Village May Explore Alternative Energy

Village Mayor West is a supporter of using biodiesel fuels as an energy source.
Village Mayor West is a supporter of using biodiesel fuels as an energy source.

New Paltz Village Mayor Jason West said the solution to several of New Paltz’s problems can be mixed with a blender.

“Biodiesel fuel is easy to make — I made it in my kitchen,” West said. “It’s vegetable oil with the fat stripped out of it.”

As his second term as mayor progresses, West said he would like to begin building a biodiesel fuel plant in New Paltz.

The idea first came to West and other village officials during his first stint as mayor, but plans did not pass the preliminary stages.

However, West said biodiesel fuel would create a “win-win-win” situation for a town that will see prices for gas go up in the near future.

“There’s potential by the sheer fact oil prices are going to get higher and there’s no other scenario than that,” West said. “If we can lock in our own fuel prices it could save money, lower taxes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Biodiesel fuel is made up of renewable sources like plant oils and animal fats. Though West said it is easy to make at home, the fuel made from vegetable oil would not be usable for cars or buses because it would not meet biodiesel fuel specifications, or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Biodiesel would be unable to function properly with any type of motor vehicle.

While it would be more difficult and costly to make biodiesel fuel in a factory rather than in a kitchen, preliminary research done by West and other village government members showed building the factory would cost “about a couple million,” depending on how big the plant would be.

West said those types of numbers would be different now and would depend on how large of a scale the village would want the factory to be. However, with a yearly budget of $7.5 million, the preliminary research done several years ago said paying for the factory would be possible.

“It was so long ago and the numbers may be so wrong now, but the feasibility study we did in 2007 said if the numbers were right we can pay back the loan in three to five years and make revenue after that,” West said.

West said the idea was brought up “briefly” at a town board meeting this past fall, but nothing else has been discussed.

Second-year biology major Jeanine Folkl said she believes the idea of biodiesel fuel is a good one, but she is skeptical of how and where it would be built.

“It’s definitely a great possibility and having non-toxic fuel would be great for the town, but where would it go and who’s going to build it? Something like that would take a lot of work,” Folkl said.

West said the village would need to organize and hire a research staff to further the idea of a biodiesel fuel plant in New Paltz. He said the financing for it would be dependent on village grants, since New Paltz is a small municipality.

Despite this, West said the time to build a biodiesel fuel plant is now and the village can’t wait much longer.

“Because of Irene and because of how much gas prices are going to go up, we have to try things, we have to be fearless and we have to be inventive because we don’t have any time,” West said. “We can’t worry about running out of time, because we ran out 10 years ago.”