By Nancy Rauch Douzinas

As energy prices soar, the finger of blame has been pointed everywhere, from Katrina to oil companies to the booming economies of China and India. Long Islanders should be aware, however, that we ourselves are doing our part to keep demand, and prices, high.

Residential consumption of natural gas on Long Island climbed 19% between 1998 and 2004. Commercial and industrial consumption rose 13%. Residential and commercial electricity use grew at similar rates. This in a region where the population grew a scant 2% from 2000 to 2004.

Higher energy consumption and higher prices are more than just a personal pain, they’re a regional problem. Long Island’s high cost of living is the number one threat to our future. Crushing housing costs and taxes are already fueling an exodus from our region. The last thing we need is more expense.

Individuals can do much to conserve, and the recent spike in energy prices provides a strong incentive. Yet if the past is any guide, we should not expect folks to change their ways much. Gas-guzzlers still dominate the roads.

What’s more, fundamental forces on Long Island work against conservation. It’s not rapid growth that is pushing up energy consumption. It’s the wasteful way we grow.

We keep putting larger and larger homes on more and more remote parcels of land. If you tried, you couldn’t come up with a better development pattern for maximizing both home energy consumption and automobile use.

By contrast, re-developing towns and villages with townhouses and apartments, located within walking distance of shops, recreation and transportation, would be far more energy-efficient. This kind of development would also provide the affordable housing our region so desperately needs. But this is not happening.

We keep doing the same things. Naturally the results are the same: more consumption and higher costs.

So is anything new? One idea is the Long Island Power Authority’s proposal for windmills off the Island’s south shore. LIPA estimates that this project could supply electricity for 44,000 households.

Two things make this proposal interesting. First, windmills seem so innovative, so cutting edge. Many of us remember a time when Long Island was thought of as the last word in modernity. But we have not been seen that way—or seen ourselves that way—in quite a while.

Another thing “new” about the proposal is the way it has brought people together to say “Yes” for a change.

Proposed by LIPA in concert with a coalition of environmental groups, the wind park application is also supported by an array of both business and labor groups, and an overwhelming 87% of the public.

The times when Long Islanders have joined together on issues are few and far between. We need to think about our region’s problems in new ways, and work together better than we have in the past. That’s the energy that will move Long Island forward.