, families and local government.

With the failure of corporate and national economic policy and the pressures of global competition in which we are persistently losing ground, rearranging our local relations with each other will provide the most effective way to work for a sustainable, secure and fair future. Fortunately, local efforts by many individuals and organizations are focused on creating new approaches and partnerships.

The Sullivan County Government is in the process of establishing an Agriculture Advisory Board and a Climate Action Plan Advisory Board to address these challenges.  Staff priorities are being changed to give support to these new initiatives to broaden public participation in formation of economic development projects.  The focus of these citizen-led Advisory Boards will not be looking only at solutions that make problems go away but new responses that measure and build our capacity, build new relationships and commitments to change resource allocation,  and more sustainable conditions of life.

If the NYS government will not require power and fuel companies to purchase   clean, renewable energy from locally available bio-mass, wind and solar energy, we can organize energy cooperatives and utilities while continuing to push for the policy change that will guarantee their success. New York City and other nearby markets have a huge unmet market for food products we can grow.  Valued-added food processing is also a major opportunity for existing and new businesses. We can quickly treble our local consumption of locally grown food with the right incentives.

There is major funding for just such public-private ventures through the statewide Combined Funding Application process. The Sullivan County Office of Planning, Office of Sustainable Energy, IDA, SC Funding Corporation, Partnership for Economic Development, and Chamber of Commerce have more information.

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Away Has Gone Away

Friday, July 13, 2012 — I suppose readers of this column have heard about huge pieces of ships and buildings from the Japanese tsusami that are now piling up on Oregon beaches, about high levels of mercury in blood samples that were expelled into the air on the  coastline of Canada and have produced a series of fatal cancers in one particular area of Japan, and the report that it is only now, several decades after Chernobyl, that milk from goats roaming mountain ranges in some parts of Scandinavia, is safe to drink.

Less known is that more oil and gas, the number one pollutant cause of our ecological and economic crisis, has been consumed in the past 30 years than in all other human history.  More than 50 years ago, Earth began its current trajectory towards a planet that lost ground every year in its ability to convert human waste into life supporting natural resources. The current estimate of the annual monetary value of natural resources services is 3 to 10 times the entire economic value of all human economic activity.  Of course, for most of our lives, no economic value at all was given to these services. We added the cost to our Gross National Income of every oil spill and other fossil fuel disaster.

The plain truth is that there is no away.  What others do deeply influences our lives and similarly, what we do, deeply influences the lives of others.  Responsibility for sustainable living is the first order of every day for every nation, village, business and individual.

Time is short.  Change is stunningly fast and vast.  China is now the largest economy as well as the most populous and continues to grow at a much faster pace than the US.  The Euro Zone is the second largest economy and several of its countries have a human welfare index far above that of the US.  Our national corporate and political leadership may include thousands of brilliant individuals, but their collective incompetence to afford us a standard of life that works for all and the environment, is now a major factor in the decline of  US success in inter- national politics and trade as well as the increasing failure domestically.

China leads the world in the production of every type of renewable energy technology – every one of which technologies was first developed in the US.

Germany produces more than 50% of its entire national weekend electricity consumption from renewable energy in one of the most cloudy climates on the planet.  Brazil and Indonesia are developing tremendous economic capacity. In every case, their governance is less gridlocked than ours and less beholden to corporate financial control that remains tied to the fossil fuel economic development models, and so they can adjust.

A more positive future is available for us by working together at the local level where we can define our goals and highest values as well as how we shall rearrange our relationships and resources to achieve better communities and lives.

We cannot get a way from our responsibility and our opportunity is right here, right now.

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Straight Talk

Friday, July 6, 2012 (#267) – It is really hot. Local corn is already beginning to wither and it is only the first week of July.  Food prices will spike in the fall and farm income will fall even lower than the current below cost of production level. Our area is close to an energy brown or black out which would cost billions just to our region.

We made the planet too hot and now we must cool it off.  We do not have much time to achieve this goal.  Perhaps we will simply because it is a matter of life and death.

We know that we can absolutely achieve this goal through energy efficiency and renewable energy generation.  90 square miles of wind power can energize the nation with current technology.  Solar electric on a larger plot can do the same and we can solve the problem of their energy intermediacy.  These are not the final solutions to our energy challenge but manageable bridge technologies as we rethink how we live on this planet of finite resources and needs of balance of its own.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.0rg reminds us that some straight talk is required.  Current reserves claimed by major energy companies would generate 5 times the CO2 needed to spin the planet into chaos.  ExxonMobil spends $100 million every day looking for more gas and oil – gas and oil that scientists say simply cannot be burned.  It receives billions in public subsidy to do so.  It spends just over $4 million a year on renewable energy research.

The conclusion is a choice between a highly profitable balance sheet for the richest industry on the planet or a healthy planet that supports human habitation.

Why send the kids to expensive college programs that might allow them to have a better future if the future may not exist?

How do we negotiate this looming catastrophe when our national policy is dominated by money, which is largely in the hands of an ever smaller number of individuals and corporations?

The answer is: We create our own energy sources.  We fund them, we manage them, we work for and with them.

Each town begins the discussion on how to provide short and long term solutions.

Energy efficiency and using less energy are first-order priorities.  It will take a commitment on the part of all of our institutions to achieve the level of education and commitment required to make the necessary adjustments in the way we live and organize society.

Each town considers establishing new institutions and new relationships.

Local power authorities with financing from local and regional banks and new government bonding authorities are necessary.

Self-governance which all sides of our political spectrum hold sacred will flourish and economics will empower democracy rather than cripple it.  Public subsidy, which is the real backbone of capitalism, now becomes the servant of the people and the environment.

Let’s begin this serious conversation.

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Summer Sizzle

Friday, June 29, 2012 (#266) — Local solar electric and wind turbines are spinning the meters backward like never before in these first weeks of summer.  Summer is usually the slow season for wind power but with wind speeds changed by variations in heat, and weather patterns more volatile than seen in decades, many are taking another look at the potential for wind turbines. Longer hours of sunlight and cool breezes to sweep away the heat collected at the site of solar electric installations, is producing more than 10% more electricity than in 2011.

Since electricity, not natural gas, is the fuel for the industrial world for the next generation, homeowners, businesses and government should be rapidly developing local capacity to capture the tremendous savings.

Maybe we all need to remember savings. Today’s commercial culture practices fantastic fraud and disdain for savings.  But the daily reality of over half of our citizens is punctuated by myriad experiences that the cost of living is beyond our ability to pay.  Although public surveys indicate there is less concern for the costs to planet earth and to human health by our energy  choices, science and more mature economic analysis indicate that weather related costs are becoming a significant part of every budget and toxic pollutants continue to increase their assault on the health of all forms of life.

We can save ourselves, our businesses and our public services from this relentless destruction and gain very significant economic benefit at the same time.

For example, let’s say we have 50,000 electric accounts in Sullivan County with an average electric consumption of 10,000kwh/year at $.10/kwh.  (The total is larger but the actual amount is not available but coming soon). In this example, 500,000,000 kwh at $.10 or $50,000,000 is our cost. Over the next  25 years, which is the guaranteed life of high efficiency for solar electric panels, the average cost is projected at a minimum of $.20/kwh. Many think the actual cost will be $.25, $.30 or more. We should all be aware that the most recent brown out cost just one section of the United States more than $8 billion – as a kwh of electricity cost several dollars rather than a few cents and that the entire US electric grid loses far more power in transmission than it delivers, is vulnerable to cyber attack and along with our water systems, is the most neglected sector of our life support infrastructure. Those who know it best describe it as rickety.

