Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

January-February 2016

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 Clean Energy Business Competition Announced



Welcome to the January-February 2016 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an electronic update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).
Photo by Wrexie Bardaglio.
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. 

New Solar Project for Ithaca College to Meet 10 Percent of Campus Electricity Needs

Construction is underway on a 2.9 megawatt (MW) solar electric project for Ithaca College that will provide enough electricity to meet approximately 10 percent of the campus's energy needs. Not only will the project produce clean, renewable energy for the college, it will lower its energy costs and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The project, which is expected to be completed by summer, will feature a solar array of more than 9,000 panels on 15 acres of land in the Town of Seneca, Ontario County, approximately 40 miles from campus. The solar installation will generate the equivalent of powering 500 average-sized homes and the solar panels will offset 888 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents annually, which is comparable to taking 187 cars off the road.
Ithaca College's new 2.9 MW solar project is set to be completed by summer.

"This is a significant milestone in the history of Ithaca College, and in our commitment to sustainability," said President Tom Rochon. "We are proud to be making this tremendous leap forward in environmental stewardship on behalf of our students, faculty, staff and alumni as well as the wider community in which we all live."

The project received funding through New York State's $1 billion NY-Sun initiative, which is designed to build a self-sustaining solar industry in New York and help to achieve strategic energy goals under the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) and the Clean Energy Standard. This standard requires that 50 percent of electricity generated in New York come from renewable sources by 2030

"Increasing the use of solar energy is a critical component of Governor Cuomo's Reforming the Energy vision, and through our NY-Sun initiative, the State has achieved unprecedented solar growth," said Richard Kauffman, Chair of Energy and Finance for New York State. "I applaud the efforts of Ithaca College, along with those of residents, businesses and organizations across New York, whose solar projects help us achieve our aggressive renewable energy goals, combat climate change and build a clean energy economy."

Partners involved in this project include Borrego Solar Systems, Inc., Greenwood Energy, and OneEnergy Renewables.

In 2007, then-President of Ithaca College Peggy R. Williams signed the American College and University President's Climate Commitment, pledging that the college would develop a strategy and long-range plan to achieve carbon neutrality. In the fall of 2009, the Ithaca College Board of Trustees approved the Climate Action Plan, setting that strategy into motion and committing the college to becoming 100 percent carbon neutral by 2050.

"This solar power purchase agreement will reduce the college's greenhouse gas emissions by three percent compared to the baseline year of 2007, completing one of the objectives listed in the Climate Action Plan," said Gerald Hector, Ithaca College vice president for finance and administration. "We are also excited by the educational opportunities the project will provide, since the system will be available for student and faculty research purposes."
Tompkins County and City of Ithaca Launch Energize NY Finance Program

Tompkins County Legislature Chair Michael Lane and City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick joined with local government and business leaders in early January to officially launch the Energize NY Finance program, designed to help commercial and non-profit building owners reduce their operating costs and increase the value of their buildings through clean energy improvements. 

Energize NY provides building owners with critical support, tools and low-cost, long-term financing for energy efficiency, and renewable energy projects that cut energy consumption, save money, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"The Energize NY Finance program is a perfect fit for a community, like ours, that is committed to both economic growth and meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," said County Legislature Chair Lane. "Energize NY is an important bridge between our aspirations of much lower greenhouse gas emissions and the concrete steps needed to achieve that vision." 

Michael Lane (Tompkins County Chair of Legislature), Kelly Tyler (NYSERDA Local Communities and Governments), Svante Myrick (Mayor of Ithaca), Joseph Del Sindaco (PACE Advisor to Energize NY).
Energize NY services are immediately available to help building owners in Tompkins County to make clean-energy improvements. Improvements include a range of energy efficiency measures, including lighting, insulation and air sealing, heating and cooling systems, smart controls, energy storage and combined heat and power, as well as renewable energy installations such as solar PV, wind, biomass, and geothermal. 

Clean energy projects make financial sense for most buildings, including commercial, industrial, retail, mixed use, private schools and colleges, agricultural facilities, houses of worship, multi-family, and even in some cases single family homes. To be eligible for the program, facilities must be owned by a commercial or non-profit entity. 

"We're excited to be one of the first upstate New York communities to join this innovative program, which will help connect the dots between economic development and environmental sustainability," noted Mayor Myrick. "It will provide building owners with much needed support in identifying, planning and financing energy projects, which will reduce their operational costs and increase affordability."

The Energize NY Finance program uses an innovative form of financing called Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, which has been used in 31 states nationwide. Unlike other loan products, Energize NY financing is repaid through an annual charge on the property's tax bill, which automatically transfers to a new owner if the property is sold. The financing is based on the property's ability to save energy, not on traditional credit measures.

Energize NY is funded in part through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and aligns with Governor Cuomo's Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy to build a clean, resilient and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers. 

For more information about the Energize NY Finance program in Tompkins County, visit, or contact Energize NY directly at or (914) 302-7300. Local contacts for the program are Katie Borgella at Tompkins County Planning and Nick Goldsmith at the City of Ithaca.
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, February 26, 2016
9 to 11 am
Tompkins County Public Library
Borg Warner Room
101 East Green Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
 Introducing the New TCCPI Column on Climate Justice 
by Reed Steberger, TCCPI Assistant Coordinator, and Jane Whiting,Youth Sector Representative

TCCPI is excited to announce a new regular column in the TCCPI Newsletter that will focus on climate justice. The column will explore the core question of who is harmed by and who benefits from (1) The causes of climate change; (2) the impacts of climate change; and (3) the structural responses/adaptations to climate change.

