Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

Issue #54: September-October 2019

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HeatSmart Addresses Lansing Gas Moratorium

Autumn Ducks

Welcome to the September-October 2019 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. 
Ithaca Common Council Debates Budget for Green New Deal
by Edwin J. Viera,  Ithaca Times

At the City of Ithaca Common Council's second budget meeting on October 23, the City's Planning Department presented on their request to make a planner position full-time instead of 35 hours per week and adding new positions to work on the Green New Deal. 

The request came after several students and members of the Ithaca Sunrise Movement came to a previous meeting to speak in support of doubling the number of full-time staffers dedicated to working on the ambitious environmental plan, from 1.5 to three.

Public speakers contended there should be three new positions established this year to implement the Green New Deal, saying leaving the work to one person is unrealistic. Currently, the city shares the salary of Nick Goldsmith, sustainability coordinator for the City and Town of Ithaca, who has been leading the Green Building Code charge over the last two years.  

Sunrise Ithaca members have been pushing Common Council for greater funding to implement the City's Green New Deal. Photo by Casey Martin, Tompkins Weekly.
Several council members were skeptical of the measures outlined by the Planning Department. Alderperson Donna Fleming argued that it would be impractical to hire a new staff person and pay a consultant to tell us what to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, she said money could go to implementing obvious strategies such as purchasing electric vehicles and repairing old HVAC systems. Others felt there is no need to hire three staffers, instead saying that 1.5 should be enough for the workload. While frustrating, the conversation didn't come as much of a surprise to JoAnn Cornish, director of the Planning Department, though she expected the council members to understand the need for resource allocation. 

"Balancing all of the City's budget requests is very difficult with the limited funding we have to run our operation," Cornish said. "As a department head, I know we do not have the bandwidth in our department to take on three new full-time employees. I was however very surprised at some Council members' reluctance to fund just one (and 1/2) positions. I think they were just realizing that by adopting the resolution for the Green New Deal it meant actually committing resources to realize the goals established in the resolution."

Cornish noted that during previous meetings about the Green New Deal, community members have spoken about working with the city to help Ithaca achieve its climate goals. Fifth Ward Alderperson Laura Lewis proposed having two positions start when the budget goes into effect in 2020 and hiring a part-time Green New Deal staffer to start around March. George McGonigal, representative for the city's First Ward supported Fleming's comments, citing a lack of clarity regarding the duties of the positions. 

Since the meeting, Fleming and McGonigal and other members of Common Council have softened their positions and are now more amenable to increasing Planning Department staff in light of the city's Green New Deal after speaking with Mike Thorne, the Department of Public Works superintendent.

Cornish is aware that allowing community members to volunteer on this effort would require significant facilitation from staff. Cornish further stated she is concerned with the excitement and momentum of the movement will be lost if Common Council doesn't show its commitment through support and funding to get the Green New Deal going. Goldsmith echoed Cornish's sentiments and spoke to some of the challenges Green New Deal staffers will face.

"We have a lot of Green New Deal work planned for 2020, and I think it will be extremely challenging to complete it with 1.5 full-time staff members," Goldsmith said. "This early work is in some ways the most important. We have 11 short years to reach carbon neutrality, so the sooner we can have a plan in place for how to do that, the better."
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, December 13, 2019
9 to 11 am
Tompkins County Public Library
Borg Warner Conference Room
101 E. Green St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Climate Change Poses Challenges for Finger Lakes Wineries
by Dave Sit, Ithaca Times

There is no mistaking that our planet is warming at an alarming rate. But while global warming generates a lot of headlines, its manifestations are more complex and nuanced. It affects different parts of the world differently; in fine wine producing regions, where the finicky vinifera grape varieties are grown, its impact could be especially grave.

In Napa and Sonoma, where droughts are almost an annual occurrence, climate change will make the area even hotter and drier. Or as one Napa vintner says, "We are becoming Central Valley." It's no wonder that many Californian wineries have been investing in vineyards in Oregon and Washington for over two decades now.
One of many vineyards overlooking Seneca Lake. Photo by Logan Ingalls licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Suzanne Hunt, the president of Hunt Green LLC and a member of the Hunt Country Wines family that has been farming the west side of Keuka Lake for seven generations, notes, "We are all very concerned about climate change. The last four years had been very dramatic." She adds, "Usually there'll be a big weather event and you'll have a few years to recover. Now we have two every year, more flooding, then a drought, polar vortex. And we now have Japanese beetle, stink bug, and maybe spotted lanternfly, and this new horrible fruit fly that is attacking healthy fruit. It's really daunting."

New Challenges

Among wine drinkers, there's an intense interest in how climate change will affect wine, especially rieslings, which the Finger Lakes are particularly well known for.

The Finger Lakes area is getting warmer. But what does that really mean? Art DeGaetano, a climatologist at Cornell explains, "First of all, we are going to see steadily increasing temperatures, at night and during the day." But the increase is not uniform. DeGaetano said, "In recent years, the trend is that there has been more warming at night than in the day, and more in the winter than the summer."

Humidity in the Finger Lakes will also rise in step with higher temperatures, as warmer air can hold more water vapor than cooler air.  Our winters have generally become warmer. But our milder winters are still being punctuated by the extremely cold polar vortex periodically. While the mean temperature has risen by a degree or so, the temperature swings are becoming more pronounced.

Climate change brings a new set of problems and disruptions to the annual life cycle of wine grapes. Grape ripening, for example, has always been a challenge in the Finger Lakes. If grapevines bud break earlier, wouldn't that provide a longer growing season and result in riper grapes? The short answer is yes, but early bud break carries a huge risk: exposure to potential spring frost and hail damage. Once the tender green shoots appear from the buds, they become vulnerable to the cold if the thermometer dips below zero degrees. The combination of early bud break and extreme weather exposes the budding vine to a longer period of potential frost and hail danger.

High temperatures in the summer, especially when accompanied by a hot sun, could scorch or even split the berries. Hotter and drier weather generate more opportunities for heat stress, which affects flowering, berry growth, accumulation of sugar and ripening.

Large rain events are also a significant problem. In the Finger Lakes, shale and clay are commonplace, resulting in slow-draining soils. Some growers installed drain tiles when they planted their vineyards, but many did not. Even with drainage, soil erosion ensues when inches of rain fall within a short time. The loss of topsoil affects the vigor of grapevines, reduce available nutrients and potentially alter the pH of the soil, factors that lower the quality of the wine.

Besides these issues, invasive species, fungal diseases, and bacterial and viral infections all pose serious problems. The traditional cold winter and cool summer night-time temperatures in the Finger Lakes have kept many of these diseases and vectors in check. With climate change, growers will have to deal with more disease pressures in the future.

The Bottom Line

Compared to other wine producing regions in America, warming has not been as severe. The Finger Lakes is still a cool-climate wine region, so there is more headroom to accommodate warmer climes than other areas. The historical vintage-to-vintage volatility has also made Finger Lakes growers accustomed to dealing with erratic weather better.

Over time, a bevy of new varieties will become suitable for a milder Finger Lakes region. This presents new opportunities for growers in producing wines that are heretofore not possible. So, there might be a renaissance of red wines in the Finger Lakes. The consensus abour reislings is that they will survive, at least for a few more decades. The riesling grape has the versatility to make good wine under a wide range of growing conditions. But that bracing, vibrant acidity that is the signature of our rieslings will fade as warmer nighttime temperatures robs the grapes of some of their acidity. Inversely, the wine will become riper and perhaps more complex and balanced. Ultimately, there will be a new style of Finger Lakes rieslings to go with our new climate.
Not Just for Homeowners: Renters, Too, Reap Rewards from Efficiency
by Maggie McAden, Communications Intern,
  Get Your GreenBack Tompkins

Energy-efficiency work is a great way for homeowners to save money and energy while increasing the comfort of their home, and there are a number of incentive programs to help them pay for the work. But what about the close to half the residents-45.5%-who rent in Tompkins County?

In the past, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins has documented community members cutting their energy bills in half, receiving energy-efficient appliances and lighting, and insulating their homes for free or at a reduced cost. This work is thanks to federal and state-funded programs that help subsidize energy work. In this article, we share two separate stories of a tenant and a landlord who took advantage of these programs to help improve the efficiency, comfort, and safety of their homes. 

