It’s a great idea.
In a column at the end of August, Adrian Kuzminski – citing the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap, completed in March – wrote,
“Let me suggest … that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.”
He concluded, “Get key people in the room and tackle the problem.”
County Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-C, Hartwick/Milford, invited Irene Weiser, a member of the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force, to attended the Sept. 18 meeting of the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. That task force’s mission is to encourage economic growth while working to reduce gas usage.
NYSEG, which also serves southern Otsego County, had proposed an $18 million gas pipeline into the Town of Lansing, an Ithaca suburb. The task force has been working with NYSEG, trying to find an alternative to the pipeline; it issued an RFP (request for proposals), but received no proposals. It is not revising the RFP and plans to try again.
That may mean, as Irene Weiser reported, that the RFP was poorly drawn. Or it may mean there’s no ready alternative to natural gas right now, at least a full alternative.
One IGA member, county Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego, drew the latter lesson. “I struggle with the short term and the long term of it,” he said. “… We need to figure out some short-term solutions while we’re building for an energy-smart future.”
On these editorial pages over the past two months, a number of knowledgeable writers have submitted well-argued letters and op-eds on the gas vs. renewables debate, spurred by Otsego Now’s CGA application to install a natural-gas decompression station in the former Pony Farm Commerce Park at Route 205 and I-88. Kuzminski is in the no-gas camp, joined by Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham. When it appeared to some that the OCCA seemed to be open to hearing more about the decompression station, Executive Director Leslie Orzetti responded emphatically: The Otsego County Conservation Association does not support gas expansion.
On the other side, Kuzminski’s fellow columnist, Mike Zagata, argued fossil fuels are necessary right now. Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky said, without natural gas, the Oneonta area has actually missed going after 500 jobs this year alone. Dick Downey of Otego, who led the Unatego Landowners Association in support of the Constitution Pipeline, likewise falls into this camp.
Dave Rowley of West Oneonta, the sensible retired Edmeston Central superintendent, who served as interim superintendent in Oneonta before Joe Yelich’s hiring, probably caught it best in last week’s op-ed: Everyone wants renewable energy, but it’s simply not sufficiently available. For now, natural gas is necessary.
This is a long way of saying, everybody’s right. In the face of global warming – yes, not everybody “believes” it’s happening; but why reject the preponderant scientific consensus? – clean energy is a necessity.
California is on the forefront, with its Senate Bill 100 aiming at 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. (New York State is aiming for 50 percent by 2030.) Greenhouse-gas emission is a separate category.)
Further, Otsego County’s population (60,000) is 0.02 percent of the nation’s (320 million), one 200th of 1 percent. Even if local energy needs were fully served, it is a negligible piece of a huge national – even international – challenge.
We all want to be part of the solution, but the solution is not going to be reached between Roseboom and Unadilla. It will be developed at the state and national levels, and when there’s an answer, we can support it and embrace it.
Meanwhile, the county’s population is dropping. Some 16.3 percent of our remaining neighbors (slightly more than 9,000) live below the property line ($24,600 for a family of four). That poverty rate is 14 percent higher than the national (14 points).
Plus, there are millions of state dollars – some $15 million so far – targeted for the City of Oneonta’s revitalization.
Now’s not the time to ensure our unmet energy needs – for homes, institutions, businesses and industry – remain unmet for a generation and a half.
Yes, the county Board of Representatives should name an energy task force; Adrian Kuzminski is right. But it should have two goals.
• First, to come up with ways to meet today’s energy needs now; perhaps CNG – compressed natural gas – is part of it (though not XNG trucks on roads that can’t handle them). But so are renewables, like the second solar farm being built in Laurens.
• Second, to fast-track renewables – solar, winds, heats pumps, the whole gamut – to put ourselves on the cutting edge of the future.
For her part, Kennedy is commited to pursue the task-force idea. In an interview, she said it must be made up of “people who want to reduce demand; and people who know the demands.
At base, though, true believers need not apply, only open minds, or the cause is lost.
To end where we began, with Kuzminski: “We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.”
So let’s do the job.
