A columnist from the Old Forge area, Mart Allen, recently wrote for the Adirondack Express about the late Harold A. Jerry, Jr., and he inspired me to do the same. Judging from his experiences with Harold along a trap line during the winter in Herkimer County, Mart Allen concluded that Harold Jerry displayed a depth and integrity of character that should be the measure we take of all our fellow human beings, but often isn’t. That observation about Harold rang very true for me. » Continue Reading.
Posts Tagged ‘Public Service Commission’
Earlier this year, I published a piece on a state Public Service Commission (PSC) investigation into National Grid’s sketchy finances.
The monopoly power deliverer stood accused by the PSC of charging its Upstate New York electric customers for computers in New England, software licenses on Long Island and other corporate costs that have nothing to do with Upstate utility operations.
A recent Post-Standard article added further tidbits uncovered during the PSC investigation: $1,254 for a National Grid executive to ship his wine collection across the Atlantic, $3,566 to repair another executive’s washing machine and pool cover on Long Island, and $35,700 to send a third employee’s children to a private school in Boston.
However, the Syracuse paper reported that the PSC will be forced to decide on National Grid’s proposed $400 million hike to its already sky-high rates long before the audit is complete. The PSC chairman told a senate committee that state law requires the commission to vote on the proposal within 11 months of its submission.
The president of National Grid USA said the rate hike is needed because much of the utility’s infrastructure is half a century or more old. Power bills have skyrocketed since its purchase of the former Niagara Mohawk, a purchase, it was promised at the time, would be wonderful for rate payers thanks to consolidation efficiencies. It begs the question: where has the money gone?
The multinational wants an 11.1 percent annual profit margin, while the PSC contends the rate should be ‘only’ 9 percent.
New Yorkers still pay the highest power bills in the nation. This fiasco may give some insight why.
Earlier this year, I published a piece arguing that the National Grid power company gouges upstate New Yorkers.
A piece in The Post-Standard offers some fresh evidence in that regard.
The Syracuse daily reports that the monopoly power deliverer is charging its Upstate New York electric customers for computers in New England, software licenses on Long Island and other corporate costs that have nothing to do with Upstate utility operations, auditors at the state Public Service Commission (PSC) say.
PSC investigators came across this information while looking at the multinational’s plan to raise electric rates on New Yorkers by $369 million a year, including $25 million a year in bonuses (apparently without any requirement that the employees reduce costs to pay for them).
So questionable are the power company’s procedures that PSC auditors concluded: “Transactions between the former Niagara Mohawk and other companies owned by National Grid are so loosely documented that Upstate utility customers likely are subsidizing other parts of National Grid’s business.”
The paper reported that in recent years, National Grid has justified purchasing several other utilities by arguing that the company would save money via efficiencies and consolidation. But PSC staff noted that such the cost of the shared services actually increased, far higher than the rate of inflation.
A PSC panel said the company’s plan to raise rates had “a number of serious problems” and had so many objections that it actually recommended National Grid DECREASE rates by $14 million a year.
What would happen if a pizzeria tacked on a $50 delivery charge to a $15 pizza? It would go out of business faster than you can snap your fingers. That’s because pizzerias are subject to competition. National Grid power company can get away with such outrageous billing practices because it has no competition in the energy delivery business.
While New York state has legalized competition in the energy supply market, National Grid remains the monopoly energy deliverer in the areas it serves, which includes much of the Adirondacks.
You can buy energy from another provider but it’s still delivered via National Grid power lines, and the British-based conglomerate milks this distinction for all it’s worth.
National Grid’s bill includes two major charges: supply cost and delivery cost. The supply costs (the part the ordinary consumer can control) are typically reasonable. The delivery costs (the part the consumer can’t control) are invariably outrageous.
Last December, I used $41.14 worth of electricity, but they charged me $84.76 to deliver it.
Last September, I used a mere $9.45 worth of electricity. My reward for such energy efficiency was a whopping $33.08 delivery charge.
In what world is the delivery charge for a product three and a half times more than the actual value of the product?
National Grid is nominally regulated by the state’s Public Service Commission- though gouging like this makes you wonder how much regulation is actually going on.
National Grid has claimed that sky-high delivery charges are designed to ‘stabilize’ rates. Yet even in February, invariably my highest energy usage month, delivery charges were still higher than supply charges.
