The TCCPI Newsletter
Issue #61: November-December 2020
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. 
NY’s $226 Billion Retirement Fund to Pull Out of Fossil Fuels
by Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
The New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third-largest public pension fund in the U.S., will complete a systematic review of its fossil fuel holdings, and may withdraw investment from the “riskiest” companies, by 2025. Tom DiNapoli, the state’s comptroller and sole trustee of the currently $226 billion fund, announced the ambitious plan on December 9, further committing to transitioning the entire fund to a net-zero emissions portfolio by 2040.

Though DiNapoli did not promise blanket divestment from fossil fuels, advocates of divestment celebrated the news wholeheartedly. “Victory is ours!” State Assembly Assistant Speaker Félix Ortiz said in a statement. “Years of tireless legislative and grassroots advocacy have brought about impactful change.”
NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced the move to review NYS pension fund investments in fossil fuels on December 9. Photo courtesy of NY State Controller's Office.
The review of fossil fuel holdings builds on the fund’s climate action plan, which DiNapoli described earlier this year in an op-ed in the Times Union. Rather than indiscriminately pull the fund’s money out of any company involved in fossil fuel energy, DiNapoli is assessing whether each company faces risks from climate change that could threaten the fund’s investments. That includes evaluating their “transition risk,” or how prepared they are for the transition to a low-carbon economy. In other words, will any of these fossil fuel companies survive in a world without fossil fuels? The fund has between $5 and $12 billion invested in fossil fuels, according to various estimates, including more than $1 billion in Exxon.

The DivestNY Coalition, which is made up of more than 40 grassroots organizations from across the state and has been pushing New York’s pension fund to divest from fossil fuels since after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City in 2012, called it “a groundbreaking, systematic approach,” and the “most comprehensive program of any large public fund worldwide to divest from fossil fuels.”

The announcement comes after pressure on DiNapoli from grassroots organizations had been mounting for years, and boiling over into the state legislature. A bill called the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, which would have required DiNapoli to divest the state’s pension fund from coal, oil, and gas producers, was gaining traction. Various versions of the same bill have been introduced in almost every legislative session since 2015. DivestNY has been working to bring more sponsors onto the bill, and the most recent count shows 100 state representatives (out of 213 total) supported it, with 32 sponsors in the Senate and 68 in the Assembly.
Next TCCPI Meeting
Friday, January 29, 2021
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 pbardaglio@gmail.com.
Environmental Groups Secure Major Climate Concessions in NYSEG/RG&E Gas Rate Case
Photo by Russ Allison Loar licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) on November 19 approved a precedent-setting agreement hammered out between grassroots environmental groups, the NYSEG and RG&E utilities, and energy regulators to stop growing gas sales and turn toward renewable heating alternatives, while keeping gas rate increases low. The PSC also agreed with grassroots environmentalists and consumer advocates that the utilities’ proposed electric rate increases were too high and ruled to reduce them to 2% per year or less.

The state’s energy regulatory body took a proposal negotiated by parties to the NYSEG/RG&E rate cases and further modified it to reduce electric rates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis. The Commissioners’ actions today were more in line with what environmental parties had called for: approval of the landmark gas settlement and a repudiation of dramatic rate increases on the electric side.
The gas agreement, termed “a model for future rate cases” by regulators includes a slate of gas reduction strategies, retraction of $128 million for gas infrastructure including pipelines, and funding of $1.5 million for renewable heating systems for low-income residents on top of the utilities’ other incentives for renewable heating and energy efficiency. Importantly, as part of the agreement, NYSEG and RG&E also committed to planning for no gas growth (offsetting new gas customers with heat pumps and efficiency), to stop marketing gas, and to seek alternatives to nearly all new gas investments.

After winning these concessions in the gas case, environmental groups joined with consumer advocates to fight the proposal to raise electric rates by double digit percentages. Today the Commission sided with environmentalists and consumer groups and in a rare move, modified the agreement to bring down those rate increases 2% or less per year. The mitigation of the rate increases was achieved by deferring some collections for costs to the future, which, without further action by the Commission could create a negative impact on ratepayers in the future.

