Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

July-August 2017

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Welcome to the July-August 2017 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an electronic update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Photo credit: Peter Bardaglio.

TCCPI is a multisector collaboration seeking to leverage the climate action commitments made by Cornell University, Ithaca College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, and the Town of Ithaca to mobilize a countywide energy efficiency effort and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy . Launched in June 2008 and generously supported by the Park Foundation, TCCPI is a project of the Sustainable Markets Foundation.
We are committed to helping Tompkins County achieve a dynamic economy, healthy environment, and resilient community through a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy. 
Dryden Town Board Approves Two Major Community Solar Projects

After almost six months of review the Town Board of the Town of Dryden approved the site plan and special use permits for two much-debated community solar projects proposed by Sun8. These projects will produce 28 megawatts of electricity, enough to power approximately 7500 households, which is nearly the number of the households in the Town of Dryden.

Dryden residents packed the Neptune Fire Hall this past April to speak for and against the proposed solar projects. Photo credit: Cassandra Negley

Sun8, a subsidiary of Distributed Sun, LLC, will be allowed to construct three sets of solar arrays while the Town makes sure that Sun8 complies with permit conditions that minimize the visual impact on neighbors.  The visual screening and substantial setback requirements for these projects far exceed the law's requirements and were imposed because the Town Board listened to community concerns and Sun8 responded to those concerns.

Opponents of the project were especially concerned about the close proximity of the Dryden Road site to Willow Glen Cemetery. Sun8 representatives proposed planting a buffer of two rows of trees between the two properties.  

The Sun8 solar arrays will be operated under a   community solar model that will sell the power generated directly to customers at a 10% discount from NYSEG rates. The Sun8 project does not require customers to buy solar panels. Sun8's business model is a community-wide benefit because it makes renewable energy available to everybody regardless of their income level.  Sun8 will provide Dryden residents an exclusive 30-day period to be the first to sign-up for service.

Other community benefits of Sun8's projects include an estimated $8 million dollars that will be contributed to the budgets for local schools, the county, and the town over the next 20-years. 
This new income will be produced as part of a PILOT instituted by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency. Until now the land owned by Cornell was not taxed and the property at 2150 Dryden road was producing a fraction of what will be produced under the PILOT. The proposed PILOT is for $8,000 per megawatt, which is above the state average for solar PILOTs.

This new revenue will allow the Town of Dryden to pay the costs of maintaining town infrastructure, such as bridges and the new Rail Trail. T he land hosting the solar panels will remain in agricultural use because Sun8 will control vegetation with sheep rather than pesticides. In addition, the electrical lines near the project areas will be upgraded without cost to NYSEG ratepayers. 
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, September 29, 2017
9 to 11 am
Tompkins County Public Library
Borg Warner Conference Room
101 E. Green St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
City of Ithaca Adopts Energy Benchmarking Policy
by Peter Bardaglio, TCCPI Coordinator

The Ithaca Common Council at its July 5 meeting adopted a  benchmarking policy  to track energy use in City facilities over 1,000 square feet and share that information with the public on an annual basis. This information will identify opportunities to cut costs and reduce pollution.

Ithaca's City Hall will be one of the municipal buildings whose energy consumption will be benchmarked under the new policy.
Benchmarking is a process of measuring a building's energy use, comparing performance to similar buildings, and tracking that use over time. 

The City of Ithaca currently collects energy use data for many of its facilities and enters energy benchmarking data for these facilities into Portfolio Manager, a tracking software platform provided for free by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the City is a member of the Ithaca 2030 District, part of a national effort to improve the energy and water performance of nonresidential buildings.

"Collecting, reporting, and sharing building energy data on a regular basis will allow municipal officials and the public to understand the energy performance of municipal buildings relative to similar buildings nationwide," said Nick Goldsmith, the City's sustainability coordinator. "Equipped with this information the City will be able to make smarter, more cost-effective operational and capital investment decisions, reward efficiency, and drive widespread, continuous improvement."

The new policy requires the Superintendent of Public Works to use Portfolio Manager to track the total energy consumed in the previous year by each municipal building by June 1, 2018 and then by June 1 every year thereafter. The reports will be made available to the public on the City's website.

The approved resolution notes that buildings are the single largest user of energy in New York State and that the "poorest performing buildings typically use several times the energy of the highest performing buildings for the exact same building use."

The Town of Ithaca passed a similar policy in May. Both municipalities will be considering the possibility of a community-wide benchmarking policy as part of their Green Building Policy Project.
Heat Pumps Are Cool and Affordable!
by Karim Beers, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

Heat pumps are increasingly recognized as an efficient and, according to a new study conducted in Tompkins County, affordable way to heat and cool your homes. Despite the counterintuitive name, heat pumps can both warm up a space and cool it down. This is because a heat pump works by transferring heat from one space to another.
HeatSmart director Jonathan Comstock next to an air-source heat pump compressor unit. Photo Credit: Karim Beers.

