IMAGE: SOLAR PANELS IN WOODSTOCK
Mike Groll  /  AP
Randolph Horner poses with solar panels on the roof of the town hall in Woodstock, N.Y. Horner, a local renewable energy project developer, is behind a drive to reduce Woodstock's net carbon dioxide emissions to zero in 10 years.
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updated 4/10/2007 1:10:19 PM ET 2007-04-10T17:10:19

Michael Esposito rides his bike all the time — from cold nights when leaving his old job at a natural food store to warm days while passing shops selling yoga clothes and soy drinks.

So the 67-year-old is excited about a new plan to reduce this countercultural haven's net carbon dioxide emissions to zero within a decade, an ambitious attempt to erase the town's "carbon footprint."

"It's more than important," Esposito said. "It's a necessity."

The goal might sound as unlikely as stuffing smoke back into a smokestack. Even sympathetic experts call it challenging. It likely would require many of the town's roughly 6,200 people to install solar panels and geothermal hookups. But it's tough to find a resident who doesn't support the project.

"So why not declare that within 10 years we're going to set a visionary goal?" asked Randolph Horner, a renewable energy project developer who is a driving force behind the initiative.

Woodstock is best known for the 1969 rock concert that borrowed its name and was held some 50 miles away in Bethel. But the old artists' colony is plugging firmly into the zeitgeist of 2007, a time when hybrid cars are hot and Al Gore's climate-change documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," won two Oscars.

In February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expressed its greatest confidence yet that global warming is being caused largely by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal government is not doing enough to curb emissions.

As debate over the scope of global warming continues, local officials across the country have crafted their own policies. Austin, Texas, has a "Climate Protection Plan" that aims to make city buildings reliant on renewable energy by 2012. Portland, Ore., has an Office of Sustainable Development to coordinate and encourage the use of everything from green building to biofuel.

'No net emission' goal
Last month, the Woodstock town board approved a nonbinding resolution that called for "implementing policies resulting in no net emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases" by 2017.

"Net" means residents can keep their cars as long as they produce enough clean power to offset their emissions.

The resolution lists ways to reach the zero carbon goal, including green building, bike paths, tree planting and biodiesel municipal fleets.

It's the sort of bit-by-bit approach advocated by environmentalists. For instance, one person driving 2,000 fewer miles prevents about a ton of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. And a compact fluorescent bulb will keep half a ton of carbon dioxide out of the air over its lifetime, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

IMAGE: Michael Esposito
Mike Groll  /  AP file
Michael Esposito, seen at his bike shop in Woodstock, N.Y., is excited about plans to reduce Woodstock's net carbon dioxide emissions to zero in 10 years.
The savings are a wisp compared with the billions of tons of greenhouse gases released annually, but the idea is to reach meaningful reductions through collective action.

Horner said consumer efficiencies should be coupled with onsite generation like solar power. Geothermal heating and cooling systems would take a bite out the town's appetite for fossil fuel, he said.

Renewable energy experts say the goal is technically possible but difficult. Michael Armstrong, a policy analyst with Portland's Office of Sustainability, called net zero a "monstrous challenge."

But Horner insists that as fossil fuel prices spike over the next decade, alternative energy will become more attractive to both producers and residential consumers. Solar panels and geothermal systems will make more sense economically, he said.

Woodstock has some advantages bigger cities like Portland or Austin do not. It's a rural town with no heavy industry, and residents generally tend to be more sympathetic to save-the-planet ideas.

For it, but skeptical
Those asked about the plan were all supportive of the general idea.

"Climate change is serious. We can't stick our heads in the ground," Norm Wennet said.

"What's not to like? How could anybody be against it?" Robin Kramer asked. "I'm just skeptical that it will work."

Kramer said he supports the effort, but doubts people will cut down on driving and make other sacrifices necessary to reach the goal.

Jim Decker, a member of the group charged with coming up with more concrete plans, says one potential problem could be enlisting the many people from New York City who keep weekend homes in Woodstock.

And even residents who support the plan are foggy about how to wipe out their carbon footprint.

Alan Carey said he switched to compact fluorescent bulbs, burns more wood and tries to drive less.

"I don't know if we can do it," Carey said, "but we're going to try."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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