Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

Issue #58: May-June 2020

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Great Blue Heron

Welcome to the May-June 2020 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an e-update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Photo by Jo Zimny Photos licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 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. 
Cornell Imposes Moratorium on Fossil Fuel Investments
by Kathryn Stamm, Cornell Daily Sun

Closing out a semester of protests, assembly votes, and even a staged wedding, the Cornell University Board of Trustees voted Friday to essentially divest from fossil fuels.

The Board's Investment Committee made the decision in early May to institute a moratorium on new private investments focused on fossil fuels and grow investments in alternative and renewable energy.

While the University did not formally call the move "divestment," University Assembly chair Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and environmental biology, said the decision is "precisely what we asked for." Howarth has been at the forefront of a years-long push for divestment at Cornell.

Prof. Robert Howarth, University Assembly chair, played a key role in the divestment push at Cornell.
The committee's vote also included ending all current investments over the next five
to seven years, according to Howarth.

However, the new policy does not apply to indexed and other public equity mandates, such as the S&P 500. In these investments, the University is one of many investors and cannot alter an
index's composition. The Investment Office does not directly invest in any individual equity securities, including those of fossil fuel companies, according to its policy.

The committee's vote came after reviewing Cornell's $6.9 billion  endowment, during which it also considered the future of the coal, oil, and gas industries and the threat of climate change, according to the resolution approved by trustees.

Effective immediately, the moratorium applies to new private equity and bond vehicles focused on fossil fuels, which make up about 4.2 percent of Cornell's long-term investments, according to Cornell's chief investment officer Ken Miranda.

"There's a growing recognition that we're transitioning away from fossil fuels globally, and the economic competitiveness of renewable energy sources is rising," Miranda  said in a University press release. "We're doing the right thing from an investment perspective, particularly for an endowment with a perpetual time horizon."

The conversation surrounding fossil fuel divestment has a long history at Cornell, as the Board of Trustees previously  rejected divestment in January 2016, saying that the University's endowment is not a political instrument.

"Other avenues besides divestiture may be more effective and not merely symbolic,"  said Robert Harrison '76, chairman of the board, in a 2016 University press release. He further explained that many activities that cause social harm do not reach the level of "moral reprehensibility," the standard for divestment.

In December 2019, Climate Justice Cornell  demanded divestment by February 13, Fossil Fuel Divestment Day. After this request went unmet, CJC and other activists  staged a number of protests throughout the spring semester.

As of March, all five University constituent assemblies  passed fossil fu el divestment resolutions, ultimately  prompting  the Board of Trustees to revisit the proposal, according to current University governance policies.

The Investment Committee determined that the moratorium and other new measures were "consistent with its fiduciary and stewardship responsibilities," the Board of Trustees resolution stated.

"The trustees have a lot on their minds," Howarth said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. "The fact that they nonetheless brought up this resolution and passed it is remarkable. It's a deeply sincere move by the trustees, which I think should be acknowledged."
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, July 31, 2020
9 to 11 am
Due to the current pandemic, the monthly TCCPI meetings have moved online. Contact Peter Bardaglio, the TCCPI coordinator, for further details at

Highlights from the 2019 TCCPI Member Achievements Report

The Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative has released its report on the 2019 achievements of the coalition's members in fighting climate change and promoting the clean energy transition. Thirty-five local member organizations submitted documentation of the work they carried out in 2019. The full report is available here. Highlights include the following: 

