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New York holds two meetings that sum up state's energy debate

Matt Richmond/WSKG News


New York State is in the middle of dramatic changes to its energy system. Anoverhaulof its electric grid is moving forward. And intense opposition meets every new infrastructure project proposed by the fossil fuel industry. Two public events in the Southern Tier yesterday illustrate the slow move toward a new energy system.

First, an old energy project – a proposal to build a Liquefied Petroleum Gas storage facility on the western shore of Seneca Lake. It’s prompted fierce opposition from groups like Gas Free Seneca, the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association.

During a hearing on Thursday, the first issue raised was dubbed community character. It’s the idea that a project like this, with its reliance on the fossil fuel industry, 18-wheel trucks and potential for pollution into Seneca Lake, goes against the values of its neighbors.
“Their vision of their own community includes a clean environment, a peaceful surrounding,” says Deborah Goldberg of EarthJustice, who also represent Gas Free Seneca.
Goldberg and the other groups want the Department of Environmental Conservation to reject this project. Administrative Law Judge James McClymonds oversaw yesterday’s issues conference on the project. McClymonds will eventually decide whether or not the environmental review is adequate. He asked lawyers from the DEC about whether they took a look at what’s happening around the lake, before they reviewed the project.
“You’ve got the Seneca Lake Wine Trail there, the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. I mean this seems to be of significance at least to state tourism,” says McClymonds.
DEC officials responded that they had not considered its impact on wine tourism. It’s not clear when McClymonds will make his decision.
Then Thursday evening, state officials held a second hearing. This one was to take public comments on reforms to the power grid. New York is in the middle of an initiative called Reforming the Energy Vision. The plan is to change market regulations and rates so energy production moves away from large, centralized power sources to smaller, local sources.
Jessica Azulay with Alliance for a Green Economy applauds that goal.
“So that we see as the potential and if we can get control of our energy future and have it in our own hands then we can drive the economic development that comes along with it,” says Azulay.
Azulay and other attendees at last night’s meeting questioned whether these changes could happen with large utilities playing a role. The state sees those companies as coordinators of the new grid. But details on the future role of the utilities, the power grid and energy in New York are still being worked out.  

Matt Richmond comes to Binghamton's WSKG, a WRVO partner station in the Innovation Trail consortium, from South Sudan, where he worked as a stringer for Bloomberg, and freelanced for Radio France International, Voice of America, and German Press Agency dpa. He has worked with KQED in Los Angeles, Cape Times in Cape Town, South Africa, and served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon. Matt's masters in journalism is from the Annenberg School for Communication at USC.
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