Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
The TCCPI Newsletter

March-April 2016

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 Tompkins County Buys Local Hydro Power

Spring Robin Singing

Welcome to the March-April 2016 issue of the TCCPI Newsletter, an electronic update from the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI).
Photo by Franklin Crawford 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 County Joins Ithaca's Emerging 2030 District
By Peter Bardaglio, TCCPI Coordinator

The County Legislature, without dissent, authorized Tompkins County to become a founding member of the Ithaca 2030 District at its April 5th session. The County Legislature joins the City of Ithaca, Taitem Engineering, HOLT Architects, Ithaca Bakery, Purity Ice Cream, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, Seneca Place, and Travis Hyde Properties as District Partners. Six other property owners are currently considering becoming founding members of the District.

The Human Services Annex in 214 W. MLK/State St. will become the first Tompkins County property to join the Ithaca 2030 District.
The Ithaca 2030 District, when officially established, will join 12 other such districts around the country, which seek to fulfill the principles of Architecture 2030, whose mission is to rapidly transform the built environment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by issuing the 2030 Challenge for Planning. The first such district in New York State, it is set to launch this spring.

The Ithaca 2030 District will build on the work of the TCCPI to foster a more climate resilient community and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. Architecture 2030 granted Ithaca "emerging district" status last July. To secure its charter as a full 2030 District, there needs to be a minimum of five property owners who have committed to the 2030 District goals.

The purpose of the 2030 District is to showcase ways to significantly reduce the environmental impacts of building construction and operations, while ensuring Ithaca's economic viability and profitability for building owners, managers, and developers.
By joining the Ithaca 2030 District, the County pledges to aspire to meet the following goals for an existing building:  a 20% reduction in energy use below the regional average/median by 2020; a 35% reduction by 2025; and a 50% reduction by 2030.  The County has identified the Human Services Annex, which houses the Office for the Aging, for inclusion in the Ithaca 2030 District as a pilot building to determine the County's interest in adding additional buildings in the future. 
The Legislature's measure notes that participation as a founding member of the District shows leadership in the commercial building sector and supports principles and policies laid out in the 2015 Comprehensive Plan and necessary actions identified in the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap.
Public Service Commission Denies Cayuga Power Plant Retrofit
By Andrew Casler, Ithaca Journal

A battle over whether New York State Electric & Gas Corp. customers would have to pay to retrofit Lansing's coal-fired power plant for burning natural gas was finally settled when the state's Public Service Commission rejected the proposal in late February.

Along with denying plans for NYSEG customers to foot the bill for retrofitting the plant, the PSC approved construction plans for an electric transmission line, and authorized the sale of the Cayuga and Somerset coal power plants to Riesling Power LLC, an independent power producer.

Cayuga Power Plant
The Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing has been operating since 1955
All plant-level personnel at the Somerset and Cayuga facilities will remain in place after the sale, the new owner has advised the PSC. The Cayuga power plant employed about 70 full-time workers in 2015.

"We are very cognizant of the potential local economic effects of retiring power plants," PSC Commission Chairwoman Audrey Zibelman said in a news release. "However, in this instance, the power plant itself does not solve our reliability concerns. Moreover, when we considered the combined lack of benefit to the power grid with the significantly higher costs of the refueling option, we determined it would simply be unfair to ask NYSEG consumers to shoulder both the transmission and refueling expense."

The Cayuga plant is Tompkins County's most valuable taxable property, according to Tompkins County Director of Assessment Jay Franklin. For the 2015 tax roll, Cayuga paid $1.3 million to Lansing schools, and $552,278 to local governments and the Lansing Fire Department.

Riesling Power LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Maryland-based Bicent Power LLC, which directly or indirectly owns and operates approximately 487 megawatts of gas and coal-fired generation in four states, according to the PSC.

Cayuga's proposed conversion has remained a contentious issue in Tompkins County since 2013.
NYSEG and Cayuga filed competing proposals in 2013, and then attempted to work together, but after seven deadline extensions for their single proposal, the companies reverted to opposing plans.
Cayuga Operating Co. sought to have the plant retrofitted for natural gas power generation.
The PSC found the $102 million price tag associated with retrofitting was much costlier than the potential benefits, a news release said.

"Even if the plant could address the local grid reliability concerns, it would be unfair to NYSEG customers to pay for the higher-priced refueling solution," according to the release.

NYSEG supported closing the plant and upgrading transmission lines in the area; $23.3 million is the project's estimated cost.

