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KUZMINSKI: Let’s Take Control Of Our Energy Future

Column by Adrian Kuzminski, August 24, 2018

Let’s Take Control

Of Our Energy Future

Adrian Kuzminski

Recently, nearly 100 people crowded the Oneonta Town Hall to respond to a report by Otsego Now head, Jody Zakrevsky, about the controversial gas decompression station proposed for Oneonta.
The backlash was overwhelming. A long series of speakers unanimously condemned the project and demanded instead a full-scale effort to transition to renewables as soon as possible.
As the speakers pointed out, a myriad of solutions exist to the problem of inadequate natural-gas supply affecting some institutions and businesses in Oneonta. We heard about retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, replacing gas and oil furnaces with heat exchange systems, and developing local renewable energy sources, including solar and wind.
This isn’t pie in the sky. The Otsego County Conservation Association, for instance, is currently supporting a NYSERDA-funded program, Heat Smart Otsego, to promote the financial and environmental benefits of currently available non-fossil fuel technologies. Check it out.
The speakers also made clear the gravity of this issue.
We’re not just talking about inconvenience, higher costs, or limits to local economic development. We’re talking about a global crisis increasingly affecting us all.
The inability of our local community to do its part in getting us off fossil fuels is symptomatic of a larger political failure which is dangerous to our future. We have mostly relied on someone else to deal with this problem, usually in Albany or Washington.
They haven’t done the job, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to, at least not unless they’re prodded from below.
Yes, our community continues to be divided over energy policy. The editorial in last week’s edition of this paper characterized speakers at the town of Oneonta meeting as “anti-gas true believers.”
There were a couple of strident speakers, as with any large group, but nearly all were thoughtful people pointing out the very real and harmful consequences of using more gas.
Mike Zagata in last week’s paper also misinforms the public by talking about “clean-burning natural gas,” when in fact there’s no such thing. The combustion of natural gas unavoidably produces CO2, a polluting greenhouse gas. Zagata admits as much by worrying if plant growth will absorb the extra CO2.
Even worse, he ignores the seepage of methane from wells, pipes and compressors, which adds another, more potent greenhouse gas to the mix, making natural gas as bad as any other fossil fuel.
By contrast, Zakrevsky, to his credit, bemoaned his fate at the Town of Oneonta meeting, confessing to the crowd his own confusion and lack of expertise. He was hired to promote local economic development, he noted, not to make energy policy. He’s exactly right. He and Otsego Now are not qualified to make energy policy and should not be tasked with that burden.
What was painfully obvious at the meeting was the lack of coordination among capable parties interested in developing a local energy plan. Currently we have groups too often confined to their respective silos – elected officials, economic development people, the local business community, the colleges, the hospitals, the environmentalists, etc.

Ian Austin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA & The Freeman’s Journal – Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky details decompressor-station plans to the Oneonta Town Board and 100 audience members Aug. 9.

Each of them is working on their piece of the elephant. What’s lacking is an effective mechanism for combining their resources and talents to develop a plan for all of us.
In my last column I mentioned the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap (Google it!) as a precedent for what should happen here. That initiative began in 2010 as part of a Tompkins County Energy Strategy for 2020. It was first developed as a project by Cornell graduate students.
In 2014, a steering committee was formed composed of individuals “who represent the breadth of experience, interest and perspectives within the community regarding our energy future.” The draft Energy Roadmap was then presented to numerous community groups and has since become the focus of Tompkins county energy policy.
This Energy Roadmap doesn’t rely on hiring expensive outside consultants, who are often ignorant of local circumstances; nor does it narrow options by handing authority to a single, unprepared agency. Instead it utilizes the expertise already found in a variety of existing organizations and individuals.
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.
Let me suggest, again, 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.
The point is to get key people in the same room and tackle the problem. It’s up to the County Board to make this happen. The time is NOW.

Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

ZAGATA: Exotic? Natural Gas As Common As … Manure

Column by Mike Zagata for August 17, 2018

Exotic? Natural Gas As

Common As … Manure

Mike Zagata

It’s amazing that the natural gas opponents all talk about wanting to protect the environment by moving from natural gas to “renewables.” Is it that they are misinformed or have an agenda?
It’s difficult to tell, but here’s what the science tells us. Natural gas, or methane, is naturally occurring. It is emitted from volcanoes, manure piles and humans. It is the cleanest burning fuel yielding carbon dioxide and water.
If we remember our high school biology, it is carbon dioxide and water that green plants use in the process of photosynthesis to produce oxygen and sugar – two very important products for humankind and all animals that breathe oxygen and consume green plants containing sugar for food.
To date, we don’t know if those green plants, found on land and in fresh and marine waters, aren’t able to process the carbon dioxide that is being produced. If there was more of it, could green plants produce more oxygen and sugar, or if there was more than they could process would it affect the climate?
Answering those questions will take some good minds and pretty heavy-duty computers.

Because the proposed Constitution Pipeline has not been built and there is an increasing demand for clean-burning natural gas, companies are looking for ways to serve customers.
One of those ways involves compressing the natural gas to reduce its volume and then transporting it in specially developed canisters. That approach is being used in our area and some people are concerned about it.
Here’s what we know. There have been accidents with trucks carrying this gas and there haven’t been any releases – the safety mechanisms built into the trucks and containers have worked as expected. That is a good thing.
Is the same true for the fuel oil, propane and gasoline trucks that have traveled our highways for decades? There have been accidents and spills, but not the outcry facing the current use of trucks to transport natural gas. Why is that?

Institutions and businesses in Oneonta are facing curtailment during periods of unusual cold and heat.
What that means is that there isn’t enough gas being delivered by NYSEG to meet current needs – no less to support any new demand that might arise if a business that could provide jobs wanted to locate here. As it stands right now, they won’t locate here because there isn’t enough natural gas or three-phase power.
Some say Otsego Now should be condemned for trying to remedy that situation. Instead, they would like to form a committee to study it and dilute the momentum – the oldest trick in the book. If you want to delay something, form a committee of folks with widely different opinions and interests.
The anti-fossil fuel crowd will tell us renewables are the environmental panacea – they are without issues. Really, now?
It takes about 20 acres of solar panels to produce enough electricity for about 1,000 households – and we still need fossil fuels to produce the electricity needed to heat or cool our homes at night and to recharge our electric vehicles as off-peak power is cheaper.
New York’s population is about 20 million. If we multiply 20 acres by 20 million and then divide by 1,000 we get 400,000 – the number of acres that would be covered by the solar panels needed to produce enough daytime only electricity for New Yorkers.
That’s 400,000 acres that used to be forests, farmland and wildlife habitat. And what about having to dispose of the hazardous wastes in the solar panels that once produced electricity?
We could use hydro-power, but that means building dams that impede the progress of fish trying to move upstream to spawn.
We could use wind power, but that means using windmills that kill migrating birds.
We could use woody biomass, but that, along with the other “renewable” energy projects that have been brought forward for this area, was shot down by those who oppose anything that might lead to prosperity for our area.
All of a sudden, it isn’t so simple – in fact it’s downright complicated and might take some time to get it right. In the meantime, we have an abundant supply of gas – natural gas or methane – to serve as a bridge to get us where we all want to be – warm or cool depending on the time of year and pollution free.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

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