“This decision demonstrates the importance of public engagement in the ratemaking process. We appreciate that the Commission took our concerns about protecting the environment and reducing the rate impacts to heart,” said Irene Weiser, coordinator of Fossil Free Tompkins. “We will need further actions by the Commission within the COVID and gas planning proceedings to make additional advancements on both these fronts.”

“We celebrate the efforts of all the groups that worked together to achieve these precedent-setting concessions,” said Jessica Azulay, Executive Director of Alliance for a Green Economy. “Most of the organizations who worked together to win this agreement had never been involved in a rate case before, but together we successfully went toe-to-toe with a multi-billion-dollar multinational corporation to advance our renewable energy transition.”

“At public hearings and in written comments, both low and moderate income ratepayers and energy activists called for NYSEG, RG&E, and the state to prioritize expenditures to address climate change, end investment in fossil fuels, reject the high level of proposed profit if the companies didn’t achieve clean energy goals, and keep costs low for low and moderate income consumers,” according to Carol Chock, president of Ratepayer and Community Intervenors, whose group tallied over 1,000 of the comments to the Public Service Commission.

Recent reports filed by NYSEG and RG&E show that tens of thousands of their customers are behind on their energy bills. As of October, 61,135 RG&E customers were 60 days or more behind on their energy bills, collectively owing $46 million. For NYSEG, 93,751 customers are behind, owing $40 million.

”The Commission took an important short-term step today to stave off major rate increases in this case, but much of the decision puts off costs into the future for investments made today, which will contribute to increases in the future," said Adam Flint, Director of Clean Energy Programs for the Network for a Sustainable Tomorrow.

Brian Eden, Board Chair of HeatSmart Tompkins, observed that a reliable grid is critical to the replacement of fossil fuel-based energy systems with highly efficient electrical heat pumps. “The Order provides far too little investment in correcting years of deferred maintenance on the substations, distribution lines, and full cycle vegetation management needed to maintain system reliability while approving the discretionary initiation of an expensive AMI infrastructure program,” he contended.

-Press Release from participating environmental groups
Replace Windows for Energy Savings? It’s Not That Simple
by Phil Cherry, Community Energy Advisor for Smart Energy Choices
When you ask someone what energy improvement they want to make in their home the answer you often hear is “Windows!” People want replacement windows because they often look nicer, work better than the old ones they want to replace, and because they think they can save energy on new windows. 

You will save energy on new windows, but the problem is they don’t always pay for themselves in energy savings over the life of the window (usually about 30 years). These windows may look nicer, and open easier, and maybe even be less challenging to clean, but don’t replace your windows just because you think you’ll save money on energy costs in the short term. In some cases you won’t realize a cost savings for decades. 

Let’s look at the numbers. When we talk about energy efficiency improvements, we use what’s called an SIR – or “savings to investment” ratio.
Illustration by Sheri Guo, GYGB Intern. Courtesy of Get Your GreenBack.
The SIR is calculated by dividing the expected savings from an energy improvement measure (windows, lighting retrofits, insulation, appliance swaps, etc.) by the cost of the measure itself. The savings are calculated over the life of the measure, so if a window has a 30 year life and the savings from replacing that window is $5 per year, over the life of the window, the savings is $150. If that same window costs $200, the SIR is only 0.75 ($150/$200 = 0.75). Any SIR less than 1.0 is generally not regarded as a worthwhile energy savings investment, as the energy savings do not cover its cost.

Still, you may want to put in a window for other reasons. The above assumes that the window you are replacing is intact and functioning properly. That’s not always the case and many times windows need to be replaced because they are literally falling apart, regardless of the SIR. Imagine a window with a missing or broken pane, or one where the sill is rotten and barely holding the panes. There are times when windows just need to be replaced, and the energy savings is an added benefit.

The other way to look at windows is by their ability to prevent heat loss. Today's windows are technologically advanced combinations of multiple panes and specialty gas enclosures that prevent the transfer of heat through the window assembly as a whole. There are some excellent energy saving windows on the market today and window science has come a long way. There are now triple and quadruple paned windows with special filters, spacers, and films that can greatly enhance the performance and energy savings potential of your home. However, these new technologies can be expensive, so be sure to consider the SIR of your purchase plans in order to make an informed decision.

