Adirondack landowners deliberate over state climate law
By Gwendolyn Craig
Landowners with some of the largest inholdings in the Adirondack Park are concerned the state’s climate laws disregard their rural, sometimes off-grid camps, or the forest preserve surrounding them.
The Adirondack Landowners Association’s (ALA) members collectively own over 200,000 acres in the park, a 6-million-acre patchwork of private and public lands. About 2.7 million acres are constitutionally protected forest preserve where transmission lines, substations or other infrastructure may not be built without a constitutional amendment. Amendments are difficult to accomplish.
In 2019, lawmakers passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and no less than 85% by 2050.
To help reach those goals, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a statewide ban of natural gas hookups in new buildings seven stories and under starting in 2026. The ban was part of the state budget deal and alarmed park landowners, whose camps are off-grid and run on fuels such as propane. Some are connected to the grid, but they lose power and often for days. Fossil fuel-powered generators are backups. Others are already running camps on solar and hydro power, but rely at times on fossil fuels. The ban applying to new construction could make future camp buildings a challenge.
James Gardner, of the Adirondack League Club in Old Forge, said there is a “tremendous disconnect” between downstate and upstate New York. He pointed to the deadly Buffalo storm in December that dumped over 50 inches of snow and how some needed their gas stoves to stay warm. Winter is a way of life in the Adirondacks, he added.
“The expectation that in 10 years we’re going to have better technology, frankly, is cold comfort,” Gardner said.
Erin Griffin, of the Adirondack North Country Association’s Clean Energy Hub, said many residents feel like they’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
“I want to acknowledge there aren’t going to be perfect solutions right now,” Griffin told a group of ALA members convened on Saturday in Blue Mountain Lake. “Existing conditions are not adequate, I don’t disagree.”
ALA members held a meeting with presentations from ANCA, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, the Empire State Forest Products Association and High Peaks Solar to brainstorm renewable energy transitions.
Sameer Ranade, a climate justice advisor for NYSERDA, assured the state was not banning propane and was experimenting with cleaner liquid fuels.
John Bartow, executive director of the Empire Forest Products Association, said NYSERDA is ramping up work with its innovation team to experiment with new ways to get power. He did not think, however, that lawmakers had park residents in mind with the pace of some of the climate legislation.
Ranade also spoke of the beginnings of a state Cap-and-Invest Program. The program will require large-scale greenhouse gas emitters to purchase allowances for their pollution. The state would put about 30% of those proceeds into a Climate Action Fund to mitigate decarbonization costs for state residents.
Kevin Bailey, of High Peaks Solar, said he has installed a number of off-grid systems in Vermont. The cost of solar panels has come down significantly, he said. He has seen individual systems use a combination of solar panels, small wind turbines and wood pellet stoves or heat pumps. Heat pumps can both heat and cool a home by transferring outside air indoors. Although they require electricity, they generate more energy than they use.
Some park landowners are already experimenting with a suite of renewable energy sources and shared their experiences, which have been mixed. Nathan Potter, of Brandreth Park Association in Long Lake, has a heat pump installed in his camp. It generally works well, he said, but some days it does not keep the house warm enough on its own. Many camp owners rely on wood stoves for heat.
Griffin said “the most affordable and cleanest energy is the energy we don’t use,” and suggested upgrades that better insulate existing buildings.
Jim Townsend, counsel for the ALA, said the discussions were productive and that his group and the state share a common goal of finding solutions. Wilbur Rice, of the Adirondack League Club and president of the ALA, said he no longer feared the energy transition, after learning more from the panelists and ALA colleagues.
“I think it’s going to be extremely difficult, but I think a lot of smart people are trying to work on it,” he said.