Posts Tagged ‘energy’

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cabin Life: Starting Spring Projects

The afternoon sunlight slants against the birdfeeders, giving them a golden glow. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost seven at night, when it was not that long ago that the sun was going down at about four-thirty.

During the really dark parts of the winter, it was hard not to go to sleep at six PM. With only candles and oil lamps, night was difficult to fight off, and more often than not, I fell asleep on the couch with a book on my chest and my headlamp still on. Now that it’s light so late in the afternoon, I am actually having a hard time filling the days. Not that I’m just sitting around doing nothing, but I feel like I should be working until six or seven. It is nice to take a break and realize that it’s dinner time, though.

The wood I cut over the winter is drying nicely, the deer have been coming back to the yard, and luckily there hasn’t been any sign of bears. The chickadees have been using the feeders less and less, but the squirrels are still hitting them pretty regularly. My focus has definitely shifted from cold weather preparation and existence to outdoor projects. The compost bin is complete, and so is a small cold-frame I put together from scrap around the property. The leaky porch roof now has a rather large hole in it (my fault) and is in dire need of repair, so that’s the next big project. I’ll probably have to move a generator from Amy’s house up to the cabin to charge batteries and run a saw for the roof project. It’s weird to think that other than charging my phone in the car, this will be the first time that I’ll have electricity at the cabin.

October to April with no power at the house seems like a long time. But it went by pretty quickly. I did go through a lot of 9-volt batteries powering the clock radio. I also burned about three shoe-boxes worth of candles, as well as a gallon or so of lamp oil. I’ve burned about four cords of wood, but the stove won’t needed much longer. The two and a half gallons of gas I bought for the chainsaw is just about gone, and I finally added a gallon of gas to the four wheeler. I really wish that the four wheeler would start in the cold, but now that it is running, I’ve been having a lot of fun just driving it around.

Unfortunately, Pico can’t come along on these rides, because he’s continually trying to bite the tires, and that’s no good. The bugs are out, but nothing is biting yet. A friend of mine saw some mosquitoes, but he said “they were too stupid to bite me.” Let’s hope they stay that dumb all summer.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cabin Life: Logging by Hand

Logging by hand has to be one of the most pointless and inefficient activities I have engaged in so far. I have been “cleaning the woods” as it were, dragging out large limbs and cutting dead trees to get wood for next year’s firewood supply. This year’s supply is large, but the quality of the wood is not that good.

When we moved here in the fall, my then-roommate and I didn’t have the money to buy firewood, and since we had fifty acres at our disposal, we figured we could cut, haul, and split our own wood. Luckily, we found a pile of logs that had been cut three years ago. It was mostly soft wood like white pine, spruce, and poplar (aspen), but it was free and dry. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cabin Life: The Decision to Live ‘Off The Grid’

There’s a half dozen black capped chickadees hanging around the cabin now. They finally found the bird feeders, though the blue jays have been scarce. One of the jays was hanging out in an apple tree this morning, but I haven’t seen them at the feeders in a few days.

I was recently asked why I decided to live off the grid. Long story short: It’s free and I can’t afford to pay rent. But when I really think about it, this has been a long time coming.

The idea of being self sufficient has always appealed to me. I just couldn’t afford to buy a piece of land to do this on, and until this winter, I had never been lucky enough to have someone just offer to let me live in a place for free. When Amy asked if I wanted to stay out here, I didn’t even think about it. I just said yes.

I’ve usually moved around a lot, mainly because I get restless, and the grass is always greener somewhere else. In 2006, when I moved to Florida, I was in desperate need of a change. I had battled depression most of my life, and Jacksonville seemed like a good escape. Eventually, I manned up and sought help for my depression. And part of my therapist’s plan was to help me realize that I could do what I want with my life and not be afraid of the consequences. After all, it was my life to screw up.

The more I thought about this new, happier phase, the more I knew that I couldn’t keep living in Florida. I gave up two jobs, health insurance, vacation time, a pension, lots of friends, and agreed to a long-distance relationship all to move back to the mountains and work a seasonal job with no benefits so that I could hike and play with my dog Pico. I knew that I would be broke and I didn’t care.

