Are you on board with alternative, local energy?

This week, we’ve been kicking the tires on the regional push for more locally produced, renewable energy.  This idea lies at the heart of a vision for the North Country’s economic future shared by many local and state leaders.

The Regional Economic Development Council grants awarded to the North Country included more than $6 million in subsidies and grants to jumpstart biomass and hydro projects.

Local governments have invested in renewables from Potsdam to Massena.  And business leaders are putting their own dollars into projects, from wind farms in Clinton County to hydro in Essex and Franklin Counties.

But in our reporting, we’ve found some surprising challenges.  For one thing, despite all the talk about “peak oil” and the specter of high gas and fuel oil prices, there is actually a glut of cheap biomass and hydro power.

Dam operators in the region are receiving rock-bottom prices for their electricity.  And pellet manufacturers are struggling to find markets to buy their burnable fuel.

Consumers are also finding that the start-up costs for converting to alternatives are high.

Wind, solar, pellet furnaces, they’re all costly, and government incentives designed to nudge us toward a greener future are confusing.

There are some bright spots.  It may be that the best steady consumers for alternative energy, at least in the first wave of the transition, won’t be homeowners.

Instead, school districts, local governments and other institutional consumers may find that local power is more affordable, and more reliable.

That’s the hope anyway.  Meanwhile, some incredibly courageous entrepreneurs (check out Jasmine Wallace’s profile of Pat Curran in Massena) are leading the way, taking incredible risks.

And a lot of local government leaders are staking big tax dollars on the hope that this sector of the economy will ignite.

So here’s my question to you:  What kind of alternative or local energy are you using?  Have you dipped your toe into this new energy frontier?  Is there a solar panel on your barn? A wind turbine in your backyard?

And what do you think of the idea that energy will be a bigger part of our local economy going forward?


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34 Comments on “Are you on board with alternative, local energy?”

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  1. Dave says:

    “government incentives designed to nudge us toward a greener future are confusing.”

    At the consumer level, the key here is to somehow find a way to provide these incentives independent of our tax system – which guarantees confusion. If they can provide incentives to consumers without making you buy tax software or going to a tax accountant…. I guarantee you they will be taken advantage of more than they currently are.

    I am not sure what that would look like, but it seems there should be some way to have these incentives be directly between the manufacturer and the consumer, without having to involve the tax man.

  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    We have our “bio-mass” pile cut and split, drying and ready to burn next winter.

  3. mervel says:

    Energy in general will be the future for a growing world that is developing. If the NC can harness that product either through wood or hydro power or possibly switch grass I think it could lead to some real economic growth. I don’t really understand the point of solar power in a climate like ours.

    Its all about costs and consumer access, we have to move this toward something regular busy people can do that is easy to buy and install. I mean its a great hobby for those who are into it, but I need to be able to go to my local ace hardware and buy a wind turbine or a solar panel as easy as I can buy a wood stove.

    We checked into solar panels about three years ago and were shocked at the prices, beyond our pellet stove that is as far as we have gone.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    No. Not doing anything other than driving a gasoline car that gets about 35 mpg and consolidating trips whenever possible.
    Bottom line. It’s about price and availability. Don’t see much if any future for electric cars here in the Adirondacks or solar power, and what is the green value of electric cars if the recharge comes from a coal burning power plant?

  5. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:


    I know of a few in my area who have used solar to go off the grid and a few who are using solar in a net metering arrangement. The solar is working well for them from the standpoint of sufficient generation.

    The cost of the project is another matter entirely. You’re right. the equipment is expensive, but is expected to come down somewhat as most new technology does (compare PCs, DVDs). When the tax incentives were factored into the equation, the payback was around seven (7) years. Based on my work over the years, a seven year payback is the extreme upper limit if you wanted a project approved.

    I know of a local municipality that considered going solar. Since the same incentives were not available to the town, the project payback was btwn 14 and 15 years. That killed the whole idea, at least until the cost of the technology starts to decline.

  6. Paul says:

    I have solar at a cabin that I have up there and burn wood for heat. There are no incentives for second home owners so if you want to make the switch in those places you do it all by yourself. Everything is geared toward primary residences. That is a problem given all the second homes in some parts of the Adirondacks.

    Here is one interesting question. Knuck, I assume you are a liberal based on the handle, and you burn wood so you may understand what a commercial logging operation looks like. If you were to take some of your ‘liberal’ friends on a tour of the aftermath of a Curran logging operation, or show them the massive piles of trees from this kind of work my guess is that their view of some kinds of “green” energy might be effected.

    Liberal is maybe not the right term here, but I think you know what I am getting at. There is a large contingent of people who seem to support green energy but when it comes time to cut down the trees or put up the wind towers things get weird.

    A while back there was a relatively small logging operation going on near the Paul Smith’s VIC that was reported in the Adirondack Explorer. The comments clearly showed that there was very little real support (at least in that audience) for what it takes to have a commercial working forest.

