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?