Posts Tagged ‘energy’

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Green Building Expert to Speak at Paul Smith’s

An expert in developing energy-efficient buildings will speak at Paul Smith’s College this Friday, Feb. 25, at 10:10 a.m.

Greg Pedrick, a project manager in the Building R&D Sector of the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), will give a talk in the Pine Room of the Joan Weill Student Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Pedrick will discuss sustainable energy use and green construction, including residential construction techniques for both new and existing buildings.

Pedrick developed and runs NYSERDA’s Advanced Buildings Program, which focuses on the development and demonstration of high-performance residential buildings and helps the building industry incorporate those advances in the real world.

An engineer with more than 23 years of experience, Pedrick has designed and managed the construction of a high-efficiency, 1,600-square-foot timber-frame home in the Adirondacks. His recent work has focused on high-performance building shells and dehumidification systems that do not require compressors.

The talk is sponsored by the college’s Natural Resources Sustainability program and the School of Forestry and Natural Resources.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Build A Greener Adirondacks Expo Announced

The greatest change in homes since the invention of the chimney is underway, and for three days some of the biggest and smallest new ideas will be on center stage at The Wild Center’s second Build EXPO. Expert builders, interested home owners and people who want to see the absolute latest green building ideas can gather at the Center’s Build a Greener Adirondacks EXPO. Some of the nation’s leading practitioners will convene in the Adirondacks to demonstrate energy and money saving ideas and products.

The EXPO uses ski trail signs to distinguish between its expert and easier days. The three day EXPO starts April 29 with Black Diamond day for experts and builders. Day Two will be Blue Square day for residents who feel like they have a strong idea of Green Building and want to add to their knowledge. On the last day it’s Green day, when the public is invited to have a look at the latest ideas and meet the vendors and presenters.

Contractor Green Building Training – Black Diamond Day, April 29

This is a Green Building Training Day. A Fundamentals of Building Green course will be offered to those individuals interested in integrating green practices into the core knowledge of their building business. Once this four hour prerequisite course is successfully completed, participants may opt to take a certificate exam based on the Fundamentals material or select an additional trade specific 6 or 8 hour course offered elsewhere in the state and take a combined Fundamentals/Trade Specific certificate exam. Additional information can be found at www.gpro.org. The course costs $150, which entitles participants to admission on all three days.

Green Building Symposium & EXPO – Blue Square Day, April 30
The middle day of the EXPO will consist of a Green Building Symposium and EXPO with more than 30 building science, product and technology experts from around the northeast sharing information on the latest green building technologies. Presentation topics will include: high performing windows, alternative and unique green building construction techniques, green building science, effective building insulation, passive design considerations, reclaimed lumber, energy saving major building appliances and eco-design concepts (subject to change). The event will include a green building product trade show with numerous exhibitors displaying products and systems that have been recognized for their ability to contribute to safe, healthy, sustainable and/or highly energy efficient building environments. The day will be highlighted with a keynote address offered by Tedd Benson, called one of the most interesting builders in America by Treehugger.com and featured on This Old House, Good Morning America, and the Today Show, and recently recognized with a BuildingGreen.com award for his innovative design. (Day 2 sessions only will be $45 with advance online registration or $55 the day of the event. A combined Day 2 and Day 3 will be $55 with advance online registration and $65 the day of the event.)

EXPO and Community Energy Efficiency Forum “The Doctor is In” – Green Day, May 1

May 1 is The Wild Center’s official reopening day for the 2011 spring visitor season. On this final day the EXPO hall will be open to the public with paid general admission (free for Center members and Season Pass holders) and offer consumers the chance to ask questions and see what kinds of choices they have when they make building or renovation decisions. There will be special speakers and a “The Doctor is In” booth where you can talk about your home’s symptoms and find out if there’s a cure. This day will include a Community Energy Efficiency Forum. People interested in ways to make a greener Adirondack home will have the chance to ask experts on hand here in the Adirondacks thoughout the day.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It’s Sustainability Month at Paul Smith’s College

A reading from a nationally known author, a photo exhibit of eco-friendly houses and a lesson on how to breed cold-hardy plants highlight Sustainability Month at Paul Smith’s College. The events, to be held in February, are free and open to the public.