    Brian, what kind of reaction do you think you would get if you showed that part of the story?

  7. zeke says:

    It is not the cutting down of trees I oppose. It is the failure to replant that I despise. The forest is a farm. If we manage it, it will continue to serve us for years to come.

  8. Paul says:

    zeke, I agree. But it is best to let the forest naturally re-seed itself. Some of these operations are not being done selectively enough and regeneration will take a very long time.

    When you plant seedlings (usually from nursery stock) you are planting a mono-culture that has very little genetic diversity like the forest that you just harvested.

  9. Larry says:

    I don’t want to hear a word about alternative energy until all those gas-sucking monster trucks and SUVs are off the roads. And before I hear the screams about “using it for work” or “need it to tow my boat” we all know that very few have a legitimate need. So why do people drive those ridiculous, bloated, energy wasting monsters? Because it is easier and, over the very short term, cheaper than exploring alternatives and getting creative about transportation needs. And therin lies the problem with alternative and solar energy. You won’t see widespread use until it becomes easier and cheaper.

  10. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    Perhaps it is time that one be required to obtain a certificate of need before being allowed to own a truck or SUV that doesn’t achieve certain MPG targets.

    Another method would be to tax such vehicles at a high enough rate to make them uneconomical for the casual user.

    Once we get to that point, only the 1%ers and the NYSP would be driving these “gas-sucking” machines.

  11. Larry says:

    I would love to hear the rationale for the NYSP running up and down the Northway in those ridiculous SUVs!

  12. Larry says:

    No need to have certificates of need or additional taxes. Peg the annual registration fee to fuel consumption. People with legitimate businesses would get to deduct the fee as they do now.

  13. Paul says:

    Yes, I agree. In fact there should be a special hefty tax levied against anyone not living in a cave! Guys get real.

  14. Larry says:

    Paul, I don’t understand your comment. If the goal here is to reduce energy consumption why not push people towards more responsible behavior? I can’t understand why we tolerate over-sized, gas-sucking trucks on the same basis as passenger vehicles. They serve no useful purpose for the majority of their owners, except perhaps to call attention to them.

  15. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    Given the tendency for underground structures to maintain constant temperatures, the cave idea is a good one. It would have the potential to reduce heating and/or ac costs. However, the down side would be realized in the window industry.

  16. zeke says:

    I guess we agree Paul. But natural regeneration of the forest is a comment I typically hear from those harvesting who want to avoid the cost of replanting. So, educated replanting trumps natural regeneration in my book.

  17. Paul says:


    I just think we need to be real. Europe has basically had the things that you describe for years (mostly just based on gasoline taxes) and you still do not really get the behavior you are hoping for. For them it is high horsepower sports cars for us pickups and SUVs. Sure we are worse than them but there are a lot more of us here.

    If you really want a change the solution is find ways to make fuel cleaner and burn cleaner (we are on our way in this regard). If we fool around fighting over taxes on big cars we are just wasting our time. I prefer we use the technology we already have to make it so you can drive whatever you want and do it without hurting the environment. (BTW: I own a hybrid and a Jeep that I use to tow my boat)

    This approach has to be the way we do it anyway. Even if they are small cars we are going to be putting many of them on the roads around the globe in the coming decades so we need all of them to burn clean. The same technology can make large vehicles that burn clean so why fight over it and wast our time.

  18. Paul says:

    I am no logger so I don’t know much. But I do see saplings growing from stumps at logging sites that are usually larger the season after they have just cut than any seedling you could plant. So I am not sure you gain much by planting nursery stock. But it seems to me the best thing is to have a stand with multiple age classes that you can rotate in and cut without ever really changing the character of the forest. It seems like around here that isn’t a viable way to cut. I have spent time in Sweden and they seem to be able to continually harvest timber in places and you hardly notice the forest change. That ain’t the way they do it around here.

  19. Larry says:

    The average European does not drive a “high horsepower” sports car; in fact, I doubt the average European even owns a car. My experience there is that you rarely see an SUV (I did see one, once, and what a surprise, it was being driven by an American) and the only minivans around are making deliveries. Technology is fine but we can’t “drive whatever we want” and still achieve energy related goals.

  20. zeke says:

    Exactly Paul, it is not the way they do it around here. But they should.

  21. Pete Klein says:

    Not a forester but my understanding is natural replanting is better than plantings because it is natural and diverse.
    With a variety of species growing, there is less chance of the whole forest being destroyed by a bug.
    With natural reproduction you get what is already acclimated to grow here and since nature is doing the work, it is cheaper.

  22. mervel says:

    Well we should have prices reflect the true cost of energy. But telling people what they can drive and how to spend their money is indeed an invasion of liberty and freedom of the worst sort.

    If someone prefers an SUV that is their choice and I have no problem with it at all it is their money that they earned and they can spend it on the choices offered, that is part of what liberty is all about. I do have a problem with the price of gas being held artificially low.