Aislyn Colgan and Harry Pruyne with their children Emerald and Padrick. Photo courtesy Sustainable Tompkins.
A Tenant's Story of a Warmer Home

Aislyn Colgan, an Energy Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, said she began the process of getting work done on her home by getting an energy audit done by local contractor Snug Planet

Aislyn and her family participated in the EmPower New York program, which provides energy efficiency solutions to income-eligible New Yorkers. Assistance can include energy-efficient lighting, attic and wall insulation, replacements of inefficient appliances and water-saving showerheads.

"They came and did a full audit of the house, and the person ... was super awesome," Aislyn said. "She brought my daughter around with her to show her all the stuff she was doing. She did a lot of education just as part of that audit, and then wrote up a plan that was basically like, 'This is what we would do for your house.'"

The report outlined insulating the walls, sealing the attic and adding an air-sealing hatch, and adding spray foam to the basement and attic. 

When applying for EmPower - which is based on the tenant's income - Aislyn said Snug Planet walked her through the entire process.  After completing the paperwork with her landlord, Aislyn said she worked with Snug Planet to determine what portion of the work would be covered by Empower. She said that to cover the rest of it, she applied for and received a grant from the Finger Lakes Climate Fund .

Snug Planet then came to her home and used spray foam to insulate her basement and crawl spaces and seal her attic hatch. She said they also added wire mesh to the basement to help address a rodent problem.  Aislyn said she noticed that her home was warmer and more comfortable after getting the work done. 

"I did notice a difference in the wintertime," she said. "We did have a couple of super cold days. I mostly noticed it with the thermostat settings. It would be at 64°, and I'd be like, 'Oh really? It's only at 64°?' I feel like it would have been much higher."

Aislyn noted that this kind of work is advantageous for both tenants and landlords.

"For the landlord, it is a bonus to their offering to say it had some of the leaky drafts sealed, or that you can get a lower energy bill renting there," Aislyn said. "And so it's kind of a win-win. Especially for the landlord - there's no out of pocket costs for them."

Aislyn is currently working with Tompkins Community Action to determine if she can receive assistance for wall insulation under the Weatherization Assistance Program.




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One Last Thing: Up in Flames or Fired Up?

The climate news, to say the least, has not been good this autumn. In particular, the  fires sweeping across California have captured the headlines. Driven by the Santa Ana winds, they have taken on near biblical proportions. The largest of these conflagrations, the Kincade fire in Sonoma, has consumed almost 77,000 acres as of this Halloween evening and it is still only 45 percent contained. Pacific Gas & Electric has shut off power to millions of people in an effort to prevent new blazes, which continue to flare up around the state.

The Kincade fire in northern California.
Although an eight-year drought ended in March, the seasonal rains have been late this fall and the fierce winds, which usually arrive after the rains begin, have dried out the land, turning California into a tinder box. Under these conditions, the slightest spark can ignite a raging wild fire at a moment's notice.

Not surprisingly, the changing climate has been a significant factor. As one climate scientist notes, " everything that's occurring today is about 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it would have been if the same Santa Ana wind event were happening 100 years ago." The combination of a multi-year drought and historically hotter summers is bad enough, but throw in 60-70 mile per hour winds and you have an obvious recipe for a horror show worse than any Halloween trickster could possibly conjure up.

To put it bluntly, the California fires demonstrate how unprepared we are for the climate emergency we have set in motion as a result of our profligate consumption of fossil fuels. As Russell Brandom writes, "The slow-moving nature of the climate crisis means that, under even the best scenarios, these fires will keep growing for the next 40 years. The longer we keep going this way, the more powerful they'll get."  It's this gradual unfolding of the climate catastrophe that is the crux of the problem. Our institutions, especially our political system, are designed to respond to sudden threats, not ones that take generations to emerge.

If you are a member of the young generation whose future is most at stake, however, then your perspective shifts dramatically. What you see is the disaster, not the gathering accumulation of forces that has led to its outbreak. Many of us who are older have become numb to the growing crisis and have, to one degree or another, become resigned to the situation or are unwilling to make the tradeoffs required to meet the challenge.

It is for this very reason that the Sunrise movement is fired up and demanding to be heard, in Ithaca and across the country. The young members of this movement have made clear that if the current political leaders do not rise to the challenge, then they will be held accountable. It is a development worth keeping in mind as the Ithaca Common Council considers the budget for the city's Green New Deal.

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.