Buffalo has a way of shooting itself in the foot over and over.
Take the ethanol plant proposed a year or so ago. Its progress through the bureaucratic and legal channels has slowed to a crawl, and enough people (in Buffalo, that’s two or three people) are so opposed to the plant that roadblock after roadblock is being thrown up to grind the process to a halt. The local guys involved in the project (Rick Smith and Kevin Townsell) have their own businesses to run and only so much time and effort that they can devote to the project before they give up the mantle.
Projects like the ethanol plant have a propensity to die a slow death in Western New York. Throw up some well-timed legal obstacles, and only a few self-righteous stalwarts are needed to eviscerate any development, no matter how much the development’s benefits outweigh its risks.
And for the energy industry in general, the benefits of being able to produce energy locally (especially for local consumption!) so outweigh the risks that it’s not even close. The manufacture and transport of ethanol has been perfected over several hundred years of effort – you just don’t hear of Kentucky Bourbon or Seagram’s Whiskey or brewery plants going up in flames all that often. It’s the same process.
In fact, the belief that the principal alternative to local ethanol production – the transport of oil across an entire ocean from a region that has not seen long-term stability in over 2,000 years, followed by a refining process that is highly polluting and then piped through thousands of miles of pipeline (much of which is beyond its useful lifetime) to get here – is safer, is also lunacy.
This is not a question of simply doing something in the name of progress. Ethanol, wind power, tidal/wave power and to a more limited extent solar power are all examples of renewable energy that can be harvested locally. The costs to develop these resources are falling yearly to the point where it will only take one more surge in oil prices to make them cost-competitive. However, not being ready with the infrastructure means a multi-year construction delay before we can reap any benefit at all; and by then the rest of the country will have, once again, left us in the dust and ashes of our own relentless decay.
There are Buffalonians so stubborn that they still see the long-dead ghosts of industry rising from the brownfields (and even back when industry was bustling it was far from pretty or even safe). I hate walking around these graveyards. South Buffalo, which has the potential for the most rapid renaissance because it’s already zoned correctly, is the worst. Smith and Townsend came up with an idea that has low safety risk, very low pollution potential, and even reuses the grain elevators and abandoned railroad tracks – and it’s being choked to death by whom? I’m going to start calling these people Buffaloonians.
I’m not an advocate for change just for change sake, but being able to utilize an industrial area after an entire generation of disuse is a dream come true – everywhere but in Buffalo. I just don’t get it. I’m surprised the windmills on the lake have continued to progress.
Wouldn’t it be great if Buffalo could be a demonstration center for all types of renewable energy? Think about the potential:
- Ethanol production
- Hydropower generation (sheesh! This has been around forever!)
- Wind power generation
- Wave power generation
- Solar power generation
- Fuel cell development (think GM and Praxair)
- And others that I’m sure are out there that I don’t know about.
Add a weather and energy museum, showcasing all these technologies and located on the waterfront, and you might have a real tourist attraction.