Kristin Kimball, author of 2010’s “The Dirty Life,” will speak on Wednesday, Feb. 9, from 10:10-11 a.m. in Adirondack Room of the Joan Weill Adirondack Library. Kimball’s critically acclaimed memoir relates her experiences as a farmer in the North Country after leaving behind a journalism career in New York City. » Continue Reading.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Boating Before Gasoline: Kenneth Durant and the Naphtha Launch

In the 1880s Frank Ofeldt invented a small engine powered by a petroleum by-product called naphtha, which proved to be a very useful means of water transport when attached to 16 or 18-foot launches. For a while, these naphtha launches flourished on the Adirondack lakes, transporting passengers and freight between camps, hotels and settlements.

By the turn of the century, naphtha launches were common on Lake George. Some were excursion boats, such as those owned and operated by the father os onetime Lake George Supervisor Alden Shaw. The majority, however, belonged to summer residents. Dr. Abraham Jacobi of Bolton Landing owned one. Harry Watrous, the perpetrator of the Hague Monster Hoax, owned two, as did Colonel Mann, the New York magazine editor who was the butt of the hoax. (Mann’s own magazine, by the way, poked fun at the rich for taking the accoutrements of soft living into the Adirondack wilderness, naphtha launches included.)

The Eva B, the launch portrayed here, was owned by Charles Barker, a gentleman who spent one summer on Lake George in 1892. Barker sailed the craft from New York City to Troy and then came up the Champlain Canal through the locks. The launch was brought overland from Glens Falls to Lake George, where it was paraded in the Water Carnival. When Barked departed Lake George at the end of the season, he announced that he would sill down Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence River, then on to Alexandria Bay and the Thousand Islands.

The naphtha launch, unlike the steamboat which it replaced, was light and easy to handle. No special license was required to operate it. Thus, the naphtha launch became popular very quickly. Just as quickly, however, it disappeared, supplanted by the gasoline-powered motorboat, which was much faster than the naphtha launch and, or so it was said, much safer.

“It is eighty years or more since the naphtha launch came into the woods. They are gone and the steamboats with them. Handled with good manners, the launch was no threat to anyone and a pleasing service to many,” Kenneth Durant wrote in his monograph on the naphtha launch, published by the Adirondack Museum in 1976. Durant’s monograph remains the single best source of information on the naphtha launch.

Durant himself is best known for his pioneering studies of the Adirondack guide-boat. He had originally intended to incorporate the material which he had gathered on the naphtha launch into his book on the guide-boat, but then decided that it would be too much of a digression. After his death in 1972, his widow, Helen Durant, edited the manuscript and produced the pamphlet that is still available through the museum.

Durant’s knowledge of the naphtha launch, like his knowledge of the guide-boat, was rooted in his own experience. His father, Frederick C. Durant, was the developer of the Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake, the first luxury hotel in the Adirondacks. To accommodate his own family, Durant built a camp on Forked Lake, a tributary of Racquette Lake, in the style made popular by his relative, William West Durant, which they called “Camp Cedars.” Warren Cole, the Long Lake guide-boat builder, was the family’s guide, and Durant spent much of his youth in the guide-boat that Cole built for him.

The family also maintained a naphtha launch, called the Mugwump. For sport and pleasure, there was always the guide-boat, Durant said. The naphtha launch was essentially a service boat. “It transported busts who might have been timid or clumsy in a guidebook. It towed the scow with loads of lumber from the mill or stone cut from the quarry at the head of the lake. It towed the freight boat with a load of fresh balsam for the open camp, or a string of guide-boats for a fishing party to the far end of the lake. Now and then one might make a leisurely cruise along the evening shore, with engine muted.”

Durant’s interest in the evolution of the guide-boat brought him to Lake George in 1960 to study the bateaux that had just been discovered at the bottom of the lake, and he and Helen visited my family often in Warrensburg, usually when traveling from their home in Vermont to Hamilton County, which Durant always called “the woods” and which he believed was the true Adirondacks.

(He once wrote to his friend, canoe authority Paul Jamieson: “When I was half as old as I am now we could say unctuously, ‘There are no venomous snakes in the Adirondacks,’ reciting a bit of nature lore: ‘Rattlesnakes do not advance beyond the oaks.’ Then, when I was not looking, someone moved the Blue Line around Lake George and took in oaks and rattlesnakes–and worse.”)

While he may have been harsh on Lake George, I remember Kenneth as the gentlest of men. And he managed to impart to many, through his books, his conversation and his example, something of his passionate interest in wooden boats and their history on the lakes of the Adirondacks. Those of us who have learned from him had had richer lives as a consequence.