Alternatives Federal Credit Union
  • In 2019 we made 292 solar loans for a total of $3,851,684. Solar loans increased 40% over the previous year.
  • Our rooftop solar panels generated 26% of our electricity during the year, representing 15% of our total source of energy (electric and natural gas).
  • Our partnership with Renovus Solar continued, furthering our work together for the good of the environment and local economy by expanding renewable energy usage.
Center for Community Transportation
  • 596 new Ithaca Carshare members reported that they would sell or avoid the purchase of 113 vehicles -- an estimated 11,272 gallons of gasoline and 103 metric tons of carbon dioxide were avoided. 
  • 1,343 members took a combined 15,648 trips totaling 198,451 miles -- f leetwide fuel economy was 32 mpg, 20% above the 2019 national average of 25.5 mpg.
  • Developed a Bike Education network, connecting schools to resources needed to design, fund, and implement bike education programming in 2nd grade curriculum.
  • Offered the first-ever complete schedule of learn-to-ride classes to the community, which enabled many adults, particularly women, to ride bicycles for the first time since their childhood. 
City of Ithaca
  • Adopted Green New Deal (GND) resolution, committing to an equitable transition to carbon neutrality by 2030.
  • Convened GND transition team (internal), which developed Sustainability Director job description and convened GND Interim Advisory Group of community stakeholders.
  • Released draft Ithaca Energy Code Supplement, which will mandate reduced GHG emissions in new construction.
  • Completed preliminary work on policies to reduce emissions in existing buildings.
  • Advanced LED streetlight upgrade project.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County
  • One of our Energy Educators is the CEC Coordinator for the Southern Tier, working with municipal officials to save energy in their facilities and communities through targeted steps -- communities become "designated" by tackling 4 of 10 "high-impact actions," which makes them eligible to apply for grants to fund additional clean energy projects.
  • CCETC serves on the Advisory Board of the Ithaca 2030 District and helps develop resources for District Member building owners.
  • CCETC and Cornell University have partnered with NYSEG on an Energy Smart Community initiative to develop and test the technologies, educational approaches, and customer options that lead to greater adoption of cleaner and distributed energy sources; improve grid reliability, resilience and safety; and reduce of overall energy use and shift use from peak demand times.
  • We worked with the Alliance for Non-Pipeline Alternatives,  a diverse group of community members working to find alternatives to build-out of the natural gas pipeline (or other gas infrastructure) in the Lansing gas moratorium area.
Cornell University
Downtown Ithaca Alliance
  • The DIA, in collaboration with Center for Community Center for Transportation and Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT), launched a Transportation Management Association (TMA) program called GO ITHACA aimed at helping employees and residents in the urban core forgo their single occupancy vehicles and instead use more efficient modes of transportation. 
  • Downtown projects such as the additional bike racks that were installed as a result of a grant from a local foundation will decrease dependency on automobiles and increase walkability and access to public transit.
  • The completed City Centre project includes many green features such as energy efficient windows and lighting, and classic sustainable appliances like low-flow toilets. City Centre is also eliminating the need for venting to accompany clothes dryers, which are outfitted with heat pumps.
  • The Harold's Square project, currently under construction, will use at least 35% less energy than a similar type conventionally built building.
Finger Lakes ReUse
  • Proudly became a member of the Ithaca 2030 District, committed to achieving the goals of the District, including an overall reduction of energy and water use, resulting in decreased greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Worked with EMPEQ to install 4 high-efficiency Rooftop HVAC units at our Ithaca ReUse Center. These units are energy-efficient and cost-effective!
  • Diverted an estimated 575 tons of materials (542,000 items) through our two community ReUse Centers, including furniture, building materials, housewares, electronics, books, textiles.
  • Created 9 new living wage jobs, increasing our staff to 43 people.
Fossil Free Tompkins
  • Cayuga Power Plant victory! After seven years and two attempts by the owners of the coal plant to convert it to burn gas, in June 2019 the plant owners announced their intent to "mothball" the plant and convert it to a data center, and in September 2019 they burned their last chunk of coal and went offline.
  • The revised RFP for the Lansing non-pipe alternative was issued in Fall 2019. We worked with HeatSmart Tompkins to host a community event for businesses in the Lansing area to let them know about the opportunity and to make it possible for heat-pump and energy efficiency vendors to meet interested businesses.
  • NYSEG (and RG&E) filed their proposed gas and electric rate cases in May 2019 with the Public Service Commission (PSC). We participated in intense, ongoing negotiations involving over 30 other organizations in Albany throughout the Fall and Winter of 2019. 
Get Your GreenBack Tompkins
  • Cornell students spent much of the year designing our "Powerhouse," a Tiny Home on wheels, whose purpose is to engage thousands of residents around energy-related topics, and encourage them to take action. 
  • We were awarded competitive funding from NYSERDA in late 2019 to finalize the design and complete the Powerhouse in the Spring 2020.
  • As of November 2019, our Energy Navigators program has reached over 7,500 people for the present year, providing advising to over 1,000 of those and supporting close to 320 to take significant action. 
  • The Energy Navigators program has expanded into the Southern Tier, seven counties in Northern NY, and another seven counties in the mid-Hudson region under the "Smart Energy Choices" brand.  In 2020, NYSERDA will be funding an expansion of the Energy Navigator program to five other counties in these regions. 
