I just started working for the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), an agency that invests in green technology and environmentally-friendly programs throughout New York.
One of my first jobs (I’m in public relations) was to promote a program that will benefit anybody in the Adirondacks that has an interest in investing in wind, solar or other forms of alternative energy — or just improving the insulation or heating systems in their homes or businesses. NYSERDA recently hired two new educators to spread the word about its energy programs around the North Country. Richard LeClerc of Alexandria Bay and James Juczak of Adams Center were recently hired to represent NYSERDA’s New York Energy $mart Communities Program, an initiative to teach local consumers and business owners about NYSERDA’s energy-saving programs.
They will work out of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County in Watertown, covering 10 counties, including nearly all of the Adirondacks.
Both local coordinators have a long history with environmental, technological, management and community initiatives.
Richard LeClerc has an extensive management background. Now retired from a career as an Army civilian employee, he has also worked in a variety of other federal jobs related to natural resources and environmental management. More recently, he has had roles running several community programs in the area.
James Juczak. a former middle- and high-school technology teacher, lives “off the grid” in a round house he built himself which is heated with a 35-ton, hand-built stove made from sand and recycled concrete.
LeClerc (pronounced “Le-CLAIR”) said there has been a positive response from the public to presentations he’s made about energy programs available through NYSERDA.
“There’s tremendous interest,” he said. “That’s what makes this so exciting. There are very few times where we go and speak that they’re not enthusiastic.”
To contact the community coordinators in Jefferson County, call 315-788-8450. LeClerc is ext. 320 and Juczak is ext. 274. You can also reach them via email: [email protected] or [email protected]
If global warming is ever to be reversed, or even slowed, Americans must consume less of the energy produced by coal fired power plants.
Wind and solar power are among the alternatives New York State is promoting, said Adele Ferranti, a Queensbury resident who’s a project manager at New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
“Every little bit helps,” Ferranti said. “The potential for reducing emissions is tremendous; we can make a significant dent in the consumption of energy.” More and more people are taking advantage of alternative technologies, Ferranti said.
“They’re doing it because it’s the best thing they can do for the environment,” said Ferranti. “They’re replacing the energy made by burning fossil fuels with clean, natural power.”
Among the Lake George residents reducing carbon footprints are Rebecca and Candida Smith. The daughters of the late sculptor David Smith, they live part time at the home and studio he created in the hills above Bolton Landing.
A few years ago, they contracted with GroSolar, a Vermont company recommended by author-turned-environmental activist Bill McKibben, to install solar energy systems in the property’s three buildings.
“Global warming caused by human activities was a problem I had been aware of for a long time but it was too big, complicated and scary for me to bear thinking about for long,” said Rebecca Smith.
But after recent visits to Australia (“where I was relatively close to the ozone holes in Antarctica and actually felt how much stronger the effect of the sun was down there — it burned into my eyeballs painfully at times”) and Great Britain (“where climate change was an accepted, observable reality that government was starting to do something about”) as well as extensive reading on the subject, Smith said she became “interested and excited about the new technologies and decided to see what could be done at my family’s home in Bolton.”
Smith adds, “One person can’t do much, but there are many, many people out there doing lots of things and I am inspired by being part of that effort.”
According to NYSERDA’s Adele Ferranti, New York State offers financial incentives to homeowners like the Smiths to encourage the use of alternative energy. “Our goal is to build an infrastructure that will not only make solar power more affordable but reduce the consumption of fossil fuels,” Ferrante said.
Eliot Goodwin of GroSolar says that New York State will pay 40 to 50% of the costs of installing a solar energy system in the form of a rebate. “The homeowner is also eligible for a 25% state income tax credit and a 30% federal tax credit,” said Goodwin. “This works out to be about 60 to 65% of the costs paid for by outside sources.”
Nevertheless, the initial investment is expensive. Whether an alternative energy system is cost-effective depends upon how one determines value, groSolar’s Eliot Goodwin suggests.
“Is a car cost effective? Is a marble countertop cost effective? Is a pool cost effective? Is a hot tub cost effective? Is it cost effective to have no mountain tops left from coal mining? Is it cost effective to no longer have clean air to breathe?” he asks.
Still, Goodwin said, “With solar, no matter what, the system will pay for itself in its lifetime. You can usually expect a 7-11% return on your investment and you can also expect the house to increase in value by as much as the system costs.”
Short-term costs are offset by long-term savings, and, of course, by environmental benefits, said Rebecca Smith.
“By my calculations, it will take about 9 years to pay for the solar panels (which are under warranty for 25 years).” said Smith. “I don’t regard this as a money-saving strategy in the short run but as an investment that will pay off in dollars and environmental benefit in the long run. The satisfaction of making a difference is a really great feeling and it inspires me to do more.”
According to Fred Brown, the property’s year-round caretaker, approximately 80 flat solar panels were installed on the roofs of three buildings last spring.
“The system is comprised only of solar panels and an inverter,” said Brown. “ The panels produce direct current (DC) electricity which is steered toward the inverter where it’s converted into the Alternating current (AC) electricity, the same kind of power you get from the power grid.”