Photos: The Eva B; Kenneth Durant.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror


Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Wood Boiler Regulations Approved

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced late Wednesday that the Environmental Board has approved a new regulation that sets stringent performance standards for new outdoor wood boilers (OWBs) sold in the state. The regulation will go into effect 30 days after it is filed with the Secretary of State. The stricter guidelines will ensure that new OWBs burn at least 90% cleaner than older models, according to a DEC press release.

Provisions in the regulatory proposal to phase out the use of older OWBs and place restrictions on their use in the interim have been removed and will be addressed through a new public stakeholder process to develop a revised regulatory framework to address concerns of residents impacted by the operation of such units.

“This is about ensuring that new outdoor wood boilers burn cleaner — not only for people who buy OWBs and their families, but also for their neighbors. It’s not unlike the switch to cleaner cars,” said Acting DEC Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz. “It’s also to ensure that OWB stacks are high enough to disperse emissions rather than having them blow directly into houses and other dwellings. That’s important for public health. Also, we have listened to the agricultural community and made appropriate exceptions for farming operations.”

The regulation approved Wednesday includes stack height requirements for new OWBs that will are expected to reduce the impact of emission plumes on neighboring property owners. In addition, new OWBs will be required to be set back a minimum of 100 feet from neighboring properties — except for OWBs used in agricultural operations, which must be at least 100 feet from neighboring homes. Both new and existing OWBs will be subject to fuel restrictions hoped to ensure that only appropriate fuels are burned.

“The new guidelines the state has set on outdoor wood boilers is a necessary step in improving the process of burning wood as a renewable energy resource and is not to stop people from burning clean wood,” said Village of Tupper Lake Mayor Mickey Demarais. “Trying to make our air cleaner and protect our residents is our responsibility and the Village supports establishing guidelines and standards on OWBs to make this happen.”

“The new regulation on OWBs is a responsible move in the right direction without being overly intrusive on the public,” said Elizabethtown Town Supervisor Noel Merrihew. “It’s a good move to put together regulations for the manufacture of the OWBs. Outside the Hamlet areas the smoke can be a problem and this assures long term environmental benefits for our state.”

The text of the final rule before the Environmental Board is available on the DEC website.

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


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Energy Experts Available to Adirondack Residents

I just started working for the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), an agency that invests in green technology and environmentally-friendly programs throughout New York.

One of my first jobs (I’m in public relations) was to promote a program that will benefit anybody in the Adirondacks that has an interest in investing in wind, solar or other forms of alternative energy — or just improving the insulation or heating systems in their homes or businesses.

NYSERDA recently hired two new educators to spread the word about its energy programs around the North Country. Richard LeClerc of Alexandria Bay and James Juczak of Adams Center were recently hired to represent NYSERDA’s New York Energy $mart Communities Program, an initiative to teach local consumers and business owners about NYSERDA’s energy-saving programs.

They will work out of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County in Watertown, covering 10 counties, including nearly all of the Adirondacks.

Both local coordinators have a long history with environmental, technological, management and community initiatives.

Richard LeClerc has an extensive management background. Now retired from a career as an Army civilian employee, he has also worked in a variety of other federal jobs related to natural resources and environmental management. More recently, he has had roles running several community programs in the area.

James Juczak. a former middle- and high-school technology teacher, lives “off the grid” in a round house he built himself which is heated with a 35-ton, hand-built stove made from sand and recycled concrete.

LeClerc (pronounced “Le-CLAIR”) said there has been a positive response from the public to presentations he’s made about energy programs available through NYSERDA.

“There’s tremendous interest,” he said. “That’s what makes this so exciting. There are very few times where we go and speak that they’re not enthusiastic.”

To contact the community coordinators in Jefferson County, call 315-788-8450. LeClerc is ext. 320 and Juczak is ext. 274. You can also reach them via email: RRL55@cornell.edu or JSJ58@cornell.edu.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Adirondack Youth Summit at the Wild Center

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities
Thirty high schools, colleges and universities have gathered together for the 2nd Adirondack Youth Summit held at The Wild Center (Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks) in Tupper Lake. The two-daysummit has been a successful means for students, educators, administrators and staff to work together to build a realistic, achievable plan to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Through partnership schools learn, formulate and implement ideas regarding climate change.

“Jen Kretser, Director of Programs at The Wild Center invited members of my Advanced Placement Environmental Science Class to attend the Adirondack Climate Conference held at The Wild Center in 2008 which created ADKCAP (Adirondack Climate and Energy Action Plan),” says Tammy Morgan, Lake Placid High School teacher. “My students were the only young people there. The conference mostly consisted of business people in the area that were coming together with not-for-profits and legislators to figure out a way to make the Adirondack Park a carbon neutral model.”

