Agriculture has long been one of the largest industries in the Chautauqua County economy. In 2018, our region’s products in this industry were sold at around $161 million. Dairy and grapes, which are two of the largest industries in the county, had a market value of $75 million for milk sold and $43 million for the market value of produce sold from fruit.
These income brackets also come with seven days of hard work and lots of expenses. But newer farmhouses, which require far less daily upkeep, are becoming a wave of the future and taking over traditional spaces.
Across state lines, renewable energy for solar and wind continues to grow in importance and momentum in nearly every municipality. Over the past month, the Chautauqua County Planning Board reviewed three solar proposals for Pomfret, Hanover and Ripley.
In the city of Portland, NY, where elected officials have shown immense patience for three years with these initiatives, former farmland is seen by these renewable companies as prime locations. Kevin Powell, a town farmer and advocate for the projects, once offered a bleak outlook on the future of his way of life during one of the town council meetings in 2019.
“Unfortunately, we are in a dying industry”, he said. “Agriculture in general is a dying industry and the juice industry in particular.”
While neighboring Chautauqua County tackles the subject head-on, Warren County is just beginning to get a taste of what’s to come. Earlier this month, zoning officer Michael Lyon told the Planning Commission last week that he had received calls from potential developers in the space who are “actually pending” for the county to enact by-laws. Lyons said PJM, the company overseeing the grid, has at least two solar farms in the planning stages in Warren County, but won’t detail additional information about those efforts.
“Most of these (solar farms) are 100 to 400 acres,” said Lyons. “They are very big.”
Consider what is happening in Martin County, Kentucky, where coal was king only two decades ago. The New York Times reported that the region is ready to embark on a $231 million project that could be the largest large-scale coal-solar project in the country.
It’s not much different from what’s happening here. In 2016, the massive NRG Energy Inc. power station in Dunkirk, which had been buzzing with activity for more than 65 years, went silent.
Ten years before it closed, it was one of the cleanest coal burning facilities in the country due to numerous upgrades and investments. While the environmental benefits of fewer emissions are welcome in an area filled with natural beauty, an even larger question remains that was never really considered when the facility was built in the 1940s: how to get rid of this horror on our seafront?
While this dilemma haunts city and county officials, other renewable projects have raised concerns and worries. For the past two months, Citizens Against Wind Turbines on Lake Erie has continued a campaign to keep tall wind towers out of fresh waters.
One of the most vocal critics, Sharen Trembath, recently wrote in a commentary that the revitalized lake will be changed forever if this plan comes to fruition. “It’s time for developers to stay out of the Great Lakes”, she said. “They know that turbines are an inefficient and inconsistent form of energy.”
As of Wednesday, New York Independent Supply Operators’ power grid consisted of just 4% wind and solar power, with more than 52% natural gas and fossil fuels. Nuclear energy was 18% and hydroelectricity 25%.
These low numbers are expected to improve as the shift to cleaner energy sources intensifies in the coming years across the state. But these sources are far from always reliable. Cloudy days with barely a breeze mean other options must be included in the grid formula.
For now, however, municipalities — and property owners — are seeing the dollar signs that come with renewable energy in terms of property sales and payments to government entities. As Mark Geise, general manager of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, notes, decisions about these proposals are made at the local level. “We are ready to help developers with incentives and communities with technical assistance if the communities want the projects and want us to help them,” he said. “They’re in the driver’s seat.”
John D’Agostino is the editor of The Times Observer, The Post-Journal and OBSERVER in Dunkirk, NY Send your comments to [email protected] or call 723-8200, ext. 253.