The TCCPI Newsletter
Issue #60: September-October 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. 
County Approves New Chief Sustainability Officer Position
by Peter Bardaglio

The expanded Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature voted on Tuesday, October 27 to create a Chief Sustainability Officer position. The Legislators unanimously approved an amendment to the 2021 budget adding the position.

The County’s Chief Sustainability Officer will lead internal efforts to implement the County’s Energy Strategy, including ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions generated by County facilities and vehicle fleets. The Chief Sustainability Officer will also advise on emerging energy policy in New York State energy and climate policy as well as water resource planning.
Martha Robertson (D-Dryden) serves as chair of the County Legislature's Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee.
Undertaking this work will allow the County Department of Planning and Sustainability to focus more staff time to two priority areas: 1) tracking and advising on emerging policy and regulatory changes in New York State, such as implementation of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, siting for large-scale renewable energy generation and storage facilities, and Public Service Commission proceedings relevant to the County and local municipalities; and 2) developing plans, grants, and programs to better protect water resources in the County.

Legislators Martha Robertson (D-Dryden) and Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) first proposed the amendment to create a Chief Sustainability Officer position in County Administration and led the effort to get it approved.

The amendment passed 13-0, with Legislator Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) excused.
Next TCCPI Meeting
Friday, December 11, 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 pbardaglio@gmail.com.
Cornell Professor Awarded NYSERDA Grant to Investigate
Solar Siting and Land-Use Conflicts
Max Zhang, Cornell Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Photo courtesy of Cornell University.
by Blaine Friedlander, Cornell Chronicle

Solar power will be a key to New York obtaining most of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and having carbon-free electricity by 2040, as mandated by the new climate law. Fulfilling these goals could mean clearing vast swaths of farmland for large-scale solar projects.

Max Zhang, a professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has been are awarded a 2 ½-year, approximately $200,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for work aimed at determining efficient solar farm array configurations to avoid land-use conflicts or spoiling precious agricultural space.
Zhang, also a fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, believes the U.S. is in a period of “rapid energy transition,” from carbon-based to renewable.

"By looking at history, we’ve seen energy transition before,” he said. “A few centuries ago, we used wood, and then coal and later we used oil. So, right now we’re moving away from carbon energy at breakneck speed into green energy. Siting utility-scale solar energy projects throughout New York will become a major challenge that inevitably policymakers must face.”

Before New York’s 2040 target date for obtaining carbon-free electricity is met, state law requires that a minimum of 6 gigawatts of distributed solar energy must be constructed by 2025. This means installing solar arrays of up to seven acres of land per megawatt.

In New York, where can one obtain 42,000 acres of land to absorb solar energy? Future projects may be plotted on farmland, which is flat and easily accessible for construction vehicles.

Zhang’s team will monitor 10 representative solar farm sites throughout New York to examine microclimates, solar radiation, temperature, and soil moisture to see whether agriculture and energy development so-called “argrivoltaics” can coexist.

Studies in the western U.S. have found that photovoltaic site designs can adjust for intensity, spectral distribution, and duration of shading, to achieve optimal power generation without diminishing agricultural output. Similar studies have been extremely rare in the eastern U.S., according to Zhang.

“We want to provide a scientific basis to guide future utility-scale solar development in New York State,” he observed. Zhang hopes to engage policymakers, solar developers, farmers, local officials, and community organizers to effectively disseminate the research findings.

Through collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Zhang and his group will share the findings and ideas on how to promote low-impact solar development.
EcoVillage Ithaca Leads the Way on EV Charging
by Stuart Friedman, Energy Navigator Volunteer
EcoVillage-Ithaca is a 100-residence community on West Hill, established over 20 years ago and home to approximately 220 people. The community was established with a strong environmental commitment and homes in the three neighborhoods reflect some of the best practices in energy conservation that existed at the time of their construction.