Back to our calculations on the small example above.  If we decide to form community owned or not for profit energy companies, through lease agreements with power developers at almost no cost to ourselves, we may save $.04/kwh right away and over 25 years, $.10/year/kwh.  At a savings of $.04/kwh, the savings is $2,000,000 in the first years.  Over 25 years, the savings amounts to $50,000,000.  The more likely savings would be several times greater. If we decide to locally finance our electric companies, add another multiplier as we economize by keeping jobs local and gain the efficiencies of  local control and management.

While educating yourself and others about these immediate opportunities, be certain to apply for a free home energy audit and no up front cost energy efficiency retrofit.

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Learning from Our Past

Friday, June 22, 2012 (#264) — Over the weekend I was in a small town where I grew up that was once the wind mill capital of the world. Eight wind mill companies once turned out thousands of water pumping and electricity generating wind mills that were shipped all over the world. They made farming the west possible, along with barbed wire, which was invented and first produced a few towns away.  Many of the wind mills manufactured in the 1800’s and early 1900’s are still working.

Wind mills changed the history of the United States and were made possible in my home town because we had the water power of the Fox River to energize local manufacturing and everyone understood their responsibility for providing local solutions. The several block array of buildings still stand giving testimony to the skill of the local labor force in bringing the lime stone from the many quarries at the edge of town and erecting massive buildings that would last centuries.

The temperature over the weekend was 90 degrees or more each day. The lawns are more brown than green.  Water is rationed for gardens, washing cars, etc.  Water is served at restaurants only upon request.  Air conditioners and fans are running continuously and at night, tens of thousands of lights break the beauty of night shade.

Returning to Sullivan County, I drove by a digital temperature sign that showed 98 degrees at 5:30 pm.  Until recently, such temperatures were not seen at all or at least not until late July or August.  It isn’t June weather and it isn’t good for the corn crop which has become so important for so many parts of our economy.  It isn’t good for our health, wallets or energy use.  New regional environmental biological explosions are occurring which will radically transform many patterns in our lives.

The newspapers report about economic development focusing on casinos and hydro-fracking of our land by pumping toxic chemicals into the ground to bring up natural gas and all of its destructive impacts on air, land, water and all manner of life and community.  Our area is also targeted for the pumping of billions of cubic yards of CO2 into the earth  for sequestration.

What old, obsolete and absurd these modern, technically brilliant projects are in a period of history rendered so vulnerable to massive natural and human-made cataclysm.  We need to commit to a very different economic agenda.

Solar electric municipal power authorities for each town is a good place to begin. Germany just produced more than 50% of the nation’s weekend electric energy in a climate with far less sunshine than the United States.  Partnerships with major corporations can make local municipal power companies affordable, profitable, rich in local jobs and local control. Serious discussion of such joint-ventures should be occurring in every village and town board meetings. As people did 100 or more years ago, let’s use the resources we have – renewable energy – to make a better future.

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Bottom Up Pollution Reduction and Dollar Savings

Friday, June 8, 2012 (#263) – It’s time to remind every one that many decisions every day add up when the goal is to reduce pollution and forestall some of the worst environmental disasters that seem to get larger and more frequent each year. Here’s an easy plan to reduce personal contribution to the Co2 emissions that cause so much of the extreme weather and spread of illness in our communities.

Each of us on average is responsible for putting 21 tons – 4,200,000 pounds – of CO2 into our atmosphere every year.  This is more than the emissions caused by driving entirely around the earth at the equator every year. Multiply by the people in your home and the number really gets huge.

We have choices and alternatives.  Each of us emits more than four times the global per capita average and twice as much as most Europeans who have the same standard of living as we do.

A good place to start reducing pollution is with our transportation.  By traveling 12,000 miles per year at 20 miles per gallon, we are responsible for emitting 6 tons of Co2.  Many of us travel 2 or 3 times further annually.  Transitioning to a more fuel efficient car can reduce emissions 4 tons or more for the same amount of driving and nearly pay for itself in gas savings.  My 2002 Honda Civic Hybrid has 240,000 miles on it, averages 42+miles per gallon and shows no signs of becoming less fuel efficient.

Reducing energy use the home also provides opportunity for large reduction of pollution and savings of money.  Adding a few rolls of insulation in the attic of every home would save $1.8 billion, reduce pollution by 12 million tons of Co2 pollution. Participating in the locally available home energy audit and home retrofit energy efficiency program which guarantees no up front cost and no out of pocket expense

for the new furnace, air source heat pump, solar thermal, insulation, new doors and windows, etc. would reduce pollution and increase dollars saved by five times more.

Using LED lights, (don’t believe the caution that their higher cost makes them uneconomic) can save $150 a year or more and recoup the purchase price in two years while enjoying efficient lighting for decades without replacement.

Turn the laser printer off when not in use and save $130.  Wash the clothes in cold water and produce only 20% of the atmospheric pollution of hot water clothes washing.

There are many more steps that are easily taken that add up to 20 – 50% or more savings of pollution. For more information, check out www.ucsusa.org.  This website offers a menu of carbon energy saving programs to fit every appetite for reducing pollution, enjoying better health and saving several hundred dollars a year.

Send us information about what your results are and join the Climate Action Plan that is forming in your town by contacting SASD, P.O. Box 334, Callicoon Center, NY 12724.

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Public Power Authorities

Friday, June 1, 2012 (#262) – County and town political leadership reminds us over and over that state and federal government regulations and mandates make good policy and new economic development almost impossible.  Even current obligations cannot be met.  From the majority of the citizenry comes the report that living from pay check to pay check or even worse when the cost of living constantly increases, is demolishing the quality of life for a very large new segment of our total numbers.

Local development of new partnerships is a very promising direction.  For example, the time has come for formation of publicly owned power authorities in our towns and villages.  We can start with solar electric power generation, funded by local financial institutions and local customer volunteer subscription, with a plan to control the distribution system as well. Transformative benefits include: 1) lower energy cost; 2) clean, renewable electricity as the main source of energy for all purposes, including transportation; 3) many more local jobs; 4) retention of local dollars; 5) more responsive maintenance and other system and customer service benefits; 6) expansion of the democratic process of dialoque and control; 7) a larger tax base for spreading the cost of government, education and other vital public purpose. A mapping of solar site inventory is underway.

The next step should be installation of wind power where ever the economics work. A report and project implementation template will be available this year.

A  third step should be creation of a bio-mass energy sector.  Our region has million of tons of bio-energy product that to date has found no useful purpose.  We ship it out at considerable cost or simply ignore it which generates very substantial methane emissions.  Hundreds of jobs, increased revenues to farmers and owners of forests, cheaper and cleaner fuel for our schools, other public buildings and large commercial structures, new business for manufacturing and retrofitting our HVAC requirements are produced by such policies and investments.

All of these and other new local public-private partnership enterprises can be bundled together in the local public power authorities. The economic accelerator and efficiencies are worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  Cheaper, cleaner energy and the profile of smart economic development leadership will attract business and existing business expansion.  This growth in business will be guided by a new set of values and policy criteria that spreads benefits more equitably and safeguards the health of our neighbors and our magnificent eco-system. Many more of our young adults will be able to make a living here and wages and benefits will rise throughout the local economy.

The physical world has changed dramatically but our practices have not.  Every one talks about the weather but very few do anything about it.  New public-private investment in local power authorities generating clean, renewable electricity from solar, wind and bio-mass local resources is a very doable first step in stemming the decline in our living conditions and providing for a positive future   It is also very profitable and protects personal and environmental health.

