(Tompkins Weekly, 8-23-23, by Peter Bardaglio)
Once again, as it has since 2009, the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI) issued its annual report earlier this summer on member efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate the transition to clean energy, and build a more resilient, sustainable community.
A coalition of activist leaders and concerned citizens, TCCPI meets monthly to discuss how we can reduce our carbon footprint and help the local community and state meet their ambitious climate goals. The new report, covering 2022 and including 39 submissions, surveys a wide range of inspiring actions that reflect the commitment and engagement of hundreds of individuals working together in Tompkins County to better our world.
The most dramatic news of 2022 was the official launch in June of Electrify Ithaca, the citywide building electrification program. Working with BlocPower, the initiative seeks to leverage private capital and government and utility incentives to electrify all 6,000 buildings in the city.
Despite the resignation of Luis-Aguirre Torres in November, sustainability director Rebecca Evans kept the initiative moving forward, carrying out a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory, securing passage of a community choice aggregation (CCA) law authorizing development of a program to provide affordable access for residents to carbon-free energy, and creating a climate justice framework to guide the city’s climate and energy work.
Other municipalities also took significant steps to reduce their carbon emissions. Tompkins County rolled out a $14.7 million plan to implement major energy efficiency upgrades in its buildings, and work began in late 2022. The county also beefed up its green fleet policy, purchasing 18 new electric vehicles and installing five new charging stations at its facilities. In addition, it finalized the Resiliency and Recovery Plan, which will position the community to recover more quickly after a disaster.
The Town of Ithaca continued collaborating with the city on the CCA program, and it received a $200,000 NYSERDA grant to help implement the new Energy Code Supplement. The town also finished its LED streetlight upgrade and undertook work to achieve its goal of net-zero town facilities, performing energy assessments, applying for funding, and hiring contractors for the initial phase.
Dryden approved its first climate action plan, and a task force began developing strategies to implement the plan’s recommendations. The town also completed a three-year project to install nearly 90 LED streetlights and entered into a 100% renewable energy contract for municipal operations.
Caroline continued work in 2022 on its zoning initiative, which seeks to promote sustainable development, and the zoning commission submitted the proposal to the town board for review in early 2023. In addition, the town wrapped up its NYSERDA-funded Brighten Up Caroline program, distributing LED bulbs to residents and finishing its LED streetlight conversion.
The highlight of the transportation sector in 2022 was the November launch of Ithaca Bikeshare’s e-bikes program. Bike Walk Tompkins, another Center for Community Transportation (CCT) program, joined a successful statewide effort to enact legislation enabling upstate localities to lower their speed limit to 25 mph, which the city is considering. Ithaca Carshare, also under the CCT umbrella, continued its successful operation in 2022, but was forced to close down temporarily this past May due to an insurance issue facing nonprofits in New York. The state legislature passed a bill rectifying the problem, but Governor Hochul has yet to sign it into law.
Besides these three programs, Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County (CCETC)’s Way2Go, Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s GO ITHACA, and Backup Ride Home (another CCT initiative), played vital roles in promoting alternatives to car ownership and single-occupancy commuting. In addition, TCAT received an $8.7 million award in August to purchase six additional electric buses and four microbuses.
Recycling, reuse, and waste management also saw important developments in 2022. Finger Lakes ReUse celebrated its 15th year anniversary and, driven by increased donation drop offs from the public, the organization experienced rapid growth. With 80 living-wage employees and 16 apprentices, Finger Lakes ReUse generated nearly $2.5 million in revenue in 2022, a 19% increase over 2021.
Historic Ithaca and Significant Elements focused on the development of a circular economy in the building sector. Collaborating with the CR0WD (Circularity, Reuse, Zero Waste, and Development) coalition, they promoted deconstruction and the reuse of materials from the built environment.
Thirteen restaurants and eateries on The Commons kept up their support of Zero Waste Tompkins’ Ithaca Reduces program by asking customers to bring their own containers and cups, and a dozen independent, locally owned stores in downtown Ithaca continued to specialize in reuse and recycled products. On East Hill, Cornell University reported that 63% of materials last year were diverted from landfill by recycling, composting, donating, or re-selling.
Climate protection efforts on the education and advocacy fronts made crucial contributions in 2022. Cornell received a STARS Platinum rating, the highest one, for the fourth consecutive year, the only higher education institution to have achieved this. The award underscored the university’s outstanding commitment to sustainability across academics, operations, and community engagement. Since 2005 the campus has reduced greenhouse gas emissions more than 50% from its baseline and building energy consumption 30% despite its expansion. Ithaca College received the next highest STARS rating (Gold) from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
CCETC continued its collaboration with the city in support of the Ithaca Green New Deal as well as its administration of the regional Clean Energy and Climate Smart Communities programs. Get Your GreenBack Tompkins successfully concluded its management of the NYSERDA-funded Community Energy Engagement Program for the Southern Tier, and facilitated the transition to the Southern Tier Clean Energy Hub, which received a $3.5 million grant from NYSERDA. CCETC also continued working with CCE educators across the state, developing resources addressing issues around large-scale solar development, especially its impact on active agricultural land.
PRI/Museum of the Earth, the Sciencenter, New Roots Charter School, the Ithaca 2030 District, TCCPI, the County Environmental Management and Water Resource Councils, and Tompkins Food Future engaged in other critical educational work regarding climate, energy, and sustainability in 2022.
As the state’s Climate Action Council worked in 2022 on its draft plan outlining how New York would achieve the climate and energy targets stipulated in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), advocacy groups stepped up their activities. The local chapters of the Climate Reality Project and Citizens Climate Lobby worked to raise awareness of the CLCPA and federal legislation such as the carbon dividend bill. Fossil Free Tompkins played a key role in helping to achieve passage of Assemblymember Anna Kelles’ bill to place a two-year moratorium on cryptomining at fossil fuel power plants by organizing call relays. FFT also became a party to the NYSEG rate case and maintained its active participation in the Renewable Heat Now campaign, as did TCCPI and Climate Reality. The latter two organizations also took part in the NY Renews advocacy efforts.
As always, the Park Foundation’s generous, ongoing financial support and guidance made many if not most of the activities outlined in the TCCPI report possible. We are indeed fortunate that its commitment to the civic betterment of our community remains steadfast.
Peter Bardaglio is the coordinator of the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI) and executive director of the Ithaca 2030 District.
Signs of Sustainability is coordinated by Sustainable Finger Lakes and appears the second and fourth week of each month in Tompkins Weekly.
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