BENEFIT AUCTION – 5:30 p.m. Annual benefit for Greater Oneonta Historical Society features hundreds of items up for live, silent, bucket auctions. Kevin Herrick of Lettis Auction will be auctioneer. Quality Inn, 141 Courtyard Dr., Oneonta. 607-432-0960 or visit www.oneontahistory.org/upcomingevents.htm
This week’s Tom Morgan column on the facing page, and former DEC Commissioner Mike Zagata’s column last week capture the Upstate dilemma: Upstate is rebounding more slowly than any other area of the country.
First, let’s look at local bright spots.
• Custom Electronics in Oneonta is planning a futuristic 250-job production line making self-recharging batteries.
Andela Products, the Richfield Springs glass recycler, is likewise looking to expand. And Corning’s Oneonta plant is investing $11 million to ensure 150 jobs for the next 15 years.
• As or more important, as Spectrum dithers, Hartwick-based Otsego Electric Cooperative keeps expanding its broad-band ambitions, as the county Board of Representatives was told last month. The PT boat may outmaneuver the aircraft carrier.
• Even today, as the Otsego Chamber of Commerce and Senator Seward’s Workforce Summit was told last week, the challenge isn’t so much new jobs as finding people to fill existing jobs. RNs, code writers and CDL drivers can start tomorrow.
• What’s more, Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta, Bassett and Fox Hospital, plus thriving Springbrook provide a solid economic base.
• To top it off, county Treasurer Allen Ruffles reports the county’s tax rate, thanks to vibrant tourism, is the lowest among the state’s 67 counties. It’s been low – but THE lowest!
All this is good. What’s lacking is a future: new and better kinds of jobs and salaries to keep our young people here and bring in new ones, and
a vision to get us there.
At that Workforce Summit – 80 people packed The Otesaga’s Fenimore Room Wednesday, Oct. 31 – the indefatigable Alan Cleinman, the Oneonta-based consultant to the national optometry sector, provided that vision:
“The future is knowledge-based industry” Cleinman declared. “The future is not industry.”
Knowledge workers: “software engineers, physicians, pharmacists, architects, engineers, scientists, design thinkers, public accountants, lawyers, and academics, and any other white-collar workers whose line of work requires the one to ‘think for a living,’” is how Wikepedia defines it.
In constant national travels, Cleinman has visited such boomtowns as Boise, Idaho, and Bozeman, Mont. – places truly in the middle of nowhere that embraced “knowledge-based industry” and are thriving.
He estimated Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta have 75,000 living graduates and create 1,500 new ones a year, many of whom would no doubt love to relive positive college experiences here and, while at it, make a living.
Cleinman’s idea is to collaborate with the colleges on a marketing campaign to bring some of these people back – a one-percent return is 750 professionals. And to raise
a $1 million venture-capital fund to help them do so.
Senator Seward immediately pledged to form a task force to pursue the “Come Home to Otsego County” campaign, plus a “Stay Home” campaign. Contacted later, Hartwick President Margaret Drugovich also expressed support.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen the deepening of a county rift that could stop any forward movement short: economic developers versus no-gas, no-way, no-how adherents.
Otsego 2000, the formidable and well-funded Cooperstown-based environmental group, has laid the groundwork to sue Otsego Now’s economic developers and the City of Oneonta if plans for a gas-compression station goes forward.
A “knowledge economy” requires some energy – a million-square-foot office building would require 5,800 gallons of propane a day to heat, Otsego Now’s Jody Zakrevsky estimated – but considerably less than manufacturing.
No-gas, no-how may not be feasible. But a “knowledge economy” may allow a balanced energy strategy that is palatable all around.
Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham herself expressed considerable interest in Cleinman’s idea.
If it and other environmental groups could move from always “no” to occasionally “yes,” that would be good all around.
In short, Cleinman’s right on.
Bozeman, Boise and other knowledge economies got where they are by embracing four qualities: ingenuity, educational resources, money and
quality of life, he said.
“We have them all in Otsego County,” the proud native son from Gilbertsville declared. “What better place to live than in this amazing county?”
What better place indeed? Fingers crossed. Let’s see where it goes.
Uncreative? With Full Plate,
That Might Be Just The Thing
‘I’m not creative,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky told the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its October meeting on the 3rd, as he began to deliver an “economic update” on the economic-development organization’s 2018 accomplishments.
While lacking creativity, Zakrevsky continued, he said he has the capacity to embrace someone else’s ideas and carry them to fruition.
Credit Zakrevsky with self-awareness and frankness, both virtues. Thinking about it further: The ability to carry great ideas forward may be just what’s needed right now in the local economic-development realm.
Zakrevsky’s predecessor, Sandy Mathes, was eminently creative; many of his initiatives are moving. Slow and steady implementation now might indeed win this race.