NYSEG, along with National Grid, proposed a 14.5-mile, 115-kilovolt transmission line from the City of Auburn to the Town of Elbridge routed along existing rights of way in the towns of Throop, Brutus, Sennett and Elbridge, the Village of Elbridge and the City of Auburn.

During the PSC meeting Tuesday, officials found that NYSEG's proposed transmission projects in Cayuga and Onondaga counties were necessary to ensure the reliable operation of the power grid, a news release said.

"The project is needed whether or not the Cayuga Generating Facility in the Town of Lansing continues to operate," said Clay Ellis, the NYSEG spokeman. NYSEG customers paid $32 million in 2014 to keep the plant open, Ellis said.
Next TCCPI Meeting:
Friday, April 29, 2016
9 to 11 am
Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce
Borg Warner Conference Room
 904 E Shore Drive
Ithaca, NY 14850
Get Your GreenBack Launches Two New Spring Initiatives
by Karim Beers, GYGB Coordinator

As part of its ongoing campaign to show Tompkins County residents how to shrink their carbon footprint and reduce their spending, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins (GYGB), has announced two new initiatives for the spring. 

The first is a volunteer program called Energy Navigators, a group of concerned and capable residents who help their friends, neighbors, and other community members make environmentally and financially sound energy decisions by providing them with useful, locally relevant, unbiased, research-based information and resources.
A collaboration between GYGB and Cooperative Extension of Tompkins CountyEnergy Navigators participate in a ten-week training that helps them understand their own energy use and make progress towards their goals, and prepares them to help others in the community with their goals. Energy Navigator trainee selection is based on an applicant's ability to attend the training sessions, and their capacity and interest in helping others.

The 10-session Energy Navigator Training will be held Tuesdays, 9-11 am, beginning April 19th at Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, 615 Willow Ave. in Ithaca. Classes will be led by energy expert Mark Pierce, Extension Associate at Cornell University, along with GYGB coordinator Karim Beers, and other Extension educators.

Why the focus on energy efficiency and conservation? Over a third of the County's carbon emissions are from residential energy use, especially electricity and heating in homes and car-dependent travel. There is growing evidence regarding the effectiveness of programs that provide tailored support to individuals and families to help them reduce their emissions.

The second new initiative involves the establishment of several new Online Community Forums, aimed at developing small groups of peer learners to tackle questions like the following:
  • Do electric vehicles really work in a cold and hilly place like Ithaca?
  • What vegetables should I start planting now?
  • Where is the best public place to hunt or fish in Tompkins County?
There are forums for the following categories: Fuel-Efficient Vehicles (electric vehicles, hybrids, and more), Net-Zero Homes (energy efficiency, solar energy and renewables, renewable heat), Home Gardening, and Hunting & Fishing. Each forum has local experts to help answer your questions and coordinate the discussion.

To participate, go to

If you have any questions or comments about the forum please contact Forum Coordinator Hollis Malkowski at




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 Climate Justice: Lessons from Kern County, CA 
by Reed Steberger, TCCPI Assistant Coordinator, and Jane Whiting,Youth Sector Representative

This month we want to write about solidarity from environmental and climate organizations to social justice groups. Specifically, we want to talk about how resources and political power are used, and how race and class enter -- or don't enter -- the discourse that shapes our priorities in this work.

From the get go, we want to take the position that environmental and climate groups don't operate in a vacuum apart from how race and class shape society at large. And if that's the case, we'll see that race and class directly impact how our groups access resources and political power.

One clear example of resource access is grant funding. A 2012  report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found that
Chevron's oil field in Kern County, CA, which produces more water than it does oil. Credit: Jim Wilson The New York Times.
From 2007-2009, only 15 percent of environmental grant dollars were classified as benefiting marginalized communities, and only 11 percent were classified as advancing "social justice" strategies, a proxy for policy advocacy and community organizing that works toward structural change on behalf of those who are the least well off politically, economically and socially.

With regard to political power, we have a local comparison that draws out the impact of race and class. In 2014, New York banned fracking, in part because of a municipal zoning strategy developed in Tompkins County and implemented across 150 local governments, the vast majority of which served predominantly white constituencies. Within Tompkins County, many (though certainly not all) of the local activists, including elected officials, have a higher education affiliation of some sort, law or professional degrees, or are retired and can offer volunteer time. It's worth noting that the communities who banned fracking were by and large not facing extreme environmental health crises prior to the threat posed by fracking and other oil and gas developments.

By contrast, In Kern County, California, which is nearly 50% Latino and includes some of California's poorest towns, fracking wells are  sited adjacent to schools, community gardens, and residential neighborhoods. Kern is also home to large-scale industrial agriculture, where pesticide exposure for worker and community members are commonplace, as well as exposure to chemicals involved in gas and oil drilling. While communities and workers in Kern are working to fight fracking, most of the those directly impacted by these industry don't find themselves represented in local government, whose representatives win campaigns with financing from Big Ag and Big Oil and Gas.  