The power is not stored, but, rather, either used immediately or sent backwards through the meter, creating dollar for dollar credits in a process known as net-metering.
“We send power to the grid and the meter runs backward,” said Brown.
“During the summer solar panels create more energy than the owner can consume and the utility is required by law to buy it from you and credit your account,” said Rebecca Smith. “The power companies now depend on the small percentage of solar owners to feed in a critical extra margin of energy during the peak summer months.”
For Rebecca Smith, the environmental benefits of using alternative energy are local as well as global.
“If warming trends continue, there won’t be maple trees in the Adirondacks for our grandchildren,” she says. “I decided that it was better to be part of the solution than part of the problem.”
Every year, more New Yorkers are adopting that attitude, said Eliot Goodwin.
“We have approximately 75 installations in New York under the current programs. There’s probably another 2-300 installations in the state divided amongst 30 other installers. People care about the world they’re leaving to their children.”
Photo: A solar-powered workshop on the David Smith estate in Bolton Landing.
The Wild Center, in partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the US Green Building Council – NY Upstate Chapter, is hosting a Solar Thermal Collection Systems Workshop on April 15th and 16th, 2010.
The educational event will include a full day of classroom instruction on solar thermal collection system principles, design considerations and system installations for residential and commercial applications and a second day of hands-on installation training involving flat plate and evacuated tube solar collectors, storage vessels, pumps, piping and controls. Participants in the two day event will experience what it takes to install state-of-the-art solar thermal collection system components as part of a larger NYSERDA supported renewable energy demonstration project. The workshop is expected to draw a wide-ranging audience of building industry professionals, business owners and homeowners from throughout upstate NY. The instructor will be Peter Skinner P.E., a solar thermal installer, designer, researcher and educator. He has designed and installed many residential and commercial solar thermal systems, two of which were supported by NYSERDA and are fully performance monitored. Mr. Skinner has served on the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Solar Thermal Test committee and currently serves as co-chair of the NYS Solar Thermal Roadmap work force development and education committee. He has designed and guides manufacture of the SunDog Solar Rover, a portable solar thermal demonstration unit, and chairs a group of professionals preparing educator and student manuals for a comprehensive solar thermal education program.
One day registration for the April 15th classroom instruction is $65 and two day registration (April 15 and 16) for classroom instruction and hands-on training is $95. Registration for the program is limited and includes continental breakfast and lunch both days. Eligible building professionals can earn educational benefits for attending the event. For more information and to register visit www.wildcenter.org/solar or call Chris Rdzanek, Director of Facilities, (518) 359-7800, ext. 117.
Municipalities inside the Adirondack Park are facing hurdles and isolation from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), according to a review of NYSERDA practices. NYSERDA is the agency that channels all energy efficiency and renewable funding for New York State, including stimulus funds, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds, funds from the Green Jobs / Green Homes NY bill, the Systems Benefit Charge that Adirondack residents each pay on their electric bill,and more. Concerns first arose among local officials after NYSERDA abruptly canceled Canton-based Community Energy Services’ contract to run the North Country Energy $mart Community program in 10 counties (at $150,000 per year). The nonprofit was forced to close its doors after eight years, putting eight full- and part-time employees out of work and leaving the North Country without a central coordinating organization for local Green jobs and technologies, according to the Watertown Daily Times.
Green energy proponents with long-standing relationships with CES who asked not to be identified because of fears their own funding applications would be jeopardized told the Almanack that NYSERDA never cooperated with CES and could not appreciate the unique demands of rural communities.
“CES had never had adequate support from NYSERDA,” one said. “[CES] had tried to find solutions to adapt programs to the North Country’s needs, where for example construction teams operate as a one- or two-man self-employed show rather than the 20-30 common in urban areas.” Sources said NYSDERA was uncooperative, and their response, canceling CES’s contract and leaving the area without any access to knowledgeable support, was unproductive.
At the time, NYSERDA claimed it was revamping its North Country program and promised to issue a new request for proposals “any day.” In the meantime, NYSERDA’s economic development staff in Albany was tasked with overseeing the local program. Five months later a new Request For Proposals for the contract was issued, one that is still inadequate to address the needs of smaller communities—such as the lack of Building Performance Institute (BPI) Accredited Companies in the Adirondacks—according to critics. BPI companies do the comprehensive home assessment/audit as well as the retrofit work under NYSERDA’s Home Performance Program. “There are many hoops to jump through,” one local energy expert said, “and most small local contractors don’t see the value or don’t have the time and money to get through the process.”
Jeffrey Gordon, NYSERDA’s Director of Communications, responded by saying that “our plans in the North Country include expanding the program, to hire an additional [Energy Services] Coordinator.” “Previously there was one and a half coordinators; our plan will be to provide three total to better serve the large geographic area,” he said. “Furthermore, and Energy Services Coordinator does not need to be involved.”
