Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

Issue #53: July-August 2019

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Ithaca Energy Code Supplement Open for Public Comment

Welcome to the July-August 2019 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an e-update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Photo by longyoung licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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. 
Proposed NYSEG Rate Hike Encounters Strong Opposition at Ithaca Public Hearing

New York Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing in Ithaca on August 14 generated substantial opposition to a proposed gas and electric rate increase by New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG). The new rate increase would increase electric delivery rates by $156.7 million for NYSEG customers, or 20.4 percent on base delivery revenues and 10.4 percent in total revenues, and annual gas delivery rates would increase by $6.3 million, or 3 percent in gas delivery revenues and 1.4 percent in total revenues. Monthly residential electric bills would increase by $10.20 and gas bills will increase by $1.03, according to a fact sheet from the PSC.

According to reports, all of the 50 people who spoke asked the PSC to deny the rate increase or not approve the requested increase. Many who spoke said the increase would place an unfair burden on low-income families and those living on fixed incomes, including Martha Robertson, chair of the Tompkins County Legislature.

NYSEG's West Hill Substation. Photo by Peter Bardaglio.
The company was also criticized for not doing more to address climate change and reduce its use of fossil fuels.  Tompkins County Legislator Deborah Dawson said that since New York State enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), NYSEG should be working to meet the state's energy emissions goals.

In an informational presentation before the hearing, NYSEG representatives described their plans to use over $70 million of the new revenue for vegetation control. The company said trees are the cause of 50 percent of power outages. 

A representative also said a portion of the increase would be to replace 50 miles of gas pipeline near Oneonta.  Recent Ithaca College graduate Mike Moritz, 23, said replacing that gas pipeline was moving in the wrong direction. He and other younger speakers addressed the impact of climate change on their futures.

Other residents contended that NYSEG has not been cooperative with communities looking to use solar energy to power their homes. Judy Pierpont spoke on this point, saying that NYSEG needs to recognize climate change for the threat it has become.
"It's time for NYSEG to recognize climate disruption as the threat and challenge of our time," Pierpont said. "In this community, we are working on cutting back on the use of fossil fuels and encourage the use of renewable energy. But we can do very little if the utility, that has power over how energy is delivered and used, is not responsive to these changing necessities."

Under state law, the PSC may "adopt, reject, or modify" the company's proposals, and administrative law judges will preside over the public statement hearings, the gathering of public comments, the evidentiary hearing, and all evidence related to the proposals .
For people who did not attend the public meeting, there are several other ways to comment. Comments should refer to the case numbers listed above. Comments are requested by Aug. 26.
  • Internet or email: Go to, click on "Search," enter the applicable case number (19-E0378, 19-G-0379) and then click the "Post Comments" button at the top of the page; or email comments to the Secretary for the Commission at 
  • By mail or hand delivery: Comments can be mailed or delivered to Honorable Kathleen H. Burgess, secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350.
  • Toll-free opinion line: Commenters can call the opinion line at 1-800-335-2120.
- Based on news reports from the Ithaca Voice, Ithaca Times, and WSKG
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, August 30, 2019
9 to 11 am
Tompkins County Public Library
Borg Warner Conference Room
101 E. Green St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Cayuga Power Plant Seeks Conversion to Cloud Data Center
by Dan Veaner, Lansing Star

The Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing continues to move forward with plans to end its coal-fired operations and convert to a cloud data center. Heorot Power Holdings, which owns Cayuga Operating Company, has applied to the New York Power Authority (NYPA) for hydropower allotments for both the the Cayuga and Somerset power plant sites as part of its effort to convert those businesses to the Empire State Data Center. Heorot plans a 100-megawatt data center in Lansing and a 500-megawatt data center in Somerset, about 55 miles west of Rochester. 

Acting on the Somerset application in early August, NYPA approved a 10-megawatt allotment for Somerset and signs are encouraging that it will grant a similar allotment for the Cayuga Power 
Cayuga Power Plant
Cayuga Power Plant announced it will be shutting down its coal-fired operation.
Plant. The Cayuga application is a separate process and is likely to be ruled on in late summer or early fall.

