By Gay Nicholson
Every day you are probably getting two or three calls to action to help stop some new outrage. It’s important to help wherever you can, but it’s also important that we follow through on earlier efforts to make positive change and head toward greater stewardship and justice in our communities. We’re asking supporters of clean energy to help us complete a critical step in our community’s shared commitment to protect the climate and stop new fossil fuel infrastructure from being built in our county.
Three years ago, in the early summer of 2014, we began to hear about a proposed new gas pipeline to run through West Dryden to provide heating fuel for new development in Lansing. The large capacity of the pipe would mean that Tompkins County would be unable to meet its goal of 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.
Sustainable Tompkins helped organize local opposition to the project and teamed up to present several workshops on viable alternatives to the pipeline to meet Lansing’s energy needs. A countywide task force on energy and economic development eventually came to the same conclusions and recommended to the Public Service Commission that NYSEG address reliability concerns for existing Lansing gas customers by adding pressure boosters to the current pipeline. In addition, NYSEG would provide incentives to developers to build new structures in Lansing using smart design and ultra-efficient heat pumps to meet commercial and residential heating loads. (Many industrial processes can be powered with electricity rather than gas as well.)
Thanks to persistent citizen advocacy and local government leadership, we have succeeded in making heat pumps the preferred technology for space heating in most of the new apartment complexes going up in our county. Developers in Lansing are also getting on board, using heat pumps at Village Solars and the proposed Lansing Trails apartments.
Despite all these strong signals, and proof of the economic viability, high performance, and climate-protecting value of switching to heat pumps and better building design, we are still hearing fearful declarations from some that Lansing’s economic development will suffer from a lack of fracked gas, and that Lansing is being unfairly burdened by this alternative to a gas pipeline. Given the widespread adoption of heat pumps for new development across the county, the evidence would suggest that Lansing developers could easily join other builders in moving away from their traditional use of fossil fuel technology.
People are often fearful of change, even when it is for the better. The transition to heat pumps that is underway is similar to the rapid expansion of solar and wind systems in our energy supply and the emerging transition to electric vehicles. In all of these cases, economic studies and market watchers all predict a continuing transition to a cleaner energy system. Corporations and investors are watching and backing these transitions.
Lansing is not being singled out for “punishment” – rather it is part of this evolution in our county, state, and nation. Tompkins County recently updated its review process for development proposals to include new standards for using heat pumps, LED lights, water-saving fixtures, and several smart design elements. This will apply to all development in the county, not just Lansing.
You can submit your comments on the proposal for the NYSEG Compressor Pilot Project (where they will add four pressure boosters along the existing gas pipeline) either on the PSC website (just look up Case 17-G-0432, NYSEG Compressor Pilot Project) or by emailing them to email@example.com. They need to hear from citizens and NYSEG customers across the region to be reassured that we are not fearful about working together to make this transition to clean energy.
You can find a sample email provided by Fossil Free Tompkins on the SustainableTompkins.org website. Feel free to use the language provided or to add your own perspectives on this precedent-setting case. Help us carry this over the finish line!
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This is the latest installment of the Signs of Sustainability series produced by Sustainable Tompkins. To learn more about the organization, visit its website at SustainableTompkins.org. Gay Nicholson is president of Sustainable Tompkins.