Local Carbon Fund Supported by Cornell Conference

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Tompkins Weekly June 13, 2011.  By Gay Nicholson.

Energy security and climate protection are interwoven global issues with highly local solutions.  We need to reduce fossil fuel use across the board in order to slow global warming and strengthen our local economy, and that means taking responsibility for our own fossil carbon emissions while making sure that everyone in our community is supported in their efforts to be more energy secure.

The Finger Lakes Climate Fund was designed with this in mind.  Donors to the Fund can calculate the carbon emissions from their travel or building use, and make a donation to remove an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere.  Those carbon reductions are achieved by helping modest-income residents reach their energy security goals by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

LeChase Construction of Rochester understood that direct connection between energy security and climate health when they volunteered to offset the carbon emissions for all of the participants at Cornell’s recent “Big 10 & Friends Utility Conference.”  LeChase is a partner in Cornell’s climate action plan, and led the team that built Cornell’s new cogeneration plant, which has reduced emissions for the university by over 20%.  “Our company is working nationwide to help institutions decrease their dependence on fossil fuels through green building design and alternative energy sources,” notes Paul Sugnet, LeChase Senior Vice President, “and I’ve been impressed by Cornell’s leadership and commitment to reducing their emissions to net zero by 2050.  We realize that travel to exchange ideas and share research results is essential for a university, so we decided we would facilitate yet another step toward their climate protection goal by arranging to offset carbon emissions related to this conference.”

Air and car travel for the 85 conference attendees added up to 78,709 miles or roughly 23 tons of CO2 emissions.  Offsets to the Finger Lakes Climate Fund are set at $20 per ton, so the travel-related emissions for the conference cost $460 to offset.  This contribution to the Fund will go a long way toward helping a local family become more energy secure.  Grants from the Finger Lakes Climate Fund are awarded to families below the median income to help them go forward with energy improvements that will save them money and reduce their emissions.

For example, the Ellis Family received a grant to help purchase an efficient wood pellet stove along with some insulation and air sealing performed by Tompkins Community Action.  Another awardee, first-time homebuyer Jill Rosentel of Lansing, received a grant to upgrade to a highly efficient furnace and have insulation work done on an older home by ASI Energy.  These projects will reduce carbon emissions by an amount equal to or greater than that emitted from the travel and building use by the Fund’s donors – thus creating the carbon offset and “neutralizing” the donors’ emissions.  As an add-on benefit, both households will be less vulnerable to rising fossil fuel prices and better positioned to remain stable and secure property owners.  Over the long term, everyone benefits – the university, the homeowners, local energy contractors, and the community.

Ed Wilson, Sustainable Energy Team Manager of Cornell’s Office of Energy & Sustainability, endorsed the effort saying “The ability to offset the CO2 emissions for those attending our conference was welcomed by all.  The conference centered on utilities, basically energy and associated emissions.  It was a great conference and offsetting the emissions locally raised the bar for future conferences.  The Finger Lakes Climate Fund provided a real added value.”

Sustainable Tompkins always advocates for people to consume energy responsibly and reduce their emissions as much as possible, but we recognize that some emissions are unavoidable.  We don’t expect people to give up meaningful travel or shift their buildings to renewable power sources all at once.  But we can all get on the path to energy security and help others in our community while doing so.  That’s the beauty of this program.

Sustainable Tompkins is a citizen-based organization whose mission is to promote the long-term well being of our communities and region by integrating social equity, economic vitality, ecological stewardship, and personal and civic responsibility.  Visit www.sustainabletompkins.org to learn more.


Gay Nicholson is President of Sustainable Tompkins

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