My Turn: Concord needs to show a little Yankee ingenuity

  • The Concord Steam Corporation plant on Pleasant Street at night.

For the Monitor
Published: 10/5/2016 3:15:14 AM

What ever happened to Yankee ingenuity? One is compelled to ask the question in light of the closing of Concord Steam and the possible use of “natural gas” to provide heat for the capital complex. In growing up, one would continually learn of and hear about such a phrase – from the growth of the textile mills of the 19th century to the much heralded and ever practical Jeep of World War II.

Yankee ingenuity – it rang of pride with its sense of can-do determination and self-reliance. There was also a David and Goliath association – of stepping outside the traditional, the conventional, if not monolithic, to engage the situation at hand with resourcefulness, pluck and agility. It also spoke of going face-to-face with a situation with candor, openness and freedom. Beneath it all, rather than an attitude of default or dulled sensibilities, was a vibrant engagement of life and sense of discovery.

Where is Yankee ingenuity today as we face the energy challenges of the 21st century?

Well fortunately, here in New England we have three clear examples: Montpelier, Vt., with its goal to be a net zero city by 2030; Boothbay, Maine, with GridSolar’s pilot project; and Middletown, Conn., with Wesleyan University’s “micro grid” as one of 11 state-financed projects – three of which are complete.

Yankee magazine, in its March-April issue, does an excellent job of explaining the underlying forces and particular circumstances of each endeavor. But it also clearly shows that uniting all three is not only a spirit of innovation but also in each case a sense of a newly galvanized community. Further, each exemplifies an awareness that old paradigms of energy use and consumption no longer work, given the fragile state of our planet. Finally, each offers an example of the future of energy – away from monopolized and centralized power to local and distributed sources using incremental technological improvements.

The magazine goes on to state that by 2040 renewable energies will produce almost half of all electricity worldwide. Further, as pointed out by the Acadia Center, $400 million was saved through the cancellation of proposed transmission line work as a result of sustained investment in energy efficiency in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

There is the myth that somehow “natural gas” is natural and that natural (methane gas) is a “bridge” fuel. The very process of fracking, with its huge demands of water combined with a highly toxic chemical mix, threatens water aquifers. The pipeline infrastructure needed for the transmission and distribution of such gas threatens the health and well-being of our communities. The inevitable and well-documented leakage of such gas, along with its life cycle (methane traps at least 86 times more heat in the atmosphere over 20 years) threatens our environment, perhaps even more than the use of oil and coal. But even more compelling is the mind-set of seeing nature as simply an object of utility. That compromises the intrinsic dignity of our planet.

Which way Concord? Our own neighbors have shown a path forward relying on the very tradition worthy of being called a Yankee.

(Samuel Fuller, a Franciscan friar, lives in Manchester.)

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