Among other things, Zakrevsky shared this very good news with the county board: Otsego Now has issued $11 million in bonds to Corning to expand its Life Sciences Plant in Oneonta; in return, the nation’s foremost glassmaker has committed to keeping 175 quality jobs in the city for at least 15 years.
Several other initiatives Zakrevsky shared with the county reps are important to pursue, such as a $750,000 grant sought toward Custom Electronics’ $2.2 million production line of futuristic self-recharging batteries. That’s 50 prospective jobs.
The batteries are used at disaster scenes, but also at movie shoots, to allow crew
to easily move sets when on location.
Of course, better batteries – in effect,
power storage – are essential as we shift
Another big challenge, of course, is moving forward redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards; six site plans have been developed over the past few months. Also new, Otsego Now has gotten the state to designate a big chunk of the railyards as a new type of “opportunity zone,” providing tax breaks to prospective employers.
Also, Zakrevsky said, he is working with an unnamed “existing manufacturing company” on a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Oneonta Business Park (formerly Pony Farm) that promises to create 300 new jobs, with construction due to begin next year. He pointed out that 10 buildings in the park (only one owned by Otsego Now) are occupied, and only three available lots remain.
The Route 205 corridor through the Town of Oneonta is underway, necessary before the state DOT can upgrade that sometimes-congested stretch. And an airport study – Zakrevsky said consultants have promised its completion by Dec. 23 – may pave the way for county participation, as is proper, in what’s been a City of Oneonta facility.
There’s a lot more, including comprehensive master plan updates in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs and lately Schenevus.
Zakrevsky also heralded the creation, finally, of a one-stop shop for economic development in Otsego Now headquarters on the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta.
Michelle Catan of the state Small Business Development Center has been joined in recent months by the Otsego County chamber; Southern Tier 8, the regional planning agency, and CADE, the Center for Agriculture, Development & Entrepreneurism.
If you remember, the keynoter at the second “Seward Summit” in November 2013, Dick Sheehy, manager/site selection, for CMH2Mhill, an international industrial recruiter, said a one-stop shop is an essential prerequisite to economic development.
Of course, putting loosely related entities on the same floor doesn’t, in itself, mean a one-stop shop exists. But at least proximity makes a tight, broad, comprehensive economic-development recruitment effort possible. Be still, beating hearts.
As we’re now all aware, if we’ve been paying attention, our county, from Greater Oneonta to Cooperstown, lacks sufficient natural gas and electricity even to meet current needs, much less recruit new employers, and Zakrevsky has become the lightning rod for that undertaking.
Otsego Now is seeking $3.5 million toward a natural gas decompression plant in Pony Farm, and its president has taken the brunt of criticism – and legal threats – from anti-gas adherents. He has to be unapologetically tough to keep that moving forward, and his board members need to get behind him publicly in a united front.
Regrettably, Sandy Mathes left too soon. But we have to move forward regardless.
From the railyards to Oneonta’s $14 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (the state’s DRI) to the potential 300-job distribution center at Schenevus, another Mathes initiative, Mathes left Zakrevsky plenty to do.
To the degree that slow and steady wins the race, Zakrevsky, who is reaching retirement age within a few months, can do a lot. His report to the county Board of Representatives was, simply, promising. Amid fears economic-development had been set back a generation, there’s reason to believe our economic-development challenges can, to some degree, be met.
Let’s go for it!
It’s obvious we have to get off fossil fuels, yet we keep hearing that fossil fuels – natural gas in particular – are essential to local economic growth. While “solar and wind would be a viable source for electric,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky wrote in The Freemans Journal & Hometown Oneonta in the Aug. 30-31 editions, “it (the solar and wind source) does not currently provide a solution to companies that need extreme heat in processing.” For them, he tells us, natural gas is a necessity. Further, they are the companies he thinks we need for future economic growth.
Zakrevsky points out that two projects with potentially 475 jobs failed to materialize recently due to the lack of natural gas essential to their operation. That’s hardly surprising. Companies that can’t function without natural gas have been locating in places where adequate gas infrastructure already exists, and that is clearly not Oneonta.
Bringing more natural gas to Oneonta would cost a fortune: $17.5 million, Zakrevsky estimates, for a decompression station and related infrastructure. But many millions more would be needed to replace and expand the DeRuyter pipeline.
Why aren’t the local businesses who would benefit raising the money themselves? Perhaps it’s because no serious investor would fund a project importing natural gas when industry can locate far more cheaply elsewhere, where gas is abundantly available.
That’s as it should be. Natural-gas dependent industries ought to go to natural gas rather than spending more money to get natural gas to come to them. That’s economic efficiency.
Even then, there’s no guarantee businesses will come. Look at Richfield Springs in our own county. A surplus of natural gas hasn’t helped Richfield attract industry.