I think that’s why I am adjusting so well to living off the grid; because I’ve been mentally preparing for it for years. And now that I’m actually doing it, I couldn’t be happier. Sure, I’m broke, single, and have to ask friends if I can take a quick shower at their houses (They always say yes!) but what could be better than having an adventure like this? When I look back twenty years from now, I know that this time will have been a major turning point in my life.

The experience I’m having is already shaping the future me. I’m making plans for a cabin of my own, looking for land, and reading and taking classes on farming, homesteading, food preservation and draft horse handling. I’m not shy of hard work, and when I can afford some land, I plan on building a log cabin and living off the grid. But, since I’m not the Unabomber, I will also have solar panels, running water and indoor plumbing. Plus I’m pretty sure the Unabomber didn’t have a blog.

Justin Levine is living off the grid in a cabin in the Adirondacks with his dog Pico and blogging at Middle of the Trail.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Home Energy Retrofit Workshop Now Online

ADKCAP, The Wild Center’s Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan, recently hosted a sold-out workshop to contractors, code officials and homeowners about key steps to retrofitting your home. If you missed the workshop or if you just want to refresh your memory, videos of the workshop are now available online.

Martin Holladay, a Green Building Advisor, noted in August 2009, “To achieve the carbon reductions needed to prevent a global ecological catastrophe, almost every house in North America will need a deep energy retrofit.”

So-called ‘deep energy retrofits’ can achieve 70 – 75% reduction in energy use over the more traditional retrofits that typically see a 5 – 15% energy use reduction. Greg Pedrick, Project Manager for NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) in the Building R&D Sector, led the workshop using four residential buildings that underwent deep energy retrofits coupled with the typical homeowner initiated projects such as window, siding and/or roofing replacements to substantially improve the building envelope as examples. The training presented billing data before and after the work was completed, as well as costs of the work involved. Pedrick is an engaging speaker and makes the information understandable to a wide audience.

“This work is inspiring, because everyday people can do it, and it does not require Senate hearings, Judge decisions or EPA rulings, to enable it to happen,” said Pedrick. “Just tenacity and willingness to work hard, and salvage what you have.”

Pedrick hopes this training will:

Provide independent/step function solution to dependence on fuel, which is typically NOT a local commodity

Improve overall air quality, health and well-being of both the building and the inhabitants

Create work force opportunities to improve existing housing stock, while reducing energy use

“In the U.S. homes are the most defective products consumers purchase,” according to Tedd Benson, of BensonWood Timber Framing and keynote speaker at The Wild Center/ADKCAP Build a Greener Adirondacks EXPO in April 2011. “Consumer Reports found a 15% serious defect rate in new homes studied, and an Orlando Sentinel investigation, found a more than 80% serious defect rate in new homes analyzed.”

“This type of training, and the online videos we created for those who missed the workshop, helps and inspires both the homeowner and the contractors in our region with the real hands-on information they can put to work immediately using standard construction skills. The Wild Center and its ADKCAP/CEEM (Community Energy Efficiency Management) project aim to provide practical ideas about sustainability and environment-friendly economic approaches,” said Stephanie Ratcliffe, Executive Director of The Wild Center. “At the end of the day it is the little and big changes that we all make that add up to real change. What I enjoy most about this aspect of our work is that it helps the planet and saves money over time.”

The Wild Center has modeled – through its “green” facilities, educational programming, and conferences – how science museums can help to disseminate environmental solutions. For example, buildings use an estimated 30% of energy in the United States, thus increasing green building design and retrofits has huge potential for economic savings and job development. The Wild Center is Silver LEED certified for its green buildings and educates visitors through a tour of its green design on site and online through its website.

ADKCAP is a partnership of The Wild Center and 30 other institutions in the region. ADKCAP works through existing organizations around the region to implement a proactive strategy to enable the Adirondacks, approximately 20% of the land area of New York State, to improve energy and cost savings within the region. To heat and power itself the region currently uses more than 46 million gallons of fuel oil and LPG, and 925 million kWh of electricity annually, draining $263 million a year from struggling economies of the region. Investing in local efficiency helps to keep that money in the region. The Adirondacks are nevertheless a model of conservation for the nation and are positioned to lead in establishing a “green” economy.