In an air-source heat pump, heat is extracted from the outside air and brought inside during the winter. In the summer, it reverses its flow, removing the heat from inside a home and cooling it down like an air conditioner. In fact, heat pumps use the same basic technology as air conditioners or refrigerators, but in the last decade have become increasingly efficient. Ground-source heat pumps, also known as geothermal, transfer heat from the ground to a home.

Because heat pumps simply transfer heat rather than generating it, they use only a fraction of the energy to operate compared to other systems. For example, while traditional electric heaters convert all of the electricity into heat, and are often advertised as 100% efficient, heat pumps can use one unit of electricity to produce up to three of heat or more, meaning they can be three times more efficient than traditional systems. Carbon emissions from heat pumps are significantly lower than those of similar systems. They are a central piece in the strategy laid out in Tompkins County's Energy Road Map, an analysis of changes needed to reduce the county's carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

But heat pumps aren't just energy efficient; they're cost efficient, too. A recent study conducted by Taitem Engineering in Tompkins County found that the cost of heat pumps is slightly lower than that of natural gas furnaces, and significantly lower than those run on propane in townhouses and luxury homes.
In a recent interview with the  Lansing Star, Taitem founder Ian Shapiro said that the study "puts heat pumps in the lead, not just technically, but financially." A s heat pumps become less expensive than natural gas heating in the coming years, Shapio predicted that no one "in their right mind will be putting in furnaces with boilers".

The benefits of heat pumps haven't been lost on the citizens of Tompkins County. Prior to the year 2000, heat pumps were virtually unheard of in Tompkins County. Since then, heat pump installs have grown exponentially, especially in the past few years.  HeatSmart Tompkins  has been a key player in this heat pump boom, helping hundreds of people learn about heat pumps and assisting with their installation.

To read the full Taitem study,  click here. Learn more about heat pumps  here, and check out other tips for a more energy and cost efficient home on the  Get Your GreenBack website.




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Houston, Harvey, and the Future

The ongoing tragedy in Houston is a dramatic reminder of what will happen if we continue to defer action on global warming. Climate change did not "cause" Hurricane Harvey, but it almost certainly intensified the impact of Harvey. The devastation left in the hurricane's wake provides us with a glimpse of the future awaiting us if we don't take extraordinary steps to decarbonize our economy now. As Eric Holthaus notes , "This isn't just a Houston problem."
Besides giving us a window on what lies ahead if we don't act to mitigate climate change, Harvey has underscored the extent to which climate change is a social justice issue. The disproportionate impact on Houston residents of this unprecedented storm couldn't be starker. The economic divisions of Houston are easy to delineate : neighborhoods to the west and south of Houston are significantly better off than those to the east and north. True to form, the worst damage has been in the poorer neighborhoods, especially those on the east side closest to the oil refineries and petrochemical plants. "You're talking about a perfect storm of pollution, environmental racism, and health risks that are probably not going to be measured and assessed until decades later," says Texas Southern University sociologist Robert Bullard.

Here's the big picture: currently we are putting 41 billion tons of carbon per year into the atmosphere. Scientists have determined that we can only emit 600 gigatons of carbon dioxide before we run the risk of setting off catastrophic climate destabilization. That means we only have 15 years left before we use up our carbon budget. Obviously we cannot wait until year fourteen and then shoot for zero in that last year.

In fact, an article published this past June in Nature argues that if we do not reach peak emissions by 2020 and begin to drop from there the chances of the of not overspending the carbon budget are minimal. That's three years from now.

Christiana Figueres, who oversaw the Paris climate negotiations, along with several scientists, policy makers, and corporate executives, lay out in this article a six-point plan for ensuring that we reach peak emissions in three years. Everything outlined in the plan is achievable but it will require a level of political will and support from civil society that simply does not exist at present.

Among the targets that the plan sets:
  • At least 30% of world's electricity supply generated by renewables (currently 23%)
  • No new coal-fired power plants built after 2020 and existing plants on the road to retirement
  • Upgrade at least 3% of building stock to zero- or near-zero emissions structures each year
  • 15% of new car sales are electrical vehicles (currently 1%)
  • The financial sector is mobilizing at least $1 trillion a year for climate action
Ambitious goals, yes, but Hurricane Harvey reminds us of the cost we will pay if we don't start to move immediately to put carbon emissions on a downward path. "The status quo is not an option," says David Roberts. "We will end up with some mix of prevention, adaptation, and suffering; it is for us to determine the ratio."

Peter Bardaglio
TCCPI Coordinator


Be sure to visit the website for TCCPI's latest project, the Ithaca 2030 District, an interdisciplinary public-private collaboration working to create a groundbreaking high-performance building district in Downtown Ithaca.