(#297) — Last week’s column promised more detail about opportunities for a surge of sustainable economic development in our communities. The opportunity is framed by the economic design “reduce and produce” – reduce use of fossil fuels and produce more energy efficiency and renewable energy. A short list of reduce opportunities was included. This column focuses on producing more renewable energy.
Our opportunity starts with several very large potential financial resources even though the word is out that our financial ability to fund new programs is exhausted. Success in moving toward a sustainable economy that delivers solutions to our several decade slump depends largely upon capturing opportunities that current leadership does not include.
Recent bonding for county-wide radio upgrades for our emergency responders and for repairing just a few miles of county roads have exhausted our bonding authority even in a bond market with very attractive financial rates. Pressure is being exerted for building a new county jail at a recent reported cost of $80-100,000,000. Waiting for attention is some remedy for changing the personal and environmental health challenges that threaten and injure so many thousands of our neighbors, funding of school and college programs, assistance to our agricultural sector and a host of renewable energy projects. Which will be funded and where will the funds come from?
Let’s start with renewable energy. The fuel is wind, water and sun. They are delivered in fabulous supply every day free of charge. We know how much it would cost to harness this free energy, that it is self-financing, would keep hundreds of millions locally, as well as save additional hundreds of millions in personal and environmental health costs. The problem is getting started. This need not be a problem.
Iberdrola/NYSEG is before the Public Service Commission for a large increase in electricity rates to upgrade their grid infrastructure. Between federal Super Sandy funds and PSC rate increases, a billion or more is involved. That’s a very different scale than the statewide sustainability fund of $90,000,000. We can partner with NYSEG by offering to mobilize our towns to install energy saving smart meters on our buildings and ask for their participation in joint-ownership of community owned power authorities that would supply clean, renewable energy and all the commercial and environmental benefits that accrue. We can start with setting up a LDC which would own and operate the power authority through local management. It could be a cooperative corporation in which residents could invest. A combination of utility, federal and state subsidies, and local private investment from banks and residents will supply more then ample funding.
Of course, the opportunity is much greater than this single power authority. For example, a local micro smart power grid – the Town of Liberty, the County Health and Family Services Complex, New Hope, Sullivan County Community College, the large vacation complexes in the area, represent several hundreds of millions in investment which quickly pays for itself and brings multiple streams of savings and revenue. Others could be added throughout the county. Funding can come from the sources named above and from EPT and other developers of the Concord projects. They are being offered more than $200,00,000 in tax abatements that come from our wallets that would otherwise go into public funds. $200,000,000 from them in exchange for a little more than that from us is just plain fair and good business.
A much longer list is available for this very conventional direction of economic development. It’s just a matter of time and organization. The time is now. Where is the organization?