These dubious billing practices have no doubt padded the conglomerate’s bottom line: National Grid made profits of $1.43 Billion in its most recent fiscal year.
But gouging New Yorkers’ wallets was not enough to prevent the company from outsourcing jobs from central New York.
A Syracuse Post-Standard article noted that:
National Grid’s electric prices consistently rank among the handful of highest-priced major utilities in the country. In 2008, the company’s residential rates were 37 percent above the national average and its commercial rates were more than 60 percent higher, according to the latest statistics available from the U.S. Department of Energy.
This was primarily because of the expense National Grid incurred when it bought Niagara Mohawk. Once that expense was paid off, New Yorkers were told, rates would go down.
The company now wants to raise rates another 20 percent… that’s delivery rates, where the real gouging occurs. This would generate the monopoly another $390 million a year. Would this go to infrastructure upgrades? Improved service?
According to the Post Standard: Tom King, president of National Grid in the United States, said the company needs to make higher profits in order to attract money from shareholders and lenders to invest in the Upstate electric grid. Shareholders earned a 5 percent return on their Upstate electric investment last year, down from 10 percent in 2005.
Quite clearly, New Yorkers were duped.
In the mid-1990s, officials in the city of Glens Falls pushed for the creation of a municipal power company, like the one run successfully by the similarly-sized town of Massena. Nearby localities like Queensbury and Lake George could also have hooked up to the system.
Not surprisingly, the then-Niagara Mohawk saw this a threat to their lucrative business and waged a massively expensive and somewhat deceptive PR campaign which succeeded in defeating the project in a referendum.
I suspect Glens Falls residents regret the vote each time they open up their National Grid bill.
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).
The Adirondack region’s local energy bill is more than $600 million a year. Add in gasoline and the number soars past $1.5 billion a year. A new initiative seeks to cut that cost, and use the savings to help the region’s economy. The details of the region’s energy use are included in a new report, entitled the Adirondack Energy & Greenhouse Gas Inventory, that breaks down energy production and consumption. It details how money spent on energy flows out of the Adirondacks, draining resources from the local economy. The report, documenting the entire Adirondack region, is one of the largest regional energy and carbon audits ever produced in the United States.
“We’re interested in getting our hands on these numbers because we want to see how we could use the projected major changes in national and state energy policies to help build our regional economy,” said Ross Whaley former President of SUNY ESF. “If we could save just 10 percent of what we spend importing the energy we use locally we’d have $60 million more dollars a year that we could invest in the Adirondacks.”
The report was supported in part by The Wild Center and ADKCAP, a new initiative that says its goals are to channel federal and state efforts into the region to improve energy efficiency, support regional programs formed to help cut energy costs and waste, and create or save higher-value jobs that could have a lasting impact on the Adirondack economy. A year in the making, the final report that its backers say could lead to tackling energy waste and carbon pollution in the Adirondacks, is now available online http://www.adkcap.org/?q=audit.
Highlights? The report shows some big collective numbers. Almost 490 million gallons of gasoline are used to power vehicles in the region, more than 35 million gallons of fuel oil and kerosene and over 10 million gallons of LPG are used to heat area homes and hot water. Residential users inside the Adirondacks spend more than $25 million a year on electricity to heat their homes and $135 million a year on electricity for things other than heat, like running refrigerators and lights.
“When you become cognizant of the energy dollars being spent in the Adirondacks each year, one quickly realizes that we need to find an approach to keep some of those dollars here,” said Brian Towers of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages. “Obviously community leaders from around the region need to investigate every avenue from small hydroelectric, solar and wind projects to looking at ways of reducing municipal energy costs with bio-fuels. Any way that we can cut public energy costs has a correlating effect on property taxes.”
The report was prepared by leading research firm Ecology and Environment, Inc. of Lancaster, NY. It was commissioned to create a baseline for looking at energy consumption in the area and dovetailed with the strong interest of a number of area groups who were looking at the Adirondacks as a potential large-scale example of how a region could address carbon dependence and grow its economy. “The national conference held here was about how the United States needs to transition away from carbon as our main energy source. With this transition comes opportunity if we act fast,” said Stephanie Ratcliffe of The Wild Center. “It started people talking about putting the idea of aggressively implementing energy efficiency and developing new renewable energy sources here in the Adirondacks. This is one of the few times that environmental concerns and economic opportunities share the same goals from the outset.”