HOLT Architects
  • HOLT continued to investigate methodologies for better understanding the energy needs of its 619 West State Street offices as well as actions for lowering overall energy use. 
  • HOLT was awarded a LEED Gold Certification for its new office building in April 2019 after a three-year design and documentation process.
  • HOLT established a committee to research known harmful chemicals in building products and materials, develop or adopt a system that identifies those that are considered to be most harmful, and recommend that these products be banned from projects designed by HOLT.
Ithaca 2030 District
  • We added five new property owners to the District in 2019, making a total of 21 owners, 23 buildings, and a total of 286,534 square feet of committed space. The members added in 2019 included:
    • Autumn Leaves Used Books
    • Finger Lakes ReUse Center
    • New Roots Charter School
    • PRI/Museum of the Earth
    • Petrune
  • We continued to collect monthly utility data for the property owners and uploaded to Portfolio Manager to determine EnergyStar scores and we carried out our second annual commuter transportation survey of member buildings.
  • We developed new, interactive building performance dashboards for the property owners and managers to replace the old building performance reports. The dashboards track progress regarding energy and water consumption as well as commuter transportation emissions at both the individual building and district levels.
  • We completed the NYSERDA Cleaner, Greener Communities grant and submitted our final report. 
Ithaca College
  • Achieved AASHE STARS Gold rating based on our December 2019 report and reached our 50% carbon neutral goal six years early.
  • Awarded a $500,000 NYSERDA C&I Carbon Challenge Grant for a potential regional geothermal plant to heat and cool CNS, Williams, and Park Communications.
  • Remained actively engaged with the NY Higher Ed Large Scale Renewable (NYHE LSRE) consortium, a public-private higher-education partnership looking to develop a number of large-scale renewable energy sites to meet our varied environmental commitments.
  • Strengthened the Student Housing Energy Reduction Program (SHERP), one that started several years ago with support from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE).
Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services
  • In 2019, under the first round of the Buildings of Excellence Competition, INHS was awarded a $932,280 prize for its extremely energy-efficient, affordable housing development in the Village of Trumansburg, Village Grove Apartments. 
  • The proposed project consists of a forty-unit multifamily rental building and is expected to be INHS' greenest project to date. The building will achieve NetZero standing through the use of ground source heat pumps, Passive House certification, and the purchase of off-site community solar.  
  • Over the past 3 years INHS has undertaken a massive, $20 million energy efficiency upgrade of its scattered site rental portfolio. Insulation, air sealing, high efficiency lighting, Energy Star appliance upgrades, reduced water consumption, and heat pumps are the primary tools used to retrofit these 100+ year-old buildings. 
  • INHS has been certified by the national non-profit NeighborWorks America as a NeighborWorks Green Organization. This designation certifies that INHS complies with green standards across all aspects of its operations, including everything from the purchase of office supplies to pesticide free lawn care.  
Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council
  • Completed update of the five-year Transportation Improvement Program listing all federally-funded surface transportation projects in Tompkins County. Municipal and community partners were successful in securing federal funds for several multiuse trail projects that will help expand and advance the implementation of a countywide trail network. 
  • Completed update of the 20-year Long Range Transportation Plan for Tompkins County. 
  • Continued to coordinate the efforts of the Finger Lakes Rideshare Coalition, including an evaluation of the current service and plans for possible changes  
Learn@EcoVillage Ithaca
  • Launched a weekly food hub at EcoVillage in August where community members can drop off items and pick up things they need in an effort to reduce food waste and increase sharing.
  • Held a two-day workshop with faculty and students from SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Geneseo, and Clark University in October, providing them with hands-on, real-life demonstrations of how communities can reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing quality of life.
  • Hosted visits from SUNY Oneonta and Elmira College classes during the fall and the Mohawk Nation Housing Authority at Akwesasne, who were interested in learning more about our energy- efficient green buildings.
  • Held a two-hour program for the American Institute of Architects, Southern Tier about green building and design at EcoVillage which was accredited by the AIA. 
Local First Ithaca
  • Held our first annual Independents Week from July 1 to 7, joining dozens of partner organizations and thousands of independent businesses nationwide in celebrating the local independent businesses and shops that exemplify the uniqueness of our hometown.
  • Produced our 9th Annual Guide to Being Local.
  • Continued our work with the Ithaca 2030 District Advisory Board and Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative Steering Committee.
  • Sponsored "Plaid Friday" and "Small Business Saturday" in November to encourage community members to shop locally during the holiday season and experience what our home grown, independent businesses have to offer.
New Roots Charter School
  • We launched the first of four years of the Cayuga Wetlands Restoration Project in Summer 2019, in partnership with Sachem (Chief) Samuel George of Cayuga Nation and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Park Foundation and $38,745 from the DEC, students were hired for summer employment through our youth conservation corps 
  • The Green Schools National Network and the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recognized New Roots as a winner of Transformation in the "Best of Green Schools" Class of 2019 based on the Cayuga Wetland Restoration Project!  