Morgan enthusiastically talks about how her students branched out to attend the various panels and workshops to achieve a broad spectrum of information. Morgan got more than she wished for. Not only did her students actively participate with adults that may have been intimidating to some but one her students, Zachary Berger, addressed the conference by getting to the heart of an ongoing issue, how to engage youth in climate change.

“At the end of the two-day conference there was an open space for discussion and Zachary stood up and brought up the fact that all weekend people were trying to find ways to engage young people but weren’t giving students a venue to do just that. He felt that students needed a place to be able to discuss and implement change.”

From that stand, many hours and volunteers, the Adirondack Youth Summit was born. That initial year each school set goals to achieve change. Some goals worked while others didn’t but most schools reported a high success rate by keeping goals simple and attainable.

After attending the Summit, Clarkson University created its new Institute for a Sustainable Environment while North Country Community College students developed a campus-wide recycling program. Other schools created composting programs, school gardens, and carbon reduction plans.

This year Lake Placid is just one of the schools at the Wild Center for the next two days. The other schools are Canton High School, Clarkson University, Colgate University, CV-TECH, Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School, Green Tech Charter High School, Indian River High School, Keene Central School, Lake Placid High School, Little River Community School, Long Lake Central School, Malone Central School District, Massena Central High School, Minerva Central School, Newcomb Central School, North Country Community College, Northwood School, Ogdensburg Free Academy, Paul Smith’s College, Plattsburgh High School, Potsdam High School, Salem Central School, Saranac Lake High School, St. Lawrence University, St. Regis Falls Central School, SUNY Plattsburgh, SUNY Potsdam, Troy High School, and Tupper Lake High School.

The Summit will continue tomorrow, November 10th with all plenary sessions streamed live and available for future viewing.With an improved website, schools not in attendence are able to form action plans and given educational tools to start helping lower costs and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

photo and content © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™. Diane is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates) This is the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next three editions will cover Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga, Long Lake to Old Forge and Newcomb to Lake George. 


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Commentary: National Grid Rates A Shambles

Earlier this year, I published a piece on a state Public Service Commission (PSC) investigation into National Grid’s sketchy finances.

The monopoly power deliverer stood accused by the PSC of charging its Upstate New York electric customers for computers in New England, software licenses on Long Island and other corporate costs that have nothing to do with Upstate utility operations.

A recent Post-Standard article added further tidbits uncovered during the PSC investigation: $1,254 for a National Grid executive to ship his wine collection across the Atlantic, $3,566 to repair another executive’s washing machine and pool cover on Long Island, and $35,700 to send a third employee’s children to a private school in Boston.

However, the Syracuse paper reported that the PSC will be forced to decide on National Grid’s proposed $400 million hike to its already sky-high rates long before the audit is complete. The PSC chairman told a senate committee that state law requires the commission to vote on the proposal within 11 months of its submission.

The president of National Grid USA said the rate hike is needed because much of the utility’s infrastructure is half a century or more old. Power bills have skyrocketed since its purchase of the former Niagara Mohawk, a purchase, it was promised at the time, would be wonderful for rate payers thanks to consolidation efficiencies. It begs the question: where has the money gone?

The multinational wants an 11.1 percent annual profit margin, while the PSC contends the rate should be ‘only’ 9 percent.

New Yorkers still pay the highest power bills in the nation. This fiasco may give some insight why.


Monday, October 11, 2010

The Whiteface Mountain Cog Railway?

In 1935, after years of planning, debate, and construction, the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway was completed. It was named in honor of America’s veterans of the so-called “Great War” (World War I), and was expected to be a major tourist attraction.

Automobiles were becoming commonplace in the North Country at that time, and travelers to the region now had a thrilling view available to them at the press of a gas pedal. Seventy-five years later, it remains a spectacular drive and a great family excursion. But the macadam highway to the summit almost never came to be. New Hampshire’s Mount Washington nearly had a New York counterpart.
» Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

APA Meeting: Wind, FireTowers, Mine Expansion, New Campground

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting this Thursday, October 14, 2010 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook, NY. The October meeting is one day only.

Among the issues to be addressed will be water quality and shoreline protection measures, a change in the reclassification proposals related to fire towers on St. Regis and Hurricane Mountains, the Watson’s East Triangle Wild Forest Unit Management Plan, the expansion of Cold Spring Granite Company’s mine in Jay, a new 510 campsite campground in Fort Ann, and Barton Wind Partners will request a second renewal for wind monitoring masts located on Pete Gay Mountain near North Creek. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

APA Meeting:
Lake George YMCA, Benson Mines Wind, More

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Thursday, August 12 and Friday August 13, 2010 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook, NY.

