Propane versus sunshine

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Tom Bose, supervisor of the Town of Callicoon, and other members of the board thought they had a great plan for the town: they would give Combined Energy Services (CES) a 70-foot strip of land at the town highway barn. In exchange, CES would give the town free equipment to switch to propane heat at the town barn and town hall, and free propane to heat the town hall and up to 2,500 gallons a year to heat the town barn.

But there were problems. Some neighbors objected on safety concerns, because the huge tank would be located near a dangerous intersection. Town zoning laws do not allow for a 30,000 storage tank to be located on that particular property. Some objected because the deal was not subject to a competitive bidding process which would normally be required, and some people object to any expanded use of fossil fuels in the town.

Andy Hahn and his wife filed an Article 78 lawsuit that’s used to appeal a state or local agency’s decision in court, and CES pulled out of the deal. In this election season Bose, who is running unopposed to retain his position, publicly criticized Hahn, who is running for a seat on the council, for objecting to a project that “would have saved the town thousands of dollars annually.”

But, of course, the town’s bottom line isn’t the only thing to consider, as Bose himself has shown in the past. Bose and other board members blocked a project that would have saved the town considerable money in paying for electricity.

In 2008, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther offered the town a grant of $125,000 toward the cost of a solar-panel system. That grant, along with incentives and other state rebates, offered what would have, at the time, totaled more than $300,000 and could have been used to pay for a solar-panel system that would have provided free or nearly-free electricity for the town hall and the town barn for at least 20 years, and probably a good deal longer. There are currently working solar arrays in the town whose owners pay almost nothing for electricity except for a monthly carrying charge.

But Bose and other members of the board blocked the project. One reason critics cited at the time was that the solar installation would not be “free,” because nothing is free as the argument goes—taxpayers would have been be picking up the tab for the town’s solar array. But doesn’t that same argument extend to the propane equipment and fuel deal? Unless we assume that CES proposes to operate at a loss, had the deal gone forward, other propane customers would have been picking up the tab for the Town of Callicoon’s “free” propane. Furthermore, sunshine to create electricity, unlike propane, is literally free.

This newspaper has been a vocal proponent of alternative energy for a long time, but we do not take a radical approach. We realize the move away from fossil fuels can’t be so abrupt that it tosses the world into economic chaos. We do not require, for instance, that employees drive electric vehicles because that would be unreasonable.

Two of us, however, do drive hybrid vehicles that get over 50 miles per gallon on the road, and we do that because it’s something that moves the country and the world in what we consider to be a sustainable direction.

To accept grant, incentive and rebate money from the state 11 years ago would have been something the town could have done. It would have been a small step that would have moved the town, county and country a small step in a sustainable direction.

Now, in 2019, switching from oil heat to propane at the town hall, and from wood to propane at the town barn, would, in our view, be moving the town in an unsustainable direction. It’s not that we don’t believe there is a place for propane; its application as a fuel for back-up generators used in power outages is clearly a benefit these days when more intense storms are causing more outages than in the past. Also, propane certainly burns cleaner than other fossil fuels.

But to jump straight to a propane solution, based solely on a guarantee of nearly-free propane for the next five years, is a disservice to future generations, just as saying no to solar in 2008 was a disservice to future generations. In 1960, humans burned enough fossil fuels to pump about 10 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. By 2018, that amount had increased to about 37 billion tons. The future is getting closer.

The failure to explore other options for heating town facilities, such as air- or ground-source heat pumps, will most certainly be seen as short-sighted by people who will be living in the Town of Callicoon 50 years from now.
We’re pretty sure people will still be living here in 2070. But because of climate change, we’re not so sure those people will still be able to enjoy locally-produced maple syrup. Issues that may crop up in the future should be considered as we make energy choices in the present.

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