Starting a few years ago residents began purchasing electric vehicles, either full electric or plug-in hybrids. Charging was a hit or miss thing with some carports wired with 110V or 220V, some not and some residents with carports and some without. Two years ago we embarked on a program to develop a more robust vehicle charging infrastructure and extended 220V wiring to carports housing 30 vehicles. One immediate consequence was a rapid increase in the number of electric cars; it was a “build it and they will come” moment.
Electric vehicle at EcoVillage Ithaca at EV charger station. Photo by Stuart Friedman.
At about that time I became trained as an Energy Navigator at Cornell Cooperative Extension-Tompkins County and became aware of the NYSERDA “Charge Ready NY” incentive program for the installation of electric vehicle charging equipment aka “chargers” for commercial, governmental, and multi-family housing. Charge Ready NY offers public and private organizations that install Level 2 EV charging stations at public parking facilities, workplaces, and multifamily apartment buildings rebates of $4,000 per charging port they install, a significant savings of 30% to 80%, depending on station and installation costs. Charging stations typically have one or two plugs, or charging ports, per station. Level 2 stations provide up to 25 miles of electric range to cars for each hour they are charging.

We applied and NYSERDA approved the expansion project we had developed for 200 charging ports. There are many good choices for both installers and equipment. Our decision was based on cost, quality, and supplier support. Once NYSERDA made the funding available, we had 180 days to complete the project. Once the installation was completed in the spring of 2020, we provided evidence of the installation and within a few weeks we received the $80,000 rebate. The units we installed allow for remote starting, stopping, and monitoring of the charging as well as allowing the collection of data on volume of electricity used so that we can bill the automobile owner.

There were a few teething problems at the outset, but they have been largely addressed and residents' main request is that we expand the availability. The rebate will help support a further build out of the system.

Any eligible entities interested in pursuing this can get in touch with me; I would be able to orient you to the process and help identify how to proceed.
Take a step to save money and energy!
One Last Thing: No Time Left to Choose How We Go Forward
A recent survey conducted by Washington University in St. Louis found that a majority of voters — 95% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans — acknowledge the existence of evidence for climate change. Not surprisingly, however, Democrats and Republicans differ in how seriously they view the issue and what they believe is causing global warming.
More than 90% of those who support Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden consider climate change as a crisis or major problem and they view human activity as the primary cause. A little less than half of President Donald Trump's supporters see climate change as a crisis or major problem. Even among Trump supporters who believe climate change is real, only half think human activity is mostly to blame for it. Roughly 20% of Trump supporters deny the existence of climate change and insist that environmentalists are deliberately misleading the public.
The crucial point, of course, is that the science is clear and non-negotiable: there is little to no cushion remaining. This is it. We've moved too slowly on climate action, we've done far too little for too long, and we need to make an immediate and sharp transition. As Bill McKibben put it in his latest column for the New Yorker, "We think we always have time and space to change, but in this case we do not." The next four years are critical, and November 3rd is our last best opportunity to avoid catastrophic climate chaos.
Evidence that the climate crisis has arrived is not hard to find. Among other extreme weather events in the last few days, Hurricane Zeta became the fifth named storm to hit Louisiana, the most ever in the state's history. We actually ran through the English alphabet this season and are now deep into the Greek alphabet. There's another tropical system forming in the Caribbean Sea this weekend and it has an excellent shot next week at becoming the 28th named storm this year, an unprecedented event. Never before has there been a tropical storm or hurricane named Eta, the next letter in the Greek alphabet after zeta, but we may see one next week.

It just so happens that the lower case form of eta (η) is the symbol in economics for elasticity, a way to measure the responsiveness of one variable to changes in another variable. In economics, a product is said to be elastic when a change in price has a significant effect on demand. Elasticity in climate politics has a similar dynamic: a change in administrations and their policies will have an outsized impact on the stability of our climate.

It seems all too appropriate that a storm named Eta could appear in the same week as the U.S. election, given the high stakes in play. It will be a vivid illustration of the sensitivity of one variable to another and what happens when that sensitivity manifests itself in the political arena. In the end, though, we must keep in mind that the outcome is not a matter of fate or destiny, it is a question of choice — how will we decide to go forward?

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