The Agency will consider a third renewal for the Westport Development Park’s commercial/industrial use permit, a shoreline structure setback variance for Camp Chingachgook on Lake George, a Benson Mines wind project, Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan compliance for the Jessup River Wild Forest UMP, Champlain-Hudson Power Express’s proposed 300-mile, 2,000-MW electric transmission line from Canada to New York City via Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, a memorandum of understanding between the Adirondack Park Agency and the Department of Environmental Conservation concerning State-owned conservation easements on private lands within the Adirondack Park, and the Route 3 Travel Corridor Management Plan. Meeting materials are available for download from the Agency’s website. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 26, 2010

PSC: National Grid’s Rates Should Come Down

Earlier this year, I published a piece arguing that the National Grid power company gouges upstate New Yorkers.

A piece in The Post-Standard offers some fresh evidence in that regard.

The Syracuse daily reports that the monopoly power deliverer is charging its Upstate New York electric customers for computers in New England, software licenses on Long Island and other corporate costs that have nothing to do with Upstate utility operations, auditors at the state Public Service Commission (PSC) say.

PSC investigators came across this information while looking at the multinational’s plan to raise electric rates on New Yorkers by $369 million a year, including $25 million a year in bonuses (apparently without any requirement that the employees reduce costs to pay for them).

So questionable are the power company’s procedures that PSC auditors concluded: “Transactions between the former Niagara Mohawk and other companies owned by National Grid are so loosely documented that Upstate utility customers likely are subsidizing other parts of National Grid’s business.”

The paper reported that in recent years, National Grid has justified purchasing several other utilities by arguing that the company would save money via efficiencies and consolidation. But PSC staff noted that such the cost of the shared services actually increased, far higher than the rate of inflation.

A PSC panel said the company’s plan to raise rates had “a number of serious problems” and had so many objections that it actually recommended National Grid DECREASE rates by $14 million a year.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cattails: A Wetland Favorite’s Useful History

The other evening I was walking along the shoreline of a local wetland, enjoying the songs of the thrushes, the ripples made on the water by insects and small fish, and the rustle of the tall, emergent vegetation in the light breeze. The edges were muddy – sometimes completely barren and squishy, while in other places thick with plants. Life was everywhere.

When we think of wetlands, the plant that most likely comes to mind is the cattail, with its green, sword-like leaves and brown corndog-like flowerheads. It is a plant that is known around much of the world. In some places, like parts of Africa, it is considered a menace, choking waterways and aiding and abetting the spread of malaria. Historically, though, especially in North America, this plant has helped pull humanity through harsh winters where cold and starvation could’ve had the final say.

Cattails are in the grass family, as are many of the plants we now depend upon for food (corn, wheat, rye, millet). Like its modern-day counterparts, the cattail is a highly edible plant. Practically the entire plant is edible at various times of the year. In late spring when the base of the leaves are young and tender, they can be eaten raw or cooked. As summer approaches, the stem, before the flowerheads develop, can be peeled and eaten like asparagus. Soon the male flower is growing, and before it ripens, it can be cooked and eaten like corn on the cob. Once it’s ripe and producing pollen, the pollen can be harvested and added to baked goods as an extender for flour and a thickener for sauces. From late fall until spring, the rhizomes, those horizontal stems that grow underground, can be dug up and eaten like potatoes.

Historical utility didn’t end with food. Throughout the Northeast, native peoples collected cattail leaves to sew into siding for their homes. Wigwams were the housing of choice in the Northeast. These structures were constructed first from poles stuck into the ground and bent into a dome-like shape. More saplings were tied horizontally to the sides, creating a sturdy framework. The outside of this framework was then covered with some sort of mat, or shingles made from bark, depending on what was available. Where wetlands dominated, cattail leaves were sewn into mats that were tied to the wigwam. Early Europeans commented on how weather-proof these homes were – warmer and drier than the structures made by the more “civilized” settlers.

A variety of medicines were made from cattails. The roots were used to treat kidney stones, wounds, whooping cough and sprains. The downy seed fluff was applied to bleeding wounds and burns.

