Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

July-August 2018

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Tompkins County Installs 1 1 New EV Charging Stations

Ruby-Throated Hummigbird

Welcome to the July-August 2018 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an e-update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Photo by Wrexie 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. 
Activists Seek to Stop Gas Conversion at Cayuga Power Plant
by Peter Bardaglio, TCCPI Coordinator

Sandra Steingraber, Josh Fox, and local environmental leaders announced on August 14 in a press conference at the state capital in Albany the launching of a new grassroots campaign focused on stopping the planned conversion of Cayuga Power Plant to a natural gas "peaker" plant.

Cayuga Power Plant
The Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing began operations in 1955.
Lansing's Cayuga Power Plant issued plans in June to repower one of its two coal-fired turbines with natural gas after being ordered by the state's Public Service Commission to phase out the use of coal at the site. The remaining turbine will continue using coal but is slated to cease operations in 2020.

Steingraber, a biologist and distinguished scholar-in-residence at Ithaca College and co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking, called the Cayuga Power Plant "a relic of another age" and pointed out that it was "on its way to retirement" before these plans were revealed.

"The Cayuga Power Plant is unnecessary, expensive and polluting," said Irene Weiser, a Caroline Town Board member and Fossil Free Tompkins leader, at the press conference. "It's time to close this dangerous, uneconomic fossil-fuel dinosaur, and move forward with renewable energy and storage."

Pointing to the success of the anti-fracking movement in New York and the recent victory against gas storage at Seneca Lake, speakers at the press conference made it clear that "No Fracked Gas Cayuga" would be part of a larger effort to stop the growth of natural gas infrastructure.

"All of these fracked gas power plants, we need to shut down," said Fox, a documentary filmmaker best known for "Gasland." "And where does that start? Here in New York."

The compressed natural gas used to power the plant would be transported via truck instead of by pipeline.  According to Karen Edelstein, a geographer and resident of the town of Lansing, "the proposal to supply gas to the Cayuga plant via this army of trucks [is] poorly conceived, dangerous, and unacceptable. "

The opponents also contended that the project runs counter to Governor Cuomo's Reforming the Energy Vision plan, which establishes a goal of producing 50 percent of the state's electricity needs from renewable energy by 2030.

The proposed change at Cayuga Power Plant has to be approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a process that would take up to 12 months even without public opposition.
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, August 31, 2018
9 to 11 am
Tompkins County Public Library
Borg Warner Conference Room
101 E. Green St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
HeatSmart Tompkins Launches 2018 Campaign

HeatSmart Tompkins kicked off its 2018 campaign in early August with an information session at the New Brooktondale Firehall (786 Valley Road in Caroline). Other community meetings will be offered throughout Tompkins County and surrounding areas.

"Home heating and cooling is by far the largest use of energy in Tompkins County homes," said HeatSmart program director Jonathan Comstock. "It's also one of the major expenses. Heat 
Jonathan Comstock, program director of HeatSmart Tompkins. Photo courtesy of Get Your Greenback Tompkins.
pumps bring greater comfort during all seasons, providing warm and even  temperatures in the winter and air conditioning and dehumidification in the summer. For residents who heat their homes with expensive fuels, it can also bring substantial savings."

Water heating is also a major energy user, Comstock said, and here, too, heat pumps can provide benefits - and savings. Stand-alone air source heat pump hot water heaters can replace domestic gas or electric water heaters and often provide an excellent retu
rn on investment. Ground source heat p ump systems used for space heating can also provide hot water.

"Our role is really education," Comstock said. "People are curious about heat pumps, and about other measures they can take to save energy. But it can be confusing without a little help."

Many of last year's participants ended up making home sealing and insulation improvements without installing heat pumps, he said. He expects some of them to come back this year to take the next step.

"Many people are eager to install ground source heat pumps, but they've been waiting for more affordable equipment and installation costs," said Brian Eden, Board Chair of Solar Tompkins, the local nonprofit sponsoring the HeatSmart program. "The wait is over! This year there are better state and federal incentives than ever before, and now is the best time ever to install one of these super-energy-efficient, super-e
conomical systems."

"Heat pump adoption is an essential part of Tompkins County's Energy Road Map," said Gloria Andrea Aguirre, senior planner and energy specialist at Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability. "But it takes grassroots energy to make these changes actually happen. That is why Tompkins County has been a strong supporter of this program since its inception."

The HeatSmart approach is now spreading across the Northeast, with a statewide HeatSmart group in Massachusetts and others springing up in communities across New York, Comstock said. But its roots are in Tompkins County. "First with the Solarize movement, now with HeatSmart, community members here in Tompkins County have been at the forefront of providing benefits for Tompkins County residents," he said.
Searching for Savings, the Morses Are Sold on Subscription Solar
by Liz Mahood,  Get Your GreenBack Tompkins Intern

It was the search for savings that led John and Laurie Morse to solar. They looked into installing solar for their business, then on the roof of their home, but neither worked for them. They finally found a solution a year ago with a subscription solar program, which is providing solar power for their home-at a discount.