In an informational meeting in Lansing at the end of June Heorot Power Vice President of Development Jerry Goodenough said that the Cayuga Power Plant building will not be used for the data center, which will be housed in new Morton-style buildings on the property. But he said the power plant building will not be demolished either. Instead, it will be re-purposed for other uses, such as rental office space.  He said the chimney will be capped, and as part of shutting down the plant the landfill will be sealed.

At the June informational meeting Goodenough said their two plant sites are ideal campuses for data centers because they already have energy infrastructures, are located in a moderate climate, and skilled local workers are available, as well as connections to institutions of higher learning. The company expects to invest $650 million into the two sites, and generate 200 full-time equivalent jobs with average salaries between $40,000 and $60,000, as well as about 100 construction jobs.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on May 9th that all remaining coal plants in New York State would be forced to shut down by the end of 2020. In addition to introducing its plans for the Empire State Data Center Heorot announced soon after that  it would close its plants, the only two remaining coal-fired plants in New York State. On June 28 the Lansing plant filed a deactivation notice with the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) on Friday,  announcing its intentions to retire the plant within the following 90 days.

Community support for the transformation from a coal-based power plant to a cloud data center has been strong. Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne said that the conversion will bring back some of the tax revenue that has been lost over the past decade as the power plant's value plummeted.

"The fact that the Somerset plant was granted ten megawatts is very encouraging," said Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne.  In addition to municipal resolutions supporting the project by the Town of Lansing and the Tompkins County Legislature, local citizens have also organized to support the project. 
Reduce Emissions and Create More Local Jobs!
by Maggie McAden, Communications Intern,
  Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

Many communities are choosing to pursue climate goals, focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency to reduce carbon emissions and combat the growing threat of climate change. 
In June, Ithaca's Common Council passed a Green New Deal resolution, which set ambitious environmental goals for the city, including achieving carbon neutrality citywide by 2030. Tompkins County has already committed to reducing its emissions by 20% by 2020 and  80% by 2050 from 2008 levels. 

Questions about how these large-scale changes will occur at such a fast pace often dominate conversations on how to reduce our carbon emissions. What is less discussed are the benefits of these changes, including reduced energy costs and air pollution, improved health and comfort, and more local, well-paying jobs.

Get Your GreenBack estimates that it takes 10-12 energy upgrades or solar installs to support a full-time employee with a living wage.
          Photo courtesy of Renovus Solar.
Helping all 42,000 households in Tompkins County reduce their energy use and go solar in the next few decades would create hundreds of new jobs for workers entering this clean energy field. And that's not even counting the needs of the commercial and industrial sectors!
Jobs on a local level

Hal Smith, founder of  Halco Energy, started his company in 1984 as a plumbing, heating, and air conditioning company. Working within the Finger Lakes region, Halco Energy provides a range of residential and commercial services, including energy audits, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, insulation, air-sealing, and renewable energy systems.

"We're very involved in clean energies, you know, air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, heat pump water heaters," he said. "We do all of that work."

Smith said the relationship between community support for renewable energy and job creation is clear.  "There is no question that every time you sell our renewable energy systems, you're putting more people to work," he said.

Jon Harrod, one of the founders of Snug Planet, began his company in 2006. Originally, he focused on energy auditing and the building envelope, but eventually expanded to pursue improving the mechanical systems of buildings -- heating, hot water, and cooling.  "Our mission has always been to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, and to improve comfort in ways that make sense for our customers and for the planet," he said.

Harrod noted that his company has undergone significant growth since its conception in 2006.  "We started out as myself and one employee working out of a spare room in my house back in 2006," he said. "And we've grown to 15 employees. And our production has increased several fold as well. So, we are creating good jobs here in the community, and if we figure out the policies that are going to allow us to do ten times as many houses as we're doing, we'll figure out the staffing side of it as well, and add even more jobs."

Renovus Solar, another local contractor, has also undergone dramatic expansion since it began as a multi-purpose renewable energy company in 2003. Now, the company focuses solely on solar energy.  "We kind of serve as ... this starting point for people electrifying their homes and getting off of natural gas in a meaningful way," Ryan McCune, vice president of sales and marketing, said. "And solar can be kind of a catalyst that leads to a lot of other efficiency investments."

