New from Noteworthy: Land Use, Energy and the Economic Future of Upstate New York


News from notables

Climate change and land use are inextricably linked. The collision between the two creates tension. We experience this tension in multiple ways, not the least of which is the desire to create more renewable energy through the use of solar and wind power generation on farmland in central New York.

There are currently proposals – some approved and others under consideration – to develop large solar and wind “farms” throughout upstate New York, including Schoharie, Delaware and Schenectady counties. .

In some cases, these projects will reduce or eliminate agricultural production from previously fertile farmland and reduce or eliminate the grazing capacity of livestock. This will result in a decline in agricultural productivity
in central New York and removing that land from agricultural production for at least a generation.

Otsego 2000 was instrumental in eliminating hydrofracking for natural gas in New York City and advocated for responsible development of solar and wind power generation for local use. Large-scale solar and wind power generation, however, can be an entirely different proposition if it involves the decommissioning of potentially productive agricultural land or the fragmentation of the ecological integrity of natural systems.

Climate change is caused primarily by the overproduction of greenhouse gases. A transition to carbon-free forms of energy will help reduce the amount of additional greenhouse gases that accumulate in the atmosphere
in the future. However, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that even if the world stopped burning fossil fuels immediately, global temperatures would continue to rise for generations due to the climate effects of emissions already pumped into the atmosphere.

One of the implications of this increase in temperature will likely be an extended growing season in this region and the opportunity for New York to play a much larger role in food production, both domestically and internationally.

This becomes even more likely given the drought and wildfires that are now ongoing issues in the American West and Midwest. It’s one of the reasons New York is cautious about using prime farmland for anything other than agriculture — even if it’s something as valuable as clean energy generation. . Climate policy in New York has tended to downplay this factor and there is a risk that current and future proposals will be approved without consideration of the resulting reduction in agricultural land use.

There are alternatives to the widespread conversion of agricultural land and nature to energy production. Priority should be given to the location of projects in already developed areas or brownfields, for example shopping centers with large car parks, commercial buildings with roofs suitable for solar panels, industrial office parks with hectares open spaces and landfills. Linear infrastructure corridors such as gas or electricity transmission line easements may also be suitable. Certainly, it is cheaper to develop open agricultural land, but cheaper for whom? If we lose our ability to produce food, both regionally and nationally, that’s certainly a long-term cost that we can’t afford. By concentrating renewable projects in areas that are already developed, we can preserve agricultural land. This will maintain our ability to provide healthy food to people in New York and across the country.

As part of a more balanced climate strategy, New York should also explore other carbon-free energy sources. Nearly half of New York’s electricity is already carbon-free, and most of it comes from nuclear power and hydroelectricity.

They are valuable sources of reliable baseload electricity that belong to our future.

State agencies estimate that in the coming decades, New York will need almost twice as much electricity as it does today, especially as vehicles, heating systems and industry are electrified. . A lopsided plan that covers hundreds of square miles of New York with utility-scale solar projects and erects thousands of wind turbines across the upstate, as well as massive batteries, fuel cell factories and four hundred kilometers of hydrogen-grade pipeline defies reality. A more inclusive strategy that encompasses all viable tools in the toolbox will be essential for New York to meet its climate goals and prosper.

More than aesthetics, our rural heritage and culture are at stake. Traveling through Otsego, Delaware, Schoharie or Schenectady counties, one is struck by the breathtaking beauty of farmlands, forests, hills and mountains. How will this be affected by thousands of acres of industrial solar and wind projects? One of the biggest contributors to our upstate New York economy is tourism, so the impact of large-scale solar and wind “farms” on the beauty of our rural landscape must be considered. account.

Finally, let’s not forget our farmers. Currently the people who produce our food are struggling economically to continue in this business (especially those in the dairy industry). They may find an economic advantage by leasing their land to developers and decreasing their food production. Developers, not farmers, then reap the bulk of the benefits of renewable energy generation from solar or wind technology. We need to develop a system that values ​​food production fairly, so that farmers have an incentive to keep growing.

Time is running out – scientists tell us we are out of time when it comes to climate change. We must eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels and develop alternative, carbon-free energy sources – and it must be NOW. But in doing so, we must responsibly decide on the use of our land and ensure that food production is taken into account. The economic future of central New York – which includes its future as a food producer, as part of renewable energy development, and as a source of natural wonder and rustic beauty – is also an important consideration.

James Dalton, MD
President, Otsego 2000


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