The comparison at this point feels rhetorical. Of course, it's more difficult to ban fracking under those circumstances. And it's not as if it wasn't difficult to do it in New York without any of the additional burdens faced in Kern. But that's just the thing -- it's obvious that race and class privilege are a factor. Why don't we ever mention it? How have we managed, for the most part, to ignore how race and class shape the nature of environmental, climate, and energy work as a whole here in Tompkins County.

Consider the following:

1) Yes, as environmental group we probably have enough know-how to collaborate with social justice or environmental justice groups that focus on energy -- we have an explicitly shared goal. One great example is the upcoming  NY Renews action in Albany.

2) Why then does this collaboration seem to take place only at the state and national scale and not locally? There are, in fact, Tompkins County groups, led by folks of color, that work on climate justice and environmental justice.

3) And importantly, what if the local social justice groups don't work directly on energy, environment or climate; what if we don't have that explicitly overlapping goal? There's still an imperative to act in solidarity -- social justice is still at least theoretically core to what we do -- so how do we change our own goals to address that?

Resolution of this issue is a process. It begins by acknowledging that the racial and economic forces that shape the U.S. at large also shape the resources and political power we access in our work locally. TCCPI's meeting in June will begin to look at these questions, when we present on climate justice at the monthly meeting. 

Until then, we encourage you to turn to that ever-flowing font of social justice inspiration, Meriadoc Brandybuck, of Lord of the Rings fame.

When Merry and Pippin were told by Treebeard at the Entmoot, on the eve of Sarumon's war against Middle Earth, that the "Ents cannot hold back this storm. We must weather such things as we have always done...this is not our war," Merry's reply was passionate and clear: "But you're a part of this world!" Indeed we are. While the path forward for us is not always the path we expect, nor what we have always done, we can begin to reshape what solidarity means by acknowledging what is at stake and what we must do to change.
One Last Thing: The Arctic Gets a New Ecosystem

As the Rolling Stones song goes, "You can't always get want you want." Fair enough. But sometimes, unfortunately, you get exactly the opposite of what you need. That's certainly true of the Arctic this past winter. The last thing it needed was to break another warm weather record, yet that's exactly what happened. 

The extent of the warming has even caught scientists off guard. The record jump in temperatures "is probably the all-time surprise we've seen in the Arctic," according to Jim Overland, a research oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The base of the Alaska Range south of Fairbanks. Photo Credit: NASA/Ross Nelson
Needless to say, when you manage to surprise the folks who've spent their careers studying you, you've accomplished something. Not necessarily something good, but something. What does this mean for the Arctic?

What it means is that the Arctic gets a complete makeover. Yes, that's right. A new ecosystem is emerging in the Arctic and it's wreaking havoc with life in the region: thinner ice, shorter winters, new animals, new vegetation. In short, everything is changing. Everything.

"For the elders in the community, they've seen the entire ecosystem change," said Fort Yukon local Ed Alexander in a Washington Post report last month. "A lot of it is a dramatic change. We have a whole other ecosystem here."

Oops. We did that. The salmon are smaller, the caribou have changed their migration routes, new plant life is overgrowing usually clear dog sled trails, more forest fires are occurring, and even cardinals are showing up in Fort Yukon. 

Think about that last news flash. It's the rough equivalent of pink flamingos making an appearance on the shores of Cayuga Lake. Imagine the shock if that happened while you were walking along the Waterfront Trail. In the words of Mr. Alexander, "When you see a red bird for the first time in your life, you take note."

And in case you think it's only Alaska that has caught climate scientists by surprise, think again. Here's what Mike MacFerrin, a University of Colorado climate scientist, had to say earlier this month about another well-known region in the Arctic: "melt in Greenland, over this wide an area, this early in the season, is not supposed to happen."

In fact, the melt was taking place so early and so fast in Greenland that scientists thought something must be wrong with their data so they went back and checked. Get this: thermometers on and around the ice showed temperatures as high as 64 degrees Fahrenheit on April 11. That's more than 35 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year, which for that part of the world is more like a warm day in the summer. 

Oops. We did that, too. To paraphrase the Pottery Barn rule, "we broke it, we own it." But now that we own it will we ever own up to it? That's the really big question, isn't it?

For more on the Greenland ice melt this spring, which is taking place two months early, watch this brief video:

Peter Bardaglio
TCCPI Coordinator
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