LET’S GET SOME OF STATE’S $1.5B IN GREEN AID
The local energy debate shows little sign of dying down. On the one side are opponents of any further development of fossil fuels, including natural gas, and on the other side are advocates for expanding the natural-gas infrastructure in our area
in hopes of luring new industrial development.
Most people, however, are somewhere in the middle. National polling suggests that majorities now see climate change as a growing threat
we have to do something about, which ultimately means getting off fossil fuels, including natural gas.
Climate change statistics continue to relentlessly worsen, while the costs of mitigating pollution and dealing with disruptive events like floods, hurricanes, and unreliable weather patterns keep rising. These external costs are borne by taxpayers, consumers, property owners, and the general public.
At the same time, many people also recognize the steep price of converting to renewable energy. In spite of technological advances and declining costs, renewables in most cases still require a high initial investment and remain limited, especially in
applications like power generation and transportation.
In spite of tax credits and other incentives, most people can’t afford to install a rooftop solar array or buy an electric car. It’s cheaper today to stick with your oil furnace or gas vehicle.
I have long been in the camp of those opposed to further development of fossil fuels. What people on my side of the debate have been slow to recognize is how hard and costly the conversion process has turned out to be.
Natural gas advocates, for their part, ignore the accumulated evidence that methane seepage in production and distribution cancels out any advantage gas enjoys as cleaner burning than oil or coal at the end point of combustion. They also ignore the economic potential of renewables and energy conservation: that’s where the jobs could be.
So how do we decide what local energy policy to pursue? At this point, we cannot do without fossil fuels any more than we can continue to rely on them. We’re like addicts who desperately seek the benefit of the next fix, even though it undermines their health and welfare.
Therapies for addiction range from going cold turkey, to finding some benign substitute, to reducing usage. We’re too energy dependent to
go cold turkey, and natural gas is
not a benign substitute. Reducing fossil fuel usage remains the only practical option.
The main obstacle to reducing our consumption of fossil fuels is lack of adequate investment and incentive. Fortunately, New York State is moving ahead with its
own version of a Green New Deal
in which public investment in
conservation and renewables aims to reduce fossil fuel consumption while providing new employment opportunities.
Though critics caution that New York State energy policy still approves of power plants using out-of-state gas, Governor Cuomo recently announced a program to get to 100-percent “clean, carbon-free” electricity by 2040 by expanding subsidies for renewables. This is an expansion of New York State’s 2015 goal of reaching 50 percent renewable electricity generation by 2030.
The Governor’s new program includes $1.5 billion in competitive awards to support large-scale solar, wind and energy storage projects in Upstate New York. Otsego County needs to be aggressive in going after this kind of state money, which is perhaps the largest source of available capital investment for renewables and energy conservation, and the jobs likely to follow.
This column has complained in the past that “no one speaks for Otsego County.” And though some state funding for economic development – including green projects – has come our way, it’s been relatively little on a comparative basis.
We’re falling behind. If we had a county executive, for instance, to give voice to our needs, they might be recognized more quickly in
Albany and beyond.
Otsego County needs to play ball with Albany.
One step is for the county to sign up as NYSERDA’s “Climate Smart Community” pledge, a New York State program which requires a commitment by local governments
to explore options for energy
efficiencies and development of
renewables. A proposal to do that, is currently before the county board. Call your county representative and urge them to support it.
Beyond that, our county representatives need to take the initiative in lobbying Albany.
Our legislators in Albany, whatever their virtues, have so far not demonstrated the urgency this issue demands. The county needs to speak up for the interests of all its residents. It’s about time it did so.
Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor
and a Sustainable Otsego founder, lives in Fly Creek.