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.
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.
COOPERSTOWN – Otsego County businesspeople support all energy options – renewables, yes, but also the controversial decompressor station proposed for West Oneonta – states a county Chamber of Commerce “Energy & Infrastructure Policy” released in the past few days.
The statement came bottom-up from the Oneonta-based organization’s countywide membership, said Chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan, who also chairs the Economic Development Committee of the county board’s Energy Task Force. “They (chamber members) collectively shared that they want their voices heard,” Heegan added.
With businesspeople worried their perspectives would not be reflected in the Energy Task Force’s conclusions, Heegan said work began on the statement soon after county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision, announced the Energy Task Force membership at the chamber’s Energy Summit in January at The Otesaga.
To the Editor:
Dan Buttermann’s letter in your editions of Feb. 21-22 headlined, “On Energy Future, State Must Pick Right Side,” has the right title but supports the wrong side – renewables only, no new gas.
Unfortunately, the state (Governor Cuomo) shares Mr. Butterman’s view. Now the consequences are beginning to show.
Con Ed announced no new gas hook-ups in Westchester County. A six-acre urban renewal project in Yonkers – kaput. All new commercial/residential development in Westchester – on hold. Incidentally, Westchester utility rates are going up; gas 11 percent and electricity 6 percent.
Let’s not pick the wrong side for Otsego County. Our energy future needs ALL forms of energy, including affordable, abundant, reliable natural gas.
Gas cuts overhead, creates jobs. It counterbalances New York’s high taxes and restrictive business climate. If permitted, pipelines could be here in about a year.
COOPERSTOWN – Work on increasing the DeRuyter-Oneonta gas pipeline’s capacity by 25 percent will begin next year, NYSEG has told the Otsego County Energy Task Force.
That could mean the “interruptible power” – Oneonta’s colleges and Fox Hospital are required to switch to more expensive fuel oil when temperatures drop below zero – will kick in less often, county Rep. Michelle Farwell, D-Morris, the task force co-chair, told the county board at its July meeting Wednesday.
HARTWICK – Leadership gravitated toward Meg Kennedy, to hear her tell her story.
She first realized that was happening at an Oneonta Farmers’ Market vendors’ meeting in 2008 or 2009, where a difficult issue was being debated.
As the point of decision approached, Tom Warren, who runs the Stone & Thistle Farm, raising meadow-fed lamb and other natural products in East Meredith, spoke out: “Whatever Meg thinks we should do, that’s what we should do.”
To hear her tell it, Kennedy was as surprised by Warren’s comment as anyone.
“You suddenly have this reputation,” she reflected the other day in an interview in front of a roaring fire at her family’s Pleasant Valley Road home on being named 2019 Citizen of the Year by Hometown Oneonta, The Freeman’s Journal and www.AllOTSEGO.com. She added with a grin: “You have to make sure you aren’t saying anything stupid.”
Just starting her third term, Kennedy, the sole Conservative Party member of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, represents Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon. The facts: but they just scratch the surface.
Warren reiterated his respect for Kennedy the other day: “She stays calm in the storm. She’s very reasoned about how she thinks and talks. If she reaches a decision, it’s done with a great deal of consideration.”
County Board Chairman David Bliss called Meg Kennedy’s selection as Citizen “a very good choice.” He singled her out for key roles because “she’s intelligent and hardworking, and has a lot of common sense: Intelligence and common sense don’t always go together.”
He was confident she would approach difficult issues “with an open mind. She didn’t prejudge. I could trust her to do good work.”
All those qualities – and the woman who personifies them – were front and center in 2019, The Year of Meg Kennedy, if you will, which can be defined in at least four ways:
►ONE, COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR
Opposed to the idea of a county manager/administrator/executive when she first ran in 2015 – she considered it “another layer of government” – she gradually changed her mind on experiencing the complexities of county government.