  • Students and staff on the New Roots Green Team have been focused on assessing and improving the energy efficiency of our historic building. The Green Team is leveraging data from the Ithaca 2030 District dashboard to determine the most effective and efficient ways to help us meet the goals of the 2030 District, which New Roots joined in 2019.
  • Science classes collaborated with CCE's Energy Smart Community Educator, providing curriculum and projects to learn about our local energy system. This collaboration helped to increase student's "Energy Literacy" by providing information on a range of relevant issues from climate change and the Green New Deal, to new "smart grid" technologies and DIY things everyone can do to reduce their carbon footprint.
Paleontological Research Institution, Museum of the Earth, and Cayuga Nature Center
  • In 2019, PRI joined the Ithaca 2030 District. We are taking steps to reduce our emissions, in addition to installing solar panels on the roof of the Museum of the Earth several years ago, including an LED light retrofit in the Museum of the Earth, the Cayuga Nature Center, and Palmer Hall.
  • We hosted free Drawdown workshops for the public at the Museum of the Earth from April to June 2019. The workshops were led by Nancy Kasper from the Rochester, NY chapter of the Pachamama Alliance.
  • We continued our crowdfunding campaign to raise money to send The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change to teachers across country. The campaign is online at, and we have raised over $140,000.
  • We conducted sessions on climate change education at national and regional conferences such as annual conferences of the Geological Society of America and the Science Teachers Association of New York State. We also conducted teacher professional development workshops on climate and energy literacy.
Park Foundation
  • The Environment Program disbursed 31 grants that had a climate and energy focus totaling $1,615,000.
  • The Sustainable Ithaca Program disbursed $190,000 in climate-related grants in 2019.
  • The Foundation filed five shareholder resolutions seeking reports on carbon asset risk (Anadarko, Chevron), net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (Amazon, Cooper) and climate-related water risk (Energen).
  • We opened two new custom-designed exhibitions, built in-house:
    • Energy Labs encourages guests to explore three natural resources - water, wind, and sun - and how they can be harnessed to generate electricity. Each of the three stations provides interactions with, and information about, renewable sources of electricity.
    • Changing Skies allows guests to interact with and learn about weather. Guests learn how weather patterns are impacted by topography. Guests are also invited to share stories about changing weather patterns to illustrate the impacts of climate change.
  • Over 1,100 students from Tompkins and Cayuga Counties worked on an engineering challenge to develop their own windmill while learning about renewable energy and climate change in free field trips.
Snug Planet
  • In 2019, Snug Planet continued to scale up our operations, with an increased focus on low-income work and on strategic electrification.
  • We added a second HVAC crew, a second insulation/air sealing crew, and sales/support staff, growing our team to 18.
  • We completed over 130 insulation and air sealing projects for low-income homeowners through the EmPower NY program.
  • We also installed over 70 air source heat pumps through the NYSERDA Air Source Heat Pump program.
Solar Tompkins/HeatSmart Tompkins
  • Solar Tompkins transitioned from promoting solar pv installations to advocating for building envelope improvements and heat pumps in 2015-2016 through our HeatSmart initiative.  In 2019, after a few years of declining interest, we saw more heat pumps installed than at any other point in our history.
  • With additional funding from NYSERDA's Clean Energy Action Plan (CEAP), we focused our efforts on the gas-constrained Town of Lansing, hiring a second full-time person, Lisa Marshall, to be the Lansing HeatSmart Coordinator.
  • We also realized major benefits from a collaboration with Sustainable Tompkins to make heat pumps accessible to LMI residents, resulting in a major grant from NYSERDA to specifically augment the HeatSmart program by making it more accessible to LMI residents.
  • We recognized the owners of Purity Ice Cream with an Earth Stewardship Award for their early adoption of a geothermal energy system.
Sunrise Movement Ithaca Hub
  • Sunrise Ithaca was founded in January 2019 and is the local chapter of the national Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization fighting to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.
  • We organized a mass letter-writing campaign demanding Mayor Myrick adopt an Ithaca Green New Deal and expedite the city's existing climate neutrality date.
  • Traveled to Albany for Youth Lobby Day, where we met with state legislators and campaigned for climate action and a Green New Deal.
  • Hosted a Green New Deal Town Hall with speakers representing diverse sectors, including government, agriculture, skilled workers, scientists, and activists. Mayor Myrick closed the event by announcing that he would propose a Green New Deal to Common Council.
Sustainable Tompkins -- Finger Lakes Climate Fund
  • Our partnership with HeatSmart Tompkins and NYSERDA is in full swing with new contractors joining us in the process of making offsets and converting to clean heating and cooling. We have a new partnership with Colgate University, and will be working to create offset campaigns with Wells College, SUNY Cortland, and Ithaca College in 2020. 
  • Our new suite of videos, plus local and national media coverage, has resulted in a steady stream of requests for information and for staff to speak at events. We also have serious interest in franchising our carbon calculator and web interface in other states.
  • We recently awarded our 50th offset grant to a family in Trumansburg, and have collectively kept 4,300 tons of CO2 from entering our atmosphere by helping local families with more than $80,000 in Climate Fund grants to help make their homes more energy efficient and ready to run on renewable energy. In 2019, we received 252 carbon offsets totaling $26,848.
