If We Want Solar Energy,
Let’s Get Serious About It
If we care about solar energy, it’s time to get serious about it, don’cha think?
Happily, Otsego 2000 may be doing just that, having taken a leadership role among local environmental groups on this matter. On Feb. 24, its board adopted a resolution that reads, in part:
“Climate change, driven in large party by fossil-fuel use, is a significant threat to our region and way of life.
“We call for and support energy conservation and efficiency to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and the necessity or expanded fossil-fuel infrastructure and delivery systems.
“In addition, we call for and support smart development for renewable energy sources to meet the goals adopted by New York State for greenhouse-gas reductions.”
Caveat (conservation first), then support.
The resolution continues in the same vein. It supports rooftop solar panels. And solar farms, but again with caveats: Put them on “previously disturbed areas,” protect farmland, “protect historic, cultural and scenic resources,” maintain conserved lands. This is fine, and clearly in synch with Otsego 2000’s overarching mission – to protect, not develop.
But if, in fact, we want solar energy around here, a more affirmative strategy is necessary.
The most significant solar project proposed so far in Otsego County – thousands of panels on 50 acres north of Morris – is on hold, according to Chet Feldman, spokesman for Distributed Solar, Washington D.C. As he explained it, a PSC ruling last year on economical proximity to power lines, and federal tariffs made the project “not conducive,” at least for the time being.
Promisingly, Feldman said “We’re always looking forward to doing business in New York.” So it, or another project, may still happen.
So far though, solar power locally is limited to boutique uses: People who can afford it equipping their homes with panels. Otherwise, the Solar City installation near Laurens, by county government for county government, is the only functioning solar farm in the county. (Thank you, county Rep. Jim Powers, R-Butternuts, now retired, for pioneering it.)
If Otsego 2000, Sustainable Otsego, OCCA and other environmentally focused entities – goodness, even the Clark Foundation – really wants solar power widely used here, they need to say so and go after it, without the caveats.
If it chose to be, muscular Otsego 2000 certainly has the clout to get it done.
Meanwhile, Otsego 2000’s executive director, the able Ellen Pope, has taken the new policy seriously, attending a forum March 27 organized by Scenic Hudson, and – she reports – well attended by municipal officials from around the state.
It’s complicated. Large installations – 25 megawatts and up – fall under state Article 10 regulations for siting electric-generating facilities, signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2011. Below that, a good town plan can guide where things happen, or don’t.
Attendees were advised, “plan for the town you want.” Of course, we all know that means: Keep everything the way it is. If we really care about global warming, about renewables, about humankind’s survival, that probably won’t fill the bill.
The Otsego 2000 policy dwells on what needs to be protected. But let’s turn it around. Let’s identify appropriate sites – sure, brownfields (Shur-Katch in Richfield Springs, maybe), former landfills, acreage shielded from public view – those black panels are ugly – and so on.
It might make sense to rule solar farms out, period, in the extra-protected Otsego Lake watershed. It makes sense to extra-protect a national environmental icon. But that leaves plenty of space elsewhere in Otsego County.
The Morris installation, tucked in the beauteous Butternut Creek Valley, would have been an eyesore, and perhaps polluted the creek, too. The county’s Solar City site is in a former gravel pit – ideal.
If Otsego 2000 could identify ideal spots for solar farms – a half dozen, a dozen, even more – and put the regulations in place to enable them, it would be doing our 60,094 neighbors (as of last July 1, and dropping) a favor. When a solar developer shows up, no problemo, with enhanced tax base and jobs to follow.
Plus, an itty bit, we might even help save Planet Earth.
COOPERSTOWN – The county Board of Representatives is on track to cut 19 full-time and 7 part-time employees, slash some services and raise property taxes by about $100,000.
That’s according to county Treasurer Dan Crowell and county Rep. Don Lindberg, R-Worcester, who chairs the Budget Review Committee.
“The committee has identified departments, dollar amounts and in some cases the number of positions to be cut,” said Crowell. “The committee is communicating with department heads to find the most efficient way to make the cuts with the lest negative impact on services.”
The job reductions, if approved by the full Board of Representatives, will save the county about $1.2 million.
In other measures to close the $4.2 million gap “we voted to keep all the bed tax money,” said Lindberg.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Juris Doctorate
PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Retired senior executive at Fortune 100 company (GlaxoSmithKline); retired partner at multinational law firm (Morgan Lewis); currently patent attorney working in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry and owner/operator (with my son) of Fox Falls Farm, producers of beef, pork, lamb and other farm products
COMMUNITY/POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT: Former youth baseball and basketball coach; former councilman in Town of New Lisbon; currently County Representative-District 5; currently serving on boards of directors of Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD), Center for Agricultural Development & Entrepreneurship (CADE), and Butternut Valley Alliance (BVA)
FAMILY: Married to Vicky for 38 years; three adult children; five (soon to be six) grandchildren
IN TWO OR THREE SENTENCES, EXPLAIN YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT:
Government is the vehicle by which we collectively, through our elected representatives, provide essential services to the community, make rules and policies for the betterment of the entire community, protect our persons, property and civil rights, and resolve disputes. Government is responsible for providing necessary infrastructure and creating an environment in which each of us has the opportunity to live and work peaceably and happily. Government can and should impose regulations that protect people from harm by others and that protect our environment but regulations need to be reasonable and balanced against our civil rights and should not restrict activities that do not cause harm to others.
