By E.C. Barrett
The Energy and Economic Development Task Force (EEDTF), a collaboration of the Tompkins County Planning Department and Tompkins County Area Development, released its draft report for public comment on May 4. Comprised of local environmental activists, business leaders and government officials, the 19-member EEDTF was charged with recommending short-term actions that can be initiated under local control to advance the county’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.
Drawing from the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap study of current and projected sources of GHG emissions and strategies for achieving the county emission reduction goal, the draft report makes six recommendations to inform the 2016 update of the Tompkins County Energy Strategy.
According to county Planning Commissioner Ed Marx, “The gist of the report is we’re trying to thread the needle to make sure there’s no drag on development while we aggressively make the transition we need to make in terms of energy and greenhouse gas reduction. The whole energy infrastructure of the community is going to need to evolve and evolve rapidly.”
Several of the EEDTF recommendations take aim at reducing fossil fuel use as a heat source. According to the Energy Roadmap, residential and commercial buildings use some 50 percent of the energy consumed in Tompkins County, with 71 percent of that energy used to heat buildings. The EEDTF recommends the county work with NYSEG to reduce reliance on natural gas through weatherization programs and residential, commercial and industrial conversion to electric heat pumps.
As part of the strategy to reduce fossil fuel use in residential and commercial buildings the report also recommends the creation of a countywide navigator program to provide developers with up-to-date information on energy efficient technology. According to EEDTF Chair and Sciencenter Executive Director Charlie Trautmann, this is one of the most vital interventions recommended in the report.
“Many building owners, architects and engineers are not designing with or investing in the energy technology that’s out there because they don’t know enough about it. And this technology is in such a rapid period of change that even last year’s advancements may be outdated today,” Trautmann explains. “So there’s a need for an expert navigator who would advise businesses on the best available energy technology in the early stages of the development process, rather than waiting until it becomes economically infeasible because it’s so late in the planning stages.”
Another EEDTF recommendation involves collaborating with NYSEG to ensure reliable and secure energy for industry, which accounts for 10 percent of energy consumption in the county. The EEDTF heard from business leaders who chose not to expand or had to move to locations with more reliable natural gas infrastructure after NYSEG rejected their application for natural gas hookups out of concerns of a system failure during peak demand.
While NYSEG planned to construct the West Dryden Road pipeline in part to address this issue, the EEDTF recommends researching and incentivizing alternatives to the pipeline, which some environmental advocates argue would bolster reliance on natural gas at a time when the county is committed to expanding renewable energy sources.
The report also suggests that reducing energy consumption in other areas may relieve some of the burden on the current infrastructure and free up more reliable energy for industry.
The second largest consumer of energy in Tompkins County, according to the Energy Roadmap, is transportation, with just under 39 percent of energy being used to fuel vehicles. In order to reduce GHG emissions from transportation the EEDTF recommends building community infrastructure to support a transition to electric vehicles.
The report advocates for a Transportation Demand Management program to work toward no net increase in vehicle miles traveled community-wide and encouraging major employers to provide electric vehicle incentives such as charging stations, privileged parking spaces and reduced parking fees.
As Tompkins County continues to be a statewide leader in transitioning to renewable energy, the report underscores the need to develop energy infrastructure in support of renewable energy production and distribution.
This work, the EEDTF notes, is not only necessary to meet GHG reduction goals, but should have a positive economic impact as well.
From the report: “Looking only at fairly basic energy efficiency improvements to existing commercial buildings, based on local case studies and data, there is potential for local contractors to do roughly $42.5 million in energy efficiency business located in Tompkins County, with about $21 million to be spent on labor.”
The draft report is expected to go before the Tompkins County Legislature in July. To read the report go to: http://tcad.org/content/uploads/2016/05/EEDTF-DRAFT-Final-Report.pdf.
By E.C. Barrett