EDITORIAL: What the drawing says

A FRIEND POSTED a photo of his backyard picnic table early last week. It had a foot of snow on it. Nothing special to look at except that he lives in Austin, TX. The news cycle has moved on to new miseries. Here the thermometer readings lurch from January to April and back.

We know March always triggers screwy weather here, but check out the column by The Catskills Geologists, Robert and Johanna Titus, on Page 20. Spoiler alert: the drawing with the column is not a new emoji. It represents the northern hemisphere of Earth. The diagram represents the big picture. The local angle to all this is electricity.

One of the biggest local electricity projects in recent years was scheduled to start work this week. It’s the upgrade of high voltage transmission lines running 54 miles from Schodack in southern Rensselaer County southward through the Columbia County Towns of Stuyvesant, Stockport, Claverack, Livingston and a slice of Clermont and on into Dutchess County on its way to New York City.

Plans say the new towers, cables and transmission substations will be built on utility company property. The project is expected to take two years.

When it was proposed county residents mounted a determined opposition. Some called for the lines to be buried. Others said new towers and cables weren’t needed. An analysis by a scientist calculated that if New York City modernized some household appliances the metropolis would have a surplus—not a shortage—of electricity.

New York Transco, the company in charge of the power line upgrade, said the towers and cables were overdue for replacement and more power was needed to maintain service. The scientist’s math didn’t sway them. The company said burying cables was too expensive. The state Public Service Commission agreed.

That Titus diagram? It shows how bulges in the jet stream, a long-predicted result of climate change, extend further south and occur more often now than before. These power line upgrades are a relatively small investment in our statewide power grid. They are what Texas didn’t do.

Then there’s the Shepherd’s Run solar farm proposal proposed by Hecate Energy for farmland around the hamlet of Craryville. It’s now been scaled back to 360 acres and the developer has dropped plans to include storage batteries.

The choice of Craryville makes business sense. The sun doesn’t shine any brighter there, but it is home to a power line substation near Route 23. The electricity generated by the 200,000 Shepherd’s Run solar panels will be fed directly into the grid. There are no plans for the power generated to serve local residents in the Town of Copake, where Craryville is located, or for other nearby municipalities.

Neighbors of the site fear the solar farm would drive down the value of their homes. And the Town Board is fighting the proposal because it has a law on the books that limits the size of solar farms to a maximum of 10 acres. The state has the power to bypass town law and approve the Shepherd’s Run facility and that’s what Hecate Energy has requested permission to do.

U.S. government figures say that last summer was the third hottest on record in this state. The Biden Administration is promoting everything electric starting with vehicles, which will require recharging stations wherever the vehicles go as well as weaning all of us off of our fossil fuels dependency. The state government is likewise looking for ways to accelerate the distribution of electric power wherever possible. It’s hard to see how, in that environment, the town will prevail over Hecate.

And the Ancram Town Board may have found a strategy that would slow or discourage construction of a Hecate-type project in that town (see Page 1).

Hecate has shown a willingness to compromise. That won’t be enough. There has to be agreement that the sacrifice is shared.

We’re awaiting decisions but the bulges are not.

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