ADKCAP’s Community Energy Efficiency Management (CEEM) project, which co-sponsored this event, is working to support the Towns of Moriah, Schroon Lake, and Long Lake to inventory energy use of municipally-owned structures, transportation & residential buildings, make a plan to identify and prioritize energy saving opportunities, explore financing options, implement energy saving projects, and track energy savings. The “deep retrofit” model has been shared widely in the Adirondack region through CEEM.

For more information visit www.adkcap.org.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Third Adirondack Youth Climate Summit This Week

As preparations for the third Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, on November 9th and 10th, are reaching a crescendo, science centers around the country and the world are in touch with The Wild Center in Tupper Lake to talk about using the Youth Summit model to create a shared summit platform that would allow students in different locations to share ideas and successes. The Summit will bring together more than 170 participants from 30 high schools and colleges across the Adirondacks and ultimately effect more than 25,000 students.

The Summit is the only one of its kind in the country and has already led to financial savings and shifts in mindsets across the Park. Students who participated last year returned to their schools implementing change – creating school gardens to provide food for their cafeterias, expanding recycling and composting programs, replacing power strips with energy smart strips, examining energy saving opportunities by conducting carbon audits for their schools and presenting to school boards about their activities and financial savings. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Local Program Hopes to Reduce Energy Use, Create Jobs

With the budgets of villages, towns and municipalities being slashed across the country, two (and more in future) communities in the Adirondack Park are participating in a pilot program that will identify ways they can reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint, create or retain jobs and save money. The Community Energy Efficiency Management (CEEM) project will include the Towns of Moriah and Schroon Lake, and project managers are talking with other municipalities about participating in the two-year program.

During the program the communities will inventory energy use of municipally-owned structures, transportation and residential buildings, make a plan to identify and prioritize energy saving opportunities, explore financing options, implement energy saving projects, and track energy savings. They will share their experiences with other
communities throughout the process.

Rural communities, including the 103 towns and villages within the boundary of the Adirondack Park, suffer from a host of economic development problems. ADKCAP (the Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan) developed a model to support such communities with comprehensive CEEM services to address economic needs through the “low-hanging fruit” afforded by energy efficiency incentives and programs. The CEEM
project is funded through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development and co-implemented by The Wild Center in Tupper Lake and the Community Power Network of NYS, based in Olmstedville, in Essex County.

“Green is truly the road to the future,” said Cathy Moses, Town Supervisor of the Town of Schroon Lake. “Although some of the initial green changes are costly, there are several grants available if sought. The end result is saving the future for our children – it doesn’t get much better than that!”

“The Town of Moriah Town Board decided to participate in this project for possible savings of both energy and money for our constituents,” added Tom Scozzafava, Moriah’s Town Supervisor. “As we have progressed we have found that with very little up front expenditure, we can save not only energy but also dollars that will more than pay
for the changes.”

Project advisors will support project progress, provide training, celebrate and publicize successes, and help build capacity needed to realize energy saving opportunities while guiding how to take advantage of state and federal energy and carbon reduction funds. They will also help communities invite businesses, nonprofits, schools, and residents to learn more about available energy efficiency programs.

“After my mother passed away I decided to replace the 1950s furnace in her old house,” said Cathy Robarts of Moriah, who attended a CEEM outreach meeting this summer. “I paid for a new high-efficiency boiler, which cost about $1000, and got my investment back in three years including $200 of repairs on fuel lines and related needs. The majority of the savings came in the form of oil costs.” This kind of experience will be captured and shared through the project.

“We know from energy audits and conversations with town and village elected officials that energy costs are often one of the most costly items in a budget year after year,” said Stephanie Ratcliffe, Executive Director of The Wild Center. “This project is designed to assist the towns and villages to take advantage of grants and other incentive opportunities to improve energy efficiency and save money over time. We know the motivation is there, we are just trying to help bridge the gap with technical information, grant writing assistance and tracking.”

