“It’s Debatable” appears in each issue of the Adirondack Explorer. This essay by Adirondack North Country Association’s Sean Connin is a companion piece to “Debatable: Should Renewable Energy Be An APA Priority? No” by John Droz Jr., physicist and environmental advocate at Brantingham Lakes.
Locally sourced renewable energy — whether from wood, water, wind, sun, geothermal, or plant and animal waste — is important to the park’s future. It provides a multiplier for local economies, builds on traditions of self-reliance, and can provide environmental and social benefits. The trick is to design these renewable projects and practices to fit the local landscape and to provide value to communities. Such convergence can emerge through bottom-up strategies that optimize wealth retention at the local level and that benefit from equitable frameworks for land-use and energy policy at regional and state levels. The Adirondack Park Agency must lend its capacity to these outcomes and secure a best fit for resource use, protection, and quality of life within the park.
The larger challenge goes to ensuring that land-use regulations and planning in the park keep pace with renewable energy developments and opportunities. And that they effectively apportion economic and environmental value as part of the agency’s review and permitting decisions. Renewable energy projects provide solutions to a host of environmental concerns yet can also impact park resources. A public purpose solar-storage project, for example, can create cost savings that benefit local taxpayers as well as provide power during outages. At the same time, regulatory concerns for viewsheds or adjacent wetlands need to be addressed.
The agency’s current land-use guidelines and policies do not offer a method to reconcile contrasting benefits and trade-offs with renewable resource buildout. This limits the agency’s ability to make fair, well-reasoned regulatory decisions, or to differentiate the actual impact of renewable energy installations relative to traditional forms of development. For example, it is unclear how setback requirements apply to subsurface geothermal systems or to lot size requirements for ground-mounted solar arrays connected across separate landholdings.
This January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a Green New Deal that commits the state to procuring 70 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by year 2030–up from the current 50 percent target. New York’s power sector is also working overtime to integrate distributed renewable energy sources and storage into the grid. New York’s will be a future built on cleaner/greener infrastructure, transportation, businesses and services.
Prospects for building vibrant local economies around renewable resources in the park are less clear. The state’s clean energy agenda currently favors “large-scale” renewable projects and private-sector ownership, which may not accord with the values and goals of some communities. Regulatory uncertainties and lack of local planning and zoning for renewable energy can further inhibit investments that build community capital and resilience. At risk is the opportunity to attract a new generation of families to live and work in the park.
Yes, renewable energy should be a priority for the agency. Their investment is critical to supporting the state’s goals for building a clean-energy economy and to establishing guidelines for renewable development that preserves the park’s resources and effectively serves the needs and interests of its communities.
Dr. Sean Connin is Clean Energy Program director for the Adirondack North Country Association.
Read the Adirondack Park Agency’s proposed policy guidance supporting renewable energy development here.
Photo of APA Building in Ray Brook.