Instead of replacing windows, you may consider caulking around the window frame, both on the inside and outside of your home, or installing a storm window. You can use weather stripping foam or v-strips to seal up any air leaks. If you have old windows with pulley systems that don’t work well, you may be able to get them refurbished at a lower cost than new windows, and you’ll preserve the beauty of the original windows and all the energy that went into making them. You can also purchase insulating curtains or blinds that are designed to keep the heat inside the home.

Note: This piece originally appeared in the Get Your GreenBack Tompkins blog.
Take a step to save money and energy!
One Last Thing: Climate Change is a Public Health Crisis
As 2020 mercifully comes to a close, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage out of control, with nearly 20 million cases and over 344,000 deaths in the U.S. alone since the beginning of the year. According to the New York Times, at least 3,800 Americans died yesterday from the coronavirus. Certainly, the development of several effective vaccines in record time is a bright spot in an otherwise dismal picture, but even there logistical challenges have led to a much slower roll out than originally projected. 
Given these horrific circumstances, we are understandably preoccupied with this historic outbreak, but it shouldn’t blind us to the other looming public health threat: the climate emergency. The Lancet, one of the world’s preeminent research medical journals, published a comprehensive study earlier this month focusing on public health data from 2019, warning that heat waves, air pollution, and extreme weather events are inflicting increasing damage on human health. In particular, the links between death, disease, and burning fossil fuels couldn’t be clearer.
"Many carbon-intensive practices and policies lead to poor air quality, poor food quality, and poor housing quality, which disproportionately harm the health of disadvantaged populations," wrote the dozens of physicians and public health experts from around the world who authored the report.
Among the deadliest effects of global warming are the longer, more intense heat waves now taking place across the planet. As with coronavirus, older people are most at risk. In the past 20 years, the number of people over 65 who have died as a result of extreme heat has increased more than 50 percent. At least 296,000 people died from the heat in 2018, the most recent year for which global data are available, and almost 20,000 older Americans died from heat waves last year.

Furthermore, the Lancet report notes that climate change is a threat to critical public health resources such as hospitals, primary care facilities, and emergency services. Two thirds of the more than 800 cities contacted by researchers said they expect climate change to "seriously compromise public health infrastructure.” With this infrastructure already near the breaking point due to the pandemic, we are obviously in a perilous situation. If nothing else, the past year has underscored how ill-equipped the public health system is to manage major, long-running disasters, even in developed nations such as the U.S., Britain, and Italy.

In another investigation released this month, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Trust for America’s Health conclude that most U.S. states aren’t properly prepared to protect their residents’ health from climate change. Perhaps of deepest concern is the study’s observation that some of the states most vulnerable to climate-related health harms are the least prepared to handle them. Even the states best prepared to deal with these threats, such as Utah, Maryland, Vermont, Virginia, and Colorado, still have plenty of work to do.

The analysis identified three areas of public health readiness that require the most attention:
  • Prehospital care provided by emergency medical services.
  • Mental and behavioral healthcare, including access to social service networks and substance abuse treatment.
  • Social capital and cohesion, the degree to which residents are connected to one another and to local organizations and governments.

Again, the current pandemic has exposed an alarming degree of weakness in all three areas, so these findings should come as little surprise. As the NRDC contends in its summary, given the recent rate of climate change, “we need more progress at the state level—and fast.”

What can we do? Among the report’s recommendations are:
  • More effective federal leadership in developing a national climate and health strategy.
  • Investing in research, training, and public health infrastructure at the state and federal levels.
  • Addressing racial, socioeconomic, and other health inequities that are the root of many climate vulnerabilities.
  • Ensuring community members have a leading role in planning so that those most at risk are at the table.

All of the above suggests that strengthening the public health system should be the top priority for 2021. As we move forward to repair this system, we should keep in mind how the interrelated dynamics of economic inequality, racial injustice, and a broken social contract have all contributed to the deep hole in which we find ourselves at the start of a new year. Only if we do so will we make lasting progress.

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.
309 N. Aurora St.,
Ithaca, NY 14850
207-229-6183