She grilled Gerry Benjamin, SUNY New Paltz vice president, when that local government expert keynoted a community meeting locally in December 2017, soon after election to her second term.
Named the next month by the new chairman, Dave Bliss, to chair the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee (and the key Administration, the ways and means committee), she scheduled a second monthly meeting for the IGA – every month for 24 – dedicated to studying the optimum managerial option for this county.
On Dec. 4, the Otsego County Board of Representatives voted 11-2, with one absence, to create the job of county administrator, moving Otsego with its $120 million budget out of the last half-dozen counties statewide that lacked professional management.
► TWO, THE ENERGY TASK FORCE
In the year’s first month at the Otsego Chamber’s Energy Summit at The Otesaga, she announced the formation of the county board’s Energy Task Force, 21 members in four “work groups” – Building & Efficiency, Energy Supply & Distribution, Environmental Development, and Environment – plus 14 technical advisers.
The goal: to bring a range of sometimes warring advocates – renewable purists on one side and fossil-fuel bridge builders on the other – together behind a coherent,
workable energy future.
After a year of fact-finding, the group received a $50,000 state grant Dec. 19 – the county’s anteing up another $50,000 – to hire a consultant to pull together this year’s fact-finding into a Community Energy Plan by the end of 2020.
This year, she was also elected to New York State Association of Counties’ board of directors, the first Otsego County representative to receive that honor. That puts her in touch with cutting-edge ideas in county governance, which she can then use for the benefit of the rest of us back home.
►FOUR, THE FULCRUM
In the run-up to this year’s Nov. 5 county elections, when Democrats talked about winning a majority, and some Republicans may have worried about losing it, the arithmetic became clear – it’s a Meg Kennedy majority.
Six Republicans command 3,421 points in the board’s weighted-voting system; seven Democrats, 3,433, a difference of 12 votes. That means Kennedy, on partisan matters, Meg – her dad, Paul Kennedy, is Otsego County Conservative Party chairman (and founder) – controls the outcome.
Meg Kennedy rules! (But given her record to date, it’s unlikely she would do so without deliberation, discussion and reflection.)
She was born in 1967 at Stamford Hospital; her parents, Paul and Margaret Kennedy, had moved up from Long Island and bought a farm in Roxbury. As Kennedys multiplied, the parents moved to Laurens in 1974 so the kids, eventually 12 in all, could get a Catholic education at St. Mary’s School in Oneonta.
In conversation the other day, Bliss’ sister Patty, herself a former St. Mary’s principal, recalled her girlhood, seeing the Kennedy clan each Sunday filling a pew at St. Mary’s “Our Lady of the Lake” in Cooperstown. (The Bliss family, with eight children, would be arrayed nearby.)
Paul and Andy (a decorated Marine colonel) are older, but – after Meg – came Betsy, John, Tricia, Owen (Owen Jr. was star center on last year’s CCS state championship basketball team), Jim (vice president of the international Chicago-based Ball Seed Co.), Susan (a Dominican nun with a Ph.D., now based in Nashville), Katie, Joe and Anne.
As third eldest, and eldest daughter, Meg’s leadership skills were soon required.
“I always got the young kids to do what we needed to do at home,” she recalled.
Growing up in the family’s Federal-style home – painted green, appropriately – that may date back to the 1700s, she wanted to do what her older brothers did, playing outside – in particular, riding horses. Of many horses raised on Pleasant Valley Road property over the years, the family still has seven, all born on the farm.
Meg credits St. Mary’s School with giving her an ethical grounding, from the 10 Commandments, the Rosary and the church’s other teachings and rituals. “It was a small school, I knew all the kids,” she said. “The teachers were very kind, and made sure everyone lived up to their potential.”
At CCS, “the teachers expected a lot of us.” With sister Betsy, a year behind her, she played field hockey and volleyball, and ran track. An indication of her future career in elective office, she was president of her sophomore and junior class, and was elected Student Council president her senior year, staging fundraisers for famine relief in Africa.
