Next Diversity Symposium is Saturday August 13 at ESF Newcomb

The third symposium on diversity will be held from 9-4 on August 13.  You must register to attend using this link.

From the press release…

“The opening speech, remarks on the intersection of diversity, economics and social justice, will be given by Professor Wallace Ford.  Professor Ford is Chair of the Public Administration Department at Medgar Evers College”

“The keynote speech will be given by Aaron Mair, President of the National Sierra Club.  Mr. Mair is the first African American to lead the United States’ largest environmental organization.”

This is a huge issue for the Adirondack Park.  Our State becomes more diverse on a daily basis. Somehow we need to foster a shift in the demographics of our Park residents and visitors to better reflect the whole of New York State.  Not doing so will be a long term risk for the Park. This annual symposium is a place to start the many conversations to come.

CGA 2016 Forum in Old Forge, the 10th Anniversary!

The 2016 CGA Forum was held July 19 in Old Forge.  It was, remarkably, the 10th annual meeting.  It attracted about 200 people again, with much stronger local government representation than in recent years.

I presented slides that reviewed actual events of the last four years compared to the plans developed during the 2011-12 ADK Futures Project.  I’ve been matching up the plan vs the real world since 2012 in this online database.  This past February I wrote a paper that provides links to all the source information.  The resulting profile of our progress is rooted in this data, not just my opinion.

The result is surprising forward movement on many fronts, far better progress than most people know. Wow, we don’t need another plan, we need continuing work in the directions we are already headed.  And we need to avoid getting swept up into negative emotional stuff arising from continuing lawsuits and controversy related to APA decisions.  One person’s proper APA ruling is another person’s disaster – this just seems to be the fate of regulatory agencies – but these battles of words and lawyers are no longer the central force defining the future of our park.  The actual future is in the active forward moving hands of thousands people doing their everyday work to improve the place, not with our regional advocacy groups, and it is working.

One major step ahead (thanks to Betty Little, Dan Stec, DEC, Ross Whaley and others too) is the first passage of the utility amendment, from work that originated in the 2102 CGA Forum in a work group run by Neil Woodworth and Karyn Richards.  Here is the version of the utility amendment that achieved first passage.

S8027 is the related implementation language, providing definitions of the terms and other details.  This did not pass the Assembly and is up next year along with second passage.

The amendment does some important things, noted in the points that follow:

  • Allows pipes and cables to be buried under roads that pass through Forest Preserve, which happened all the time until 1996 when the practice was halted
  • It legalizes power and communications lines that exist along roads passing through Forest Preserve.  New lines can be co-located or, if nothing exists, they can be buried. It allows power poles to be moved when needed for road projects – currently no poles are allowed to be moved, ever.
  • It allows bike paths associated with roads where they pass through Forest Preserve
  • It sets up a 250 acre land bank for town about county roads like the one set up in 1956 for State roads.
  • The land bank can also be used for water wells.

It might not be perfect, but it is a major step forward.  Our thanks to the many people who have made this possible so far.  We encourage everyone to support this as it proceeds through second passage on on to the ballot in November for NYS voters to approve.

10th CGA Forum Tuesday July 19

This year’s Common Ground Alliance Forum is a week from today at View in Old Forge.  Once again the day is focused on smaller group discussions of key issues facing the region.  You can find out more and register at: http://www.adirondack.org/CGA

Jim will be the emcee for the day and will lead a work group discussion on adapting to climate change.  Dave will give a talk on how the ADKfutures framework allows us to track what’s been happening in the past 4 years on progress toward desired futures.  It’s a pretty optimistic picture.

Please come and participate in the day.

What I’ve Learned About Community Solar Farms

Community solar farms became legal in NYS in May.  I had imagined building such a facility at the Keene Transfer Station for a long time.  It is our long-closed and capped landfill, now a mowed field with a fabulous view, the garbage/recycling place and town highway operations center. Capped dumps are used for solar farms in many places so I wanted to look into doing this sort of thing here as a model for other towns to follow.  The town owns the land, it can’t be used for much else and it must remain open, mowed annually to keep trees from growing.  These solar sites need 3-phase power lines in place and Keene has this at the nearby highway department building.

Technically, there is no problem.  After all, panels are on often roof tops without creating leaks, and the problem is similar.  Like a roof, you cannot perforate the liner covering the capped area, so instead the panels are attached to racks that are held down with heavy pre-cast pieces of concrete laid on the ground.  In urban areas where this is done all the time there is no cost penalty.  Out here in the sticks, this is not normal, and equipment has to be brought in to do the work.  There is an extra DEC permit involved in using a landfill.   But with little open land owned by towns in the Park, this could be a viable option.

The problem for the Keene site is that it is too small.  These solar farms are allowed be 2mw, but we only have space for about 40% of that.  The town needs 1/3 of the site’s capacity for municipal power.  What is left can only serve about 50 homes which raises the question of who gets to use it.  A full scale site would serve 3-400 homes.

