News that electric co-ops on Swan’s Island and Vinalhaven are taking steps to develop those islands’ ample wind-energy resources is heartening evidence that citizens of the United States, if not their national government, are thinking creatively when it comes to replacing fossil fuels.

Wind turbines are one of those technologies — hydroelectric dams are another — that benefit from the high prices and uncertain supplies of oil and gas. In the case of Maine islands the irony is particularly sweet: Vinalhaven’s electric customers were hurt by the run-up in natural gas prices after hurricane Katrina, and it’s just those big bills that are now prompting the effort to bring alternatives on line. If the Fox Islands Electric Co-op succeeds in developing a wind project, it’s possible it may even pump kilowatts back to the mainland through its underwater cable to offset the costly, largely gas-generated, electricity islanders are now obliged to buy.

Much could go wrong, of course. Siting a turbine on a scenic Maine island isn’t likely to be much easier than it has been for Cape Wind to get permission to develop its project in the waters south of Cape Cod. There is the question of Maine’s posture toward wind power development in the wake of the state’s decision to deny a permit to Endless Energy, which wanted to erect a set of wind turbines in western Maine. An issue in that case was the view from the Appalachian Trail, a scenic resource of comparable value — and capable of generating the same emotional power– as a spruce-clad coastal island.

Nonetheless, it’s vital to consider wind energy and other alternative energy sources even if we know they’ll rouse opposition. And as the debate is joined, it’s well to remember a couple of very important things: that remaining dependent on fossil fuels is neither sustainable nor possible for much longer, and that any new source of energy, renewable or otherwise, should only be developed concurrently with serious energy conservation. After all, our appetite for energy is just as big a problem as where it comes from.