“I always could coalesce a group,” she said, again seemingly surprised. “You don’t see these things as you are moving through them.”
Graduating from high school in 1985, she followed brothers Paul and Andy to Cornell, the College of Agriculture & Life Science, studying horticulture and greenhouse management “with the idea I could come back and work in the greenhouses” – the family’s greenhouses on the Hartwick farm – “to do what needed to be done.”
Early on, her father had taken over his father’s Andrew R. Kennedy Seed & Bulb Co., selling to grand estates in the Hudson Valley and around Philadelphia; at its height locally, the family had 27,000 square feet of greenhouses – and Meg took over office functions after graduating from Cornell in 1989.
In addition to running Kennedy Seed, the family began selling flowers at the Oneonta Farmers’ Market, expanding to Cooperstown’s, Delhi’s and Callicoon’s, in Sullivan County. As the seed and bulb business changed, the farmers’ markets became a much larger part of her family’s operation.
In 2010, soon after Tom Warren made his pronouncement, Meg was approached by Fred Fields, the former Hartwick Town Board member, and asked to fill a vacancy on the Planning Board, (where she still serves.)
That set the stage for 2015, “one of those years where there were going to be a lot of open seats,” recalled Republican County Chairman Vince Casale. Held by Democrat Ed Lentz, District 5 “was one of the districts we knew we had to win. We were having a hard time finding the right person to commit to that seat.”
As he scanned the town boards and planning board in the three towns, he saw Meg’s name. Bingo.
“I picked up the phone and called her. I knew there had been some hot issues she had contended with on the Planning Board,” Casale said. Within a few minutes, “it was obvious she was up to the task. You knew she was one of those people who had instinctive leadership qualities. We talked for two hours.”
He added, “We never think of her as being from another party. She fits right in. She aligns with the values Republicans hold.”
Even though their father established the Conservative Party in Delaware County in the 1960s, then brought it here, her brothers and sisters are a mix of Conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, Kennedy said.
Conservatism fit her, she continued: “I take a more careful approach to change. I have to get it proved to me.”
As it happens, she was asked about a county manager in 2015 during a candidates’ night with Lentz at the Hartwick Community Center on Route 11. He supported the idea; she was unconvinced. Fracking was also an issue.
That fall, she won, 813-590, including 99 Conservative votes. “I won because I was more neutral on the issues,” she believes, adding, “I know a lot of people.”
Hearing the news, Tom Warren said something she still reflects on: “Meg won because of who she wasn’t.”
In 2017, she turned back a challenge from the former Hartwick town supervisor, Pat Ryan, 1,055 to 524. This year, she was unchallenged.
Joining the board in January 2016, she only knew Dave Bliss, also a freshman, and – just a bit – Oneonta then-rep Craig Gelbsman. “I wanted to get to know the people, to get an understanding of what they were doing.”
She was assigned to the IGA, Solid Waste & Environmental Concerns, and the Human Services committees.
Asked about a defining moment, she paused, then spoke of an executive session involving a personnel matter. “I believe my contribution saved the situation from escalating to the point where there could have been a very different outcome,” Meg said.
Since executive sessions are confidential, she couldn’t get into details, but said, “I was really glad I was there that day.”
What happened that day? Her approach coalesced into what we’ll call here, “The Kennedy Method” of problem-solving. One, listen. Two, hear. “They aren’t the same thing,” she said. Three, “what’s the fairest thing to do?”
“Then,” she concluded, “we could stay within the box of appropriateness.”
The 2017 campaign was a vigorous one – Democrats fielded candidates in 13 of 14 districts – and more of a consensus approach emerged from the organizational meeting, with Bliss, who represents Cooperstown and the towns of Middlefield and Cherry Valley, elected chairman, and Democrat Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, as vice chairman.
“I knew when I voted for Dave” – his predecessor, Kathy Clark, R-Otego, had been a mentor of sorts toward Kennedy – “I was voting for more work.”