McCune said there is a clear connection between community members choosing to have these systems installed and his company's ability to support its employees. He pointed out that one family's decision to go solar will often spark a whole series of home energy upgrades, creating job opportunities and increasing the likelihood that other people will follow suit.

"The reality," said McCune, "is that every decision that they're making for their benefit also benefits the jobs and the community of the people around them." In doing so, they "inject money into the community that gives more people the option to make the same choices that the customer is making. And it can be a really powerful cycle."

Not only does renewable energy cause a ripple effect in the labor market, but it is also a safer and healthier energy option for communities.  "When people talk about the fossil fuel industry, they love talking about peripheral job creation," he said. "The solar industry is no different ... And the biggest difference is, we're not going to come in and poison your community."

A Tight Labor Market

A major concern among local renewable energy and energy efficient employers is the tight labor market. Harrod said that finding people who have the technical skills and work experience in what is still an emerging industry has been challenging.

"I think we could actually probably do even more work," he said. "Right now, the labor market is pretty tight. Especially people with experience and skills on the HVAC side - they're hard to find. And we would love to find some more experienced installers. We can definitely work with people that are new to the field, but as far as crew chief and lead installer type positions, we would love to find some more."

To fill these gaps in the labor market, Harrod said he is turning to a younger generation of students who are passionate about social justice. Although these kinds of jobs involve more difficult physical labor, they save money and energy and are intertwined with issues of equity.

"There are so many younger, recent, high school and college grads that are really passionate about climate change, and about social justice," he said. "And we would like to find a way to connect with them and say, 'Okay, here's, here's a path, it's probably not what you thought you were going to do when you went to Cornell, or Ithaca College, but it's a meaningful path that can allow you to make really direct and tangible contributions to the things you care about."




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One Last Thing: Greenland and the Climate Emergency

One of the signature features of our times is the dramatic disconnect between the speed with which the climate emergency is unfurling, on the one hand, and our ability to integrate this reality into our day-to-day life, on the other. In an article earlier this summer, David Wallace-Wells, the author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (2019), reflected on what he called the "phenomenon of cascading climate impacts."
An iceberg off the Greenland coast this summer. Photo by Harry and Rowena Kennedy licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

"How many natural disasters does it take to qualify as biblical, or apocalyptic, or at least to make us understand that we are living not through a bad week, or a bad year, but an unraveling climate system in which so much of what we take for granted as permanent features of the built environment may be turned into flotsam and jetsam by unprecedented weather?" he asked.

His haunting question came to mind this month as I read one report after another about the record ice melt in Greenland. Scientists estimate that by the end of the summer something like 440 billion tons of ice will have melted or calved off Greenland's giant ice sheet.

In just five days from July 31 to August 3, more than 58 billion tons melted from the surface of the world's largest island, 40 billion tons more than average for this time of year. That's not taking into account the huge ice chunks breaking off into the ocean or warm water attacking the glaciers from below. 

Just since the 1990s, Greenland's rate of ice loss has increased from 41 gigatons per year to 286 gigatons per year during the period from 2010 to 2018. A recent study found that, if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut significantly in the next decade or two, Greenland could contribute up to two feet of global sea level rise by 2100.

How does one even begin to comprehend the enormity of this catastrophe?

Wallace-Wells suggests that our capacity for denial and compartmentalization may be such that we actually never come to grips with what we are doing and the threat that it poses to our very existence. Instead, we simply incorporate each new horrifying event into a "new normal" and move on. Even more disconcerting, Wallace-Wells thinks we may begin to find ourselves normalizing " clear and terrifying patterns," not just single instances of extreme weather events and climate disasters such as the India heat wave in June or the vast, ongoing fires in the Amazon.

At that point, obviously, our doom will be sealed. We must do everything possible, then, to keep reminding ourselves that nothing about what is happening to our climate and its impacts is normal. We must keep talking with each other and finding ways to act collectively that push back against any of this from becoming normal. 

As Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist who has called for a global climate strike on September 20, reminds us, " Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this."

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.