Taitem Engineering
  • Taitem has been working with Tompkins County to provide technical assistance through the Business Energy Advisors (BEA) program.
  • Taitem's Energy + Sustainability and Quality Assurance departments continue to provide a broad range of services through NYSERDA, including energy modeling for the new student residence at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, which will be SUNY's first zero-energy dormitory. 
  • Taitem is also involved with several research projects demonstrating the energy-saving potential of new heat pump technologies when retrofitted in existing New York buildings.
  • Taitem's Design Department continues its work on green buildings. Two projects, INHS Village Grove apartments in Trumansburg and Perdita Flats in Ithaca, were recognized as NYSERDA Buildings of Excellence. 
Tompkins Community Action
  • We carried out the following projects in 2019:
    • 50 jobs completed through the Weatherization Assistance Program.
    • 16 HP (heating & shell measures) jobs completed through the EmPower NY Program.
    • 13 ER (electric reduction only) jobs completed through the EmPower NY Program.
    • 15 households received heating equipment repairs or replacements (HERR) through the HEAP/HERR benefit.
    • 18 households received clean & tune services through the HEAP Clean & Tune benefit.
    • 2 Green Jobs, Green NY energy audits were completed.
  • TCAction also developed a new energy-efficient Supportive Housing Program called Amici House. The five-story building, completed in one year, contains 23 studio apartments for homeless youth from 18 to 25 years of age, with or without children. 
Tompkins County
  • Business Energy Advisors New Construction Program is designed to assist businesses/organizations in making energy decisions for new construction, renovations, and expansion projects. Since its launch in 2018, the program has participated in 26 introductory meetings, produced 23 energy options reports. and participated in 23 energy charrettes, which have led to at least five businesses applying to financing programs that offer more assistance to implement energy efficiency measures in their buildings. 
  • Business Energy Advisors (BEA) Lansing for Existing Buildings is a one-year pilot program designed to assist existing commercial and industrial facilities over 10,000 square feet in size, located within the Lansing natural gas moratorium area. It was established with a NYSERDA grant received by Solar Tompkins, Inc. 
  • The Energy Task Force completed its three-year term by providing guidance to the Department of Planning and Sustainability on Energy Strategy development. The ETF also recommended to the Legislature that an equivalent advisory board continue in 2020.
  • The County Legislature established a new Climate and Sustainable Energy Advisory Board in December. Its work will focus on assisting the County to develop capacity and expertise to engage with a variety of leaders and stakeholders to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
Tompkins County Environmental Management Council
  • The Climate Adaptation Committee took up the broad issue of flooding this year and identified it as a priority.
  • As average temperatures continue to rise, rainfall patterns change. For New York State this means more precipitation and an increase in what we now call "rain events" where 2 or more inches of rain fall in a limited period of time. This has been known by experts for some time, but is gradually becoming part of residents' shared experience and understanding of weather and seasons. What had been a rarity, in short, is now becoming more common.
  • To address flooding risk and lake pollution, we decided to generate an informational brochure for residents and municipalities. We complied and distilled information in a brochure which will be widely distributed to residents this spring.
Town of Caroline
  • In 2019 Caroline received NYSERDA's Climate Smart Community Bronze certification. Caroline pledged to become a Climate Smart Community in 2012. The certification recognizes a long history of persistent, creative efforts by town officials and community volunteers. 
  • Brighten Up Caroline was initiated with distribution of LED light bulbs at various community events. There was a huge volunteer effort to sew bags with donated materials for the bulbs and information packet. 
  • We are working with NYPA for LED streetlight conversion. We will be purchasing our streetlight facilities from NYSEG, which will yield significant savings in our long-term operating costs and provide control greater control of maintenance.
  • Halco Energy installed a 5-ton geothermal system at the Historic Town Hall. The ducted system provided comfortable heating through the winter and will be cooling and dehumidifying the building this summer. We will be making improvements to the building's envelope in the next couple of years. 
Town of Dryden
  • Dryden certified as a Bronze Level New York State Climate Smart Community, one of 31 statewide. 
  • Dryden initiated an extensive comprehensive plan update. The new plan will address energy use and climate change. 
  • A Tompkins County Parks and Trails grant enabled the purchase of two solar-powered pedestrian crossing lights for the trail at the Springhouse and George Road crossings.
  • Dryden was pre-approved for an $8,000 NYSERDA grant covering the cost of two EV charging stations at the Town Hall parking lot. 
Town of Ithaca
  • Began discussion of adopting a Green New Deal.
  • Released draft Ithaca Energy Code Supplement, which will mandate reduced GHG emissions in new construction.
  • Completed preliminary work on policies to reduce emissions in existing buildings.
  • Advanced LED streetlight upgrade project.
Town of Ulysses
  • The Town of Ulysses continues to provide free electricity for its electric vehicle charging station at the Town Hall. In the last year, 600 sessions contributed to our total lifetime savings of 3,814 kg of greenhouse gases.
  • The Town finalized its design to install heat pumps in Town Hall in order to reduce use of natural gas as part of a Clean Energy Communities grant. 
  • The Town Hall lights will be converted to LED bulbs as part of a Clean Energy Communities grant.
  • The Town Supervisor led a county-wide effort to convert streetlights to low power LED bulbs.