Yet Otsego Now seems bent on depleting the public purse to bring more gas to Oneonta, leaving citizens and consumers (taxpayers and ratepayers) to bear the costs of the project.
The few businesses involved, including NYSEG, would, whether they realize it or not, in effect be making a profit on the backs of the public. Yes, some jobs would be created, but they are unlikely to support whole families (few jobs today do).
Meantime, the public as a whole would be impoverished by having to pay for the project, arguably leading to less, not more, overall economic growth. And money invested in natural gas is money that is not invested in other job-creating industries – like renewables.Even worse, this project, which calls for a 25 percent increase in the amount of natural gas delivered to Oneonta, would re-enforce the
current, unnecessary use of natural gas
by residential and institutional
These consumers are not dependent upon natural gas for industrial processes requiring “extreme heat.” Non-polluting alternatives would serve them (and the climate) far better, and create jobs too. That should be the priority.
Yes, it’s true that our electricity supply is also constrained, but renewables can expand available electricity, which should be prioritized over gas.
And there’s the safety issue. Otsego county’s Public Safety Committee, to its credit, after several virtual pipeline gas truck rollovers, has called for the trucks to be taken off local roads.
Also, keep in mind, according to the New York Times (Sept. 14, 2018), “since 1998, at least 646 serious gas distribution episodes have occurred across the country, causing 221 deaths and leaving nearly a thousand people injured, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.”
The whole Otsego Now project is in effect a massive subsidy by the public for a polluting and unsafe industry which would better be located elsewhere. It’s time for local planners – and politicians like state Sen. Jim Seward – to abandon economically non-viable proposals for bringing more
fossil fuels to this area. In spite of its
history, Oneonta’s no longer the place for fossil-fuel dependent heavy industry.
The essential infrastructure we need – as I’ve argued in my last column – is state-of-the-art broadband for all, not obsolete gas pipelines for a few. Real internet would help give us a new economic base, which in turn would help finance sustainable local enterprises.
This is the vision that our economic planners should be pursuing, and for which they ought to be fighting to find money. Earlier this year, New York State announced $1.4 billion for 21 renewable energy projects, including 22 solar farms, three wind farms, and one hydroelectric project.
That’s the kind of money Otsego Now should be going after if it wants to invest in the future of Otsego County.
Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor, author and Sustainable Otsego co-founder and moderator, lives in Fly Creek.
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.
Otsego County needs a new direction for energy and economic development. An important step to that end was taken last week when the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee endorsed the idea of setting up an energy and economic development task force.
Kudos to them! A county-wide task force would give us two things we don’t have now: long-term economic planning and a wide range of interests and expertise systematically participating in local decision-making.
We’re increasingly recognizing how vulnerable we are. We depend on long supply lines for food, energy and necessities. As climate change accelerates, those supply lines become less reliable.
We read, almost daily, of one disaster after another regionally, nationally, and internationally: mega-hurricanes, severe droughts, enormous wildfires, melting polar ice, mass extinctions, etc.
No place is immune from climate change, not even Otsego County. Nonetheless, our quiet corner of the planet looks more and more like a refuge compared to many in other places, and that may be our greatest asset.
In fact, climate change may have some advantages for us: milder winters, a longer growing season, plenty of water.
We may be more resilient as well – thanks to a lower population density – than overdeveloped areas, including coastal cities in the South and drought-prone regions in the West, which now bear much of the brunt of climate change.
We need an economic plan that builds on sustainable assets, not on unsustainable liabilities.
Our sustainable assets include, above all, an uncrowded, serene, clean, safe, attractive and relatively stable environment – something increasingly rare in a world of accelerating climate change.
We have an underutilized rural base, including agriculture, forestry and the potential of value-added products. Farming has not recovered from the death-blow to the dairy industry, it’s true, but if local boutique and organic farmers had more financial support and better distribution systems, they could be more competitive and develop new local products.
We have a high-quality health care system, and we often forget it is our major industry. Even so, it has yet to realize its full potential as a magnet for medical and nursing care.
Bassett Healthcare, as an integrated medical system, provides a superior level of care that could be coupled with additional facilities for assisted living. An aging population will demand it, and we could supply it.
We have, in Oneonta, institutions of higher learning that could be further developed and better folded into the community. Curriculum innovation and more partnerships between the colleges and local institutions and businesses – after the model of the Hartwick College nursing program – could make it possible for more students to stay on in our communities after graduation, as we see in other college and university towns.
Tourism has become the main interface between Otsego county and the world. Our cultural attractions – events, concerts, festivals, galleries, and museums – could be expanded even further. But tourism works only insofar as the powerful symbiosis between our cultural assets and the historical aura and natural beauty of the area is maintained.
Tourism needs to be kept proportional and diversified, so as not to overwhelm the fabric of local life.
And, perhaps most important of all, we have a steady in-migration of people looking for second homes, or retirement living, or the opportunity to conduct internet-related businesses and raise families in a new setting, away from the urban madness.
These new immigrants are attracted by the natural assets they find here, as well as good schools, good healthcare, a lively cultural scene, and a vibrant civic life worth being a part of.
They want sustainability, which we can offer, in contrast to the increasingly unsustainable systems they’re looking to escape.
If I were to make an optimistic prediction about the future of our communities in response to the growing ecological and economic crises, I would look to a synthesis of high-tech internet with a rural, family-oriented lifestyle.
Such a synthesis would realize participation in the global economy with the virtues of small town and country living.
If this is to be our future, if these are the people we want to attract, then we need universal broadband to sustain the economy, as well as renewable energy to preserve a clean and beautiful local environment.
That’s where our investments ought to be going.
Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.
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.
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.
When Otsego Now Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky was Schoharie County economic developer, a Canadian firm was a half-step away from buying long-vacant Guilford Mills, that rambling complex to the right of I-88 as you drive to Albany.
All that was lacking was a letter from the mayor, assuring the company would be guaranteed sufficient power to conduct business.
Such a letter was forthcoming, but the last line read, “except in case of flood.”
As you can imagine, the president of the Canadian company saw that and the deal was dead. Who would want to invest millions in a complex where, “in case of flood,” production could come to a standstill?
Oh, poor Otsego County.
Our poverty rate (16.3 percent) is a couple of points higher than the state (14.7) and national (14), per http:/datausa.io, interesting site.
Our median household income ($49,609) is substantially lower than the state ($62,908) and nation ($57,617).
Our population is declining (0.68 percent), almost three times as fast as the state’s (0.26). Nationally, population is rising (0.53).
And it’s been proved we lack the energy – in particular, natural gas – needed to attract economic development here.
In fact, a team put together by Otsego Now – it includes Lou Allstadt, no natural-gas groupie (quite the opposite) – has been meeting with NYSEG President Taylor over the past few months on this very issue.
Today, the county gets natural gas through a pipeline from DuRuyter, near Cortland, but the line is old and too narrow. NYSEG pledged to expand it, and obtained a rate increase to finance it – the pricetag is an astonishing $100 million – but is backing away.
Then, the energy cavalry arrives, in the form of a sensible idea!
Instead of waiting for NYSEG to act (or not), why not install a gas decompression station, perhaps in the former Pony Farm (the Oneonta Commerce Park, right off Interstate 88’s Exit 13)?
Otsego Now thought so, and has applied for a $3 million CFA grant to help pay for the cost, perhaps $17 million (maybe somewhat less).
Prudently, Jody Zakrevsky asked to brief the Oneonta Town Board at its regular meeting last week, to make sure it was in the loop. When he arrived, 100 of our region’s anti-gas true believers were there to grill him and paint nightmare scenarios.
We’ve seen this drill before. But we shouldn’t take it to mean there’s widespread local opposition to the idea.
Sustainable Otsego and similar environmental groups have powerful social-media tools that can summon the troops at short notice. If anything, 100 is a paltry number, given the 300+ brought to those 2015 hearings on the Constitution Pipeline.
According to Oneonta Town Supervisor Bob Wood, about half the crowd was local, but some came from as far away as Ithaca, 75 miles. Another, quoted on www.AllOTSEGO.com, was from Oxford, 45 miles and a county away.
Town board members didn’t have to make any decision that night, but Wood estimates they are split, 2-2. If funding comes through, the plant will probably need a Zoning Board of Appeals vote; this was just a prelude.
At base, the decompression station is a sensible, low-impact way to overcome the key obstacle to economic development.
Lacking a pipeline like the Constitution, gas is being compressed so, as a liquid, it can be transported in tanker trucks to a decompression station, then turned back into gas and delivered to customers through existing gas lines.
Many sensible people object to too-big XNG gas trucks traversing two-lane Routes 205 and 80, and they’re right. Two rigs so far have toppled over due to soft shoulders. But this plan would allow gas trucks to stay on I-88 except for a quick left and a second quick left into Pony Farm. Just what most people want.
Zakrevsky estimates two, maybe three trucks a winter would be required so that Oneonta’s major institutions – the colleges, Fox Hospital and the like – would no longer be on an “interruptible” regimen. Right now, whenever there’s a cold snap – a couple of weeks a winter – they have to shift to more-expensive and more-polluting fuel oil.
Even better, the decompression station would assure a dependable energy source to anyone seeking to locate at the D&H yards, which has everything else – space, rail, proximity to an Interstate and airport.
Let’s not be Cobleskill. Let’s not declare, “except in case of flood.” The numbers, and what we see around us, prove it: We need more and better jobs.
Let’s not be diverted. When an opportunity arises, let’s declare, “Otsego County: Open for Business,” and mean it.
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.