by JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.ALLOTSEGO.com
WEST ONEONTA – In the first convening of the 38-member Otsego County Energy Taskforce Town Hall Wednesday evening, County Board Rep. Meg Kennedy, a founder of the group, announced its end goal: an ambitious plan “that will address the current and future energy needs of Otsego County” by October 2020.
Calling the plan’s timeline “ambitious,” Kennedy said the Taskforce aimed to complete a draft of the plan by June 2020, have a public commentary period the following month, for a minimum of 30 days, and go through a SEQRA review of the plan that August, all before the Otsego Board would vote on adopting the plan in October of that year.
Kennedy is one of five members of the Taskforce’s Leadership Committee, who began meeting in October 2018 to put together ideas and developing community energy plan. Others on the Leadership Comimttee are Otsego County Representative Michele Farwell, whom Kennedy said was “instrumental” in getting county approval for the group, along with Bob Wood, president of the Town Oneonta’s Board, Greg Mattice, the City of Oneonta’s engineer, and Leslie Orzetti, Executive Director of the Otsego County Conservation Association.
The foundation for the plan is the Taskforce’s mission, which envisions the area to be “energy secure and resilient while making long-term progress in improving the health of citizens, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.”
The Taskforce’s first meeting was as much to introduce members to one another as it was to introduce the group’s structure, goals, and mission. The 21 members, excluding the five-member Leadership Committee, belong to four different “working groups:” Building and Efficiency, Energy Supply and Distribution, Economic Development, and Environment. As Farwell, who is on the Leadership Committee, announced each of the working groups, their members introduced themselves, including with via online conference call, and described their expertise.
The Taskforce’ 21 members offer expertise from a wide range of fields: the oil and gas industry, academia, agricultural research and development, conservation organizations, regional economic development, energy planning, government agencies, and important economic sectors in the county such as healthcare.
“We really hope to have a comprehensive plan that will be able to address some of the concerns of economic development with or without an unlimited energy supply and ways we can encourage conservation,” Bob Wood, Oneonta Town Supervisor and member of the Taskforce’s Leadership Committee said.
Fifteen Technical Advisors who are not Taskforce members will provide additional expertise the group “can tap into.”
The idea of the Energy Taskforce originated in the county’s Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) Committee last October, with Michele Farwell “instrumental in getting county approval for the process,” Kennedy said.
Discussions on the need for an organization that would bring together disparate viewpoints on energy and environmental concerns began after it became known that Jody Zakrevsky, Otsego Now’s CEO, had applied for a grant to help finance the building of a gas decompressor station. That drew a firestorm of criticism from area environmental groups, such as Otsego 2000 and Concerned Citizens of Oneonta.
“I am one of the reasons everyone is here today.” Zakrevsky said when introducing himself as a member of the Taskforce’s Economic Development working group.
Otsego 2000 president Nicole Dillingham, standing in for technical advisor Ellen Pope, said the Taskforce should consider asking for a moratorium on projects such as building the decompressor station or developing the Oneonta railyard.
“This group can talk about plans, but not policies,” Leslie Orzetti, Executive Director of Otsego County Conservation Association and a Leadership Committee member.
After introductions, the four working groups’ members and technical advisors and technical advisors met to set their meeting schedules and agendas.
Full Taskforce meetings will take place bi-monthly and Committee/Working Group meetings, monthly.