WHAT ARE THE THREE MAJOR ISSUES THE OTSEGO COUNTY BOARD OF REPRESENTATIVES FACES, AND HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS THEM?
Economic development – We cannot continue on the current trajectory, with our expenses increasing and our revenues holding steady at best. There are no easy answers. Increasing taxes is not the solution. Nor is even more austerity. As a legislative body, the County Board has to do its part to create an environment in which businesses, particularly small businesses, can thrive. Creating a favorable business environment requires efforts on multiple fronts, including improving broadband and cell phone access, improving the quality of our roads, developing sites where businesses can locate and share facilities and services, training prospective employees, assisting farmers in connecting with downstate and other buyers, and facilitating obtainment of seed money for new and emerging business ventures. Through these and other efforts, we can expand and build on our strong footings in health & education, agriculture, and tourism.
Public Safety – We live in a safe community where we justifiably have little fear of robberies, burglaries, assaults, or other crimes. This is one of the things my wife and I love about living here. But, what I do fear is that this may be changing largely because of the scourge of heroin and other opioids addiction. The county board needs to ensure that we support our sheriff’s department and do whatever else we can to minimize the spread of this disease and the terrible impacts it can have on communities. I would like to see a commission comprised of state and county law enforcement officials, addiction experts, and health officials convened to study this problem and to propose preventive measures for our county. (Contrary to rumor, I do not support cutting the Sheriff’s road patrol.)
Emergency Services – The rural parts of our county rely on volunteer fire and emergency medical services. This system has served us well for a long time. However, for a number of reasons that include among others increased mandated training requirements, increased and often unnecessary state regulation, and changing lifestyles, our volunteer fire and EMS squads are finding themselves understaffed and underfunded. The county board needs to work with our police, fire, and emergency medical service providers to identify procedures, resources, and incentives to help ensure that our fire and EMS squads remain viable and effective. Ideas to be explored include converting to a partial fee-for-service system, sharing and/or providing certain services centrally, and giving volunteers credit towards municipal health and retirement benefits, among others.
WHAT QUALITIES/EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE THAT MAKES YOU THE BETTER CHOICE IN THIS RACE:
I believe that my professional experience as a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company, as legal counsel for emerging businesses, as an owner/operator of a small farm, and as a former town board member and current county representative, my personal experience as a husband, father, and grandfather, and my experience of having lived in other parts of the country separate me from my opponent and make me better qualified to serve as county representative.
IS THERE A STATEMENT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH VOTERS?
Otsego County is a great place to live. We have great people, beautiful land, strong but livable urban centers, and abundant water and other natural resources. I want to work with the other county representatives as well as with other members of our community to help shape the future of our county so that we can grow economically while preserving the things we value about living here.
ONEONTA – The IDA board this morning named Middleburgh Telephone as the private entity in a four-part partnership that will seek to implement a $30 million program to provide broadband Internet service throughout Otsego County.
“Their credentials, their experience, the breadth of the company is a testimony to the organization,” said IDA President Sandy Mathis. Middleburgh Telephone is part of the Independent Network Operations Consortium, which has been providing Internet service, increasingly broadband, since 2001.
The three other prospective partners are the County of Otsego, the pass-through entity for the necessary grants; the IDA itself, the source of PILOTs and low-cost financing, and the Hartwick-based Otsego Electric Cooperative, which would bring its construction and maintenance crews into the mix.
Mathes said the next step is to begin talks to bring the four entities into the single partnership. With a study by FARR Communications detailed earlier this week, the partnership can then begin seeking grants.
COOPERSTOWN – County Rep. Ed Lentz, D-New Lisbon, said a few moments ago that he intends to make a motion at Wednesday’s county board meeting to distribute $150,000 in tourism-impact aid to municipalities that bear the brunt of Otsego County’s largest industry.
“We have significant support,” said Lentz, an attorney and farmer. “Do we have a majority? I’ll tell you on Wednesday.”
The communities that generate the largest amount of the $1.4 million in bed-tax revenues are: the town and city of Oneonta (30 percent), the Town of Hartwick (25 percent) and the Village of Cooperstown (23 percent).
Lentz, who represents Hartwick, said he expects support from five Democrats: himself, plus Beth Rosenthal, Roseboom, and Gary Koutnik, Linda Rowinski and Kay Stuligross, all of Oneonta.
But, he continued, Republicans representing the impacted municipalities should support him as well. He mentioned county Rep. Rick Hulse, who represents Cooperstown; Janet Hurley Quackenbush, Town of Oneonta, and Craig Gelbsman, City of Oneonta, and perhaps Keith McCarty from Richfield-Springfield as well.