The last couple of weeks, I’ve listened in as Tony Collins, head of Clarkson University and co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council has talked up the opportunities of a sort of local energy movement.
“I know there are projects in the pipeline that rely on energy and utilize natural resources, the forest reserves, forest products,” Collins told me recently.
This same idea has been a steady theme for Kate Fish, head of the Adirondack North Country Association.
As the region talks about and debates a unified theme for our shared economic future, energy seems like an interesting angle to explore.
After all, our communities are already industry leaders in hydro and wind power. Watertown has a chain of power generating dams right in the middle of the city. Big hydro facilities on the St. Lawrence River are cornerstones of the regional economy.
The Tug Hill and Clinton County have seen sizable wind farms kicking into gear.
What if rural towns and small cities also became major exporters of wood pellets for stoves and producers of electricity at biomass facilities?
Is it impossible to think that this region could become a next exporter of energy in the next decade?
One big and necessary step would involve a massive effort to improve the efficiency of North Country homes, so that we consume far less heating oil in the winter.
An expansion of public transportation and the adoption of more energy-efficient vehicles would also help.
Remember, every gallon of oil that we avoid burning means more money staying here in our economy.
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Jerry Jenkins has also been writing and thinking about the opportunities (and the challenges) of this kind of transition.
His latest book gives a fascinating portrait of the energy economy in a rural region like ours.
The short term benefits, in terms of jobs developed and products exported, seem worth exploring.
But it’s also reasonable to imagine a future where the rest of the US suffers big energy shocks, shortages, and price spikes, while the North Country controls more of its own destiny.
So what do you think? Would you rather see your warmth this summer come from a local pellet plant, rather than a big oil company?
Are you skeptical that wind, hydro and biomass can really fuel a vibrant economy? Comments welcome.