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Taking Stock

Friday, May 18, 2012 (#261) – I receive hand-delivered, e-mail, regular postal mail articles and frequent comment that most of the energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies are proving to be uneconomic and even the cause of national failure. I read them carefully and respond to the sender as best I can.

Here is a reminder to everyone of where the United States as a society is today by Gus Speth, former Dean of the School of Forestry at Yale University and now professor of Law at the University of Vermont.  In his brilliant, haunting and upbeat, America the Possible, he writes that when we compare how our society performs in key areas with the other most advanced industrial democracies, we now have:

  • highest poverty fate, both generally and for children;
  • greatest inequality of income;
  • lowest social mobility;
  • lowest score on the UN Gender Inequality Index;
  • worst score on the UN index of material well-being for children
  • highest expenditure on health care – fully 50% of the entire world’s budget for health care, but also the highest infant mortality rate, prevalence of mental health problems, obesity rate, percentage of people going without health care due to cost, consumption of antidepressants per capita, and the shortest life expectancy at birth;
  • next to lowest score for student math and only slightly better science and reading performance;
  • highest homicide rate;
  • largest prison population in absolute terms and per capita;
  • highest carbon dioxide emissions and highest water consumption per capita;
  • lowest score on Yale’s environmental performance index and largest ecological footprint per capita;
  • lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of national income except for Japan and Italy;
  • largest military spending both in total and as a percentage of GDP;
  • largest international arms sales.

By comparison, Germany  assumes a very heavy financial and political responsibility for the Union of European States, is decommissioning its nuclear power facilities, pledges not to use the hundreds of years of coal reserves, continues to invest heavily in renewable energy and has a work force that works 1000 hours less per year than the average US wage earner and has health, vacation and pension benefits. Because they lead in another direction, they are often cited in the information sent to me as making terrible mistakes for investing so heavily in the sustainable economy.

Take another look at the catalog of miseries and failures above that describe what we have done to ourselves in the last 30 years during which the US economy grew in GDP by several trillion dollars.  Our neighbors are wounded, suffer tremendous economic insecurity and we now face climate threats to our national and biological existence. Climate change may only allow us another 30 years to jettison the radical errors we have made and build the sustainable society that works both economically, environmentally and socially.

Sullivan The Possible starts with organizing ourselves to invest in the abundant opportunities and resources of our fabulously beautiful landscape and wonderful neighbors. Safe, affordable renewable energy and the jobs and savings it provides are ready to lead the way to a better future.

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Agricultural Economic Opportunities

Friday, May 11, 2012 (#260) – There is a very long list and the opportunities are located throughout the food, forestry and nursery sectors of local agriculture. Here are some examples.

Every year local gardening and farmer market activity increases.  Many local food growers are now adding plant propagation and the supplies that support it to their products for sale.  There is still a lot of room for additional expansion of local sourcing here of production and sales.

For the troubled local dairy industry there is growing opportunity for funding of value-added product development and a market with demand far greater than supply.  Funding remains available at both the local and federal level.

Local meat production continues to find a growing market.  Several meat producers provide completely integrated systems from production, processing and delivery of their products.

Three-season and year-round mobile green houses are now under serious consideration at the ½ to 2 acre size.  Available at 1/10th the cost of growing under glass, yielding 65% as much production and yielding payback periods of 2 years on construction investment, these high tunnel opportunities for rapidly expanding local food production are a very attractive.  Combined with solar thermal, geo thermal, or solar electric energy and heat, Sullivan County could contribute to or develop its own food hub for major local consumption of superb food quality as well as for sale outside the county.

The cost of solar electric panels has fallen from $3 a panel to $1.50.  Until some major breakthrough in solar electric technology, prices cannot fall much more because labor is now the major cost. Owners of 10 or more acres of unshaded land near 3-phase electric lines have the potential for becoming suppliers of electricity to the grid.  Every municipality has marginal land that can host several mega watts of solar electric.  For some towns their entire electricity costs can be met and revenue earned from selling excess energy supply.

A local study of wind resources indicates that lease agreement to land owners that host wind turbine installations can receive annual payments of $15,000 or more per turbine per year.

One third of all waste is compostable.  Compost returns fertility and other health benefits to the soil and then on to personal and environmental health as well.  With effective marketing, local composting could grow ten fold and lend support to the success of community gardens and farms that are now beginning to develop momentum.

Forests are enormously important for their carbon sequestration and production of oxygen.  Within a decade, public education may lead to a payment for this natural service to forest owners.  Sustainable forestry practices could expand much more extensively than current levels.  Tree farming, more selective cutting and replanting, as well as harvesting dead and marginal wood and other vegetation for pellets to power the HVAC systems of our schools, fire houses, town garages can grow to a multi-million dollar local industry in a few years.

Every one of these agricultural activities creates additional jobs, environmental and personal health benefits, private and public revenue, ensures the continuing beauty of our natural landscape and thereby qualifies as a top priority for public and private investment.  Produce and buy local.  Everyone will be glad they did.

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Upstate Economic Development – Part Two

Friday, May 4, 2012 (#259) – Energy policy is no longer the exclusive realm of distant bureaucrats and energy companies.  As indicated last week, in NYS access to significant funding of local and regional economic development focuses on the energy sector of the economy and has very prescribed requirements. At the heart of this initiative is the commitment of government to take climate change and the economic realities of the post-peak era of fossil fuels seriously.

The Climate Smart Communities Pledge is a statewide initiative to help municipalities, business and residents to engage in cost effective efforts to reduce fossil fuel use.  It provides a range of strategies to organize and collect fossil fuel data, develop plans for reduction in fossil fuel use and accurately measure the results of their efforts. Outcomes from this initiative include:

  1. reduced cost of operation of municipal buildings and vehicles
  2. savings on energy use by residents and businesses
  3. promotion of job creation and new business development
  4.  safer, more comfortable and efficient homes, businesses and municipal buildings.

Sullivan County has signed the Climate Smart Communities Pledge and has developed a Roadmap to Climate Action Planning.  Its Office of Sustainable Energy has developed user-friendly tools and measures, customized for our specific local needs based on a pilot project.  These tools and measures as well as technical assistance for planning and implementation are now available to every town and its residents.  Towns that sign the Climate Smart Communities Pledge and develop Climate Action Plans as outlined above, will receive preferred status as municipal or business applicants for projects such as a new fire house, town hall or truck garage or retrofits of these and other buildings as well as funding for vehicles using alternative fuels and the infrastructure to support this transition.

The radical reduction in the cost of solar electric panels and their increasing efficiency as well as their well known ease of installment, provide another major new development possibility. Towns and private owners hold large numbers of land tracts that are marginal for productive use.  These could become municipal or private cooperative solar electric farms that generate large amounts of clean, renewable energy.  Participation by citizens in a municipal solar power utility could be voluntary and have a variety of different financial benefits under the umbrella of a locally managed electricity district.

Cheaper, cleaner and smarter energy would attract new business and save subscribers money. If several towns decided to form a regional corporation to develop local power authorities, light industry to fabricate the solar system parts would come with their good paying jobs. All of the other sectors of the local economy would benefit.  Bio-mass energy production projects with their combined heat and electricity generation would become a reality and provide not only safe and more affordable energy but income to our farmers and forest land owners.

By June, a county-wide Climate Action Advisory Board will be appointed. Stay tuned for news on its meeting schedule.  This month, form your town Climate Action Plan group or urge an already formed town group to sign the Climate Smart Communities Pledge. If you need or want help, call 807-0578.

