Fishkill Ridge
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 Dark CloudsPoughkeepsie Journal Editorial
Thursday, December 30, 2004

Clarify energy rules in state


Before another town agrees to power some of its buildings and streets with clean energy, New York should get rid of any ambiguity in state-bidding laws that could impede these excellent efforts.

The Town of Wappinger has just joined the list of Hudson Valley communities that have agreed to purchase some alterative energy at a slightly higher price than more polluting forms of power.

It's a good investment in the environment -- and the only way these alternative forms of energy are going to get a foothold in the market. As more alternative energy sources are used, it will lessen the demand from coal-burning plants that produce emissions linked to global warming and acid rain.

Wappinger's plans certainly won't soak taxpayers. It has signed a seven-year contract to pay $2,000 a year to get about 25 percent of its energy from a private wind power company in Pennsylvania. Now, collectively, more than a dozen Dutchess and Ulster County communities will pay an additional $65,000 each year to get energy from wind power.

But a change in state law could open up more opportunities. Dutchess County, for example, pulled back on its plan to spend about $27,000 more for the alternative fuel next year. It cited, in part, the state comptroller's reservations about such purchases. The comptroller's office has suggested the municipalities could be in violation of competitive-bidding procedures. Yet, perhaps realizing the greater good here, the comptroller's office has not offered any written legal opinion on the matter.

Lawyers representing some of the municipalities say the differences between the forms of energy are so acute, they aren't subject to the bidding process. Nevertheless, the state shouldn't wait for a test case. New York laws already enable localities to buy recycled products at slightly higher prices than non-recycled goods. That's because state lawmakers understand the importance of developing those markets. They need to provide the same flexibility when local governments want to purchase wind, solar and other forms of renewable power.

One bill, offered by state Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, would achieve that goal, but it also would include an important cap -- municipalities couldn't choose the alternative energy source if it cost an additional 15 percent or more than a traditional source. That's a sound safeguard. More importantly, the bill would empower more municipalities to help foster clean-energy initiatives. The state shouldn't wait to give local governments better guidance.

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