The Adirondacks as an Example for the Nation
“We think we have a chance to set an example for the nation,” said Kate Fish of ADKCAP. “If we can show that you can cut energy costs in a big way, and use the money to grow your economy, others can learn from what we do. We are a region of 103 living, breathing and working towns and villages with challenges a lot of other places can relate to. Making this happen here could mean a lot for people all over the U.S. who are wrestling with high costs of energy, and the need to rebuild their economies.”
Fish and others say the Adirondacks’ New York location and high visitation make it an attractive place for other organizations, including power companies, who are looking to test efficiency and renewable ideas. “We can be the first place to take on energy independence across a large area. If we can show that 103 regular towns and villages can break the grip of energy dependence and build our local economies in a sustainable way we could demonstrate something important to others,” said Fish.
ADKCAP, an umbrella group, formed after the ‘American Response to Climate Change Conference -The Adirondack Model’ held in November of 2008 at The Wild Center, is working with partner organizations and individuals to build on a variety of plans to turn energy savings into local benefits. Based on data in the report that shows that one third of all the energy used locally in the Adirondacks comes from home heating, a number of partners are focusing on getting effective region-wide access to programs designed to cut home heating and utility costs, including training a skilled energy audit and retrofit workforce. The initial actions being considered would also include logical uses of renewable sources including testing of new low emissions wood gasification systems that could use sustainably harvested local forest products. The development of a forest products-based energy system could also mean local jobs. Other local energy sources could include sun, wind and hydro, including small-scale hydro that could take advantage of standing local dams.
Groups involved with ADKCAP say that new job creation could encourage younger families to stay in the area, reversing the aging-population trend in upstate New York. “It has been demonstrated conclusively that one of the greatest home energy savers is preventing air infiltration. This can be a low-cost, high yield effort. Next, is improving the efficiency of the furnaces and boilers. Green home energy saving really is possible for everyone,” said Alan Hipps, Executive Director of Housing Assistance Program of Essex County. “Those are simple examples of how we can cut energy costs and create jobs at the same time.”
The renewable energy industry generated about 500,000 jobs and $43 billion revenue in the U.S. in 2007. The much broader energy-efficiency industry generated 8.6 million jobs and $1 trillion in revenue, according to a report issued in January by the American Solar Energy Society. The national study projected that the renewable and energy efficiency businesses could employ 16 million to 37 million people by 2030, depending on government policy.
“We need new jobs here, good jobs, and jobs that let us keep our natural character,” said Ann Heidenreich of Community Energy Services of Canton, NY. “We’re going to need to solve energy challenges one way or another, and this report gives us some of the basic tools to do the smartest thing, and be more in control of our future.”
Mike DeWein, an expert on regional energy issues and a member of the ADKCAP and Energy $mart Park Initiative (E$PI) steering committees, says the Adirondacks could do well by getting out ahead on energy efficiency issues. “We know the energy world is going to change in significant ways in the next 20 years, particularly because of national trends and policies going into effect in current state and Federal legislation. Places that get ahead of the curve will benefit, and the report sets the groundwork for the Adirondacks by moving initiatives and programs and being ready to benefit from those policies, as well as be ready for funding opportunities.” DeWein cited the internet revolution as an example. “Often when something big is happening it pays to “start the train down the track” to be ready for the opportunities rather than sit on the rail siding waiting for the train.”
The report was prepared for The Wild Center and ADKCAP, in consultation with The Adirondack Energy $mart Initiative (E$PI), by Ecology and Environment, Inc and with key contributions from Dr. Colin Beier of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The report was funded by the Adirondack Community Trust – Master Family Fund.
NOTE: This post is a reprint of the ADKCAP and Wild Center’s press release.
We’ve moved one step closer to having a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot in November that affects a corner of the Adirondack Park in Colton in St. Lawrence County. Monday the NYS Senate passed (62-0) a bill that would allow the construction of a power line from Stark Falls Reservoir to the Village of Tupper Lake. The supplemental line would pass through a section of Route 56 roadside within the Adirondack Forest Preserve between Seveys Corners (near the Carry and Starks Falls reservoirs) and the hamlet of South Colton. The line is part of a project to improve power reliability for the Tri-Lakes communities of Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. » Continue Reading.
