Where are those tree-huggers when you need them?
That’s what I wondered last week as I took a tour of the devastation taking place on the grounds of Mercer County Community College.
With me was Teresa Lourenco. She lives with her husband and kids in a home located between the college campus and the county park in West Windsor.
The view from her front yard is of ballfields. From her backyard, you can see a farm field.
“I have lived here for 15 years, and for 15 years, I’ve seen corn and soy,” Lourenco told me.
No more. What she sees now is a pile of wood chips 15 feet tall. That pile consists of the corpses of dozens of trees. They were felled as part of a project that will claim an area of open space roughly equal to the size of some small towns in this state such as East Newark or Loch Arbour.
We took a walk out into the field, passing pile after pile of felled trees and fresh-cut stumps. I heard one lonely bird chirping from a pile that will soon to be fed into the wood chipper.
“This used to be inundated with wildlife,” Lourenco said. “There were deer, woodchuck, foxes … ”
Soon, this will all be fenced off behind a chain-link wall. The natural area to be destroyed will total 45 acres.
Who is responsible for this environmental disaster? Is this yet another one of those land-grabs by greedy developers conspiring with corrupt politicians to destroy our open space?
Nope. You can blame this one on the tree-huggers themselves. All of this acreage will be sacrificed for so-called “green energy.” That lovely little patch of open space is being covered with solar panels in an effort to save the planet from global warming.
That sounds nutty to me. But it makes sense to the Garden State’s tree-hugger-in-chief. When I asked Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club whether he supported the project, he said yes. The college has the option of developing the land for other uses, he said.
“The farm fields, that’s going to be offices or parking one day, so it doesn’t bother me,” Tittel said. “To me, solar panels, you gotta put them somewhere. To me, West Windsor, I don’t see a problem.”
Lourenco and her neighbors certainly do. When the project is done, the view out their back doors will be of a chain-link fence and endless rows of shiny glass-and-metal.
Don’t blame the Democrats, though. The buck stops with a certain guy who began his run for governor in 2009 with a TV ad (see below) endorsing President Obama’s approach to alternative energy. Once elected, Chris Christie continued to pitch solar power as a way to restore brownfields.
He didn’t say anything about green fields. But open space all over the state is being covered with these solar arrays. There’s so much solar power being produced that the price was starting to plummet.
That’s good for consumers, but not for the corporate interests pushing wind and solar power. So last summer, Christie signed a bill to bail out the industry by raising the amount of alternative energy that utilities must purchase.
The reason the bailout was needed is simple, said Ted Pomeroy. There’s so much natural gas these days that solar energy can’t compete without massive subsidies.
Pomeroy is a Bergen County resident who served on an alternative fuel working group for the Board of Public Utilities. He argues that a typical solar farm can produce enough electricity per acre to supply about 134 homes. Meanwhile, a gas-fired power plant can produce enough electricity per acre to power about 134,000 homes.
“What makes more sense, 134 homes per acre or 134,000 homes per acre?” Pomeroy asks.
To meet the quotas Christie envisions, we’re going to have to lose a lot more trees and a lot more open space, Pomeroy said.
So if you’re a tree-hugger, expect a lot fewer trunks to wrap your arms around. And if you want to hug those trees at Mercer County Community College, better get there fast.
It’s hard to hug a wood chip.
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