  23. zeke says:

    What about the issue of driving a large vehicle vs( I do mean vs) a say smart car on our compact Adirondack roads with ensuing collision. I know, I know, before someone else says it; NOT TOO SMART now is it. should a road be limited in terms of the size of the vehicle that can be on it?By the way a number of townships do post roads, so it can be done.

  24. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Wow, I don’t remember another post where I agreed with nearly all the comments.

    Paul, I assume your comment about liberals refers to urban liberals who simply do not understand rural “culture”. Most of the firewood I use is from the odd bits and leftovers of logging operations, so I’m helping to clean up the lot after logging has been done. A well planned wood lot will increase the value of succeeding harvests indefinitely into the future and will provide good habitat for wildlife along with a good variety of all plant species.

    On solar pv, if you live in an area with good southern exposure it is a viable way to produce power even at latitudes higher than ours. The best thing about solar pv is that it produces best at the same time that electric power is most needed — on hot sunny days when everyone is using an air conditioner. The added benefit if the solar is hooked into the grid is that the added power from scattered sources is that the grid itself becomes more stable. Large power outages are very expensive, if millions of homes had even one small pv panel the overall benefit would be great. I met a guy in Glens Falls who came up with a design for a single panel with freeze proof battery storage that could provide backup power to a single outlet for 3-12 hours depending on usage in an emergency. Not a bad idea.

    I have to re-roof my house this fall and I will be installing some sort of solar hot water. Solar hot water is really a no brainier. Any new home should have it installed. My grandparents who lived in a house with rudimentary passive solar design (a plan my grandmother clipped from a magazine in the ’30’s) used solar hot water to heat the pool at their motel in the 70’s.

    Micro-hydro is also a great option for many people who may have a small stream on their property. Much cheaper than a solar pv system.

  25. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Oh, and the sub thing…advertising works. Even for stuff that is stupid to buy.

  26. Pete Klein says:

    I think using an air conditioner up here is a bit wimpy, unless the doctor wrote you a prescription for it.
    Air conditioned cars I understand if for no other reasons than they all come with it nowadays and cars can heat up fast to being hotter than Death Valley.
    Yes, it has been warm but not hot. Haven’t seen 90 yet in Indian Lake and it has been dropping down into the 40’s for the past three nights. The heat even clicked on this morning.

  27. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Pete, while you may not need an air-conditioner in Indian Lake, you are still connected to the same electrical grid as the people in NYC and if the grid can’t sustain their use of power then you lose yours too.

  28. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I forgot the alternative energy that everyone always forgets, all of the energy that you could use but that you don’t need to because you plan ahead and think a little bit about being more efficient in what you do. That can be small things that help a tiny bit or they can be really big things like home design that incorporates passive solar elements and spending a little extra on insulation. The life cycle of a house is very long and it doesn’t really cost any extra to plan for south facing windows or limiting windows to the north. Reading a couple of books about passive solar design before planning a home can pay off in very small heating bills for the rest of your life.

  29. Paul says:

    Micro-hydro is pretty cool. I hope that they make it easy as far as regulations to use that. I bet you would need several permits to drop one of those units in a river. APA, Army Corp, DEC the whole shooting match.

  30. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    “I have to re-roof my house this fall and I will be installing some sort of solar hot water. Solar hot water is really a no brainier. Any new home should have it installed.”

    Not necessarily the case any longer. Given the drop in the price of solar panel prices, it’s now cheaper to actually install panels and heat water from the electricity they generate. Of course this varies depending upon a lot of things, but again, it’s not necessarily cheaper to use solar THERMAL. See below article:

  31. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    As far as my use of local renewable energy, I’ve purchased my 3 tons of locally produced pellets (Made in Theresa, NY and purchased through Lowville Masonry Supply) for the upcoming heating season and upgraded my pellet stove to a larger more efficient brand new Harman P-61A (built in America, by the way) also purchased from Lowville Masonry Supply.

    Regarding energy efficiency, last summer I installed 6 new double pane low E argon Pella brand windows (also made in America) purchased from Widmeyer Home supply in Glenfield, NY and installed by a local contractor from Lowville. We often forget the importance of efficiency when discussing energy.

  32. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul, you can easily rig up a very small hydro-generator (if you have a stream with sufficient drop) by putting a plastic pipe into a deep pool in the stream and running it to an automotive alternator and charge a bank of batteries. Then the water returns to the stream just a few hundred feet away.

    But on a more advanced level the Swiss have done amazing things with micro hydro, dropping turbines directly into the streambeds or using low head dams.

  33. Paul says:

    Knuck, I know I have looked into this for a place that I have. For me I would have to put it into a navigable river, for that I will need permits even for a small device to do it legally. I wonder if the permitting agencies even have any idea how to deal with this kind of new technology?

  34. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It would be a good thing to educate our leaders on.

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