The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks is calling upon the heads of the Public Service Commission (PSC), Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Conservation (DEC), New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to adopt “the highest standards for protecting the wild forest character of the Adirondack Park when reconstructing electric power lines and highways.”
Through a freedom of information request, the group received documents about an incomplete application now being reviewed at the APA for highway and power line reconstruction and realignment which would in their words “effectively clear-cut forests along 7.4 miles of scenic State Route 28 in the southwestern Adirondacks.” The route extends from Forestport to the South Branch of the Moose River in the Adirondack Park. Sections of this route involve the “forever wild” public Forest Preserve.
The application calls for a new “tree management area” that would mean the removal of all trees for 37.5 feet on either side of new utility poles, throughout the length of the highway project. The poles, which are now along the road, would be moved 16 feet from the highway edge, this area declared a “clear zone,” and the poles themselves increased in height from 40 feet to 57 feet.
David Gibson, Association Executive Director said that he was “astonished to find that the Route 28 project as currently proposed calls for clear cutting a swath of 53 feet from the highway shoulder for placement of super-sized power poles and electric lines,” adding that “clear-cutting trees in such a manner would drastically impact the Park’s scenic character, and violate numerous laws, policies and plans. The public will not stand for this kind of bad stewardship by our State agencies.”
“We contend that the Park’s history, State law, our State Constitution and, frankly, common sense, require all State agencies to take every precaution in design standards for Route 28 and for other combined highway-power line realignments throughout the Park. Our highways are the public’s window on the Adirondack Park and vital to positive public perceptions of the Park. The wild forest and rural character of the Park’s highways must be conserved,” Gibson said, calling the move an effort to “water-down” environmental guidelines by eliminating NYSERDA funding to establish a standard for the Adirondack Park for projects like the one proposed along Route 28.
Since the 1924 passage of the Adirondack Sign Law, the state has attempted to secure the scenic character of views along roadways inside the Blue Line. Scenic and historic highways programs have been developed over the years by state and local governments to exploit roadside opportunities, sometimes through significant investment.
According to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, state agencies are required to plan for these Travel Corridors to “achieve and maintain a park-like atmosphere… that complements the total Adirondack environment. Attention to the Park’s unique atmosphere is essential.” The DOT’s Guidelines for the Adirondack Park, which were approved in 2008 after disastrous roadside cutting along Routes 3 and 56, states: “The Adirondack Park is a special state treasure and our work with in its boundaries must be conducted with great care.”
The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks is calling for meetings to review standards for power line and road reconstruction that preserve the scenic character of the Park’s highways as potential “greenway” corridors.
The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Thursday, February 12 and Friday February 13, 2009 at the Adirondack Park Agency Headquarters in Ray Brook, NY. The meeting will be webcast live. The webcast can be found here: http://www.apa.state.ny.us
The Full Agency will convene on Thursday morning at 9:00 for the Acting Executive Director’s monthly report. » Continue Reading.
An Adirondack hotel that has gone all out to go green and educate guests, a Capital Region college that has taken big steps to reduce its ecological footprint, and a Hudson Valley school district effort to protect the water supply, reduce waste and run an organic garden are among the winners of the 2008 Environmental Excellence Awards announced today by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis.
The fifth annual New York State Environmental Excellence Awards ceremony took place in Albany today to acknowledge the winners and their projects. There were more than 40 applicants, with submissions coming from industry, local governments, advocacy groups, educational institutions, and the hospitality sector. A committee of 20 representatives from the public and private sectors selected the winning submissions.
“The projects selected are outstanding examples of how we can solve environmental challenges by using innovative and environmentally sustainable practices or creative partnerships.” Grannis said. “By recognizing New York’s environmental and conservation leaders, we hope to inspire stewardship so that others can make significant positive impacts and protect New York’s natural resources.”