But wait – there’s more! Leaves were bundled together and sculpted into the shape of ducks to be used as decoys. Not only were these decoys used to attract real waterfowl, but also to lure in other animals that considered waterfowl food, like wild canines. Cattail leaves were also made into dolls and other toys, woven into bags, baskets, mats and hats. The dried flowerheads could be dipped in grease or wax and lit to provide a slow-burning light that smoked extensively, effectively keeping insects at bay. The seed fluff was used as tinder, stuffed into bedding and pillows, and during WWII was stuffed into life vests and seats cushions for tanks and airplanes.

The usefulness of this plant is not limited to historic records and a few modern foragers, though. Several scientists are studying the economic viability of converting cattails into ethanol. Currently, about 95% of our country’s ethanol is made from corn, which is an energy intensive crop (it needs a lot of water, and a lot of petroleum is also consumed in its production). Corn yields about 200 gallons of ethanol per acre. Sugar cane is also converted into ethanol, at about 640 gallons per acre.

Cattails, on the other hand, need very little encouragement to grow. In fact, many of the ethanol studies are growing them in sewage lagoons that are the by-products of hog farms. Not only do the cattails clean and purify the water in which they are grown, but when they are converted into ethanol, they can produce up to 1000 gallons per acre. There seems to be a fair amount of promise in this.

Two species of cattails are found in New York (and the Adirondacks): common cattail (Typha latifolia) and narrow-leaved cattail (T. angustifolia). The Revised Checklist of New York State Plants also lists “Cattail”, a hybrid of these two species.

Common, or broad-leaved, cattail is, well, pretty common. Odds are if you see a cattail, this is it. Its brown flowerhead is about an inch thick, and the leaves are also about an inch wide. Narrow-leaved cattail is also fairly common, but more so along coastal areas. Its flowerheads are narrower – about as thick as a finger (about half an inch wide), as are the leaves. From a distance you can usually tell if you are looking at a narrow-leaved cattail if the upper male flower spike is separated from the lower female flower spike by a space (see photo). On common cattails, the male flower spike sits right on top of the female spike.

This highly useful plant is one that everyone should get to know. Once you learn some of the nifty history of this plant, you will want to then study the critters that find it useful. Birds, mammals and insects all have a stake in this plant. It is worthy of our attention. Once the weather cools off a bit, find yourself a patch of wetland and spend some time with the cattails. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Local Power and Energy History: Windmill Déjà Vu

Scores of gigantic wind turbines in the Adirondacks’ northeastern and southwestern foothills are a startling site amidst historically bucolic scenery. The landscape appears “citified,” with structures nearly 40 stories high where the largest buildings rarely top 3 stories. It is a dramatic change, and a far cry from simpler days when family farms were prevalent.

Few realize that in those “simpler days” of dairy farms, windmills were actually quite common across the region. Of course, the windmills once dotting the North Country’s landscape were nothing like today’s behemoths, which stand nearly 400 feet high from the ground to the tip of a skyward-pointing blade. And, the windmills of old weren’t always efficient machines.

Wind technology took a tremendous leap forward in the 1850s thanks to Daniel Halladay, a Connecticut machinist. Halladay’s windmill not only pumped water, but automatically turned to face into the wind as it changed directions. Almost as important, he devised a way to control the speed of the blades (windmills are prone to destruction from within when operating at high rpm levels). Halladay established the US Wind Engine & Pump Company, setting up shop in Illinois. From the start, the business flourished.

Though his sales were focused on the country’s expansion westward, New York State was also experiencing dramatic growth, particularly in the remote northern Adirondack foothills, where pioneers faced a harsh climate and difficult living conditions. Halladay’s invention eventually helped turn some of those weather negatives into positives by taking advantage of wind patterns across upper New York State.

In 1874, the railroad was expanding north from Whitehall towards Plattsburgh. Since steam engines require water, the line generally followed the shore of Lake Champlain. Tanks were constructed along the route where the rails neared the lakeshore. Steam pumps or windmills were used to fill the feeder tanks, which had a capacity of 33,000 gallons each.

As settlers moved north on both sides of the Adirondacks, windmill technology crept northward with them. Farming was necessary for survival, and the enormous workload was eased by mechanical devices like windmills. The description of one man’s operation about 18 miles south of Lowville was typical of the times: “ … a beautiful farm of 280 acres, milks 35 cows, and is a model farm. House, barns, windmill pump, all systematically arranged.”

In situations like that, windmills often filled tanks placed on the upper floor of a barn. The water was then gravity-fed to the livestock below, and piped to other locations as needed. The machine was also used to grind various grains. Early models were mounted on wooden frames, but many fell victim to the very power they were trying to harness, toppling before raging windstorms. Eventually, steel frames supported most windmills.