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Upstate Economic Development

Friday, April 27, 2012 (#258) – Governor Cuomo’s initiative to foster more local and regional planning for economic development is beginning to define itself. The basic intent is to locate the planning and prioritizing of economic development projects using NYS funding in the communities and regions where the projects will be implemented.  As such, it represents a major effort to take some of the decision-making out of Albany and give more people and local leadership the opportunity and responsibility for designing and implementing economic development that fits their particular circumstances.

The Governor’s economic directive also has another very clear feature. If towns, villages and counties want significant state funding for projects in 2013, they need to join this regional planning effort in 2012 and commit to sustainable projects.

Commitment to sustainable economic development is given specific definition. Municipalities who adopt the NYS-DEC Climate Smart Communities Pledge and develop specific projects that have regional scope will receive NYS dollars and those who do not, will not receive funding from the $100,000,000 allocated to sustain-ability projects throughout NYS.

The CSCP mentioned above must also be supported by other specific measures, including the completion of a local green house gas emission inventory, the setting of targets for reduction of ghg emissions in line with the NYS goal of 80% reduction of 1990 rates by 2050, and the application for funds to implement economic development projects that meet this target and are superior in generating jobs.  There are additional specifications but the point is there is a new direction to economic development assistance from NYS government.  Some regions and communities will be allocated very substantial funding, others very little or nothing.

A Mid-Hudson Sustainable Planning Consortia has been organized and has already hired a consulting firm to help as many of the 195 towns, villages and counties plan and develop projects. A Regional Sustainability Plan is to be completed by the end of 2012.

Working groups are being formed in the following areas of sustainable planning:

Agriculture, Energy, Transportation and Land Use, Waste Management, Water Management, and Economic Development.  Threads that will run through each of these working groups include Climate Change Adaptation and Governance (who decides). These working groups will meet no less than once a month in face to face sessions as well as engage in robust electronic communication. At least 4 public education sessions are planned for the 8 month term of Plan development.

Sullivan County will co-chair the energy working group and be a member of the waste management and agriculture working groups as well as have a vote on all decision-making.

The Sullivan County Office of Sustainable Energy is already working in towns and at the county level to develop ghg inventories and help design sustainable economic projects that save money, create jobs, and lower ghg emissions.  Call the OSE at 807-0578 to learn more about local and regional sustainable economic planning and development.

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For Our Children

Friday, April 20, 2012 (#257) – One of the most bedrock mantras of our society is that life for the next generation will be better.  Parents say this hundreds of times to their children as a reason for why they make the decisions they make and why they urge their children to do certain specific things.  This pledge is deeply and genuinely felt and shapes the lives and relationships of millions of families.  The same hope and goal is shared by millions of teachers and others who provide guidance and support to children.  It is a central part of the motivation of their lives and provides an incomparable sense of self-esteem. It comes as a tremendous jolt to see the mounting evidence that this staple of the American Dream, this essential benchmark for success and meaning for the greater part of society, is in jeopardy.

For more than a generation, we have seen the failure of the economic system to support family integrity, child rearing and educational requirements.  Parents survive by taking on more jobs and more debt with onerous interest payments to supplement what should be included in their wages.  Millions have lost their homes to fraudulent lending practices. Young people leave college with student debt that is the second highest source of economic burden in the economy.  Opportunities for employment are millions less than those applying and this trend will continue.

An equally appalling jolt is that today’s young people may also live shorter lives than their parents. One of the chief causes of this calamity is that our food system is making us sick and subtracting from the quality of  life and the length of life. There are other causes.  Income equality distributes the greatest negative health impacts on the poor who are a growing number and include 1 and 4 children.  Nearly 50,000,000 of us do not health insurance if the Supreme Court or the Congress strikes down the mandated purchase of health insurance.  Our medical system receives half the entire world’s revenue spent on health care yet we rank 30th out of 31 nations in terms of positive health outcomes.  Corporate farmers and financiers favor engineered, manufactured “food” which injures our bodies even if it pleases are palates.

So let’s change the food we eat. Here we can take decisive action.  Everyone of us can start growing and eating healthy food, right away, with very little expense and a lot of good social time.  Gardening classes, community and school gardens are growing in every village and town, every school and other public places.  Locally produced, fresh, nutritious food is becoming much more available and has the potential to become a major source of jobs and better health.  There are challenges.  Food directors at our schools and public health officials are eager to supply nutritious food to our children but have not received an increase in per meal cost support for 30 years.  Food stamps allow $1.40 per meal if 3 meals a day are eaten.

A new County Legislative Committee is being formed – the Agriculture and Sustainability Committee – which should be held accountable for offering remedies to this cancer that affects our families and especially our children.  It meets the first Thursday of every month at 1:30 pm at the County Government Center.

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Getting It Right the First Time

Friday, April 13, 2012 (#256) – One of most troubling recent developments in the campaign to bring the economic, health and environmental benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy to our region is the proliferation of incentive programs and companies hired to educate homeowners and businesses about them.  The problem lies in the low level of standards for outcomes, the failure of the large funding authorities to connect with and support local organizations and the mistaken notion that making contact with x number of people at meetings or mailings, is sufficient.

In the dangerous fossil and nuclear fuel world we live in, education and community outreach without a detailed, customized plan of action that does not calibrate the requirements, opportunities and resources of each local site, wastes a lot of time and money as well as creates confusion about what can and needs to be done.  The end result is that many, if not a majority of current efforts and expenditures to be energy efficient and install renewable energy systems, will require upgrading within a few years or as the saying goes, paying twice for what many claim is still unaffordable in the first instance.

Many of these programs come with significant monetary incentives and site energy surveys that are relatively easy to understand.  Many of these programs also subsidize energy efficiency products that are close to if not already obsolete or far less efficient than other more affordable products.  Indoor and outdoor lighting is a major example of this.  Insulation products and install methods as well as feel-good surveys that result in lower energy consumption and cost by 20% are examples of lost opportunities to get it right the first time.  Major energy institutions are involved in funding these efforts.  We need to do much better and the first time around.

It is possible, for instance, to convert New York States’ energy infrastructure for all purposes, electricity, transportation, heating-cooling-ventilation (hvac), and industrial purposes to one provided entirely by the clean, renewable, in-state resources of solar, water and wind.  It can be accomplished in two decades, cost less, reduce premature deaths caused by fossil fuel pollution (NYS – 4000/y) and save billions of dollars in environmental and commercial damage. These are stunning loses that can be avoided by transitioning to a non-combusting, electricity based economy in which energy dollars stay local in contrast to current export of 76 cents of every energy dollar leaving the state.

Many continue to argue that renewables cannot be counted on because of the variability of power generation.  Others argue that renewables remain too expensive.  Neither are true today. Energy matching management systems based entirely on renewable energy generation are available and the cost of renewable energy is market competitive and future costs will be lower. On the other hand, transportation fuels have increased by more than 20% a year and have billions of lethal and environmental costs.

Call the Office of Sustainable Energy (845-807-0578) for advice on reducing your energy consumption most efficiently and shifting as much of your energy use to renewable sources.

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Our Own Broadway

Friday, April 6, 2012 (#255) – Sullivan County, New York has its own Broadway where new scripts and high drama will be played out in the near future.  The stage is set at the Apollo Mall, also known as East Broadway, for Sullivan County to mount its biggest economic development play.

