Tompkins County passes energy efficiency legislation

May 03, 2016 No Comments by

by David Stern

Sustainability is a word familiar to many Ithaca residents. Many organizations, businesses and government officials claim a commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions and making Ithaca an environmentally friendly place to live. Such widespread support for sustainability is exemplified by the unanimous acceptance of the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap.

Passed by the Tompkins County Legislature on April 19, the Energy Roadmap provides a comprehensive plan for improving energy efficiency. From building practices, to food production, to the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, the Energy Roadmap intends to maximize efficiency and reduce the county’s greenhouse emissions 80 percent by the year 2050.

Food systems do in fact play a major role in the energy use and emissions of a community. According to the Climate Change and Food Systems study published by the Annual Review of Environment and Resources in November 2012, food systems contributed between 19 and 29 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2008.

In that year, the agricultural sector of Tompkins County emitted nearly 44,000 tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Energy Roadmap. This makes agriculture the second leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in Tompkins County, next to energy sources such as fossil fuels. The Energy Roadmap combats this issue by encouraging farmers to use excess methane to power fuel generators and produce thermal energy, thus reducing the emissions in the atmosphere.

Organizations such as the Groundswell Center, the GreenStar Cooperative Market and the Ithaca Farmers Market promote sustainable agriculture by connecting local organic farms to consumers in the greater Ithaca community. Grocery stores such as Wegman’s, as well as a variety of restaurants, contribute to the culture of environmental sustainability by offering locally raised organic food to their customers.

“We’re lucky to have a lot of support for sustainability locally,” Nick Goldsmith, Sustainability Coordinator for the Town and City of Ithaca, said. “The county, the town of Ithaca and the city of Ithaca all have goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Even with the widespread environmental awareness across Tompkins County, the unanimous acceptance of the bill was a surprise for some. Guillermo Metz, Green Building and Renewable Energy Program Coordinator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, said many of the initial concerns regarding the Energy Roadmap revolved around the potential economic impact of the carbon reduction goals.

“Coming on the heels of that kind of conversation and history, it’s even more surprising that it was unanimous,” Metz said.

Metz also said these concerns over economic development were eased because the plan will incorporate renewable energy into the existing economic structure.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County is one of the many local organizations that provide programs and services designed to promote environmental sustainability, such as maintaining community gardens, promoting the use of renewable energy, and holding classes pertaining to composting and food management.

Metz works as an energy educator with a focus on improving the environment. He said the CCE has worked to improve the self-sufficiency of the local community, highlighting the ‘Solarize’ program that hopes to get more people to adopt solar energy.

Speaking to the agricultural aspects of sustainability, Metz said the programs aimed at getting people to buy local food have had continued success.

“Support local farms, eat healthier, know where your food’s coming from,” Metz said. “You could say that there’s an energy aspect to a lot of that as well.”

Goldsmith said passing the Energy Roadmap legislation is a testament to the collective commitment to environmental sustainability in this area, yet it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where this culture of environmental awareness stems from.

“I don’t think it’s the size, I think it’s just the population,” Goldsmith said. “It’s hard to say why but there is a lot going on in terms of nonprofits and businesses in the community, and the municipalities themselves are dealing with it on various levels.”

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Agriculture, Sustainability

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