A Look Back, A Glimpse Forward

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly       12-19-16

By Nick Goldsmith

Since the election, it has become clear that major changes are coming to Federal climate policy, with promises from the incoming administration to expand fossil fuel development and pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which just became international law last month. Now, more than ever, it is clear that climate action must be led at the local level.

Following is a look back at what the Town of Ithaca and the City of Ithaca accomplished in 2016, and a glimpse of what is to come in 2017. The Town and the City continue to collaborate by means of the shared Sustainability Coordinator position, which is funded equally by the Park Foundation and the municipalities.

In January, the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County launched the Energize NY Financing program, which uses the innovative Property Assessed Clean Energy model to offer long-term low-cost financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in commercially-owned buildings – even single family homes. Tompkins County and the City were the first two upstate communities to offer this program, which is now available in 35 municipalities across the state. Learn more at commercial.energizeny.org/city-of-ithaca.

In March, the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Plant completed a feasibility study for a microgrid centered on the wastewater plant, which was funded by a NY Prize award, a program of the State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative. The city recently applied on behalf of IAWWTF for additional funding from NY Prize, which would provide close to a million dollars for a detailed microgrid design and business plan. Award announcements are expected before the end of December. The creation of the proposed microgrid would help IAWWTF to become a nationally-recognized net-zero facility.

The planning phase of the Residential Energy Score Project came to an end this fall. The Town and the City of Ithaca, along with the Towns of Ulysses, Caroline, and Danby, provided leadership in this effort to create a voluntary residential energy score program for homes in Tompkins County. The final program document was endorsed by all five municipalities. New York State is now considering regional pilot programs, thanks in part to this effort.

A local pilot program is to be implemented as soon as funding allows; the project team is currently exploring options for a program host and funding. Learn more at www.town.ithaca.ny.us/resp.

We believe that digital communication is an important tool to foster a sustainable community. 2016 saw the continued publication of the monthly Ithaca Sustainability newsletter, which shares news and events from Ithaca and the surrounding area. The newsletter now has more than 575 subscribers. Help us reach our near-term goal of 600 readers by subscribing at http://tinyurl.com/IS-subscribe. Readers are not only locals, but also organizations at a regional and national level, which helps shine a light on the great work getting done locally by the non-profit, higher education, municipal and commercial sectors – not to mention engaged residents.

By collaborating with community initiatives, the municipal Sustainability Coordinator is able to leverage limited work hours. The Town and the City supported many notable local projects by providing staff time, such as the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap, the Sustainability Center, and the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan.

We are excited to continue ongoing projects, while also starting new ones in 2017. Although much work has been completed in 2016 to tee it up, the Green Building Policy project will officially kick off in January. It will involve a comprehensive study of policy tools that the Town and City can use to incentivize or mandate green building standards for new residential and commercial construction. A broad array of standards (e.g. LEED, HERS, and Energy Star) and supporting policy tools (e.g. building and energy code, environmental review process, development bonuses, and financial incentives) will be studied.

The Green Building Policy project will build on existing voluntary initiatives targeting energy use in buildings, such as RESP (described above) and the Ithaca 2030 District – a project of the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative that launched in June. 2030 Districts are unique private/public partnerships bringing together property owners and managers to meet energy and resource reduction targets.

While there is plenty of reason for concern regarding climate action at the national level, we look forward to collaborating with our community to advance local sustainability efforts in the New Year. Here’s to a sustainable 2017!

Nick Goldsmith is the Sustainability Coordinator for both the Town of Ithaca and the City of Ithaca. For the monthly electronic Ithaca Sustainability newsletter at http://tinyurl.com/k486cx6, or contact Nick at ngoldsmith@town.ithaca.ny.us or (607) 273-1721.


If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles