Olive looks toward the sun

solar SQWith a unanimous vote at last week’s Town Board meeting, Olive joined the trend of New York municipalities looking toward alternatives to petroleum — in particular solar. Despite the international shale oil boom extracting natural gas with hydrofracking technologies, which most electric utilities, including the local ones, supply to customers as a major part of their power supply, the shift away from petroleum dependency has made remarkable progress in recent years through strategic incentives like the one which prompted this vote in Olive.

”The State is trying to bring down the cost of solar installation and to try to streamline the process, I think,” said Olive supervisor Sylvia Rozzelle explaining the town’s Resolution to adopt the NYS Unified Solar Permit (USP) which makes it eligible to apply for a Consolidated Funding Application (CFA). “Basically, what the State is saying is that the cost of solar is coming down on the (solar) panels (which convert sunlight into electricity) and the contractors are saying the attendant paperwork has been causing costs to go up. So, it’s a streamlined process. We pay $55 for the Unified Solar Permit.”

Available to municipalities, property owners and businesses through the State’s NY-Sun Incentive Program, which emerged from the merger of PSEG Long Island (PSEGLI) and the NYS Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) in August, the program aims to use a Megawatt Block System to provide energy to the electric grid from varied sources, including small-scale photovoltaic systems (PVs). A far less gradual change to alternatives than expected by the general public, such programs align with plans worked out between governmental and corporate interests in recent years.

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Clear signs of the shift can be seen in the announcement in September by the Global Divest-Invest coalition, including Rockefeller Brothers Fund representative and Standard Oil heir, Stephen Heintz, that they were joining 180 other institutions in shedding $50 billion in petroleum holdings to invest in “clean, renewable energy.”

Other clear indications that the shift is now well underway are visible in Goldman Sachs’ sale of its coal export terminals last year to a Mexican investor and the massive investments in wind turbines by executives like T. Boone Pickens or Warren Buffet, whose Mid-American Energy company has heavily ventured into wind conversion. A vanguard of the move can also be seen in the success of a number of European Union nations’ turn to alternative energy sources.

One provision of the NY-Sun Initiative which has drawn notice is the requirement that participants are “grid-tied.” Since industry promoters like “Smart Grid News” and key observers like the Rocky Mountain Institute have been debating business strategies around the shift for years. Details of what is meant by the requisite grid connection in terms of who controls the renewable power referred to in the resolution passed in Olive have been hashed over. Community Choice Aggregation groups have been springing up around the country aiming to decentralize control of electrical energy, giving local governments and consumers authority to consolidate and distribute it within their own realms while larger interests, using code terms like “resilience,” are lobbying for “globalization” of an energy grid. Corporations like Walmart and Verizon have launched their own “Green Energy” programs to challenge utility control and even Smart Grid News has questioned whether utilities best chance for survival is to change their business model from provider to a kind of infrastructure service industry. The reorganization is no small or simple issue from board rooms to the Governor’s office and phrases like “Utility Death Spiral” have dotted comments from insiders to the debate.

According to Patricia Courtney Strong, reached at the Kingston office of her Marketing Communications firm, Courtney Strong Inc., the implication of State control is not implicit in the Grid-Tie requirement and does not at this point threaten grid localization. Strong, who has assisted Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber in the complex process of completing a Consolidated Funding Application and is anticipated to help Olive through their application, did not venture an opinion as to whether further details of requirement might be elaborated in later stages of the NY-Sun Initiative.

 

Budget figures delayed

In other business, after three budget meetings, the preliminary figures are being delayed by health issues and are stalled at a 2.6% of home value hike until “no later than October 27,” Rozzelle explains, by which time the board will either meet the 1.55% property tax cap limit imposed by the State in June of 2011 (no more than 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less) or schedule a public hearing for a proposed local law to override the cap. It may be necessary, she advises, in order to address some infrastructure repair which should not be put off further than they have been thus far.

“I don’t know what the State’s trying to do (with the cap), she said. “Are they trying to bankrupt the towns? I don’t know. It’s just crazy. You can’t let your infrastructure fall apart. If you ignore it, it’s just going to cost you more in the long run. We’d like to address that in this year’s budget.” A public hearing on the budget is slated for 7:15 p.m. on November 6.

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