He appointed her chairman of the IGA and Administration committees – the two most challenging – and, later, to the committee that built the 2020 budget. Plus, she served as vice chairman of the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank, tasked with rehabilitating or razing blighted buildings to get property back on the tax rolls.
In 2018, amid a general energy debate, 150 XNG natural-gas tankers were criss-crossing the county daily, and activists were protesting plans for a gas-decompressing station at the Oneonta Commerce Park.
A Democrat, Michele Farwell, representing Butternuts, Morris and Pittsfield, joined the board, and eventually approached Meg Kennedy with the idea of forming an Energy Task Force, as Tompkins County had done. “Maybe we could get everybody seated at the table and talking to each other and past each other,” Farwell said.
Kennedy, by then chairing the IGA, agreed. “What that shows about Meg is that she’s very open to hearing new ideas and talking,” Farwell said, adding, “As a leader, she is very happy to let other people play as much of a role as they may like.”
Meg had observed an impasse in the energy debate, and was concerned it would prevent much-needed economic development. “We need to do something,” she told herself. “If we do nothing, nothing will ever happen. We need to get started, and see where it takes us.”
Coming out of Benjamin’s December 2018 presentation at Springbrook, “County Manager v. County Executive,” Kennedy’s IGA Committee also took on the task of exploring that choice.
“People who voted for Dave to be chair, they also wanted to talk about a county administrator,” Meg said, adding characteristically, “We started with a clean, blank slate.”
A first key decision was not to pursue an executive, which would have been an elected position and require the county to develop a charter and take it to referendum. If the vote was nay, the effort would be back to the beginning.
The IGA’s study – it included inviting in top executives from similar counties, and such experts as Steve Acquario, NYSAC executive director – also found an elected executive can elevate politics in county government, vying with a county board for primacy.
“An executive was not a good fit for a rural county with a small population,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes, lower population centers are overlooked.”
And so the county administrator option was pursued. In the New Year, the challenge of filling the job begins, and Bliss has said he plans to ask Meg to lead the search.
At one point during the process, Meg Kennedy was waved over to a table to join a conversation. Looking back, she followed her internalized tick list: Listen, HEAR, what’s fair…
“Wow,” she said to herself as she got up, “we just had a very productive discussion!”
COOPERSTOWN – Anne Catherine Ryan, of Ithaca, who was active in the community while working at the New York State Historical Association, passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 20, 2016, at the age of 74.
Anne, the daughter of the late Paul Ryan and Mary McCawley Ryan, was born in Pittston, Pa., March 31, 1942. She attended West Side Central Catholic High School, graduating in 1960. Moving to Manhattan, she attended the Tobé-Coburn School for Fashion Careers and worked for Macy’s, Inc. as a fashion coordinator.
WEST WINFIELD – Jo Anne (nee Dauchy) Deller, 75, quietly entered Paradise on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 from her home.
Jo Anne was born in Sidney on June 23, 1944, the daughter of Walton T. and Evelyn M. (nee Mattison) Dauchy. She grew up in Burlington Flats, NY where she enjoyed exploring the woods and creek, riding horses at her grandparents, and playing with the neighborhood kids. Jo Anne loved traveling and camping around the country with her parents and brothers. After high school, and amongst other endeavors, Jo Anne lived in Oneonta and worked at the State University College as a secretary before transitioning into helping to start the Data Processing Department on main frame computers.
ONEONTA – Looking for a “Clean Energy Communities” designation, a ChargePoint Level 2 electric vehicle (EV) charging station has been added to the Dietz Street parking lot.
“Over the last two years, there was a joint effort among City departments and the Council to takes steps to earn the Clean Energy Communities designation,” said Council member Melissa Nicosia, Second Ward. “I am proud to have been a part of being able to complete this initiative. Clean Energy can only benefit our community in the future.”