A Tiny Home Promises a Big Impact: The Powerhouse is Coming!
by Karim Beers,  Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

The Powerhouse, an innovative initiative undertaken by Get Your GreenBack Tompkins, demonstrates not only how we can use less power to run our homes, but also the power of collective imagination and volunteers coming together around a shared vision.
The Powerhouse is a tiny home on wheels, whose purpose is to engage thousands of residents around energy-related topics, and encourage them to take action. It is seen as the entry point to Get Your GreenBack Tompkins' Energy Advising program, which is already helping many hundreds of people to learn about and access local, state, and federal programs and connect to local contractors who can help them with energy-related improvements.
We believe that the Powerhouse can expand our outreach to serve many more people by providing concrete examples of steps they can take to reduce the carbon footprint of their homes.

The Powerhouse nears completion. Photo courtesy of Get Your GreenBack Tompkins.
The idea for the Powerhouse came out of a series of meetings with a group of environmental activists and educators in Tompkins County, who began to meet in the fall of 2018 to discuss ways to increase the rate of adoption of clean energy programs and technologies by residents.

They were concerned about two things: the pace of adoption of clean energy was way too slow to meet the county and state's goals for carbon emissions; and the benefits of clean energy were not reaching those who needed it the most, households with limited income, as well as historically oppressed groups such as people of color.
The Powerhouse could provide a way to reach out to a wide range of diverse populations by bringing information and options to them, whether in a rural community or downtown Ithaca, rather than trying to attract people to a single destination.