What is happening state-wide is that businesses are organizing to build such projects in all 10 power distribution regions.  They will spread the fixed costs of operations across thousands of customers. So our old landfill would be a high cost site serving a small number of residents. That is not a recipe for success.

The people who loan money for these projects are hesitant about using dumps. So we spent some time looking for alternate sites.  The town-owned open fields are all in the flood plain, and the financing people won’t fund flood-plain projects because you cannot buy insurance for them.  Other town owned land is forested and more remote.  The cost of removing a forest, and building 3-phase power lines kill the economics of using most forested land.  So businesses are leasing private open fields where power lines already in place.  These large multi-site operators will strive to offer solar PV to everyone.

Your best, cheapest, option will be panels on your own land, or roof.  Adding the cost of someone else’s land will always make community solar more expensive.  It will still be desirable for people with homes in the forest (many in our region), and it may even be 100% financed, but the cheapest option will be using your own land.

The closed, capped, Keene dump is likely still be a good site for a municipal solar PV farm.  It is being looked into.  The town uses power for various buildings, the drinking water systems (we have two), street lighting, and so on.  It may be small enough that it doesn’t need to be on the capped area. But the site is not large enough to use for a 2mw residential solar PV farm.

Other Adirondack towns may have town owned open fields to use, or larger landfills but most will find it hard to come up with a decent site.

The utility amendment to Article 14 that recently achieved first passage had all the ideas about green power stripped out of the early proposal.  Given the threats of climate change, actually giving 10 acres to each of our 102 towns for a solar site would be a wise thing to encourage. This would have needed 1020 acres out of 3 million.  It could have moved the whole Park into the fight to mitigate climate change, fostering a new sense of active environmentalism, participating in solving environmental problems larger than our own.  We have done it before with our successful fight against acid rain.  But not-in-my-backyard wisdom prevailed and our region’s leading environmental advocates decided to oppose any green power at all.    It is odd to live in a place so protected that we can’t actually participate in the great quest to save the planet.  Bill McKibben ran into the same issue years ago when vocally supported building windmills at an old mine site in Johnstown.  They were ultimately denied permits.  He left the region, and moved to Vermont.

 

Project Update – Are We Getting the Desired Future Or?

You know this pattern:  Lots of people spend tons of time and money developing a plan.  It finishes with a fanfare, then as times passed it is spoken about less frequently.  Eventually people forget about the plan.  Then work begins on a new plan, because, well, we don’t have one. So, with this post we are trying to add something different to the ADK Futures Project, a review of how we are doing vs the 2011-12 vision – remember the vision?

In 2011-12, the ADK Futures Project ran a series of scenario planning workshops.  The desired future was called the Sustainable Life, mixed with tourism and supported by the Forest Preserve.  This also turned out to be most attainable among the scenarios, largely because much of it was already underway.  The broad alignment supporting the vision was what surprised people.  Now it is February 2016.  What has happened since July 2012?  How does it compare to the desired vision?

We have been collecting data, news items, press releases, reports and such since July 2013 and now have roughly 1000 items. We associate each item to its related event(s).  Over time one begins to see trends suggesting what is getting done, and what is not. Some events have lots of news, on other events nothing has happened, and some are clearly never going to happen.

The short conclusion is, wow, we sure are making a lot of progress on a broad range of fronts. Historic expansions of the Forest Preserve have been made.  Realignment of the health care system has been done.  Building out broadband and cell service is ongoing, making progress each day.  The renewal of Champlain Valley farming is gaining momentum.  The State and private sector have invested a lot of new money in recreation and tourism facilities.  And on and on.  It is very impressive, especially given the fact that no one is organizing, coordinating, or leading all this work.   It is happening, it seems, with the willing collaboration and distributed effort of many people to get where they collectively want to go.  Maybe this is democracy in action in the most positive sense of the word.   It is actually quite incredible.

There is too much information for a post.  We have written an update that organizes recent developments by theme.  For example, Agriculture, Recreation, Energy, Transportation, Arts and Heritage, Healthcare, and more, are each separate topics, where news related to the events used in the 2011-12 workshops has been aggregated and written as a short narrative.

The update is based on data collected, organized and posted here.  You can check on the data, follow the links and find out more about the progress we have made. We try to keep ‘evidence’ to things that actually happen; not ongoing debates but how the debates conclude.  We try to keep it complete.  A grant is made.  A project is started, finished or abandoned.  The APA makes a decision.  Voters pass something.  You get the idea.  Even with this approach, we already have about 1000 items of evidence.   Let us know via email of missing data, including a link to the evidence we should cite.  Thanks!

Click here for the PDF file of the update document.

 

 

2015 REDC Awards Summary

The Adirondack Park is split between three REDCs.  The 2015 grants from all three that have an impact on the Park are quickly summarized in this post.

The largest grant was $2 million to Adirondack Health to partially fund it’s new Medical Fitness Center in Lake Placid.

Three hamlets get ‘downtown’ revitalization funds:  Saranac Lake, Ticonderoga and Indian Lake.