The EV charging station is a pier-mounted console which will allow EV drivers to recharge their batteries over time.
The Otsego Chamber of Commerce’s “Energy & Infrastructure Policy,” released last Thursday, June 13. The title sounds innocuous enough.
In effect, it is rank-and-file business owners’ Declaration of Independence.
The whole of the Otsego Chamber’s new policy appears in this newspaper, beginning at right. Read it. But there are a couple of key paragraphs.
The first makes common cause with every sensible person’s aspirations:
“As we head toward the inevitable move to renewable energy, the Chamber will continue to support and help implement all forms of energy including wind, solar, natural gas, hydro as well as geothermal, ground and air source heat pumps. The Chamber will also help connect businesses … with organizations that can perform energy audits and make upgrades that can help decrease energy usage as well as providing information for rebates and financing options. The Chamber can work with elected officials and state agencies … to implement renewable energies and technologies.”
It seems that a Zoning Commission made up of only three people have proposed a new zoning ordinance that would impact economic development in the Town of Richfield for decades to come.
What is unclear is whether or not this plan benefits the whole town or is just a cat’s paw for a small group of residents who oppose a specific clean energy renewable wind project on the west end of town.
Residents should realize that wind power, which has been successfully deployed elsewhere in New York State, the country and the world, will be a vital energy resource in the future. But most important to an agricultural region like Richfield, is the compatibility of wind turbines and farming. Farmers can lease land to host a wind turbine, and still continue to operate their farm.
Many farmers, including those in the dairy industry, are barely holding on. Allowing compatible wind turbines or solar panels can provide the type of long-lasting revenue that has allowed farming to thrive elsewhere.
Before approving a new zoning ordinance that stymies this type of clean energy development, Richfield residents should consider not just whether they want to see turbines or solar panels, but how they feel about abandoned farms or their neighbors struggling to make a decent living.
That is the real choice in many areas. Not to mention polls indicating that a majority of residents in the town of Richfield support renewable energy development.
It might be a good time to hit the pause button, abandon this flawed proposed zoning plan, and have a more representative group come up with zoning that is best for all residents of Richfield.
Most of you will recall the contentious debate between those who wanted the right to frack for natural gas beneath their property and those who wanted fracking banned. A foundation paid lawyers to visit towns and help them draft language prohibiting the practice of fracking within their jurisdictions under the aegis of “home rule.”
Concerned citizens, fearing ground water contamination, pressured the Governor to ban the practice. The Governor, of anti-fossil fuel persuasion, used the DEC and DOH to further his agenda and, for now, those against fracking succeeded.
Home rule and environmental protection were credited with that success.
The question is, however, what will happen to home rule and environmental protection when proposed energy-development projects fall within the definition of being “renewable”? After all, they fall within the purview of things “blessed” by our Governor.
Well, now we have the answer and it is called the “Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act.” It was introduced by the Governor as part of his amended budget and it will affect our way of life in upstate New York.
It amends the Public Service Law, the Economic Development Law, the Real Property Tax Law, the General Municipal Law, the Public Authorities Law, the Environmental Conservation Law, the state Urban Development Corporation Act and the state Finance Law, in relation to accelerating the growth of renewable energy facilities to meet critical state energy policy goals.
What does that mean to those of you who used home rule and environmental protection to stop fracking and wind power projects in the past?
Based upon an article posted in www.eenews.net, Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia Law School who runs a legal initiative supporting renewable projects in rural towns, said New York “has been slow to override” local opponents who have often succeeded in persuading towns to restrict development.
Cuomo’s plan appears to be a formidable solution, he said. “I think it would be one of the strongest state-level renewable-siting laws in the country.”
According to Anne Reynolds, Alliance for Clean Energy New York, “Many New York residents hold a dimmer view of renewables: A few large wind farms have already been delayed or cancelled because of locals (shame on us) who see them as a blemish on their landscapes and a threat to wildlife, property values and even groundwater.”