PUBLIC SAFETY – 7 p.m. Presentation “#Bomb Trucks 101: Understand the Risks” with Craig L. Stevens, co-written w/ William Huston. Foothills Performing Arts Center, Oneonta. 607-431-2080 or visit stopthebombtrucks.blogspot.com
FOOD FOR THOUGHT – 12:30 p.m. “Behind the Scenes at Fenimore Art Museum” with Chris Rossi, Director of Exhibitions. Cost, $30/non-member. South Terrace, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown. 607-547–1510 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/calendar-a
It’s recently been reported that Otsego Now, the economic development arm of Otsego county, is proposing a natural gas decompression station in Oneonta to help alleviate energy shortages that have plagued some businesses and institutions in the city.
Otsego Now is applying for a $3 million grant to help facilitate the project, which is estimated to cost $17 million.
Currently, SUNY Oneonta, Fox hospital, and Lutz Feeds suffer interrupted gas service during winter cold snaps when demand exceeds supply. Gas service is maintained for residential customers only by having these institutions inconveniently switch over to more expensive oil.
There has been talk of enlarging the existing NYSEG DeRuyter gas pipeline from Norwich to Oneonta. But Otsego Now Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky is quoted as saying that the estimated cost has ballooned to $100 million and may take a decade.
Zakrevsky estimates that the gas needed could be delivered to the proposed decompression station by two or three trucks a day for a couple of weeks a year.
This story leaves me scratching my head. Zakrevsky reports that natural gas is not only cheaper than oil, but that oil “pollutes more.” This ignores compelling evidence, first developed by Cornell University researchers, that natural gas is as much a polluting greenhouse gas as any other fossil fuel.
The pollution comes from cumulative seepage of methane during the life-cycle of natural gas production, from drilling to end-use. By the time the gas would get delivered to Oneonta – in what some call “bomb trucks” – the polluting damage would already have been done, starting back at the well-heads in Pennsylvania.
So why are we looking at the local energy scene solely through the lens of natural gas?
Why is there no serious consideration of non-fossil fuel alternatives?
We are facing a climate crisis. Our warm summer days feel good, but Arctic ice is melting, storms are getting more severe, and ecological instability is staring us in the face.
Under these circumstances, as I suggested in an earlier column, any proposal to expand the use of fossil fuels ought, at a minimum, to be accompanied by an equally funded parallel proposal to develop renewable energy.
We don’t have to rely on oil or gas. Efficient, low-cost heat exchange systems, which do not burn fuel, are now widely and cheaply available. The minimal electricity required to run such systems in our area comes from relatively clean hydro-sources.
Otsego Now might do better to forget the decompressor station and apply for a $3 million grant to convert residential and non-industrial systems from natural gas to heat exchange systems, and leave gas to those few situations for which it may be essential.
Somehow, there are always excuses why we can’t do renewables. Zakrevsky tells us that “weather and expensive batteries” are issues. Somehow the weather around here hasn’t stopped other solar projects from going forward.
As for the costs, here is where government subsidies, particularly from New York State, ought to come in. How much solar power is needed to make up for two or three gas trucks a day for a couple of weeks a year? How much solar power capacity can you buy for $17 million? How about a cost-benefit analysis?
For you pro-business people out there leery of borrow-and-spend, remember that’s how the Erie Canal, the railroads, the electrical grid, indeed America itself, mostly got built.
Neither government (socialism) nor business (capitalism) can do it by themselves. Government ought to be giving business the infrastructure it needs so that private enterprise can prosper, and it ought to make sure that the infrastructure we build doesn’t hurt the environment.
These kinds of decisions are too important to be left to a small agency like Otsego Now. What’s needed is comprehensive leadership – perhaps an Otsego County Energy Task Force – drawn from broad sectors of the community.
Other places are already doing it; just Google, for example, the “Tompkins County Energy Roadmap.”
Our Board of Representatives could take the lead in setting up such a Task Force for Otsego County, ideally composed of members from the colleges, businesses, non-profits, and other key sectors.
Once established, the Task Force ought to be empowered to make the decisions now left to Otsego Now. It should prioritize getting renewable energy subsidies, and be prepared to fight for them if they are not available.
Such a Task Force would be crucial in giving Otsego County a voice promoting its energy interests in Albany and beyond – something now sorely lacking.
Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy
professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.