By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI • Special to wwww.AllOTSEGO.com
At the January 2019 Otsego County Energy Summit in Cooperstown, sponsored by the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, a NYSEG representative surprised many present by announcing that the utility was planning to rebuild and expand the DeRuyter pipeline, which brings natural gas to Oneonta.
In a subsequent report, filed with the Public Service Commission on March 15, NYSEG states, with regard to the DeRuyter pipeline, that it “will replace approximately 50 miles of 8-inch and 10-inch 298 psig-coated steel gas transmission gas mains with 12-inch main in several phases.”
Construction is expected to start in 2022.
That would bring much more gas to Oneonta – up to three times as much. Replacing the aging pipeline has been an off-and-on project for years, but now it’s back bigger than ever.
According to rate-hike applications filed with the Public Service Commission, NYSEG is proposing to have its ratepayers and taxpayers (you and me) bear the burden of funding this project, which could amount, according to industry estimates, to $400 million or more in the end.
This blatantly contradicts official New York State energy policy, which now leads the country. A few days ago Governor Cuomo signed into law “The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” which mandates carbon-free electricity by 2040 and a net zero carbon economy by 2050.
New York State is responding to the rapidly escalating climate emergency, as it should; NYSEG, in expanding the DeRuyter pipeline, is not just ignoring but actually deepening the crisis.
The combined greenhouse gas (GHG) effects of natural gas extraction and delivery (methane seepage) and final consumption (CO2 emissions) have been shown to be at least as bad as those of other fossil fuels. Even with improved efficiencies, gas systems will continue to produce far too much combined GHG to be acceptable to the climate, or to NYS standards.
The $400-million-plus investment, ultimately borne by ratepayers and taxpayers, is essentially money stolen from desperately needed renewable energy alternatives in favor of an obsolete, unsustainable industry we can no longer afford.
Here’s the real problem: It’s become apparent that the electrical infrastructure in Otsego County – mostly NYSEG – is antiquated, undermaintained, and more or less maxed out in terms of carrying capacity. More electricity could be locally generated by large-scale solar and wind farms, but right now there are only a couple of possible points where the local grid could absorb such input, effectively blocking development of renewables.
Priority number one in terms of local energy – one would think – would be to upgrade our grid to handle additional electricity generated locally by renewables. An updated grid would include a wide distribution of access points for solar and wind farms.
A decentralized network of energy farms would make us truly energy independent, and benefit the local economy. That means jobs and local revenue generation. That’s our economic future.
As renewable technologies and efficiencies advance, and costs come down, projects like the DeRuyter are likely to become stranded assets holding us hostage to obsolete, polluting systems, and exposing us to future rate hikes.
The last thing we need to do is to build more capital-intensive fossil fuel infrastructure.
Our local political leadership has been ineffective in stopping the gas project. Even worse, Senator Seward, Mayor Herzig, the county Industrial Development Agency, – and lately, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce – have actively promoted it.
Only a few industries require gas, and they can find it right now in Richfield Springs, and many other places. No need to waste $400 million building the wrong energy source in Oneonta, even if gas service for a handful of customers has to be replaced by oil on a few high demand days a year.
Most of the time, gas is consumed in Oneonta as low as 60 percent of current capacity. By doubling or tripling the gas capacity, if they get it, the pressure will be on NYSEG to find a lot of new customers, if they can, locking them (and us) into long-term fossil-fuel dependence, while at the same time blocking the investment in renewables we urgently need.
Increasing fossil fuel consumption at this point is willfully ignorant, if not insane. Reducing it is not only desirable, but essential to our survival. We don’t have the luxury anymore of saying that we’re all for renewables someday, while insisting on more natural gas in the meantime. I’d call that Climate Change Denial.
If you’re an exasperated citizen looking to make a difference on climate change, think about getting active locally. Follow the issue, attend meetings, network with friends, apply pressure where you can. Tell Seward, Herzig, the IDA, the Chamber, and NYSEG, as well as other decision-makers, like your county reps and town board members, to stop this craziness.
As a stopgap, we should maintain, but NOT enlarge, the pipeline, until we can put into place renewable alternatives to it. That’s why we have to invest instead in an upgraded local grid open to solar and wind and adapted to a decentralized, sustainable local economy.
We can waste $400 million on an obsolete and dangerous capital intensive industry, where costs and pollution are bound to rise, or we can invest $400 million in a decentralized, reliable, high-tech local grid tapping into non-fuel burning, clean energy, where jobs are created and costs are bound to go down. It should be a no-brainer.
Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego co-founder and moderator, lives in Fly Creek.