Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Local Energy Spurned

Princeton imports energy from distant locales, largely unaware of the environmental fallout both at the source of that energy and at the destination of the resulting greenhouse gases. It would be far more sustainable, and responsible, to source energy from local above-ground sources rather than the underground sources we import, and that means harvesting solar energy either directly or from trees.

In that light, so to speak, there's something less than beautiful about the Westminster Choir College's new building. It's that bare roof. I've heard they intentionally gave the roof an auspicious southern orientation, but decided to hold off on solar panels for budgetary reasons.

I'd like to see what numbers were used to support that logic. As shown by a neighbor of mine in an earlier post, it's possible to lease solar panels for no money down, then pay for the resultant energy at a lower rate than if it were coming from a power plant. The persistent belief that solar panels are expensive reminds me of circular conversations I've had about native landscaping: "I can't afford the maintenance." "But natives require less maintenance than you're doing now." "But I can't afford the maintenance." "But natives require less maintenance than you're doing now." Ad nauseum. Current realities don't penetrate through long held assumptions.

Another spurning of local energy is the chipping up of all wood. This is understandable for softwoods and pesky branches, but chippers are now so strong that they can swallow whole trees, trunk and all. I've heard there are clean-burning incinerators that could turn the chips into energy, but none nearby, so the chips are hauled away to be composted--a nice-sounding but machine-intensive process that requires turning of the windrows by big machines, and then more hauling to get the product to a new location. Nice mulch, but the end result is consumption of imported energy, rather than production of local energy.

Princeton borough used to leave cut street trees at the curb for a few days for residents to scavenge good firewood, and wood stoves are an efficient, deeply satisfying, and surprisingly clean source of heat. But the new town policy is to haul wood away to distant locales, which increases energy consumption, staff time spent, plus whatever fee the composting facility charges.

At last night's town council meeting, Princeton resident Daniel Harris called for an accounting of all the town's energy usage, including vehicle use, to determine how to cut back. It won't come close to matching the phenomenal amount of energy used to, for instance, incinerate the town's sludge, far from the public eye down on River Road, but it's a useful exercise that could shift thinking and consumption habits. We also need to be looking at all the sources of potential local energy that are currently being spurned, and ask why we continue to ignore local energy harvest in favor of distant sources like fracked gas.

No comments: