Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

September-October 2017

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Welcome to the September-October 2017 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an electronic update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).

Photo by Jo Jimny 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. 
Tompkins IDA Approves Tax Incentive for Community Solar Farms
by Sarah Mearhoff, Ithaca Journal

In a move it says will support incoming businesses, consumer choice, and environmental conservation efforts, the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency has passed a policy to provide tax incentives for off-site solar projects in the county.

Heather McDaniel, TCIDA vice president and director of economic development, said the policy, approved on October 12, "essentially establishes how much in property taxes a community solar farm will pay for a period of 20 years."

Heather McDaniel, Tompkins IDA vice president. Photo courtesy of TCAD. 

By doing so, McDaniel said, solar project developers are assured exactly how many tax dollars they will be responsible for paying for the next two decades. And with annual Payment in Lieu of Taxes incentives, as well as sales and mortgage recording tax exemptions, developing property in the county will be more affordable for developers, McDaniel said.

New York State approved community solar farms in July 2015. But by the end of 2016, McDaniel said only one solar farm in the state cropped up in the town of Ulysses. That's when TCIDA decided to step in.

"We started talking to solar developers, and they really couldn't make the financials work," McDaniel said. "One of the real sticking pints in New York state was the way that [solar farms] were going to be assessed for property taxes. The assessments were too prohibitive to make the financials work."  And so the TCIDA Off-Site Commercial Solar Photovoltaic Policy was born.

According to the policy, community distributed solar projects and off-site projects that have a wholesale power purchase agreement will be eligible for up to $4,800-per-megawatt PILOT, which will increase by 2 percent each year. Costs related to the projects will also be exempt from state and local sales taxes, and from New York's share of mortgage recording tax.

McDaniel said a major contributing factor to the agency's decision to pass the policy was the potential environmental benefits of supporting solar energy in the region.

As written in TCIDA's policy, one of its six purposes is to "support Tompkins County's energy and greenhouse gas emission policy to 'meet community needs without contributing additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.'"

Part of Tompkins County's  Comprehensive Plan of 2015, the county has established a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at least 80 percent from levels in 2008. According to the plan, the county also aims to reduce use of fossil fuels and promote the use of local and regional renewable resources.

By promoting solar energy, TCIDA's tax incentive also supports New York State's " Reforming Energy Initiative," which set statewide goals to generate 50 percent of New York's electricity via renewable energy by 2030, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, October 27, 2017
9 to 11 am
Tompkins County Public Library
Borg Warner Conference Room
101 E. Green St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Civic Ensemble to Explore "Climates of Change"
by Sarah Chalmers, Director of Civic Ensemble

Civic Ensemble is collaborating with Cornell University's Department of Performing and Media Arts and CALS Climatologist Toby Ault, to create an original play about climate change using first person narratives, scientific research and data, and media reports. The play will take the form of a Living Newspaper, used during the days of the Federal Theatre Project.
Climates of Change cast in rehearsal exploring a story about wind energy. Photo courtesy of Civic Ensemble.

Civic Ensemble creates theatre that explores current social, political, and cultural issues. It brings together audiences of different races, classes, and experiences in a public forum.

Over the past month Civic Ensemble has organized Story Circles related to climate change throughout the area with community members, students, scientists, and artists. A Story Circle is an opportunity to share stories, what individuals have personally experienced in their home, work, and elsewhere. 

These stories will become part of the play, "Climates of Change," featuring both students and community members, that will performed in December. This original work will be the culmination of the Theatre and Social Change course offered at Cornell University this semester, co-taught by Civic Ensemble and CU's Department of Performing and Media Arts, in collaboration with Cornell Climatologist Toby Ault, funded by Engaged Cornell.

"Climates of Change"
Co-directed by Sarah K. Chalmers &  Godfrey L. Simmons

December 1 & 2, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Film Forum
Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts
Cornell University

More information available soon at
Solar Power Cheaper Than Your Electric Bill!
by Karim Beers, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

Gail Neely has lived in Tompkins County most of her adult life, since she moved to Ithaca from North Carolina in 1989. She left the area briefly, but her love for Tompkins pulled her back. "I believe that home is where the heart resides--where it endures and where it flourishes," Gail said. "And for me that is right here in Tompkins County." So a few years ago she settled down in her current home in Newfield. 

Although she was interested in going solar to contribute her own "little bit toward the collective goal of moving the world away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy," she initially thought solar would be beyond her budget. But when she learned about the Go Solar Tompkins program, she decided to give it a try. Gail is now powering her home with panels installed in August by local contractor Renovus Energy, and paying less a month on her loan than she was on her electrical bill.

Gail Neely with her solar system in her front yard. Photo courtesy of GYGB.
Gail got a 5.44 kW system, mounted on a frame in her front yard, which will produce approximately 6,000 kWh of electricity a year. While a ground-mounted system was a little more expensive than one mounted on her roof, Gail liked not disturbing the roof. The total cost of the 16-panel system, which includes software to monitor her electricity production and use online, was $15,971. This works out to be a little over $2.93 per watt of solar capacity, about $.20 more than the baseline cost for rooftop panels. 

Gail, however, only ended up paying $5,229--less than a third--as she hit the solar-incentive jackpot. In addition to the federal and state-level incentives, she also qualified for  Affordable Solar , a New York incentive to help with the cost of installation for low-to-moderate household income levels.  Of the final $5,229, Gail decided to pay $1,000 at signing, and financed the other $4,229 with a special 4.9% solar loan from Alternatives Federal Credit Union, with monthly payments of about $46 over 10 years. 

How does that compare to her electrical bill? Recall that she will be generating 6,000 kWh a year or roughly 500 kWh a month. At current electricity prices of about 10.5 cents a kWh, that is $52.5 a month, over $6 more than what Gail is paying the bank for her solar panels. Even had Gail financed the full $5,229 she would be paying $55 a month for 10 years, slightly over the cost of electricity; financed over 15 years, payments would be $41 a month, significantly under the cost of electricity. Either way, the panels are guaranteed for 25 years, and will likely last longer than that. She will save big in the long run, and pay nothing extra now. 

Gail will be able to keep any excess power that her system generates as a credit that rolls over year-to-year, and she can use it for any future household projects or upgrades that would require more energy. "I am extremely happy about that," she said, "It makes what has been a long road to solar for me very worthwhile in the end." 

Want to go solar? Get some quotes from our local contractors, which can be found on our  solar resource page . And get help with our  free energy advising .




Take a step to save money and energy!








One Last Thing: A Season of Havoc

It has been a season of havoc in the western hemisphere, with biblical winds, water, and fire sweeping across the land. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have pounded the Gulf coast and the Caribbean, driving millions of people from their homes and making entire islands uninhabitable. A firestorm has ripped through wine country in northern California, killing dozens of people and flipping cars over with the force of winds generated by the heat. Forests have erupted in flames in Washington, Orego n, Idaho, and Montana, blocking out the sun for hundreds of miles.

"We are in the unsustainable future," disaster-preparedness expert Kathleen Tierney recently observed. "Now that the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico have heated up so much, there are going to be more of these big storms and there are going to be more fires."

The post-apocalyptic scene in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Photo by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture licensed under the Creative Commons.

That's our new reality. But in Washington, D.C., the Trump administration is hard at work, seeking to erase all evidence that the federal government acknowledges this new reality. The now inconveniently named Environmental Protection Agency has removed resources to address climate change from its web site. Last week it  canceled the speaking appearance of three agency scientists who were scheduled to discuss climate change at a conference on in Rhode Island. Perhaps most outrageous, it just released a draft of its four-year strategic plan that contains no mention of climate change or greenhouse gas emissions. The list of such inexcusable actions grows longer with every passing day as other federal agencies carry out similar purges.

And the world wonders if we have lost our minds. In late September I attended an international conference on "The U.S. and the World We Inhabit" in Milan, where I had been invited to deliver a keynote on climate activism in the U.S. The main theme of my talk was simple: don't give up on us; there are lots of Americans pushing back against the effort to dismiss climate change as "fake news." At one point, I remarked somewhat sarcastically that I doubted Italy had had to mount a "March for Science." Amidst the laughter a hand went up. "Oh, but we did have a march," the professor said. "It was for America."

With this remark came a shared but unspoken understanding: the U.S. has relinquished leadership of the biggest and most important challenge of our time, the transition to a low-carbon economy. How did we get to this point? How is it that the U.S., which for decades led the world in scientific and technological achievement, has become an object of pity rather than a source of inspiration? It was both an embarrassing and infuriating moment, and it left me with plenty to ponder on the flight back home. 

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.