Summaries of this year’s winners are below:
Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, Lake Placid, Essex County
Energy efficiency. Water conservation. Recycling. Green grounds. Environmental education. The Golden Arrow Resort has instituted green programs on a variety of fronts to reduce the environmental impact not only of the hotel, but also of the traveler. It features a “green roof” – a rooftop expanse of native plants that provides wildlife habitat, reduces water runoff and helps keep the inn warm in the winter and cool in the summer. A limestone beach reduces the impacts of acid rain. In-room recycling, insulated windows, energy-efficient lighting and low-flow plumbing fixtures are also part of the mix. The hotel offers incentives for guests that travel by foot, ski, bike or hybrid car. The Golden Arrow also assists others in the hospitality industry find ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
Brewster School District, Putnam County
Through its multi-faceted “Environmental Education/Sustainable Practices Project,” the Brewster Central School District has demonstrated leadership in protecting the environment and in promoting environmental education. This project includes significant capital improvements and managerial processes to save energy and to protect the region’s water supply by preventing excessive plant growth, loss of oxygen and fish kills in the receiving waters. The project also includes educational activities that have developed students’ awareness of environmental issues and have empowered them with opportunities to participate in meaningful, innovative, hands-on activities that have measurable environmental impacts. Accomplishments have already included a 50 percent district-wide reduction in solid waste production, a student-run organic garden, and a technologically advanced wastewater treatment facility built in 2007. Improvements have resulted in more than 17 percent in annual energy savings, 1,724,388 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions prevented, and 250,000 cubic feet each of paper and plastic waste diverted from landfills.
Union College, Schenectady County
Union College has instituted the U-Sustain initiative – an innovative, campus-wide program that involves faculty, staff, students and administrators with the goals of reducing the ecological footprint of the college, increasing environmental awareness on campus and in the community, and making the college more sustainable. Accomplishments thus far include the renovation of student apartments to be an eco-friendly house, energy reduction strategies, dining options that include student volunteers working with dining services to provide fresh, local and organic meals, initiatives to offset energy consumption, and increased recycling/waste reduction opportunities.
Chemung County Soil and Water Conservation District and Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board, Chemung County
These public agencies worked together to develop an innovative guide, “Stream Processes: A Guide to Living in Harmony with Streams,” that describes how streams work and why functioning floodplains are integral parts of the stream system. The guide contains dramatic photographs that help promote the need for sound management practices. The lessons learned can be applied to stream channels, floodplains, stream corridors, and watershed activities that do not trigger regulatory actions. The guide has already begun having a positive effect on decisions made by Chemung County landowners and local highway departments and its reach is expanding as a result of more than 30,000 guides being distributed to a variety of audiences throughout New York State.
Aslan Environmental and City of Kingston Wastewater Treatment Plant, Ulster County
The City of Kingston partnered the Aslan Group to develop a new and innovative system – the first of its kind in the world – for managing wastewater treatment plant residuals in an economical and environmentally sound manner. Waste “biogas” is captured from the plant’s digesters and utilized as the only required fuel to turn 10 wet-tons-per-day of municipal wastewater sludge into one ton-per-day of an EPA-recognized pelletized usable “biosolid.” The biosolid is distributed free of charge for use as a lawn fertilizer or furnace fuel, which costs less than the previous practice of landfill disposal. Also, methane gas is efficiently utilized within the process as a fuel and since very little methane is flared, oxides of nitrogen and other pollutant emissions have been reduced.
New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee, Albany County
The committee’s Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) – Farming New York Cleaner and Greener program serves as a national model of how a voluntary, incentive-based approach to agricultural management can successfully protect and enhance soil and water resources, while preserving the economic viability of a diverse agricultural community. AEM assists farmers in making practical, cost-effective decisions that result in the sustainable use of New York’s natural resources. Recently the program has expanded efforts to assist vineyards. Currently 52 growers have completed a new self-assessment workbook, which has resulted in the development of 16 action plans that implemented an average of nine improved farming practices at each location. While AEM supports voluntary environmental stewardship, it is also a vehicle by which changes in environmental regulations have been effectively implemented at over 600 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Plans have been successfully developed for all 147 large CAFOs and 92 percent of the state’s 472 medium sized CAFOs. More than 10,000 New York farm families participate and receive information, education and technical assistance so that farmers are able to operate cleaner and greener while competing in today’s global market.
