Tompkins County Council of Governments
for November 9, 2022
by Councilperson Robert Lynch
Enfield TCCOG Representative
The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met on October 27th. But on October 24th, TCCOG’s Energy Subcommittee hosted an online seminar focusing on solar farm operations, with representatives from three solar farm operators as well as a NYSEG official attending. I participated in both meetings. I’ll address the solar seminar first.
1. The Solar Seminar: Ryan McCune, Director of Development for Nexamp Solar, Noah Siegel, representing True Green Capital, and Dave Norbut of Norbut Solar Farms, permittee for Enfield’s Applegate Road solar project, addressed the administrative and regulatory needs from a solar developer’s perspective. Each struck a common theme: their desire to standardize and simplify the solar permitting process as much as possible. David Norbut even suggested a “standardized TCCOG agreement” for permitting. By centralizing the process within one point of authorization, Norbut said, “you don’t need a second board being brought up to speed.” Speakers also discussed standardization in the decommissioning process.
In response to my question, Norbut acknowledged that every municipality is unique—for example, I noted, Enfield doesn’t have zoning; the Town of Ithaca has very stringent zoning—so efforts such as a standard intermunicipal agreement have limits. I also noted that Enfield’s law has a 60 per cent lot coverage limit, a requirement other towns’ permitting laws may lack.
Siegel said “efficiency” is the key to permitting, arguing that developers would benefit from “a standard process for screening and like metrics.” I observed that standardization may look good in concept, but not in application. Each municipality sets its own priorities and seeks specific controls to meet them.
Dave Norbut also raised the capacity issue. He said that aside from the Towns of Ithaca and Lansing, “much of the rest of Tompkins County is pretty much encumbered,” meaning that it’s already up to NYSEG’s maximum energy carrying capacity. In reply to my question, Norbut said he was not saying that Enfield’s line capacity could not accommodate the Norbut Applegate Road project, or for that matter, the array Delaware River Solar proposes off Podunk Road. Norbut surmised that NYSEG has already factored-in those projects. It’s only projects beyond them that raise the capacity issue, he said. On a related issue, Norbut said, “Some towns should look at their zoning laws,” so as to accommodate solar farms only in those places where NYSEG line capacity exists to transmit the power that they generate.
2. The October 27 TCCOG Meeting: I suspect some municipal participants gained the most from a presentation of the 2020 Water and Sewer Evaluation Update, a revisit to a survey of municipal capacities first performed in 2010. But for Enfield, the analysis has its limits. The study focused principally on the capacities of water and sewer systems where already extended, namely in what presenters termed “the Urban Center,” namely the City and Town of Ithaca and southern Lansing.
“The Urban Center will continue having the greatest potential for water and sewer access,” David Herrick of consultant T.G. Miller and Associates, told TCCOG. Herrick and Kurt Anderson, Director of Operations for Ithaca Area Economic Development, another participant in the study, focused mostly on what were termed the “urban core water purveyors” that is, the Ithaca City water system, Bolton Point, and Cornell University. Addressing experience from the 2016 drought, one recommendation called for better system interconnections to produce “greater resiliency and improved redundancy.” They didn’t state it this way, but here’s the basic premise: Six Mile Creek may run dry, but Cayuga Lake never will.
Kurt Anderson framed the study’s likely benefits with a string of clichés. The study, he said, “seeks to create a checklist of a low-hanging fruit priority list of opportunities that would get the biggest bang for the buck; put rubber to road, money to projects that we’d serve the most folks in the county.” But harvesting “low-hanging fruit,” I fear, would leave places like rural Enfield—pardon the pun—a bit dry.
For outlying village water systems, like Newfield’s and Dryden’s, about all the Update recommended was that, “Several rural communities with groundwater supplies should consider development of backup wells” to, in Herrick’s words, “improve water supply resiliency. “
What about places like Enfield’s “population nodes,” I inquired; places like Enfield Center, where homes stand in close proximity, served by wells in every instance, but where there’s, I said, “a question about the adequacy of the well-water system?” Has there been, I said, “any concern or consideration in this study of extending water or sewer lines out (from Ithaca) to the more distant hamlets?” David Herrick responded to me with these words: “No is the short answer.”
I quickly saw the circular logic that contaminates the 2020 Water and Sewer Evaluation Update. The study limits itself to where water and sewer service is now, namely near Ithaca. It declines to reach farther. And since houses generally get built where the water lines already run, expect major housing development to proliferate in the Ithaca-centric core, and not-so-much elsewhere, like in Enfield.
Another topic: Tompkins County Director of Assessment Jay Franklin attended TCCOG to discuss the likely implementation of the Volunteer Firefighter and EMS Volunteer 10 per cent assessment reduction, the benefit the Enfield Town Board lobbied for and a bill that Governor Hochul stands likely to sign within weeks. But how will Franklin’s department determine volunteer eligibility? The Director said he’d prefer consistency across municipalities; that all taxing authorities adopt the full 10 per cent reduction and apply it similarly. “I’m ceding my responsibility to someone else,” Franklin acknowledged, as he said he’d prefer local fire chiefs to determine which company members are “active, true volunteers.”
“We don’t want the ones who show up every six months at the fire hall at the picnic,” Franklin told TCCOG. “We want to make sure that we get the volunteers that come, that put in the training, they go to calls when they can, and make sure they’re eligible to get that exemption.”
One final note from TCCOG: The County-commissioned study by ECC Technologies of residential broadband reach and speed remains lean on responses. Nick Helmholdt of the Planning Department said the county-wide goal was to receive 2,100 responses by mid-December. By the date of TCCOG’s meeting in late-October, only perhaps 300-400 persons had responded. A link to the Tompkins County Broadband Assessment can be found at: https://www.tompkinsbroadband.com.
Robert Lynch, Councilperson
Enfield TCCOG Representative