Once they were the preserve of the Mohawk Indians. The early Dutch settlers named them the “Kaatskills”, still later the federal government turned the whole stunning vista of lakes and mountains into the Catskill National Park.
Once upon a time these mountains were covered in thick stands of Hemlock fir trees, then the tanning industry came and clear-felled whole mountainsides, turning the rivers and streams yellow and brown. And then there were the settlers who tried to farm this high land with its thin, stoney soils. They moved west when they could – leaving a patchwork quilt of Cotswold type stone walls, now only visible when the secondary growth forest is without leaves. And the losing of the leaves in this glorious part of North America is truly a wonder to behold; russets, scarlet reds, yellows, all the myriad colours of an autumn that Europe can never know.
But there is the odd, quirky reminder of Europe. In the middle of a vast expanse of field near the delightful village of Andes – it’s high in these parts – there is an old Gilbert Scott red telephone box. Perhaps, like Dr Who’s Tardis, it moves from field to field.
But enter the conservation lobby, or at least the industrial, profit-seeking vanguard of that lobby that can spot good tax breaks and pristine mountains to despoil.
New York State legislators, bowing to the environmental lobbly, decreed that 25% of the state’s power supplies should come from renewables. Was this figure plucked out of the air? No one seems to know. And why would anyone quibble either? For renewables mean less polluting oil and coal, surely.
Well, up to a point.
The Western Catskills, on the edge of the national park are being eyed up by the wind turbine industry. One of the companies, Invenergy, wants to build 34 of the monstrosities along the six-mile Moresville mountain range. In order for the turbines to be erected, roads have to be built and the tops of mountains have to be shaved of forest. At night, it is claimed, each turbine will have to send a lazer light skyward to warn passing air traffic.
Locals who object to the march of the turbines find themselves isolated or bought off. Invenergy recently agreed to pay the Roxbury Association for Environmental Preservation for the development of a “conservation trust”. In return, the association dropped its noisy opposition to the planned turbines in the Moresville mountains.
Ludicrous claims are made by the industry for wind turbines. On average there is only 22% utilisation of a 100,000 kilowatt turbine, because unsurprisingly the wind doesn’t blow all of the time. A coal fired plant generates 100% of the time – and now with clean coal technology, there is no excuse for not pushing ahead with more of the type of plants being pioneered by people such as Britain’s own contemporary King Coal, Richard Budge.
He has found investment, not only to access abandoned huge reserves at Hatfield Colliery in South Yorkshire, but plans to burn the coal cleanly and produce electricity at an inter-connected power station. The United States, in common with Britain, has vast reserves of coal that can now be tapped cleanly.
So why, apart from the well-intentioned New York state legislators, who want renewable energy but don’t understand the costs and inefficiencies, should the beautiful Catskills await the new industrial rapists? The claim of new jobs doesn’t stand any scrutiny, since teams of contractors will be brought into the area and taken out again after the turbines have gone up.
No, the real reason that Goldman Sachs and other big mecantile financiers are backing the giant windmills are good old-fashioned tax breaks. The US government permits a triple depreciation for tax purposes on wind turbines, and those with enough capital can invest in tax shelters that use these depreciations to remove the tax on profits for other ventures.
In the words of one Catskills campaigner: “If I had the ability to invest $1 million in a wind farm, I could avoid paying taxes on another $2 million in profits from some other venture. Yup, that would save me half a million in taxes. Hmmmmm”.
Maybe, when it comes to some of the solutions offered by well-intentioned environmentalists, it would be wise to examine the motivation of some of the lobbyists who profess to support them. It’s still not too late for the Catskill Mountains.
By Mark Seddon
19 March 2007
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