The Morses moved to Tompkins County in 1998, and the next year started their own business,  Celebrations Banquet Facility, where they host weddings, and other celebrations. They eventually 'left [their] real jobs', Laurie in 1998 and John in 2005, to work at their own business full time. Building a business, as well as raising two children at the same time, motivated John and Laurie to consider the savings that local solar programs offered.

Photo provided by John and Laurie Morse.
"Nowadays, everything's expensive," John says. When they looked at solar for their house, 
they learned that their shaded, roughly 12-year-old roof was not a good candidate for solar panels. Also, the risks that come with roof mounted solar panel installation were on John's mind: "I get nervous about a bunch of holes in my roof, and about what happens when the solar panels outlive the roof."

The Morses then learned about a new option--Community Subscription Solar, which began being offered in New York towards the end of 2016. In contrast to purchasing a set of panels on a community solar farm, the subscription model allows residents to sign up to purchase the electricity generated from the farm, often at discounted rates. Driven by the savings and flexibility afforded by the subscription solar model, they signed up for a year's worth of solar-generated kWh with Blue Rock Solar.

Although the dollar amount saved varied by the month, their plan offered a guaranteed monthly savings of 10% off of their NYSEG electricity bill. They signed a contract that lasted only a year, a very low commitment when compared to other solar programs. When they signed their contract, they met with a contractor to determine how much electricity to buy in a year. This amount was based on of their annual electricity consumption.

There were no up-front costs with this process. As John says, "We didn't have to offer a down payment, we just signed up."  If the Morse's home electricity usage exceeded their yearly amount purchased through the community solar subscription, they would be charged by NYSEG for this electricity. Similarly, if over the course of the year, they did not use all of the electricity they purchased, they would accumulate this to be used later.

So what's the verdict on Community Subscription Solar? For the Morses, it's clear. In John's words, "I like the fact that it saves me money, and the green energy is a nice bonus."  If you're thinking about making the change to Community Subscription Solar, check out the free Community Energy Conversations   held by CCE Tompkins, where you could learn all about going solar (there are only two meetings left this year!).




Take a step to save money and energy!








One Last Thing: A Summer of Fire and Rain

Here's a short and by no means comprehensive list of the extreme weather disasters that have taken place since the last TCCPI Newsletter went out at the end of June (seven weeks ago): 
  • More than 90 people died from the extreme heat in Quebec
  • Record rainfall in Japan caused flooding and landslides leading to at least 179 deaths
  • Over 60 wildfires raged above the Arctic Circle in Sweden 
  • Thousands of people have been forced from their homes in the U.S. West, especially in California and Colorado, which have experienced unprecedented wildfires sparked by extreme heat and drought
  • An epic monsoon left more than 220,000 people homeless in southern India and killed at least 324 people
  • And in the Finger Lakes last week a "rain bomb" dropped up to 8.75 inches overnight and caused major flooding in Seneca and Schuyler Counties, destroying homes and tearing up roads 
Flooding in Lodi Point last week. Photo credit: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.

2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record, and 17 out of the warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001.  "It's not a wake-up call anymore," said Cynthia Rosenzweig, who runs the climate impacts group at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a recent interview with the New York Times. "It's now absolutely happening to millions of people around the world."

This summer of "fire and rain," to quote a James Taylor song, has been relentless in its violence and destruction. It feels as if what was a slow-moving calamity has accelerated into a near biblical explosion of unceasing events, each day bringing news of another indication that climate change is looking more and more like climate chaos.

How do we know these are not isolated, unrelated events but rather part of a longer-term process that is nowhere near reaching its climax? Researchers, based on climate models, are now able to draw links between extreme weather events and climate change, and even quantify them. For example, the World Weather Attribution project, an international coalition of scientists, issued a study in July concluding that Europe's record-breaking heat wave this summer was twice as likely to have occurred because of human-caused warming.

Scientists still think that it's not too late to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but only if we undertake dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and changes in the way we live.  Meanwhile, for those of us who are paying attention, the signs are all around us that the waters are not just rising; they are getting choppier and more turbulent with each passing day. What used to seem like something that would take place in the distant future is happening now. 

"What we're seeing today is making me, frankly, calibrate not only what my children will be living but what I will be living, what I am currently living," Kim Cobb, a professor of earth and atmospheric science at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, noted recently in conversation with a reporter. "We haven't caught up to it. I haven't caught up to it, personally."

Sobering words, indeed, that remind us what is at stake. There is no "new normal." Our summer of fire and rain will only get much worse going forward if we fail, in the words of Taylor's song, to "make a stand."

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.