A short description of some of the attributes of this property includes:

  1. The property is publicly owned.  This provides the opportunity and challenge of entrepreneurial government to maximize public and environmental benefits.
  2. Several hundred acres are involved which gives scope to projects that will by design can be very visible to visitors who can be enticed to stop in East Broadway Monticello for an extravaganza of smart, beautiful, high energy and practical venues which will be listed below.
  3. The menu of venues can be built in stages starting with ballasted solar panels on the county and village closed land fills.  The first phase would be several mega watts of photo voltaic panels that power the several buildings that currently recycle commercial and industrial waste as well as treat solid and water sewage.  The value of such energy amounts to $5,000,000 annually if built to full potential capacity.
  4.  This blaze of blue panels on the land fill would be framed by a profusion of perennial and annual flowers and shrubs that yield inviting aroma and color aesthetics that attract people to sit at the landscaped areas for lunch at tables shielded from sun and rain by additional solar panels that provide additional energy for the water fountains and external lighting.
  5. The methane gas within the landfill would power and heat the growing of vegetables, fruits and fish under glass and in water tanks.  First stage development can produce $30-50,000,000 of food for local consumption and shipment to New York City.  This project could anchor further development of the food hub for production and processing of food that would establish Sullivan County as a significant part of New York City’s food shed.  It could stimulate and assist the start up and profitability of many new food  producers.
  6. Anaerobic digesters would receive most of the daily flow of waste product and turn this valuable resource into electricity and heat for onsite consumption as well as purchase by off-site enterprises. Combined with the already demonstrated commitment to recycling, the elimination of the contract to haul thousands of tons of waste out of the county produces another significant revenue stream.
  7. A major new venture would be the development of a bio-mass project that could be placed in the back of the property. It would convert the huge tonnage of grass, wood, paper and other waste product into pellets for heating and cooling the HVAC systems of our larger commercial, school, civic and municipal buildings.  Retrofitting our HVAC systems with boilers that take these resources (waste products) can save several millions every year and generate hundreds of new jobs.

The point is – don’t sell the Apollo Mall. Develop it as an energy-agricultural – shopping – recreational site.

Talking to Government

Friday, March 30, 2012 (#254) — Last week’s column introduced a new program from NYSERDA, our state agency that provides assistance for saving energy and dollars.  This particular program offered rebates up to $350 on refrigerators and $250 on clothes washers.  In the first 2 days, more than 35,000 people applied for this assistance and the entire fund of $3,500,000 was exhausted. An even larger number of applications in the first week were not funded. I am glad to know that some of our neighbors acted immediately and were included in the program.  What our legislators and government agencies need to understand is that we are ready to embrace energy  saving opportunities.   It doesn’t require a consensus on global warming.  Our common need to lower the cost of living will make smart, sufficiently funded  government programs backing great technology for the homeowners very successful in achieving several goals.

Large chest freezers are now available  for $400 and use $50 of electricity  annually.  Clothes washers costing $600 use less than $50.  A friend purchased a 42” tv screen a few days ago for $350 that advertises an annual use of $15 of electricity.  The 18” tv it replaces uses $125 of electricity a year and has mercury in many of its tubes.

Just these few examples amount to a lot of new purchases and material that will need to be carefully recycled when their useful life is over. But, they do offer substantial savings to the cost of living for many struggling to make ends meet.  They also use much less energy, are built to last longer, and lessen the negative impacts on the environment and human health. With different economic incentives, the manufacture of appliances could be done regionally whereas they are now produced mainly in foreign countries.

With different incentives and entrepreneurial talent, we could shift from fossil fuel energy for our appliances to renewable energy sources that are now becoming as affordable as fossil fuel based energy.  Solar electric power, for example, has

experienced a radical reduction in panel costs and now competes with large wind power projects for energy costs.  Housing developments, hamlets, small and mid-sized towns can develop solar electric farms, avoid delivery and demand charges as well as the near 90% loss from energy transmission from remote power plants and the instability of price and supply caused by weather and political events.  Solar electric is also available for installation at the residential and small business level.

Our household, local economy and government would benefit by having far more of our income stay within our communities and region.  Our schools, highways, health care, environment could flourish and close to full employment with good paying jobs could be realized if we acted together to prevent wars and other self-defeating policies.  For example, only 1/3 of the federal taxes of NYS residents that are allocated to the war in Afghanistan would provide 100% renewable energy forevery New Yorker.  The other 2/3 provides the benefits listed just above.

Let’s pay attention to government and let them know what we want.

Buy New Energy Efficient Appliances Now

Friday, March 23, 2012  (#253) —  Global warming is not a hot topic for most people in this period of corporate efforts to squeeze every dollar out of what they consider to be their remaining 20 trillion dollar reserve of fossil fuels.  That it is really “their” reserves is susceptible to challenge. On the other side, world science supports a strong consensus that global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels and that global warming is the greatest threat to human kind.  The Pentagon lists global warming, as the number threat to the national security of the United States.

Maybe this is too abstract for many of us though the reality of global warming already is destroying the lives of millions of people.  So, let’s take another look.

How about the fact that it is simply cheaper to save fossil fuel energy than to burn it?

I am not suggesting we skip the terrosim of global warming but that we concentrate on other incentives that will motivate us to follow the injunction of the title of this article.  In these hard economic times, we need to save money where ever we can just to stay up with all of the bills required for essentials.

In this new history, such deeply held notions as, “if it is broken, don’t fix it or replace it,”have lost their much loved verity.  Growing up our refrigerator had a name and was the object of our affection as much as the cats and the dogs in the house. But, keeping an inefficient refrigerator or clothes washing machine is simply several hundred dollars of unnecessary expense that could be applied to other badly needed purchases. (And remember the threat of global warming even when it feels convenient like our non-winter and current summer weather without ever passing through spring.)

So, if you have a refrigerator or clothes washer that is 10 years old, even if it is looking and working fine, you can save several hundred dollars by purchasing a new unit.  Cash rebates are up to $350 for eligible high efficiency refrigerators and $250 for high efficiency clothes dryers. Instead of costing more than $100 or even $200 or more each year in energy costs, the energy cost will be under $100, the new appliance will have a short payback period and net savings of money and energy will increase each year.

The process is very simple.  Go to www.nysappliancerebates.com/application.aspx And fill out the application on line.  Be certain to have a purchase receipt indicating a date later than March 19 and information confirming that your appliance meets the CEE tier 2 or 3 guidelines.  If you have any difficulty, the County Office of Sustainable Energy, 807-0578 will assist you Tuesday through Thursday.

Participants will not only begin to save money right away but also save fossil fuel pollution costs to themselves and their communities.  Programs like this have decreased by 50% since l975, the intensity of energy use of the average household.

We can make a real difference for ourselves and our communities.

A Sullivan County Power Authority

Friday, March 16, 2012 (#252) — The Sullivan County Landfill and adjacent land provides a one-time-only opportunity to save tax dollars and generate revenue.  Let’s look at just a brief outline of what a Sullivan County Power Authority located at this site can accomplish even with low natural gas prices and artificially (and temporary) low electricity costs which makes any new power generation very challenging.

Our first advantage is the radical fall in the installed cost of solar electric technology.  At the mulit-megawatt level, the most efficient solar electric panels can be installed at under $3,000/kw.  That is 50% less than a year ago.  These panels can be installed in phases, so we can start with whatever megawatt level is required to meet existing electricity needs such as providing electricity and HVAC to the newly commissioned MRF-Material Recycling Facility, etc. and expanded many fold as new developments at the East Broadway site come on line. Cheap, clean renewable energy could assist the development and marketing of retail and agricultural proposals currently being explored.  The panels would cover the closed landfill without disturbing the landfill cap in anyway. It can be designed to make a very aesthetic presentation and serve as a draw to commercial activity.

