COSMO CATALANO, Matter Network, May 28, 2008
News about the advantages of switching to clean, renewable energy sources is everywhere these days. Reduced pollution, higher quality of life, lowered dependence on foreign sources and less disruption caused by fluctuating prices often top the list. But frequently, the transition from older fossil fuels is seen as a premium paid for the luxuries of cleaner air, and knowing that local energy supply treads as lightly on the Earth as possible. Certainly, given current economic conditions, that makes the changeover far less appealing to many cash-strapped communities.
But the town of Lackawanna, New York, is looking to change all that. Lackawanna was a boom town in the early part of the 20th century, driven by a massive steel industry and fueled by several important railway connections. But as in much of the rest of the Rust Belt, the past few decades have not been kind, with plant closures, recession, and other problems hitting hard. Indeed, until very recently, the Lackawanna was best known as an environmental hazard, rather than an environmental leader.
But the Steel Winds energy project, but on a brownfield once home to the massive Bethlehem Steel plant, may have marked a turning point for the beleaguered city. As Lackawanna mayor Norman Polanski told The New York Times, “It’s changing the image of the city of Lackawanna. We were the old Rust Belt, with all the negatives. Right now, we are progressive and we are leading the way on the waterfront.” The wind farm, the largest ever built in a city, transforms the city’s image from one of decay to one of modernity and efficiency. And as the city tries to redevelop its massive waterfront complex, that’s no small step.
Though Steel Winds will never replace the tax revenue or employment provided by the old steel plant, the project has still been received positively. The turbines deliver 56,000 megawatts of clean, renewable energy to local consumers and utilities, and the existing eight turbines generate at total of $100,000 in yearly revenue for the city. The project has been so successful that at a recent city council meeting, Steel Winds II, with an additional 13 wind turbines, was granted approval.
With so many middle-American cities, from Detroit to Buffalo, suffering from the economic and environmental consequences of a past too deeply rooted in heavy industry, the success or failure of the Steel Winds project is being monitored very closely. Though it’s clear the shores of Lake Erie will still require a significant economic presence outside the green energy industry, wind turbines like those erected in Lackawanna could provide both the power—and the modern edge—to help the Rust Belt shine again.