EDITORIAL: Who gets to decide?

ELON MUSK MIGHT BE SURPRISED, but he’s missing a big segment of the electric vehicle market. These vehicles are light-weight and inexpensive. They don’t require complex charging stations either. A wall outlet will do.

Our family has an electric Mini-Cooper, a BMW motorcycle and a pink Jeep, among others. Their top speed is somewhere around 5 mph, roughly as fast as your average grandparent. They seat one person between three and five years old and when they break down—the vehicle, not the child—they can be dragged to wherever you store items for the next yard sale.

But what’s the carbon footprint of kiddie cars? It’s likely that from their manufacture to their disposal these toys release more carbon dioxide and other compounds into our atmosphere than would be there if we adults found other ways to entertain our offspring.

Or maybe not. Either way, blaming parents or toy makers for climate change is a distraction. It may also hint at how uninformed we are about the destructive forces climate change will bring.

We know that burning fossil fuels to make electricity is a major driver of climate change, so what’s the alternative?

Water used to power local industries. At first it turned waterwheels and, later, local hydroelectric generators. Recently an entrepreneur proposed reactivating a modest generation plant on the Valatie Kill in the village.

A few miles downstream another small hydro plant was reactivated a decade ago. Together these plants, and possibly others, could supply electricity for nearby communities, but not for all the homes and businesses in the county.

Wind power could contribute. If you want to see what an industrial size wind turbine looks like, drive east of Lee on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Wind power makes sense near the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Here the breeze is more fickle except, perhaps, on Main Street in Chatham.

Some years ago an entrepreneur proposed mounting small, cylindrical windmills on a building in Hudson. It sounded almost like magic. We have no updates to report.

That leaves solar. Until a few years ago most solar systems were panels mounted on individual homes and businesses. Then came more ambitious projects like the panels on Route 23 in Craryville that provide some electrical power to the nearby Taconic Hills School District.

Next came Germantown, where consumers have a community solar farm covering a few acres—one of several in the county. These are solar panel installations on private land and built by private developers. Consumers pay to participate and get credited for the electricity the solar panel farm generates.

And now comes the latest twist, a plan by a Chicago company called Hecate Energy to build an industrial scale (60 megawatts) solar panel on roughly 300 acres of farmland in the Town of Copake hamlet of Craryville. Hecate’s project is called Shepherd’s Run.

Copake has a solar farm law that limits solar farms 10 acres. In the past, town law would have given the town the power to determine the fate of the Shepherd’s Run. But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature, anticipating what is now playing out in Copake, changed state law. The law now gives projects like Shepherd’s Run the right to bypass and ask the state for permission to proceed with the company’s solar mega-farm. And there’s now a new process that allows the state and solar farm companies to speed up the state approval of solar power generation sites.

The Copake Town Board and residents, including those who live near the Shepherd’s Run site, are challenging the right of the state to overrule the town’s limit on the size of solar farms. It goes the heart of the home rule principle in this state.

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