The second advantage is the availability of extremely low municipal bonding and the existence of solar municipal bonding models that yield economic returns not even imagined a year ago. Some might argue for a lease agreement with a major solar developer who would own the technology and pay a set price for the energy generated.  This is obsolete thinking.  Control of the land and the technology is absolutely essential to realize the tremendous potential of a County Owned Power Authority. Coupled with the radical drop in solar panels, this is the time to invest in the future prosperity of our economy and the viability of  municipal government.

A third advantage is the advent of electric cars and the popularity of hybrid (gas/electric) cars and vehicles.  Sullivan County could have an electric depot for charging cars and learn from a pilot project how it can begin to deploy this coming revolution in transportation throughout the county for municipal, commercial and residential use.  Close to 50% of pollution comes from transportation.

A second component of the POWER AUTHORITY would be a bio-mass complex.  Fueled by the huge available tonnage of wood, hay, other fiber, paper, restaurant, grocery and farm waste, systems that produce electricity, natural gas, methane, compost, and pellets can provide several streams of revenue. A natural gas truck depot would provide a preferred bridging fuel, revenue to municipal coffers and mitigate to some degree the current trucking in of natural gas and widespread use of more polluting fuels.  It would provide revenue to farmers, large land owners and use recurring natural resources now left to just decay and emit methane and other green house gases. Pellets from wood and grass would provide revenue streams for farms, publicly owned land and could inaugurate a shift from fossil fuels in all of our schools, other public buildings as well as many civic and commercial buildings.

Thousands of jobs that last, tax savings, millions in new revenue for public and private enterprise, and a safer environment at a cheaper cost are to be found here.

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Reality and Change

Friday, March 9 (#251) — This column is written while attending one of the finest building science, energy efficiency and renewable energy conferences available in the United States.  One of the many remarkable banners that greet the eye and stimulate the brain is “everything for the revolution.”

Two immediate perspectives come to mind. They are: we already have a truly vast array of varied and powerful new technologies to build the next industrial revolution; and, we will also be building a new social revolution that will change where and how we live, the character of our cities, industries, food production just as the carbon energy revolution did 100 years ago. Something truly historic for human and non-human and for the planet earth itself is available.  But we must choose to invest in it, learn its ways and embrace is promise.

It is such an encouraging perspective when we take a moment to consider how dangerous and destructive a world we live in today.  The very  success of our last economic revolution has ushered in the 6th Great Period of Extinction on planet earth.  We have completely out of control and unaccountable world financial arrangements which no one can understand or control even as they perpetrate crimes and injury to people and environment at a rate never before witnessed in history.  Our wars for energy resources now cost $6billion a day, weaken our national security, and corrupt our economy and social institutions. Every year our ever increasing investments in carbon fuels kills the lives of 100s of thousands and shortens and warps the lives of vastly more people. None of this necessary.

Most of us know all of the above to be true despite the billions spent on spreading confusion and false information. Yet, we do not make the choice available to us.

It is now easy enough to make choices that will take us in a different direction than the otherwise dramatic trauma of calls for a national convention to determine new basis for private property law, a new currency for the nation that has some integrity and many other truly fabulously disruptive measures that will be necessary in the years just ahead as the juggernaut of climate change not only smashes our family and community budgets but wrecks economic viability for small and large nations.

Everyone one of us can do several things to improve our financial situation and our relationship with the environment and our communities. One area to focus on is energy – called for a good reason, the life blood of our way of life.  Let’s save it and switch to different energy sources. 98% of our buildings need to be audited and then retrofitted to make them more efficient, safer, cleaner, more affordable to operate. Green Jobs/Green New York provides free energy audits that are very technologically sound.  You can pay for a retrofit up to $25,000 on a residence by the savings that come from having done the retrofit.  No up front, no out of expense, ever. Let’s do the same for our town halls, garages, fire houses, churches, schools and places of work.  A new history is available and its full of solutions to many local economic and social problems. Call 845-807-0578 for assistance.

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Gaining Perspective

Friday, March 2, 2012 (#250) — Whale oil provided lighting for the vast majority of people at home and at work up until 1850 and the whaling industry was fifth largest in the United States.  But whale populations were reduced, the price of whale oil increased, and coal-derived synthetic fuels and kerosene, supported  by large tax breaks and the invention of electric lighting eliminated the whaling industry.  Profit maximizing and techno- logical innovation saved the whales.

Today we participate in another historical watershed. This is the age of renew- able, clean energy and energy efficiency. Coal, which supplies more than 50% of our electricity has lost 25% of its share of the electricity market to renewable energy, energy efficiency and natural gas.  We use 60% less oil today than in 1975 to produce each $1 of GDP.  According to Amory Lovins, our national economy can grow 158%  by 2050, use no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, use 1/3 less natural gas and cost $5trillion less than current economic practice.  Carbon emissions which threaten to end life as we know it and already cause horrific destruction of life and environment, would simultaneously be reduced by 80%.

The know how is readily available.  No new laws are necessary. What we need is a consensus to re-design our economy to conform to the fabulous abundance available if we will live according to planetary requirements for sustainability.

Every day we spend $6 billion on oil purchases, remediation of some of their health and environmental impacts, waging war and supporting more than 1000 military installations around the world to secure adequate supply and stabilize price.. Corporate America, spends hundreds of millions at the state and federal  level to get public subsidies to extract the $20trillion in oil deposits that remain beneath our national land mass.  The science is as brilliant as the courage and fortitude of the early whalers.  But, it makes no sense in terms of strict profit-maximizing unaided by public subsidy. Every stop at the gas pump provides incontrovertible evidence that none of this is successful, affordable or necessary

So, it is up to us, at the household, civic group, municipal level to make arrangements for the current and future conditions of our lives.  It is easy enough to see where we need to go.  Look at your savings account or check book interest rate.

At the end of the year, there is almost no contribution from the bank that uses depositor money to makes several times the amount of deposits in loans at interest rates several times greater. Change that.

Get a free energy audit of your home and other buildings.  Secure a building retrofit that requires no upfront cost, no out of pocket expense as the installed energy efficiency measures more than pay for their cost from day one.  Invest in solar renewable energy systems which return 7-12% every year.

Let’s build a Sullivan County Power Authority which can supply almost all of the energy we need,  clean the environment and provide hundreds of millions in savings and revenue.  From bio-mass, wind, sun and hydro, we can become prosperous, protect this beautiful region and offer a sustainable and secure future.

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Uneconomic Growth

February 24, 2012 (#249) — Is there such a thing?  Our national and local economy are rife with it.  Growth can be negative even when it measures rising gross national product.  Since the 1980s, uneconomic growth has been our history.  More of the same is promised by leading politicians of both parties and deeply underwritten by corporations who purchase a government dedicated to shareholders rather than stakeholders.  More of the same is literally ruining the natural world that makes human life possible.

What we are fed by politicians and financial elites at all levels of society is a devotion to GDP that is correctly described as a “grossly distorted picture” of present social reality. Many have a sense that there is something wrong with the US economy and the threat of climate change may be real, but resign themselves to coping with basic tasks of life and paying the bills because of the confidence that the US is still the finest place in the world to live. The fact is that compared to almost every other modern economy in the world, the US is at the bottom in terms of what matters most according to the “American Dream” as well as indexes of what is essential for human sufficiency and security.

One of the biggest problems is that prices in our economy are dishonest and drive consumption and investment decisions that bring chaos and destruction even as the overall economic numbers rise.  Consumers are led to reward companies that do serious harm to people and the environment.  Government supports these corporations because its revenue comes from the supply of money that is created entirely by the financial sector as it makes loans and piles up public and private debt. When financial decisions prevail in society the priority is for maximizing profit and growth in ways that sacrifice economic growth that matters most.