Wind power wasn’t just for individual homes and farms. In July 1879, H. H. Babcock & Sons of Watertown was hired to install a windmill at 1000 Islands State Park. Water was drawn from the St. Lawrence River to large tanks near the dining hall, and from there was conducted to the various cottages by galvanized iron pipe.

And at Hermon, a contract for $6,595.00 was signed with Daniel Halladay’s company to install a new waterworks system. Included were a wooden tank of 50,000-gallon capacity, a windmill with a wheel diameter of 20 feet, and more than a mile of piping. The frost-proof tank was 24 feet in diameter, 16 feet high, and 3 inches thick. It sat on a trestle 20 feet high, while the windmill stood on a trestle 80 feet high.

Many hotels, including the Whitney House in Norwood and the Turin House in Turin, used windmills to power their water systems. At Chazy, windmills pumped water from the quarries; at Port Henry, they filled water tanks for the trains; and at Saranac Lake, they fed the water supply of the Adirondack Sanitarium.

In 1889, George Baltz of Watertown handled the Halladay display at the Jefferson County Fair, demonstrating that windmills furnished cheaper power than steam engines and could run a feed mill, a circular saw for cutting wood, or pump water.

Though Halladay’s products were widely known, he did have competitors. Some added their own modifications, and some were “copycats.” And they weren’t all products from afar. In 1882, an advertisement touted a windmill “warranted to take care of itself in high winds, equal to the best western mills, and is sold for half the money. It is manufactured at Potsdam.” It featured a self-regulator, and appeared to be based on Halladay’s own successful model.

In the late 1890s, most of the windmills in the Ticonderoga and Lake George area were products of the Perkins Windmill Company, which had already installed more than 50 units across the lake in Vermont. Though windmills in the Midwest were primarily for irrigation, most of those in the North Country supplied water to homes, businesses, and farm animals.

Wind power did face competition from other sources. Gasoline engines became more and more common, offering a reliable alternative. However, they were expensive, noisy, and costly to run. An operator had to be present to start and stop a gas engine, while windmills employed a system of floats to start and stop filling the tanks automatically. A once-a-week oiling was the only required maintenance. The biggest problem at the time was that gas engines ran when you wanted them to, but windmills depended on the weather.

The giant turbines we see in northern New York today are not a new idea. In a peek at the future, Charles Brush of Cleveland, Ohio demonstrated in 1888 the first use of a large windmill to generate electricity. As early as 1895, observers noted that windmills were “destined to be much used for storing electricity. We predict an immense future for the windmill industry.”

In 1910, a farm in America’s Midwest employed windmills to charge a bank of batteries. Wind power provided electricity to light the farm and operate the equipment, and when the wind didn’t blow, the farm ran on battery power for a few days.

By 1925, wind turbines had been used to run refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and power tools. And in 1926, the NYS Fair urged farmers to purchase windmills, using a 12-foot-high model to show the benefits they might enjoy. It was an enticing glimpse at the potential of electricity. Ironically, the popularity of windmills soon became their undoing.

Though they were a wonderful source of cheap power, the main problem was intermittent operation. When the wind didn’t blow, the tools didn’t go. Battery storage systems were only good for brief periods, and people wanted power WHEN they wanted it. Soon, another overriding factor arose—the growing need for huge amounts of electricity.

By the late 1930s and 1940s, constantly flowing electricity was the goal, relegating wind power to the background of the energy battle. It was still used, and advancements were pursued, but success was limited. One notable effort was the huge Smith-Putnam windmill installed atop Grandpa’s Knob near Castleton and Rutland, Vermont, in 1941.

Though less than half the size of today’s models, it was still large, featuring a 16-ton, 175-foot steel rotor that turned at 28 RPM. Occasional use ended abruptly in 1945 when metal fatigue caused the blade to snap, hurling a huge section 1000 feet down the mountain.

In the North Country, windmills have returned after a long hiatus. They stand ten times taller than their predecessors, and now pump electricity instead of water. Where potato, hop, and dairy farms once dominated, the wind farms of today stand above all others.

Photo Top: Windmills 400 feet tall at Churubusco (and another under construction in the foreground).

Photo Middle Right: Typical use of windmill to fill railroad water tanks.

Photo Middle Left: Halladay windmills were offered by George Baltz of Watertown.

Photo Bottom: Advertisement for Halladay’s company.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Going Solar:Another Way to Help Save the Adirondacks?

