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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 30, 2009

Harness the power of common sense before it’s too late

We admire the Pokornys of Knox. They live their beliefs. The couple is off the grid, using solar and wind power to fuel their Hilltown homestead. And they’ve long been active members of Helderberg Community Energy.

The not-for-profit group, ahead of the commercial interests in harnessing the Helderberg’s wind power, spent months making measurements and calculations from a tower on the Pokornys’ property. The group of committed volunteers now plans to place three 1.5-megawatt wind turbines along Middle Road, back from streets and away from houses. The project has proceeded slowly and carefully to amass technical information and keep the public informed on its progress.

Last year, when Shell Oil approached Helderberg landowners to lease property for commercial turbines, residents were wary and it became clear towns were not prepared. Berne, Rensselaerville, and New Scotland have since passed moratoriums on wind turbines while they work out much-needed zoning to regulate them.

“A lot of people are pretty panicky, and I think it’s based on misinformation,” said Russell Pokorny, soon after we made Shell’s plans public. “There’s a lot of negativity towards wind, some of which was sparked by the Shell thing, and we need to communicate to people that there are benefits,” he said.

To that end, he and his wife, Amy Lauterbach Pokorny, recently hosted a celebration for Berne-Knox-Westerlo students who entered an art contest to promote clean, renewable energy in the Hilltowns. Almost 50 BKW students entered and the winner’s design, pictured on our letters page, was emblazoned on a T-shirt.

Schools can choose to promote environmental learning that will last a lifetime. Sometimes it just takes one person to spark the torch that sheds light for years to come. At Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland, Alan Fiero has won scores of awards and garnered thousands and thousands of dollars in grants because of his programs educating students about the environmentally sensitive Pine Bush. More importantly, though, is the learning his students will carry with them for years to come.

This week, as we have every year for over a decade, we visited the Butterfly Station at Farnsworth and were impressed anew with the knowledge and enthusiasm of the students who have volunteered their precious summer time to educate community visitors about the importance of native plants and butterflies.

Right at their school, in the center of the Farnsworth courtyard, is a wild and wonderful garden of native plants with a net house fluttering with butterflies.

Similarly this week, Amy Lauterbach Pokorny writes to us about BKW fourth-grade teacher Carol Willsey’s curriculum on renewable energy.

BKW had considered an energy plan with Johnson Controls that could have made it the first in the state to embrace wind power. We believe a turbine to generate power for the school would have been a good teaching tool as well as a beacon for a clean and cost-effective way to meet energy needs.

We’ve written before of how we, as a nation, need to develop renewable energy sources. It will increase America’s economic security by reducing dependence on foreign oil. It will also reduce global warming, which is essential for the preservation of our Earth.  Per capita, the United States is the leading contributor to global warming at 30.3 percent — nearly a third. We need to change our ways.

Harnessing the power of the wind to generate electricity is essential to our future. Wind power is created every day by the heating and cooling of the earth. A clean and renewable energy source, it is not affected by fuel price increases or supply disruptions. It creates more jobs per watt than all other energy sources, including oil and coal. It can cost as little as four to six cents per kilowatt hour, making it competitive with conventional sources. Finally, and most importantly, there are enough reliably windy areas in the United States to produce three times as much electricity as the nation uses today.

The town of Berne’s moratorium would not have affected a wind turbine at BKW, because school projects come under State Education Department jurisdiction, and are exempt from local law. Since it would have been a capital project, it would have required a public vote. This would have been a way for the community to decide directly on the issue.

BKW Superintendent Steven Schrade told our reporter that the school board’s decision last week to go with a different company, Honeywell International, on a $1.2 million energy plan, was largely because “the windmill portion of the Johnson Controls proposal was causing too much debate.”

We can understand that the new systems need to be installed as part of the ongoing building project and, while we regret the loss of a chance at wind power, we still hold out hope for solar power.

And not just for BKW. As we drive past the many flat-roofed schools in our coverage area, we like to imagine they are covered with arrays of solar panels. They are not, but they should be.

Financial incentives are available now that would cover the initial cost for solar systems. For years to come, taxpayers would benefit from the savings.

But even more importantly, students would benefit. “The economy of the future promises many green collar jobs,” Amy Lauterback Pokorny wrote us last week, “and we live in an area with exciting opportunities for renewable energy productions.” Students could be engaged in renewable energy production at an early age, she wrote, concluding, “Our students could grow up better equipped (empowered!) to participate in solving the difficult challenges of climate change at a local level.”

This should be part of the life lessons taught at all our schools. Just look what the Farnsworth kids have taken away from their butterfly project.

Noah Fowler, a sixth-grader, is a metamorphosis manager. “I take care of our caterpillars,” he told us proudly this week. “I’ve always been interested in nature…I’ve raised monarchs at my house from the eggs.” When he’s grown up, Fowler said, he’d like to get a job that has “something to do with nature.”

If we want our children to have the sort of Earth we’ve enjoyed, we need to embrace renewable energy. Schools should take the lead and go solar — taxpayers would save, kids would learn, and we’d all be better off.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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