In our region, casinos and hydro-fracking are favored by those who seek to extend their control of our local economy.  Both are examples of the most uneconomic growth enterprises. The case against casinos was well made several years ago when it became apparent to anyone who would consider all of the facts that gambling as an industry is destructive of community and lives as well as generates less revenue than it costs. Hydro-fracking, thanks to brilliant and stead-fast local actions, is understood in the same light: an economic loser in itself and a tremendous threat to a revival of our traditional local industries and the quality of living conditions which make this part of the nation so immensely attractive and important.

We need new arrangements of power and partnership between business, government and pubic participation.  We need priority investment in education, health care, environmental stewardship and job creation that are more effective and generate profits that are widely shared.   The top and the bottom need to negotiate.

Signs are that public participation is ready and able to provide leadership.  Let’s open up the local system to new operating systems that really can do the job for a vibrant local economy.

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February Pleasures, Terribly Purchased

Friday, February 17, 2012 (#248) — Over the weekend, a brief trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania was full of surprises and pleasures.  In checking out some very affordable, large volume high tunnels for growing food year round, I saw crocuses and daffodils 6 inches tall, garlic beginning to push up through the thick hay mulch and marvelous asparagus also starting to reach for sunlight.  Back home for supper, the highlight was another mix of spinach and other salad greens that we could wait until just before the supper hour to cut because of the greater day light and continuing moderate temperature. The only heat in the hoop house is from the sun and some supplemental heat by adding a little fresh manure once a week. The salad just crackled with energy and vibrant color.  Even the large pan full of pulled pork that had been cooking slowly for 20 hours on a lifter just above the wood burning stove and its aromatic whiskey sauce fabricated by a farm apprentice didn’t  gather as much appreciation as the fresh salad.

The warm weather provides these pleasures and more. The chickens are laying more eggs.  There has not been a single loss of baby lamb or goat in this busy birthing period.  That’s a first in 40 years.  More than half of the fire wood is still available, same for the hay in the barn.  All the animals like being outside most of the day and as long as we move them frequently and prefer to graze more than feed from the hay bunks. The pleasure and convenience of all of these and many other benefits from this winter that isn’t winter, really have the effect of a boon to daily life.

It is also a good feeling to know that the neighbors are spending much less on fuel which not only saves money but also saves on the amount of green house gases spewed into the biosphere – that gossamer 15 mile strip of earth which provides for life on this planet.

Let’s remember that human history only gets 3.6 degrees F rise in global temperatures before unimaginable catastrophe occurs.  Every day let us get more aware that we are more than half way there, every year moving faster than the year before toward conditions that destroy life here and already engulf billions of people in horrific injury.

To do so requires a great deal from us. In the last 4 years, the warmest weather ever, the petroleum industry has been very successful with the general public and with elected officials in moving 30% points higher in denying the importance of climate change.  This success corrupts and weakens our economy while it rewards petro corporations with tens of billons in public subsidy and hundreds of billions in profits that could be spent in more affordable, safe, renewable energy and energy  efficient technology that other countries now deploy to our competitive disadvantage. Some corporations think of the trillions of carbon deposits they can still burn.  We must invest in the beauty and rich energy abundance of daily solar and wind power that can bring security and prosperity to everyone and everything.

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The Future is Not the Past

February 3, 2012 (#247) — Buckminster Fuller reminds us that to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.  That is sound advice in a time when the majority agree there is need for fundamental change in the United States.  We feel less secure, more worried about getting sick and half or more of us struggle to just pay the next bill and manage only by expensive borrowing. The familiar, business as usual methods are no longer cheaper, more safe, or even reliable.

This is especially true in the energy sector which is the blood and oxygen of human society and has already gone through radical transformation. For instance, as recently as 2000, 75% of all information was stored as paper documents, books, pictures, tapes, etc.  Today 94% of all information is stored in digital electronic form.

In 2000 we began to hear about China’s growing interest in renewable energy. In 2012, China leads the world in every major technology and is the second largest economy in the world.  A country that leads in the radically more efficient forms of energy will prosper by selling its technology and services around the world.

The United States continues to produce a majority of its energy from coal although it invented almost all of the renewable energy technologies.  It has coal deposits that can provide sufficient energy for the US for 100-400 years.  But, each hour, a typical coal plant withdraws 24 million gallons of water for cooling making it obsolete in many states experiencing water scarcity. Coal causes 13,000  pre-mature deaths per year and $100 billion in health costs per year.  In 2010, 50% of US coal plants had no scrubbers for removing sulphur dioxide, 57% no nitrogen oxide reducers, 96% no modern controls for particulate and mercury emissions. Everyone has the right to live in an environment where such pestilence and death is eliminated if there is a choice.

Our national electric grid is a marvel of engineering and load management. But it is old, hugely wasteful and subject to costly blackouts and shutdowns. Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimate energy outages cost businesses $160 billion a year.  They model scenarios based upon current radical weather volatility in which blackouts could occur which cost $1-3 Trillion annually.  They all require energy to restart.  Nuclear power plants often take two weeks to return to full production once they gain access to sufficient energy to begin the start-up process.  Coal and nuclear power plants face insurmountable financing and insurance obstacles.

Renewable energy technology offers an alternative. Its energy is free, the energy price is the same for decades, capital costs are falling and we have a lot of it. Onshore wind on available land can supply 9.5 times as much electricity as the US used in 2010.  The 5 main renewable technologies can currently produce 20 times total 2010 use.

Many parents believe that their children are the first generation that will have less opportunity than themselves.  Radical energy efficiency and renewable energy can reduce costs of living, increase quality of health and life as well as generate a lot of local jobs.  We can do it right now.

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Agricultural Innovation in Sullivan County

January 27, 2012 (#246) — Agricultural innovation is the first sector to begin the description of the sustainable economic development that is outlined in the Roadmap to Climate Action Planning.  There are several reasons for giving it not only first mention. These reasons include:

  • local agricultural innovation can bring to our children at school, restaurants,  food vendors and household tables, the nutritious and delicious food that will save us tens of millions in health costs and billions of carbon-based food transportation costs;
  • development of agricultural training in our secondary schools and college that leads to many new start up farms that reclaim available land for high value production and for highly skilled workers who will find employment in the 100s of new jobs that are projected to become available as hydroponic and soil-based green house food production enterprises proliferate in Sullivan County to meet the immense market for locally grown, healthy, fresh food just a few hours away;
  • agricultural development is susceptible to local control, has the highest  multiplier of any economic sector and both compliments and stimulates economic development in the other key sectors of the local economy;
  • innovative agricultural development such as growing food under glass is sustainable development as it not only increases high value food production but also substitutes and replaces a lot of low value, even unhealthy food with local fresh product and thereby completes the cycle of greater prosperity without depending entirely  on growth for growth’s sake.

Support for this admittedly enthusiastic advocacy for giving agricultural innovation and investment first priority comes from several recent events in Sullivan County. Just last week, three agricultural development projects came to public notice.  A major company is exploring the establishment of a 250-bed international agricultural training institute.  Another company proposed to build 32 acres of greenhouse food production and partner with Sullivan County Community College for training students to staff the operation and to power as much of the production process with renewable energy as possible.  Another company renewed their interest in building several acres of green house food production of vegetables and fish using methane and heat from the county land fill.