If global warming is ever to be reversed, or even slowed, Americans must consume less of the energy produced by coal fired power plants.

Wind and solar power are among the alternatives New York State is promoting, said Adele Ferranti, a Queensbury resident who’s a project manager at New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

“Every little bit helps,” Ferranti said. “The potential for reducing emissions is tremendous; we can make a significant dent in the consumption of energy.”

More and more people are taking advantage of alternative technologies, Ferranti said.

“They’re doing it because it’s the best thing they can do for the environment,” said Ferranti. “They’re replacing the energy made by burning fossil fuels with clean, natural power.”

Among the Lake George residents reducing carbon footprints are Rebecca and Candida Smith. The daughters of the late sculptor David Smith, they live part time at the home and studio he created in the hills above Bolton Landing.

A few years ago, they contracted with GroSolar, a Vermont company recommended by author-turned-environmental activist Bill McKibben, to install solar energy systems in the property’s three buildings.

“Global warming caused by human activities was a problem I had been aware of for a long time but it was too big, complicated and scary for me to bear thinking about for long,” said Rebecca Smith.

But after recent visits to Australia (“where I was relatively close to the ozone holes in Antarctica and actually felt how much stronger the effect of the sun was down there — it burned into my eyeballs painfully at times”) and Great Britain (“where climate change was an accepted, observable reality that government was starting to do something about”) as well as extensive reading on the subject, Smith said she became “interested and excited about the new technologies and decided to see what could be done at my family’s home in Bolton.”

Smith adds, “One person can’t do much, but there are many, many people out there doing lots of things and I am inspired by being part of that effort.”

According to NYSERDA’s Adele Ferranti, New York State offers financial incentives to homeowners like the Smiths to encourage the use of alternative energy. “Our goal is to build an infrastructure that will not only make solar power more affordable but reduce the consumption of fossil fuels,” Ferrante said.

Eliot Goodwin of GroSolar says that New York State will pay 40 to 50% of the costs of installing a solar energy system in the form of a rebate. “The homeowner is also eligible for a 25% state income tax credit and a 30% federal tax credit,” said Goodwin. “This works out to be about 60 to 65% of the costs paid for by outside sources.”

Nevertheless, the initial investment is expensive. Whether an alternative energy system is cost-effective depends upon how one determines value, groSolar’s Eliot Goodwin suggests.

“Is a car cost effective? Is a marble countertop cost effective? Is a pool cost effective? Is a hot tub cost effective? Is it cost effective to have no mountain tops left from coal mining? Is it cost effective to no longer have clean air to breathe?” he asks.

Still, Goodwin said, “With solar, no matter what, the system will pay for itself in its lifetime. You can usually expect a 7-11% return on your investment and you can also expect the house to increase in value by as much as the system costs.”

Short-term costs are offset by long-term savings, and, of course, by environmental benefits, said Rebecca Smith.

“By my calculations, it will take about 9 years to pay for the solar panels (which are under warranty for 25 years).” said Smith. “I don’t regard this as a money-saving strategy in the short run but as an investment that will pay off in dollars and environmental benefit in the long run. The satisfaction of making a difference is a really great feeling and it inspires me to do more.”

According to Fred Brown, the property’s year-round caretaker, approximately 80 flat solar panels were installed on the roofs of three buildings last spring.

“The system is comprised only of solar panels and an inverter,” said Brown. “ The panels produce direct current (DC) electricity which is steered toward the inverter where it’s converted into the Alternating current (AC) electricity, the same kind of power you get from the power grid.”

The power is not stored, but, rather, either used immediately or sent backwards through the meter, creating dollar for dollar credits in a process known as net-metering.

“We send power to the grid and the meter runs backward,” said Brown.

“During the summer solar panels create more energy than the owner can consume and the utility is required by law to buy it from you and credit your account,” said Rebecca Smith. “The power companies now depend on the small percentage of solar owners to feed in a critical extra margin of energy during the peak summer months.”

For Rebecca Smith, the environmental benefits of using alternative energy are local as well as global.

“If warming trends continue, there won’t be maple trees in the Adirondacks for our grandchildren,” she says. “I decided that it was better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.”

Every year, more New Yorkers are adopting that attitude, said Eliot Goodwin.

“We have approximately 75 installations in New York under the current programs. There’s probably another 2-300 installations in the state divided amongst 30 other installers. People care about the world they’re leaving to their children.”

Photo: A solar-powered workshop on the David Smith estate in Bolton Landing.

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