The DEC and the Public Service Commission would no longer be responsible for reviewing wind and solar power applications. Yes, you read that right. That authority would be transferred to an economic development entity. What happened to the State Environmental Quality Review Act? What kinds of projects are we talking about?
Under Cuomo’s bill, new transmission infrastructure (that translates to new power lines like the one you fought a few years back), cited by state officials as a critical way to bring Upstate renewable power down to New York City-area centers of demand, would get streamlined treatment.
In addition, regulators would undertake a comprehensive study of the grid’s future distribution and transmission needs. Please remember the bill’s title – Accelerated Renewable Energy and Community Benefit Act.” Exactly what community is being benefited – it certainly isn’t any from Upstate!
This will be the third time the city has imposed its will on Upstate – twice before for water (Adirondack Forest Preserve and Catskill Watershed) and now for energy. If you think this is fairy dust, consider the 3,000 acres solar farm being considered for West Laurens – and that’s just the beginning.
If you recall, I warned about the environmental impacts associated with renewables, but many readers dismissed those warnings because they had already drunk the Kool-Aid.
Well, those predictions have come true and may likely be far worse than originally thought, as already completed renewable projects have fallen short of their projected energy production predications and that, along with the fact that 40 percent of the energy will be lost before reaching New York City due to line drop, will mean even more solar and wind farms on our landscape.
That translates into more scars on our landscape and more wildlife evicted from habitats.
BURLINGTON FLATS – Anne L. Weiss, 81, a 40-year employee of Otsego Mutual Fire Insurance Co. in Burlington Flats, passed away unexpectedly at her home on Friday Dec. 14, 2018.
Anne was born on Feb. 4, 1937 in Burlington Flats, the daughter of the late Lowell F. and Helen E Nichols Mayne.
Anne was a lifetime resident of the area, graduating from Edmeston Central School before graduating from the Utica School of Commerce. She spent the next 40 years working for the Otsego Mutual, until her retirement in 1997.
The debate around here has appeared to be all about energy.
Listening to 19 content-rich, tightly packed presentations –
15 minutes, 15 minutes, 15 minutes – at the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s “Energy Summit: Infrastructure & Economy,” Thursday,
Jan. 31, at The Otesaga, you’d have come to a different conclusion.
The discussion’s all about jobs.
Energy is the means. Which can best produce jobs, gas or renewables? Ideally, both.
There were woeful predictions.
“Time is not on our side,” intoned Tony Ingraffea, the Cornell professor. (Better was his cool presentation on his ultra-efficient house near Ithaca. Add in the Norway firs his grad students have been planting for years, his family’s carbon footprint is “less than zero.”)
We know The Earth is under challenge. The question locally is, what is our role in fixing it? The numbers convincingly argue, not much. Otsego County is micro; the solution is macro.
With 0.018 percent of the U.S. population (less than 2/100ths of one percent), and 0.00008 percent of the world’s (less than 1/100,000th of one percent), the fate of The Earth isn’t going to be decided between Richfield Springs and East Worcester.
This frees us to think about Otsego County, what we need today, and what the opportunities are in the near-to-
ONEONTA – Fossil fuels – gasoline, fuel oil, propane and natural gas – that power Otsego County today were like an unexpected inheritance, allowing the Industrial Revolution and the world as we know it.
But 200 years later, Hartwick College Economics Professor Karl Seeley told 70-80 attendees at the Concerned Citizens of Oneonta forum this evening at Elm Park United Methodist Church, you discover the hidden costs of the bequest are bankrupting.
“It makes you rich enough to destroy your home,” Seeley said. “But not rich enough to build a new one.”
The dynamics of the evening, moderated by Hartwick Professor Kate O’Donnell, followed an outline another panelist, Dan Buttermann, brought back from Al Gore’s “Climate Reality Project” forum last year in Los Angeles: “Must we do it? Can we do it? Will we do it?”