The Wild Center has unveiled final plans for the Adirondack Climate gathering, describing the economic focus of the event. The conference, open to the public, will take place November 18 and 19 at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Officially titled ‘The American Response to Climate Change – The Adirondack Model: Using Climate Change Solutions to Restore a Rural American Economy,’ the event has been in the planning stages for more than a year. The Conference will include the release of a major study by the Wildlife Conservation Society compiling information on the current impacts of climate change on the Adirondacks and showing detailed projections for the region in the near future.
The goal of the Conference according to organizers is to develop a local plan to boost the region’s economy in a world changed by climate related economics. Mickey Desmarais, who is the Mayor of Tupper Lake, is part of the Conference planning team. “We are all in agreement that new type of green power production is exciting,” he said, “but the biggest and most effective thing we can all do is to conserve what we have. It has to be done at every level, town, village, and in each and every home. We have never had this cost incentive before–-now we do and we are paying attention. We need to keep educating ourselves and the discussion at the conference will help us do that. We know our winter weather is more severe than other parts of the state so that is all the more reason to be smarter about energy. ”
The Adirondack Conference will include groups focused on energy-efficient buildings that will reduce area energy bills and create new jobs through retrofits of existing buildings and new construction, alternative fuels including cellulosic biofuels and forest by-products, small scale power generation technologies and how they could be developed in the region, the development of new local businesses that will benefit from the expected new cap on national carbon emissions, and the role of natural resources, such as clean water and forests. With water shortages predicted by many climate models, the Adirondack supply may have special future value. There is more information about the conference at its official website, www.usclimateaction.org.
“Many of us think this is the best place in the world to live and raise families,” said Ann Heidenreich, Executive Director of Community Energy Services and another of the Conference organizers. “The people here know how to do things. We like to be independent, we get things done ourselves. I don’t see any reason in the world that we can’t get together as Adirondackers and take this opportunity to have the rest of the country say, ‘wow, those guys figured it out.’ I think we can figure out how to put energy money back into our own neighborhoods instead of sending it to Canada or Saudi Arabia for oil.”
Kate Fish, a Lake Placid resident who is Conference Director for both the National and Adirondack Conferences, said that the Adirondack gathering could have immediate impact, and said that many grassroots organizations were already helping to boost the region. “There is something big already happening here. People are looking into the future and seeing that the age of cheap energy is over – that means a possible new day for local food, for locally-generated electricity, for local materials that used to be priced out of the market because it was cheaper to truck something from Mexico than to buy it from a local maker, and when all that changes, a place like the Adirondacks could actually come out ahead.” She cited a study that says that every dollar spent locally circulates between 5 and 14 times in the local community. Fish said that last year Essex County residents alone spent $15 million on fuel oil to heat their homes, 70 percent of it imported. “That’s a lot of money to send away, and a lot that could be invested it in local power generation or savings.”
Stephanie Ratcliffe is executive director of The Wild Center where the idea for the national climate conference held last June and the regional conference was created. Ratcliffe says the conferences were custom-made for the new Museum. “We’re here in part so people can come together to dig into ideas that are important for how the Adirondacks work. We do need a better economy here, and we don’t need a snowless winter. The Adirondack idea of people living with nature works when our kids don’t have to move away to find jobs, and when we can still swim in clean lakes, this Conference gets at both those issues.”
The Adirondack Conference will take place after the election. “Washington won’t start to move until 2009,” said Lake Placid Mayor Jamie Rogers, one of the Conference co-chairs. “The more you look at this the more you see two things. We actually can do this. We can become more independent, and then you see that we’re in great shape to be out in front in the Adirondacks. We don’t have billions of dollars of skyscrapers that all have to be redone. I think of someone in New York City trying to get local food, or a local hydro dam or cutting the waste in their water system, boy it would be tough. We’ve already cut our electric use in Lake Placid by enlisting the scouts to sell energy efficient light bulbs instead of candy.”
The Adirondack Conference will be attended by members of the following businesses, academic institutions, and organizations: New York State Tug Hill Commission, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Wildlife Conservations Society, The Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Park Agency, New York State Department of State, Workforce Development Institute, Adirondack Community Housing Trust, Adirondack Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, SUNY – ESF, St. Lawrence University, Houghton College, Hamilton College, Paul Smith’s College, Community Power Network, Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Mountain Club, Energy $mart Park Initiative, and the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.
The Conference is open to the public. To register, please visit www.usclimateaction.org