Climate and environmental justice are not new efforts, nor is the leadership role of people of color in climate organizing. What is new, and what's prompting this column, is the narrative center and organizational priority these efforts are beginning to occupy in the national climate movement, as well as the flow of resources that are slowly beginning to shift toward supporting this kind of work.
Hurricane Haiyan in 2013 dramatically revealed the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor
Many Tompkins County residents are probably familiar with these developments. One of the clearest examples is the 2014 People's Climate March, which brought together 400,000 people, including seven full buses from Tompkins County, and put climate justice, environmental justice, and the struggles of indigenous and people of color at the forefront of the mobilization.

Increasingly, climate activists and advocates are beginning to align themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement and listen to explicit critiques of the climate movement's overwhelmingly white demographics. In addition, justice transition projects led by people of color have received unprecedented foundation funding.

For the climate movement at large, and for TCCPI specifically, at least a partial driver behind this trend is the recognition that on a global-scale climate impacts are no longer approaching points on the horizon -- they are points at which we have arrived, if not sailed past. As the new era of consequences unfolds, it is undeniable that climate impacts are following pathways carved out by systems that already produce marginalization, inequality, and structural violence along the lines of race, class, gender, nationality, and more.

The drivers of climate injustices are also becoming increasingly visible: the militarized and racially biased policing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; large scale displacement from war, driven in part by regional drought and compounded by xenophobia and racism, as seen in the Syrian crisis; and disproportionate environmental health impacts on lower-income communities and communities of color in towns and cities such as Flint, Michigan.

So we have a clear case: to address the climate crisis, we have to not only take on the critical task of keeping greenhouses gasses from getting into the air; we've got to make sure to confront injustice directly, so that we mitigate the impacts baked in on those already hit hardest by systemic inequity. And beyond this, as we work toward a systemic shift into low carbon economies, we have to firmly ensure that the benefits of new systems are distributed equitably, rather than along the lines of existing inequities.

As was true when sustainability arose as a core consideration for many non-profits, governments, educational institutions, and businesses, climate justice will take time and work to incorporate into our thinking, planning, and actions. The new climate justice column in the TCCPI newsletter will aim to help our local work keep pace with the growing need to honestly center our efforts around the question of who is harmed and who benefits from the causes, consequences, and solutions to the climate crisis.




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Guest Column: In Defense of Black Oak Wind Farm
by Francis Vanek, Ithaca Times, 1/13/16

As an engineering educator who has been teaching, writing, and researching about wind farms for more than 10 years, I'd like to address some of the concerns that have been raised recently about Black Oak Wind Farm. (Full disclosure: I am a small investor in the project, and also have a strong interest in it as an educational resource for teaching local college and high school students.)

The first concern is safety. An operating wind farm is not inherently dangerous, any more than a car driving or airplane flying, as long as common-sense precautions are taken. I have toured working wind farms with students on several occasions and walked around the base of spinning turbines without any fear of injury.

Somerset Wind Farm
 Somerset Wind Farm in Somerset County, PA.
Previous occurrences of turbines catching fire or collapsing (as happened at the nearby Fenner Wind Farm) have been cited. However, these incidents are very rare, given that there are 50,000 large turbines all across the U.S. No industry is 100 percent perfect all the time. Mechanical failures, fires, and other accidents do occasionally happen. 

The setbacks that Black Oak Wind Farm will put in place provide a reasonable layer of protection to the public. They provide enough distance from a turbine to prevent harm from the unlikely event of a fire or tower collapse. Furthermore, wind has a safety advantage compared to conventional energy since unlike coal or oil (recall the Upper Big Branch mine or Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disasters) the energy source itself, wind is not flammable.

I would also like to address the question of birds, noise, and alteration of the landscape. Regarding birds, the National Audubon Society has publicly endorsed "properly sited" (in regard to the presence of birds) wind farms because of the much larger threat that climate change poses to the health of bird species.

Regarding noise, I have visited and spent time at six different wind farms in our state and Ontario, and one of the questions I have examined is whether wind farms create significant noise that rises above background levels. From personal experience, I have found that, especially outside of the setback distance, moving turbines do not make excessive noise, and in any case in a high wind when they are rotating at top speed, other sound created by the wind drowns out the noise of the turbines.

Turning to economics, I can attest to the potential community benefits of the wind farm mentioned in your article. Of the nine towns in Tompkins County, only Enfield has the quality of wind resource available at the site. If the wind farm is built, those that host turbines earn royalties in proportion to energy generated, those with a Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) earn a flat annual fee, and the town on the whole earns a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payment. 

Furthermore, wind energy, like solar photovoltaic, is very consistent from year to year. One wind farm for which data are available is Lake Benton, Minnesota, and over an 11-year period annual output never varied by more than 18 percent from the average, and in most years not more than 10 percent.

In closing, compare the wind farm to another energy opportunity in our region that has been getting press lately, namely fracking. When a fracking project is developed, it generates royalties for a time, but when the gas is used up, that is the end. The economic benefit of wind energy, by contrast, is available indefinitely. The wind will keep blowing and blowing.

Francis Vanek is a senior lecturer at the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, and he is a resident of the town of Ithaca.

Upgrade Upstate

Visit to get a no-cost or reduced-cost energy assessment. Learn which rebates, tax credits, and loans you qualify for to help pay for work. Check out how-to videos for low-cost/no-cost improvements and testimonial videos of Tompkins County residents who have made upgrades. Upgrade Upstate is a program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.