“The collaboration within and between communities is very important. By identifying and prioritizing energy saving opportunities, we can creatively develop opportunities for our economic development problems. Rural Development is committed to building a foundation for stronger rural communities, ones that are equipped with tools to succeed. Programs such as CEEM are an example of how the Obama Administration is committed to creating a more prosperous rural America,” said USDA NY Rural Development State Director Jill Harvey.

Despite the need for improvements, there are currently only 20 fully certified energy auditing businesses serving the 6 million acre Park – according to NYSERDA’s website – to help the businesses, municipalities, and residents who want to reduce energy expenditures on their buildings by an average 30 percent and invest savings in other economic opportunities. In addition, there is currently a 2-year backlog of low-income homeowners in the region requesting weatherization assistance. Small municipalities such as those throughout this region often operate with part-time staff and less capacity than urbanized areas and therefore can have difficulty taking advantage of incentives that exist.

Managers reason that each community’s investment in the project will pay for itself quickly through energy savings.

It is anticipated that the project will help to create or retain the equivalent of three to five stable, well-paying “green” clean energy jobs. Every job created in the Adirondacks means a family can stay where many generations have been before them. Jobs such as local energy auditors and insulation installers cannot be outsourced. The project will also help to create demand for more such skilled and trained workers.
The Wild Center has modeled – through its “green” facilities, educational programming, and conferences – how science museums can help to disseminate environmental solutions.

For example, buildings use an estimated 30% of energy in the United States, thus increasing green building design and retrofits has huge potential for economic
savings and job development. The Wild Center is Silver LEED certified for its green buildings and educates visitors through a tour of its green design on site and on-line through its website.

The Community Power Network of New York State, Inc. addresses the energy needs of families and communities throughout New York. CPN has worked extensively to improve energy efficiency and affordability for low-income households. Improving the ability of North Country communities to access New York’s energy programs and opportunities is also a focus for this private consulting corporation.

“We believe that the Community Energy Efficiency Management pilot provides an important new program model for rural areas like ours,” said Sue Montgomery Corey, President of CPN. She noted that every rural community is different and finding strategies to make state and federal resource programs meet the needs of individual
communities is a critical part of implementing them successfully in rural areas.

ADKCAP is a partnership of The Wild Center and 30 other institutions in the region. ADKCAP works through existing organizations around the region to implement a proactive strategy to enable the Adirondacks, approximately 20% of the land area of New York State, to improve energy and cost savings within the region. To heat and power itself the region currently uses more than 46 million gallons of fuel oil and LPG, and 925 million kWh of electricity annually, draining $263 million a year from struggling economies of the region. Investing in local efficiency helps to keep that money in the region. The Adirondacks are nevertheless a model of conservation for the nation and are positioned to lead in establishing a “green” economy.

For more information visit www.adkcap.org and click on CEEM or contact Kara Page, kpage@wildcenter.org or Jennifer Monroe, jlmonroe@capital.net.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bill McKibben, Christoper Shaw Arrested in Climate Protest

Writers Bill McKibben and Christopher Shaw were arrested Saturday in front of the White House as they took part in a demonstration trying to persuade the Obama administration to deny construction of a 1,700-mile pipeline that would carry Canadian tar-sands oil to American refineries.

McKibben, Shaw and approximately 65 others were being held in a DC jail over the weekend pending a court appearance Monday. Both McKibben and Shaw are former Adirondack residents who maintain strong ties to the region. Shaw is a contributor to Adirondack Almanack; McKibben is a climate change activist who co-organized the tar sands pipeline demonstration; both teach and lead an environmental journalism program at Middlebury College, in Vermont.



In addition to the risk of oil spills along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path from Alberta to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Canadian tar sands could be North America’s largest “carbon bomb,” McKibben says. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature,” he wrote last month in an op-ed on TomDispatch.com.

