Starting this year, some Plattsburgh residents will be able to tap into new natural gas services as part of a new plan to make the resource more available to locals.

The Town of Plattsburgh and the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation teamed up to execute the expansion, which includes 17 miles of new gas mains that can provide power to more than 1,000 homes. The mains will be constructed along certain roads throughout the town over the next three years.

NYSEG officials said most of the gas used in Upstate New York is siphoned from hydraulic fracturing plants in Canada or Southern United States. Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, involves drilling wells and injecting high-pressure chemicals to split rocks, releasing gases that produce electricity when burned.

Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett said the switch to natural gas power will benefit the local economy, effectively lowering homeowners’ heating bill costs. For the most part, he said the expansion will cover residential areas.

Along with helping homeowners save money, Bassett said the expansion will particularly help Cumberland Head Elementary. With cheaper energy costs, the school can reallocate money to improving student academic programs.

Bassett said there are state programs offering financial and incentive programs to encourage homeowners within the expansion area to make the switch at reduced construction costs. Additionally, residents who want to convert but live outside the initial expansion area may still be able to tap into the plan as long as additional construction is within legal limits.

“I think it is safe, clean and efficient … we know there will be a positive economic impact,” Basset said. “There are an enormous number of people excited about this.”

Although Basset said he has seen substantial community support for the expansion, he knows some will voice their concerns for the continued use of fossil fuels locally.

“Fine then, don’t get it,” he said. “Like it or not, it’s all about savings.”

‘WRONG DIRECTION’
The Town of Plattsburgh’s natural gas expansion adds to New York’s steady increase in overall natural gas use, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state has consumed approximately 1.27 million cubic feet as of 2013, up from 1.22 million in 2012. Particularly, residential natural gas use has increased from 357,709 cubic feet in 2012 to 416,201 cubic feet in 2013.

For Plattsburgh State student and Environmental Action Committee President Colleen Corrigan, the town’s decision to increase natural gas use is a step away from finding other cleaner alternative energy resources.

“It’s not moving in the right direction I’d like to see,” Corrigan said. “We need to implement more clean energy and making that the main rather than the alternative. With starting a new project like this, we are not getting anywhere near that.”

Environmental studies student Joe Wantuch agreed, noting that using natural gas is a short term solution that still contributes to climate change through pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas extraction does discharge wastewater from pollutants that build up in boiler systems. If not disposed properly, the water can find its way into rivers and lakes. Additionally, the burning of the gas does release carbon dioxide and nitrogen, but at lower levels than coal and oil.

Wantuch said the United States currently looks at energy more on a corporate scale rather than environmental, but Plattsburgh can start making its own sustainable decisions, including increased solar and wind use. He added that locals should also make more of an effort to control resources themselves.

“People need to be more connected directly with resources, not only with power but with food as well,” Wantuck said. “There has to be a revolution in the way we think about these things, but it takes time.”

BIGGER PICTURE
While PSUC Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies Curt Gervich believes natural gas is not a perfect energy source, he said it is a better alternative to coal and oil use.

With natural gas, Gervich said its impacts, environmentally and financially, can be easily gauged because it is obtained and regulated on a more local scale.

On the other hand, he noted that the United States’ dependence on foreign oil adds to the oil industry’s negative effects, which are overlooked, on third world countries across the world.

“If you’re not going to allow hydrofracking here, your default is still foreign oil, and that foreign oil is a whole lot uglier than the wells you see. It’s just behind a curtain,” Gervich said. “At least hydrofracking is local, and we pay our own way.”

No matter what energy resource is used, whether it’s fossil fuels, wind or solar, Gervich said there are environmental and financial costs associated with each. However, he said fossil fuels need to be eliminated altogether.

Email Brian Molongoski at managing@cardinalpointsonline.com.

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