Berne is one action-item short of qualifying for Clean Energy Communities designation

BERNE — Berne is one action-item shy of qualifying for a Clean Energy Community designation from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which would allow the town to apply for grants like the $130,000 grant Knox received in 2017.

The effort was initiated by the town’s conservation board and managed by Councilmember Joel Willsey and former planning board member Todd Schwendeman. Together, they submitted documentation for a unified solar permit, energy code-enforcement training, and benchmarking, a NYSERDA spokesman confirmed.

The town was working on an converting street lights to light-emitting diodes to satisfy the four-action-item requirement when, on Jan. 1, the Berne Town Board — which had just, for the first time in decades, become dominated by GOP-backed board members, leaving Willsey as the lone Democrat — took Willsey off the project and placed it in the hands of Councilman Mathew Harris, who was elected in November. 

However, over the course of the year, Harris described various difficulties and delays, and a NYSERDA spokesperson told The Enterprise that the organization has not heard from Berne officials since May, when the town was provided a cost-analysis of the project.

Harris could not be reached for comment.

Willsey, in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, writes that stalled progress on this last action-item threatens to prevent the town from applying for NYSERDA grants exclusively available to Clean Energy Communities.

As a Clean Energy Community, a municipality is eligible to apply for a number of grants pertaining to clean energy. Knox received a $130,000 grant in 2017, which it used in part to install new baseball-field lights this year. The town received a deadline extension this year to continue exploring siting for a solar farm. 

Despite the lack of progress, Berne’s final 2021 budget shows $7,500 in the street-lighting account, reflecting projected savings associated with the conversion.

Lyons told The Enterprise in 2019 that the account typically holds $12,000 to cover lighting costs and estimated then that the LED conversion would reduce costs to $6,500 per year. 

Willsey charged in his letter that the artificially reduced number helps offset a budget that provides several town employees substantial raises, including raises for the code-enforcement officer, building inspector, and highway superintendent.



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