The Department of State will decide by the end of the year whether to issue a permit for a pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canada border, so McKibben says the decision lies solely with the Obama administration and will be a test of the president’s commitment to the environment.

Protest organizer tarsandaction.org issued a press release Sunday stating that 2,000 people are expected to participate in the sit-in before it ends, September 3.

Photograph courtesy of Tar Sands Action. Christopher Shaw is third from the right.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Solar-Voltaic Boot Camp at the Wild Center

As the cost of home heating oil rises and oil reserves decline, the need for alternative renewable energy sources such as solar has never been greater. You can help kick the oil habit by learning to install solar photo-voltaic systems at The Wild Center, in Tupper Lake. From August 8 – 10, the HeatSpring Learning Institute will host a Solar Photo-Voltaic Installer Boot Camp Training course targeted for electrical contractors, general contractors, roofers, engineers and home installers.

This intensive solar training teaches you to design, install, and sell solar PV (electric) systems, plus helps you pass the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Entry Level Exam. The training combines 16 hours of online lessons including reading assignments, worksheets and other prep with a three-day classroom based boot camp including hands-on exercises and face to face time with an ISPQ Certified Master trainer. On the last day of the training students take the NABCEP Entry Level Exam. The blended format of this course is designed to keep time off-the-job to a minimum and present the material in a variety of formats to allow for a variety of student learning styles.

The three-day classroom based training follows 16 hours of online study beforehand when you review OSHA and solar safety, electricity basics, solar basics, solar components and solar integration. Learn to design and install solar electric systems from A to Z while earning 40 Board approved hours toward NABCEP certification, a key step to beginning or expanding your solar business.

Instructor Ken Thames is a master electrician, NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer, ISPQ Certified Master Trainer and founder of Thames Electric Co, in Denver, Colorado. Ken has installed more than 500 solar PV systems since 1994, has deep expertise in battery-backed systems, project management experience on megawatt-scale projects, and teaches courses on the NEC for inspectors.

Each day the course runs from 8 am until 5 pm. With early registration and The Wild Center coupon, the cost for the course is $1,195. The cost includes books, exam fees, field guides, as well as coffee, breakfast and lunch on all three days. Register online for the three-day comprehensive course, at www.wildcenter.org and go to Calendar of Events or contact Andrew Kitzenberg at 1-800-393-2044 x 22.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Guest Essay: Why Croghan Dam Should Be Saved

What follows is a guest essay by Mike Petroni, a member of the Croghan Dam Restoration Initiative. Concern over the stability of the 93-year-old dam (on the Beaver River in Lewis County) has led DEC to lower the water level of the impoundment by removing stop logs to reduce water pressure on the dam structure. The DEC is planning to remove the remaining logs from the two-section dam in the coming week and eventually breach the concrete structure. The Almanack asked Mike Petroni to provide some background on why local leaders, historic preservationists, and renewable energy advocates hope to keep DEC from breaching the dam.

Straddling the western edge of the Blue Line, Croghan, New York, known for its exceptional bologna, is home to one of New York’s last remaining water powered saw-mills. Over the past few years, the Croghan Island Mill has been the center of a dramatic debate. The question: how will New York manage its aging small dam infrastructure? » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Environmental Historian at the Chapman Museum

This Wednesday, May 25, at 7 pm, noted environmental historian John Cumbler will present a talk entitled Mills, Water Power Dams and the Transformation of the Environment at the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls. The lecture is the first in a series of programs, funded in part by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, which expand on the themes of the Chapman’s current exhibit, Harnessing the Hudson: Waterwheels & Turbines, a history of waterpower on the upper Hudson River. The program is free and open to the public.

John T. Cumbler, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, has taught at the Univ. of Louisville since 1975, specializing in United States Environmental History and Economic History. Professor Cumbler is the author of numerous books including: Northeast and Midwest United States: An Environmental History (2005) and Reasonable Use: The People, The Environment, And The State, New England 1790-1930 (2001). In his talk he will explore the impact of industrialization on rivers and the history of how people have responded to that degradation.

