GLENS FALLS -- An initiative Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed to encourage conversion of oil heating systems to wood fuel could help attract a Vermont-based wood pellet manufacturer looking to expand in the Adirondacks, said state Sen. Elizabeth Little.
If successful, the plant would create new jobs and support the existing forestry industry by establishing a new market for low-grade wood that otherwise might not be saleable.
Little, speaking at a State of the State follow-up presentation at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls on Friday, said she was glad to hear the governor mention the initiative in his speech earlier this week.
Cuomo has proposed a program — to be called “Renewable Heat NY” — that would promote wood pellet fuel and provide financing and technical assistance for converting oil heating systems to wood fuel.
The percentage of homes and businesses using oil heat in New York state is four times the national average, despite an abundance of forest land in the state, according to a governor’s office summary of the initiative.
Wood is less expensive than oil, and pollutes less, according to the document. Converting from oil to wood heat reduces global warming because wood fuel is produced locally instead of being transported from distant sources.
The initiative also would provide technical support with equipment and product research to wood pellet manufacturers.
In an interview after the presentation, Little said the company is looking at locations in the Adirondacks, not necessarily in Warren County.
She said she does not know how many people the company would employ.
“It’s not a huge one. There wouldn’t be too much traffic and emissions,” she said.
The Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board praised the initiative as “a pioneering policy” that will benefit the Adirondack economy.
“By showing his support for thermal biomass, especially wood pellets. Gov. Cuomo has taken the lead in promoting a heating source that will create new forestry, pellet manufacturing and related secondary jobs,” the group said in a press release on Wednesday.
The industry also is getting attention at the federal level.
In September, U.S. Reps. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, along with three other House members, co-sponsored H.R. 2715, known as the BTU Act of 2013, which would amend the Internal Revenue Code to include biomass heating systems in a tax credit program for energy-efficient buildings and property.
The House Ways and Means Committee is reviewing the proposed legislation, Tim Biba, a spokesman for Owens, said Friday.
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“Renewable energy — they weren’t talking about biomass before. They were talking about wind and solar, and a little bit about water. But biomass wasn’t included,” Little said.
Jerry Boone, president of the state Civil Service Commission, was the main speaker at the presentation on Friday.
“This is my trivia question: ‘So why are property taxes so high?’” he asked.
One person in the audience said because of the government, and another said because of unfunded mandates.
Boone said it is because there are many municipalities and special taxing districts that often have duplicative services.
Boone discussed Cuomo’s plan to provide financial assistance to municipalities, and tax credits to residents, if municipalities abide by the state’s 2 percent tax cap and take “concrete steps” to consolidate or share services.
“But change we must, because that is where we are,” he said.
Glens Falls Mayor John “Jack” Diamond, in his State of the City presentation on Thursday, said city officials are prepared to seriously discuss various shared-service opportunities, including the possible consolidation of police services with Warren County.
He asked Cuomo to help “fast track” a state Division of Criminal Justice Services study of the feasibility of Glens Falls and Warren County consolidating police services.
In an interview after the presentation, Boone said the governor’s office, certainly, would discuss the mayor’s request with the agency.
“No question, they’ll do what they can,” he said.
Little said she, too, would speak with the agency.
“We’ll see if we can’t move it along — that study,” she said. “I don’t know what the holdup is, other than maybe we have to get in line with other studies that they’re doing. But I’ll check on it.”
State Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, also spoke at the presentation.
“It’s always a pleasure to hear a focus on tax relief and infrastructure,” he said, discussing the theme of the State of the State.