Much of the design work was carried out during 2018 and 2019 by over 20 student participants in the Cornell University Sustainable Design Club. They prepared the initial designs for the tiny home structure, as well as for the eight exhibits that will be inside the home. They also designed a companion website, a draft of which can be found at The architectural design was brought to a more professional close by the local firm Stream Collaborative, who were compensated with funds from NYSEG and NYSERDA. 

Towards the end of 2019 we were delighted to receive a competitive grant from NYSERDA to finalize the design and complete the Powerhouse. Mark Pierce and Ernie Bayles, with the support of many other partners and volunteers, have been constructing the building this spring and summer.
Most recently, the heat pump has been installed, and the walls and ceilings are almost all in place. Next up are finishing the roofing and trim and installing the solar pv system and storage battery. Then the final touches need to be put on the website and posters that will serve as exhibits in the Powerhouse.

Without all the community support we've received, the Powerhouse would be just a drawing on a piece of paper. Actually, we wouldn't even have a drawing! The Powerhouse has counted on the support of scores of people, virtually all volunteering their time, to help translate the idea into a design, and a design into a Tiny Home with exhibits. 
Once completed, we intend to take the Powerhouse to a score of events and locations around the county to reach Get Your GreenBack's focus audiences: people with limited income, people of color, people living in rural areas, and in general those who don't already identify as environmentalists. We also intend to use the Powerhouse to engage middle and high school students, and provide energy-related education to this segment of the population.




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One Last Thing: Racial Justice and Climate Change

Recent events make clear that we are in the grips of an unholy trinity of crises: the Covid-19 pandemic, the struggle to confront systemic racism, and the ongoing climate emergency. The three do not operate independently of each other, but rather are closely linked, even intertwined. How we address them and their interconnections will determine the future of our nation and the planet.

The pandemic and its racially disproportionate impact, followed by the killing of George Floyd and other shocking instances of police violence, have vividly exposed the longstanding racial injustice that forms the core of the American experience. "Whether it is a global pandemic, climate change, or policy brutality, people of color -- particularly black communities -- are always the first and worst hit, and it must end," says  Alvaro S. Sanchez, the  Environmental Equity Director at The Greenlining Institute in Oakland.

Fighting climate change, in short, means we have to fight racial injustice; they must be addressed together. As activist  Elizabeth Yeampierre contends, "you can't treat one part of the problem without the other, because it's so systemic."

A George Floyd mural in Houston. Photo by Alfred J Fortier licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
The evidence is overwhelming that communities of color are the most threatened by air and water pollution and by Covid-19. 
Recent data from CDC shows that the Covid-19 death rates among African American and Hispanic/Latino people are much higher than for whites in all age categories. In every age category, the black mortality rate is roughly the same as whites more than a decade older. The age-specific death rates for Hispanic/Latino people fall in between.

When it comes to exposure to pollution, the data is not any better. "Sixty-eight per cent of black people live within thirty miles of a coal-fired power plant," notes 
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. in a recent interview with Bill McKibben. "We know that the destruction of Hurricane Maria, Harvey, Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy all had a direct impact not only on marginalized and vulnerable communities but on communities of color, which reinforces that racial justice and climate justice are linked." Yeampierre points specifically to the prevalence of asthma and upper respiratory disease in black communities. In her words, "we've been fighting for the right to breathe for generations."

Just how bad are the disparities? Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington last year compared Americans' exposure to fine particulates to how much pollution their consumption generates. They found that non-Hispanic whites experience 17% less exposure to pollution, on average, than their own consumption causes. In stark contrast, African-Americans are exposed to 56% more pollution than their consumption generates, and the Hispanic/Latino population experiences 63% more. It would be hard to find a more striking illustration of white privilege.

White environmentalists often jump to the conclusion that communities of color are too caught up in their short-term struggle for survival to care about climate change. But, in fact, climate change is not an abstract concept to black and brown people; they are faced with the consequences of climate instability on a near daily basis. As a result, these under-served communities represent what one analyst calls "a well of support for broader action." In fact, a poll conducted a year ago by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that 49% of white respondents expressed "alarm" or "concern" about global warming. The figures for Hispanic/Latino and African-American respondents were 69% and 57%, respectively.

The message is that we have to break out of our silos and build a broad-based, multiracial coalition to fight for both climate and racial justice. We must end the practice of making some communities sacrifice zones, understanding that in the end we all pay a price for this short-sighted approach, and instead build a clean energy economy that benefits all and strengthens the resilience of local communities.

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.