The Chapman Historical Museum is located at 348 Glen Street, Glens Falls. The exhibit Harnessing the Hudson will be on view through September 25th. Public hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday, noon to 4 pm. For more information call (518) 793-2826 or visit www.chapmanmuseum.org.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Chapman Opens ‘Harnessing the Hudson’ Exhibit

The Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls has opened a new major exhibition, Harnessing the Hudson, which explores the history of how people in the region have harnessed the renewable energy of the Hudson River from early sawmills to hydroelectric generators.

In 1903, the Spier Falls hydroelectric dam, located on the Hudson eight miles upstream from Glens Falls, began to produce electricity. Touted at the time as the largest dam of its type in the United States, the dam supplied electricity not only to surrounding communities but also to the large General Electric plant in Schenectady 50 miles away. The dam quickly became part of a network of power plants and transmission lines that supplied power for factories, transportation and lighting in the Capital region.

The brainchild of Glens Falls attorney, Eugene Ashley, Spier Falls was a project that captivated the interest of people far and wide. They were familiar with water power, but electricity was a very new phenomenon at the beginning of the 20th century, and many people were not convinced of its potential. Little did they suspect how much it would change their lives.

The exhibit features archival materials and artifacts principally from the Chapman’s Spier Falls collection but also from other regional archives. Of particular note are photographs provided by the Schenectady Museum and Science Center, which houses thousands of images that document the history of GE and the development of electricity. For those unfamiliar with the physics of water power, a hand-cranked generator and other interactive elements provide greater understanding of the science involved.

In conjunction with the exhibit, which will run through September, the museum plans to hold a series of public programs relating to the theme of Harnessing the Hudson. These will include talks about the history of hydropower on the upper Hudson, the development of the electric grid, a driving tour of mill sites, and kayak tours that explore the river ecology around Spier Falls.

This project is supported by: Brookfield, The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation, the Waldo T. Ross & Ruth S. Ross Charitable Trust Foundation, National Grid, the New York Council for the Humanities and general operating support from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

The exhibit will be on display at the Chapman Historical Museum through September 25, 2011. The museum is located at 348 Glen Street, Glens Falls, NY. Public Hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday, noon to 4 pm. For more information call (518) 793-2826

Photo: Construction workers installing a 12’ diameter penstock at Spier Falls Hydroelectric Dam, 1901.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Commentary: Gas Prices, History, and the Gas Tax

On a gas pump near Plattsburgh a few days ago, the price for Regular Grade was just under $4.20 per gallon. Check this out: “The American Petroleum Institute’s weekly report says that despite a sharp increase in crude oil output … there have been extensive gasoline price advances.” And, regarding local prices, “there has been a long agitation against what northern New York motorists have considered discrimination against the North Country.”

“The committee appointed last Tuesday by the New York Development Association will investigate the reason for the difference in the price of gasoline in northern New York as compared with prices charged in Utica and Syracuse.” Here’s why you SHOULDN’T be encouraged by those quotes: they’re taken from the 1920s.

History can be fun, entertaining, and educational, but it can also provide guidelines to the future. And that’s where society tends to fail so often, a fault alluded to in the old proverb suggesting that those forgetting the past are doomed to repeat it. This price-of-gas situation has happened often in the past, and here we go again. Same problems, same rhetoric, same lack of results.

Average Americans have been sold the big lie over and over, and we keep coming back for more. If you recall: the occasional fuel crises from now back through the 1980s; gas rationing in the 1970s (remember odd-and-even days, long lines at the pumps, and limited purchases?); and other similar periods, then tell me if this sounds familiar: “FTC hearings will be held on the unexplained rising price of gasoline, in compliance with a senate resolution.”

That quote is from 1916, and the price increase wasn’t “unexplained.” It was gouging by the oil companies during World War I. It was okay to screw the public, but not the feds. Within a year of when the US finally joined the fight, Federal Fuel Administrator H. A. Garfield announced he was studying plans “to fix the price of gasoline for domestic customers, as well as for the government and Allies, at a lower figure than the present market price.”