Gordon also pointed to NYSERDA’s “pre-qualified incentive path” for smaller Existing Facilities and the agency’s Small Commercial Audit Program, for smaller smaller Industrial and commercial facilities, State and local governments, not-for-profit and private institutions, colleges and universities, K-12 schools, and non-residential facilities. The Small Commercial Audit Program is not hindered by the lack of local BPI accredited contractors because it is administered through L&S Energy Services, Inc., of Clifton Park, a company that handles all projects from Westchester County to the Canadian Border, from Vermont to Lake Ontario.
Local officials and green energy proponents have also been disturbed by additional steps required by NYSERDA for its Small Community Block Grants, which they feel have limited local municipalities’ access to $29 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided for small municipalities across New York State. Because of their small size, local municipalities seeking those funds are required to submit individual proposals for projects, while larger communities were given a check directly from the Department of Energy to use funds at their discretion.
The ARRA stimulus money is supposed to fund projects that reduce energy use and fossil fuel emissions, and improve energy efficiency, but local applicants say new hoops for small communities are an unfair burden. Not a single community in the Adirondacks met the “Large Community” standard, and so none were allocated funds directly from the first round of ARRA Community Block Grants [pdf].
Grant applications for the Small Community Block Grants—$1.8 million over a 14 county area—were due February 17th. Local municipalities had just six weeks to devise a project and develop the application and supporting materials. Essex County planners said they only got a helping hand from NYSERDA in January, a month before the application was due.
A green energy proponent who works directly with local Adirondack municipalities said local governments are “short-staffed, they are part-time, poorly paid, and the requirements for NYSDERA applications are exacting.” “They were asked to prove a certain level of energy savings which required precise calculations, space measurements, a year of energy bills, some software usage that many here are not familiar with,” the source said.
Local municipalities were required to have a municipal energy audit done in advance, which takes longer to arrange in the North Country where there are very few certified energy auditors. Communities were required to pass a resolution in support of the application even though many local town boards meet just once a month. Victor J. Putman, Director Essex County Department of Community Development and Planning, said, “I can’t see how a town without an engineer and a planning department could have applied.”
Essex County was swamped with requests from its 18 towns and 4 villages, and was forced to leave behind the county government’s needs in order to help them through the process of securing audits and preparing applications. With the county’s help, municipalities filed 14 applications from 11 towns totaling about $500,000. Each application took a staff person working 4 to 5 days to complete, a requirement locals said stretched the meaning of “Block Grant.”
Jeffrey Gordon, NYSERDA’s Director of Communications, said that since 2008, NYSERDA incentives to four counties in the North Country totaled approximately $4.8 million, which includes funding for photovoltaic installations, energy efficiency, and residential investments—that number does not include large-scale investments (none of which were in located inside the Park anyway). About $2.1 million of that money was from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
A closer look at that ARRA numbers, however, reveals less than $100,000 has gone to municipalities in the Adirondack Park. “The Park has been slighted again,” Putman said. “I would like to see a redirection of priorities to areas with the highest needs.” Essex County has some of the oldest infrastructure and housing stock in the state, the highest demand for energy, and pays some of the highest energy rates, Putman said.
When pressed with the question, “What funds have gone to municipalities inside the park?” NYSERDA’s Jeffery Gordon pointed to a number of projects in municipalities outside the park, projects for a few non-profits inside the Blue Line. Gordon said NYSERDA provided $2,100 for the Town of Jay for “technical assistance,” and cited $16,000 Warren County received for various energy efficiency projects [how much of that money was spent in the Park could not be determined in time for this report]. An additional $77,000 went to the Town of Harrietstown Housing Authority for technical assistance and energy efficiency incentives for two multi-family housing facilities. By way of comparison, at the same time the Town of Queensbury, just outside the Park’s southern border, received $167,000 for various energy efficiency projects.
The balance of the nearly $5 million allocated by NYSERDA in the four counties went to a few local nonprofits and for-profit companies inside the Blue Line. For example, last year $75,000 in financial incentives was awarded to Adirondack Woodsman’s Pellet Company for business-development planning in Long Lake, and $350,000 was awarded to the Wild Center in Tupper Lake to install a wood pellet boiler and a solar-thermal hot water array system. $10,000 in incentives was provided for Elizabethtown Hospital, $361,500 to Saranac Central School and $246,400 to the North Country School to install high efficiency wood boilers.
Adirondack residents each pay a Systems Benefit Charge (SBC) on their electric bill, which is used to fund NYSERDA’s Energy $mart Program and other projects designed to improve the state’s transmission and distribution infrastructure, including energy efficiency, education and outreach, research and development, and low-income energy assistance. The fund amounts to about $1.87 billion from 1998 through 2011, according to the Public Service Commission (PSC). How much of that money residents of the Adirondack Park have paid and how much they’ve received back is an open question.
In March 2006, the PSC ordered the Systems Benefit Charge be extended through June 30, 2011 and increased the annual funding to $175 million [pdf]. As a result, an estimated $896 million (including interest earnings) will be collected during this five-year period ($427 million for peak load, energy efficiency, outreach and education; $182 million for research and development, including renewable energy; and $190 million for low-income energy assistance).
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