Renewable energy sustains our Earth

In 2012, the New York Energy Highway Task Force mapped out a plan to improve the state’s energy infrastructure. Such planning is essential as the state’s economy and the well being of its residents depends upon reliable energy.

The initiative brought together New York’s major energy, environmental, and economic development agencies and authorities to plan for decades ahead. The blueprint produced by the task force lists 13 initiatives. One of them, in our backyard, dominated our front page last week: “Initiate Alternating Current transmission upgrades to increase the capacity to move excess power from upstate to downstate.”

In what the task force’s blueprint calls “a first-of-its kind solicitation,” the Department of Public Service is “to initiate private sector development to achieve public policy goals.”

Four companies are vying to build the network that could run through Albany County, bringing upstate power to the New York City area. Last week, our New Scotland reporter, Lisa Viers, interviewed leaders at each of those companies to outline their plans, still in the earliest stages.

We urge the public to take heed. Read what the companies have in mind (online at www.altamontenterprise.com). And think of what the pros and cons may be. Because the project is in its nascent stages, and won’t be built for several years, public opinion could shape it.

The companies, of course, are eager to point out the advantages of the project: increased tax revenues; jobs for local workers to build the system; and a way to attract and sustain high-tech companies to what has been dubbed “Tech Valley.”

What might some of the drawbacks be?

First and foremost would be the taking of land. National Grid says it already owns the land its lines currently run on — estimating the width of its corridor near the Hudson River at 250 feet, widening to 620 feet by the new Scotland substation — and so wouldn’t need to take lands through eminent domain. NEXTera wouldn’t say one way or the other. North America Transmission said it would be leasing rather than taking land. And Boundless Energy is planning projects south of our coverage area.

Aesthetics is another concern. “We are a community that prides itself on rural and agricultural characteristics,” said Councilman Daniel Mackay of New Scotland, noting the many lines that already run through the current right-of-way, which he described as the widest in the state.

Mackay suggests the power company pay a settlement with funds going to protect environmental areas and historic sites in town but National Grid said the Public Service Commission would not allow special treatment and also that it would add tremendously to costs.

The map from National Grid shows the corridor where the new lines would go also would run through the neighboring towns of Bethlehem and Guilderland.

Yet another concern is health. Daniel Driscoll, who has retired from a career working for the Department of Public Service and the Department of Environmental Conservation, dealing with possible effects of power-line magnetic fields, told us, “There is ample evidence that the body can be influenced by low-level fields from power lines.”

Driscoll pointed us to a fascinating video posted at Micro Wave News, a site that Time magazine called “meticulously researched and thoroughly documented” and that the American Journalism Review described as “The world’s most authoritative source on EMF [electromagnetic field] health risks.”

The video shows a red fox surrounded by snow in the Black Hills of the Dakotas. It jumps in the air and then, nose first, dives down through feet of snow, only its tail, straight up like a flag, sticking above the surface. The fox emerges with prey in its mouth.

When the fox faces north, it almost always gets a meal; if not, it catches its prey less than 20 percent of the time.

A German-Czech research team found that red foxes use the Earth’s magnetic field to home in on their targets. A fox will position itself along the North-South axis and succeed in catching prey in nearly three out of four jumps. When there is no snow and the prey is therefore out in the open, the fox has no need to access the Earth’s magnetic field and shows no preference in its direction of jumping.

Watching the video without knowing how the fox does this makes the feat look nothing short of miraculous. That makes us wary about human beings messing further with natural balance.

We prefer the parts of the task force’s blueprint under the heading “Support Clean Energy” and believe the majority of our resources — taxpayers’ dollars — should go there.

We recently attended a Guilderland Town Board presentation on solar energy where the consultant stressed that, without government rebates, the town’s going solar wouldn’t be a wise move economically. In short, government can make a difference, a decisive difference, in adoption of renewable energy.

The task force’s report states the construction of the new renewable generation and the extension of funding for New York’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to well beyond its current 2015 end date signals the state’s “unequivocal commitment to a future sustainable power generation sector at a time when the expiration of federal tax credits as well as market conditions are working against such a vision.”

Americans — all of us — need to hang on to and promote a vision of a cleaner environment. As the governor pointed out in his recent State of the State address, New Yorkers have felt the force of three powerful storms — Irene and Lee, with which our readers are all too intimately acquainted, and Sandy downstate. “Each has taken an immeasurable toll on communities,” said Andrew Cuomo.

We know that all too well, from the deaths we chronicled in the midst of Irene to the aftermath, which we are still covering as roads and bridges are undergoing repair.

We commend the governor for addressing improved emergency services in the wake of these disasters, but we must remember the root cause is climate change. Most electric power comes from fossil fuels. To significantly lower greenhouse-gas emissions, we need to look to renewable energy sources and urge our government — local, state, and national — to use these sources.

A Buddhist nun walked through Guilderland this month with a bevy of pacifists on her way to Albany to protest hydraulic fracturing as the governor gave his State of the State address. She has devoted her life to walking — her form of prayer — to preserve the Earth.

She described her philosophy simply: “People say, ‘Money, money, money.’ But first our life come from Earth,” said Jun Yasuda. “If no respect to Earth, how you survive? Even if you have money. You damage your mother.”

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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