In the years immediately following the war, gas prices doubled, and for good reason: the sales of cars skyrocket in the 1920s, and what better way for oil companies to take advantage than raise the price of fuel for those millions of new vehicles?

Of course, the same arguments you hear today were applied then: it’s not greed, it’s capitalism and the market’s natural response to supply and demand forces. Greater demand supposedly drove prices higher, and the poor oil companies were forced to reap historic profits. Why, oh why, does that sound so familiar?

It continues nearly a century later … just look at Exxon and Chevron’s recent quarterly statements. Fighting back against these behemoths hasn’t been successful. The rising prices of the early 1920s prompted another federal investigation led by Senator LaFollette, who said, “Unless there is government intervention, the price of gasoline will be pushed beyond the reach of the ordinary automobile owner.” Again, of course, the findings were ignored.

There may be a good reason why nothing concrete resulted from all of the investigations. In 1919, Oregon became the first state to institute a gasoline tax intended to provide funding for the repair and maintenance of roadways. It looked like a great system, and the idea spread across the country. Governments soon corrupted the process, simply taxing gasoline as a revenue source.

It’s almost impossible to believe, but New York was one of the last two states to follow suit. (Here’s one thing to be proud of, though—we’ve managed to regroup and pass every state in the tax category). In 1929, Governor Franklin Roosevelt signed a large farm-aid legislative package that included the Hewitt-Pratt bill, a clause that led him to threaten a veto.

Hewitt-Pratt contained this order: “Moneys paid into the state treasury pursuant to this subdivision [the gas tax] shall be appropriated and used for the maintenance and repair of the improved roads of the state, under the direction of the superintendent of public works.”

Well, sort of. The state imposed a two-cent gas tax, returning a percentage of the take to the individual counties based on road mileage, and depositing the remainder in the state treasury.

Raising the price of gas posed a concern, but not to worry. State Tax Commissioner Thomas Lynch said that when the law kicked in on May 1, there was “no assurance that the public would pay two cents more for gas.” Since it was taxed at the source (the distributors), Lynch said the oil companies would probably just absorb the cost. Nostradamus had nothing to worry about.

As for that new money in the treasury? In no time at all, politicians were appropriating gas-tax funds for a variety of non-road-related uses. Once the feeding frenzy began, it was all over. Requests to raise the gas tax soon became routine. After all, it was a state income bonanza.

Even a county as small as Clinton paid $293,000 in 1932, of which only $96,000 came back for highway use. By 1934, the gas tax itself amounted to 24 percent of the price. In 1934, the state took in $85 million from the gas tax, $50 million of which was diverted for non-highway use. (That very same issue arose recently with the loss of the Lake Champlain Bridge.)

It probably comes as no surprise that, in 1929, the Supreme Court rejected efforts by the states to treat gasoline as a public utility. Natural gas and electricity were somehow necessary, but gas was deemed a commodity that we could do with or without. And so Standard Oil (the father of virtually every major oil company) won the right to regulate itself.

It was business as usual—move into an area, depress prices by lowering its own price, put the competition out of business, and then raise prices at their whim. Walmart has been accused of employing the same tactics. (Today’s ExxonMobil was formerly known as Standard Oil.)

What were the answers to the gas-price problems in the 1990s? The 1970s? The 1920s? All the same. Oil companies flourished while consumers, victimized by high prices, explored electric cars, ethanol fuel, and sometimes just did without. The huge ethanol movement of a few years ago was hardly different from 1997 and 1927, mostly serving as a boon for farmers.

So, as prices rise and you begin to see articles and editorials complaining about the oil companies, and about the inexplicably higher cost of gas in the North Country, it may be a story, but it’s not news. There’s nothing new about it.

Photo Top: Steep price for gas.

Photo Bottom: 1929 advertisement for ethanol.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Build A Greener Adirondacks Conference & EXPO

National leaders in energy efficiency design, practices and retrofitting will be at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake on Saturday, April 30 helping homeowners, business owners and government officials learn how they can reduce their monthly energy costs. High energy costs coupled with the fact that ‘green’ buildings jobs can’t be outsourced, means energy efficient building can offer local jobs and savings, both of which can improve the Adirondack economy. Rethinking the way homes and commercial properties are built affects Adirondack residents and visitors alike.