In addition to these possible enterprises, there is very significant development of green house food production by a major employer in the county already under construction and the past several months have seen two other major proposals for green house food production.  This momentum will stimulate additional proposals for large scale food production enterprise because of our close location to New York City.

Large scale production of healthy food is just one piece of local agricultural innovation and development.  Sullivan County has begun to attract a significant number of people interested in farming at a smaller scale.  This allows the pro-duction of a much wider variety of food products than the specialization in just a few food items by the larger scale producers.  Collaboration all along the food chain of processing, packaging and transportation of these different levels of coming agri-cultural innovation will be a major part of the sustainable economy that is the roadmap to sustainable prosperity.

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More about the New Energy Revolution

January 13, 2012 (# 245) — Last week’s column summarized some of the radical economic opportunities that are now available in the energy revolution that is underway.  This column continues that chronicle of enormous benefits.  Policy and project recommendations for local implementation begin next week.

The enormous economic potential of the energy revolution can be summarized as follows:  an economy 1.5 larger than the current economy that costs $5 trillion less than business-as-usual, without counting the trillions of very real but hidden costs of  carbon-based energy. The hidden costs are actually savings (health and environmental costs that do not happen, etc.) which leverage up to 20 times the value of increased revenue, e.g. saving one billion dollars often requires increased revenue of 22 billion dollars and, of course, we live better lives.

Such dramatic opportunities require no federal taxes, subsidies, mandates, or laws, or new inventions. What’s the catch?

The catch is in the air right now.  We simply commit to understanding and adopting the non-carbon, clean, energy efficient and renewable energy economy that is required by nature’s laws. The commitment needs to be made now.  If we take economic advantage of available opportunities to move to an energy policy of no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, and reduction in natural gas use, we can achieve a vibrant, secure, healthy society by 2050 and compete globally.

It will take a lot of effort to understand what is necessary and to educate every one.  Most people think that turning off their lights is more efficient than increasing insulation in their building.  LED lighting is terrific compared to most current lighting and people acting responsibly by turning lights off is essential.  Adding insulation still gives a higher efficiency savings.

Schools need to have curricula in energy efficiency. Take power generation. For every 100 units of energy used as fuel to make energy, less than 10% is available for the purpose it was purchased for. Added to this huge inefficiency is the negative financial and health costs associated with the input energy which is pre-dominantly carbon-based.  Let the young students learn their fractions and vocabulary, their understanding of mechanics and economics from real-life exercises.  A tour of the school’s mechanics will turn up on-site examples in almost every case, of inefficient, even if newly installed, energy and water systems.  Local alternative input fuels are available and retrofit of HVAC systems – especially valves, motors and piping – can be done by local contractors.

Sullivan County has an Economic Development Corporation with representatives from the major economic sectors of the local economy.  Energy is not represented, perhaps in part because current membership is based on existing economic agencies.  The local energy sector is larger than some of the other sectors represented and is one of the most dynamic areas for sustainable economic development. The new Legislature should add representation of the local energy sector to the EDC  to its list of changes to be made in the near future.

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Roadmap to Economic Opportunities

January 6, 2012 (#244) — Mountains of Opportunities is the tag on Sullivan County promotion.  It is spot on.

Sullivan County is jammed full of opportunities for sustainable economic development.  Sullivan County is also the scene of decadal economic recession that has kept half a life time or a full life time (for those 40 and under) in its grasp. Terrific threats to the quality of life in this magnificent part of the earth are present and growing. Most of this foreboding pressure and destruction has its local sponsors.

There is another way to proceed with the organization of local living conditions that will yield a future that works well for all of us and for all of the environment.

It is, as this column has suggested for more than 4 years, the building of a new energy infrastructure wherever we are and for all that we do.  Our local part in building this new energy infrastructure has the scale and scope to double our economy without corrupting our environment or relations with each other and at a cost that is less than doing business as usual.

Amory Lovins in the newest release from Rocky Mountain Institute, Re-Inventing Fire, Bold Busness Solutions for the New energy Era, makes the case.  On the jacket of this must-read book, he states,” ….the US economy needs no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, only one third current natural gas, and no new inventions to develop an economy that is 158% larger by 2050 and at a cost of $5 trillion less than business as usual…and that fabulous savings does not count the extra trillions in fossil fuel’s hidden costs.”

Of course, this means that other countries can do the same thing.  To be sure, many are already doing so and are far ahead of the United States in what amounts to a global clean energy race which is defining new winners and losers on the world scene that cripple businesses and citizens at the local level.

Some still deny or have not caught up with what has happened with stunning rapidity, but the reality is that the rising costs of fossil fuels to our economy, health, environment and security outweigh their benefits. Clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels already compete purely on cost and profitability alone.

Since the time has come in which clean energy alternatives and energy efficiency strategies and products work better than oil and coal, investing and reorganization of the local economy along these lines is the most promising path to sustainable economic development, sufficiency for all, environmental restoration that can protect our health and mitigate the collision of nature’s laws and human conduct.

Sullivan County can implement its own Roadmap that guide decisions about the mountain of opportunities that await us if we have the imagination and will to act.

A copy is available at www.sullivanalliance.org. It contains strategies and practical projects for industry, transportation, energy, building and government sectors as well as for home owners, school classes, churches, fire houses, etc.  Why not sponsor a meeting in any or all of these places about an immediate and very positive change in our lives and the lives of our communities?

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Electric Bicycles

(#214) — All of us privileged to live in this marvelous place celebrate the precious
natural beauty and the sounds of the birds and streams that accompany our
trips to the post office, store and, for some of us seniors, to the top of the hill
where we then leave our vehicle and take brisk walks. Electric bikes called
personal electric vehicles or PEV’s are now available that can make every
motorized trip a more direct encounter with these wonders of nature that
nourish our spirits and minds. PEV’s are very quiet, have no oil or gas fumes.
Many can be carried upstairs or parked in a closet. They are available for as
little as $400 and as expensive as $18,000 if you want to compete in a grand
prix against the big conventional “hogs”. Some very affordable models have a
range of 40 to 60 miles and all plug into a conventional 120 vac plug and
achieve full power in about 4 hours. Careful planning can cut down very
significantly in use of fossil fuels for shopping and other errands, provide
savings that will pay for the electric bicycle in a few years, and by using a
renewable energy source of electricity, the carbon pollution cycle that ruins
our politics, relationships with each other and our economy, one more step
towards living sustainably is taken. Riding on a PEV is also a good way for many
who cannot manage the hills of the area to find the spot where they can
dismount and take a walk.

Here are some examples. Electric bikes range from do for yourself kits –DFY
– for converting your current bike to an off the floor electric bike for $2700
that has a range of 20 miles and a speed of 20 mph. It comes with pedals and
gears like a standard bike as well. A more economical scooter is available for
$400 with a range of 20 miles and 18 mph top speed and that same very quiet
ride that gives the sensation of being just another moving part in the dance of
nature that is always being performed. For touring and sightseeing, there are
several models that assist those who need some assistance for pedaling. When
the rider feels the need for more power, a slight movement of the hand and the
sensation of being pulled forward begins. Their price falls in the $2-3000 range.

Mopeds are available for under $2000 with a speed of 20 mph and 20 mile
range and offer convenient packages for storing the results of light shopping.
There is a huge array of electric motor scooters with speeds to 30 mph, a range
of 40 miles and a price as low as $2,200 and that same very quiet, clean ride
that leaves carbon in the ground where it is safe and available for the very few
purposes it should still be used for as we struggle to redirect our economy
towards one that serves us well as it integrates human conduct with the natural
world in a harmonious way.

For more information, ElectricChronicles.com

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