CCCD Director speaks on green energy
By Geoff Samuels
Alan White, executive director of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (CCCD), spoke at last Wednesday’s Andes Roundtable meeting about green energy alternatives with the focus being on the Catskill Region.
Mr. White has worked at the CCCD for 2 ½ years and has worked professionally in the Catskills for more than 30 years. The CCCD was formed in 1969 and is one of the oldest environmental groups in the area.
Speaking about his role as director White said, “One of the things I’m interested in is making sure the Catskill Center ‘walks the walk.’ If we’re going to talk about conservation activities, I think we really need to demonstrate that we’re doing these kinds of things and that we’re showing people essentially what does and does not work in the Catskills.”
Commenting about the advantages of being a non–profit organization, White elaborated on how they are able to attract grant funds and donations to acquire and test various technologies adding,
“If some one’s going to take a risk or a gamble, it doesn’t have to be a personal household. ... We can do some things that you probably wouldn’t jump into, and that would give you some site-based analysis of what’s working.”
Facts are Facts
White then presented a series of graphs on a projector screen, the first of which depicted how miniscule New York States’ reliance on green energy resources is compared to nuclear, oil, gas and coal, with one bright-spot being hydro-electric.
“Everybody wants to go home and flip a switch and they want the lights to come on,” he said, “so what source would you choose.”
Then, a startling fact emerged regarding the Catskills and the political will to “scrub coal” (make coal emissions clean) with White saying, “My concern is that we’re at the tailpipe of a bunch of coal generating plants, and that the Catskills is actually one of the highest mercury deposition areas in the country.”
He went on to say, “The fish advisory for the New York City reservoirs should tell you something ... any woman of child-bearing age or any children, are basically advised not to eat fish that come out of the reservoir ... and that’s because of mercury emissions from coal.”
After presenting a graph which asserted that the peak in oil production occurred during the mid-nineties, White talked about a wide array of building and consumer products, as well as the highways themselves, that are made from oil-based materials.
“I think we’re in a little bit of denial” he said, adding “We’ve built a lot of our society on oil, we’ve peaked in production, and we haven’t made a lot of progress in terms of alternative sources.”
Dollars and Cents
The discussion then turned to what types of green energy products the CCCD has actually put to the test and how long it takes to recoup ones investment given the various state and federal incentives available. In reference to the first array of 22 solar panels that were installed at the Erpf Center at a cost of $39,000, White said they received $19,000 in rebates, which went directly back to the contractor. On the basis of one year of operation, he maintained the “payback time” was about 11 ½ years.
Jack McShane, primary facilitator of the Andes Roundtable, immediately interjected with “You also have to consider those costs are going to be burdening the taxpayer; that’s not free money …. we have to pay that in our taxes.” White’s response was that this new technology will continually improve and that the subsidies for these products will eventually help bring down their cost, similar to the price of computers coming down since the days when they were “room-sized.”
Then White talked about the cost of food transportation and why we should buy local, explaining, “17 percent of all the energy in this country is consumed by getting food to the table. Think about that head of lettuce that’s coming from California. It’s 90 percent water, it took a lot of energy to produce it, and you’re going to haul it 3,000 miles just because you want to have lettuce at a time of year when you can’t grow it here.”
White said he finds it troubling that there are a lot of agricultural fields in the Catskills that aren’t being used saying “For some reason ... we don’t do as much growing here as we could.”
The presentation came to a close with a discussion of the new “restroom technology” that has been installed at the Erpf Center utilizing dual-flush toilets that consume far less water than a standard one, and a new economical “Dyson Blade” hand dryer that dries your hands with an unheated stream of air. White also said that the CCCD will be purchasing a couple of new hybrid cars that will get 60 percent of their electrical charge directly from the solar panels already installed at the Erpf Center.