There are quite a lot of tourism related grants.  2 hotel projects, one in Schroon Lake and one in Speculator on Lake Pleasant.  Funds for work at Great Camp Sagamore, the ADK Museum and The Wild Center. A marketing push for skiers.  Snowmobile trail groomers(2).  More work on two byway projects:  the First Wilderness Heritage Corridor and the Lakes-to-Locks Passage.

2 theaters will see feasibility studies for replacements:  Pendragon in Saranac Lake and  Seagle Music Colony in Schroon Lake.  4 smaller arts organizations received funds to expand programming: Adirondack Center for Writing, Bluseed Studio, both in Saranac Lake and Lake George Music Festival and the Akwesasne Cultural Center.

Funding went to a brewery expansion in Keeseville, a new sawmill in Messena, and organizing financing for energy conservation and renewable energy projects.  A new venture will build robotic year-round greenhouses in the agriculture areas.

More mundane, sewer work and engineering continue around Lake Champlain in Crown Point, Port Henry, Willlsboro, Moriah. A sewer extension in Tupper Lake was funded.  A septic inspection program for Lake George was funded.  Clifton-Fine has a drinking water project in Newton Falls.

There are significant storm water projects in Lake Placid (around Mirror Lake), in Lake George, Bolton and Chestertown.  Also a Queensbury Lake George watershed plan was funded. Four new larger culverts for fish passage and storm water in Jay, Keene, Chestertown and Hague.

Renovation of water front parks in Tupper Lake, Bolton and Clifton-Fine were funded.

These are the December 2105 awards.  Most projects get built but not all of them.  There are other major projects funded via other means.  All the main NYS Route 73 bridges, for example, will be replaced next year with Federal funds.

It was not one of the more successful REDC rounds for the region, but, still, I would summarize it by noting that  water quality, tourism, arts/heritage, plus a bit of local food and local energy financing are all very much in line with the sustainable life and sustainable tourism vision derived from the ADK Futures work. Things are really coming along.

 

Community Solar Farms Now Legal in NYS

There was a big event last July that passed by without notice.  The NY State Public Service Commission issued a state-wide order allowing community net metering for local power. People will be able to have solar panels at a shared location instead of in their yard or on their roof.  The new rules apply to other renewables like wind and small hydo sites.  People in Wadhams and St Regis Falls, for example, will be able to buy their power from the small hydro sites in their hamlets. Old dams will become more interesting candidates for restarting small power production.

The big news is it means people living in homes in the woods, on small lots, or living in apartments will be able to participate in solar power deployment.

A summary of the ruling can be found here.

Full text of the ruling can be found here.

Here is my quick summary

Any type of group can be a Project Sponsor except the incumbent power company.  It can be a business, a church, a town or non-profit.  The Project Sponsor has to build, interconnect and operate the array.  It also has to manage information and accounting for credits.  Members of the project (a minimum of ten) buy, annually, credits in 1kw units.  The credits are applied to their home power bill, valued at the current retail power rate.  You can only buy credits up to your total power consumption.  You can transfer your membership to others.  The maximum size operation is 2MW.  I find answers to the question of “How many homes could 2MW serve?” range from 330 to 1000.  In any case there are only about 1000 homes in Keene, where a group is contemplating a project.  Lots of Adirondack towns have fewer than 1000 homes.

I am not up on the current rules for municipal solar or schools, but there have been changes for them as well. Perhaps municipal needs and school needs can be handled on these sites as well, at least in small towns.  Large customers can’t use more than 40% of the array.  It is mostly intended for homes.

In the Adirondack Park, prime sites for solar will be old, now capped, town landfills.  Each town owns one. They must be kept as open land and have no other use.  It is common for solar arrays to be built on old landfills, much like they are built on rooftops.  Some of these locations are now transfer stations, so that have power lines in place and are easily reached by existing roads. The landfill ‘caps’ have membranes that need to be replaced every couple of decades, like a roof, and the Project Sponsor could be required to fund and install new cap membranes when needed.   In Keene, the old landfill is very close to the NYSEG substation serving the whole town. It is also home to town highway crew operations.

These arrays are set up to fit the contours of the land.  On sloped land, as in the case of capped landfills, the panel rows curve to the slope.  Curved arrays are less obtrusive and reflective than flat arrays.  Glare has been an issue elsewhere (airports) and there are a variety of ways to deal with it so the resulting array isn’t reflective, just flat black.  2.5-5 acres are needed per megawatt.  The largest it could get is 10 acres.

Old landfills offer cleared sites already owned by each town which should make the solar power almost the same cost as having panels on your own land.  If building the array included the cost of purchasing and clearing 10 acres, that would make it more costly than having panels at home.

Assuming it is not in a hamlet, a landfill array would require an APA permit.    Keene’s location is a perfect south facing exposure.  It will, of course, be visible, as a black area, from surrounding mountains, an issue that will come up in the permitting process.

There are, of course, lots of details you can read in the links provided above.  But this may be a real break through for making solar PV broadly available to Park residents.  At the moment, only a lucky few residents have a location and the space needed for panels at home.  May 1, 2016 is the official ‘opening day’ for this sort of project but proposals can be filed now.