Tedd Benson, author, innovator, and leading construction expert will deliver the Keynote Address, “Reinventing Homebuilding: Off Site Fabrication and the Open-Built Solution”, on Saturday, April 30th. He has been featured on This Old House, Good Morning America, and the Today Show and recently in USA Today. Benson has won several awards and is recognized as the premier designer/builder of high performance homes in the U.S. and Canada.

Featured presenters, in addition to Tedd Benson, include Jonathan Todd, speaking on eco-friendly lower cost wastewater solutions; Rob Roy on living roofs and cord wood masonry; Robert Clarke, from Serious Materials, the company that manufactured the new windows for the Empire State Building, on super insulating windows; and Dan Frering of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on new lighting technologies that will drastically cut electric bills.

The full agenda for the event can be found online.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

DEC Extends Uncertified Wood Boiler Sales

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced the adoption of an emergency rule pertaining to the sales of outdoor wood boilers in New York. The emergency rule extends the current regulation’s sell-through date by 90 days, allowing a distributor to sell through July 14, 2011 any non-certified outdoor wood boiler models that were in the distributor’s stock as of April 14, 2011. Other than units already in stock, distributors may no longer sell any outdoor wood boilers that are not certified by DEC as meeting the emission standards set forth in the state regulation for outdoor wood boilers (Part 247).

The state outdoor wood boiler regulation was adopted on December 29, 2010 and became effective on January 28, 2011. Portions of the current regulation including stack height, setback, certification, and nuisance related guidelines remain in effect as of April 15, 2011 and include:

1. Minimum stack height of 18 feet above ground level.

2. Setback requirements:

100 feet or more to the nearest property boundary line for outdoor wood boilers with maximum thermal output ratings less than or equal to 250,000 Btu/hour.

200 feet or more to the nearest property boundary line, 300 feet or more to the nearest property boundary line of a residentially-zoned property and 1000 feet or more from a school for outdoor wood boilers with maximum thermal output ratings greater than 250,000 Btu/hour.

Setbacks may be based on distances to residences not served by an outdoor wood boiler if the boiler is located on contiguous agricultural lands larger than five acres.

Customers must make sure their setback is based upon the maximum thermal output of their outdoor wood boiler and should consider contacting the manufacturer directly for this information.

3. Distributors must provide potential customers with a copy of the regulation (Part 247) and a Notice to Buyers form. A template for the Notice to Buyers is available on the DEC website [pdf].

4. The opacity and nuisance provisions set forth in the current rule apply to all outdoor wood boilers. Potential buyers must be aware that even if the requirements of the regulation are met, there may be conditions or locations in which the use of a new outdoor wood boiler unreasonably interferes with another person’s use or enjoyment of property or even damages human health. If such a situation occurs, the owner or lessee of the new outdoor wood boiler causing the situation may be subject to sanctions that can include a requirement to remove the device at their own expense as well as any other penalty allowed by law.

For more information on the regulation and details on purchasing an outdoor wood boiler in New York State, visit the DEC website. For more details on the extension and emergency rule, visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/73788.html.

Photo: Air pollution caused by an Outdoor Wood Boiler (DEC Photo).


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Proposed Pollution Standards Applauded Locally

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new pollution standards for power plants that are being seen as a major step in reversing the contamination of Adirondack lakes, fish, and wildlife. The rules are likely to be challenged by congressional Republicans, according to a report by John M. Broder and John Collins Rudolf of The New York Times, but nonetheless appear to mark a turning point in the 40-year-long fight to reduce some of America’s worst air pollutants.

In response to a 2008 U.S. Court of Appeals ordered deadline the EPA has proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants. The new standards would require many power plants to install state-of-the-art pollution control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and gases that cause acid rain and smog. Currently, only about half of the country’s more than 400 coal-burning plants have some form of pollution control technology installed, and only a third of states have any mercury emission standards. » Continue Reading.