Change in the wind

IMAGINE STICKY GOBS of crude oil washing up on the shores of the Roe Jan Kill or Kinderhook Lake. Picture Canada geese covered with dark goo, the beach at Lake Taghkanic turned to tar, the Hudson boat launch choked by petroleum the tide can’t wash away.

Fortunately we don’t face those direct consequences the way our fellow citizens on the Gulf Coast do following the fatal accident last month that destroyed the offshore oil rig and released millions of gallons of crude into the water. But like everybody who drives a car, shops at a supermarket or flips on a light switch, all of us who live in Columbia County live lives connected to the disaster unfolding off the Louisiana coast. And we bear some responsibility for finding ways to prevent such catastrophes from happening again.

So should we all jump in our cars, drive down to the Mississippi Delta with a cup and a spoon to scoop up some of the leaking oil? Forget about it; driving there would only increase our need for petroleum.  No, the best response lies in what we do here, not in someone else’s back yard. Take the question of attitudes toward alternative energy sources like wind turbines.

The question of residential turbines came up last week at the Ancram Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, where a homeowner wants permission to set up a turbine to power his house and another one for his garage. The town comprehensive plan supports alternative energy sources, and he plans to use a proven system. But Ancram doesn’t yet have regulations setting standards for wind turbines, so when the homeowner was denied permission to erect them, he turned to the ZBA for help.

At last week’s meeting members of the board and neighbors voiced concerns about problems they thought the wind turbines might cause. Some of what they said makes sense, like requiring the owner to clean up right away if a turbine falls on the nearby town road, and prohibiting him from using the 111-foot-tall towers as billboards. Those restrictions might apply to any type of private project.

Some neighbors also worried about noise, and one person spoke of flickering light that the spinning blades of turbines can cause under certain circumstances. We assume some people may find the sound annoying, and others may view the turbines visually unappealing for any number of reasons. Turbines have also been faulted for the threat they pose to birds and bats. And a couple of years ago some residents of Gallatin protested vigorously that a proposed wind turbine would adversely affect their health, despite a lack of compelling scientific evidence to support the claim.

New ideas often provoke wary reactions, especially when they challenge established ways of doing things. Why, for instance, do we need wind turbines if we have a perfectly good electric power grid? Well, aside from the argument for an owner’s property rights, every new wind turbine represents a tiny reduction in the amount of fossil or nuclear fuel the country uses. The people willing to install and use these devices show us the way to a better, cheaper future, less dependent on non-renewable oil, coal and uranium.

Wind, solar and even water power also promise jobs for the county. Hudson Valley Wind Energy, the company that plans to install the Ancram turbines, is here in the county. A release from the firm says that government programs will offset up to 75% of the cost of the systems. Companies like SunDog Solar in Chatham install practical solar systems and also have government incentives to offer. It may still be possible to restart the old hydro-electric plant in Stuyvesant; and a startup company has made noises about building a new type of wind turbine in an empty factory in Hudson.

We urge Ancram officials to move quickly to approve the wind turbines proposal before the ZBA and to embed in the town zoning law measures that encourage alternative, renewable, non-polluting energy sources. And we hope other towns around the county will also actively pursue similar, practical ways to welcome these new technologies.

No one individual or community can undo the damage brought about by our reliance on fossil fuels. But if you believe that we all have an obligation to leave this world in better shape than the world we inherited, then making small but significant changes in land use laws, ones that nurture a wiser use of our limited resources, seems like a real good place to begin.

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