Tompkins County Works to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

As it has since 2009, the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI) recently issued its annual report on member activities in 2021 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the transition to clean energy.

A coalition of activists leaders and concerned citizens, TCCPI meets monthly to discuss and share information about what we can do locally to shrink our carbon footprint and help the community meet its ambitious climate goals.

The new report includes 36 submissions and covers a wide range of inspiring activities that reflect the commitment and engagement of hundreds of individuals working together locally to better our world.

The biggest news of 2021 was the Ithaca Common Council’s vote in November to begin decarbonization of the city’s 6,000 buildings. Under the leadership of Luis Aguirre-Torres, who came on board in March as the city’s sustainability director, the plan secured $105 million in private investment to carry out energy efficiency retrofits and install heat pumps.

The initiative followed the adoption in June of the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement requiring net-zero construction for new buildings by 2026. The city also launched a process to implement all-renewable community choice aggregation for residents and proposed a 25-acre solar array in the southwest area of the city.

Other municipalities took important steps to facilitate the transition to clean energy. Tompkins County developed a Green Facilities Plan to improve energy efficiency of its buildings, and the Legislature approved a $7 million bond to kick off phase one of the plan.

The Town of Ithaca also adopted the Energy Code Supplement and joined with the city to develop a community choice aggregation program. The towns of Ithaca, Caroline and Dryden conducted clean heating programs in partnership with HeatSmart Tompkins, resulting in grant funding and numerous heat pump installations.

Dryden adopted the NYS Stretch Code to require higher energy efficiency in new construction and, along with the town of Ithaca, continued to install LED streetlights.

The highlight of 2021 in the transportation sector took place on Earth Day when Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) unveiled its first-ever fleet of electric buses. The Center for Community Transportation (CCT), Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) and Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) carried out key efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

CCT’s Ithaca Carshare, Bike Walk Tompkins (and its signature program Streets Alive! Ithaca) and Backup Ride Home all continued to play vital roles in promoting alternatives to car ownership and single-occupancy commuting, as did CCE-Tompkins’ Way2Go and DIA’s GO Ithaca.

CTC and CCE-Tompkins also collaborated on identifying and addressing barriers to the wider adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) among underserved populations. In addition, TCAT, Ithaca Carshare and CCE-Tompkins partnered on several events offering opportunities to see EVs and speak with EV owners. Both Tompkins County and Ithaca Carshare added several EVs to their fleets, and the city explored ways to electrify its fleet and deploy a shared electric bike program.

Recycling, reuse and waste management also saw significant new developments in 2021. Finger Lakes ReUse made perhaps the biggest splash with its opening of the ReUse MegaCenter at Triphammer Marketplace. The new location, with a half-acre of retail space, is now one of the largest reuse business locations in upstate New York.

In all, Finger Lakes ReUse diverted an estimated 1,023 tons of materials through its three locations, including furniture, building materials, housewares, electronics, books, textiles, appliances and more.

Cornell University has reduced campus waste by one-third in the last five years, and reuse and reclamation doubled in the last year.

Twelve restaurants and eateries on The Commons support Zero Waste Tompkins’ Ithaca Reduces program by asking customers to bring their own containers and cups. Furthermore, downtown Ithaca has about a dozen independent, locally owned stores that specialize in reuse and recycled products.

Education and advocacy were crucial components of the climate protection effort in 2021. Cornell and CCE-Tompkins, in particular, played major parts on the education front. Thanks to the ongoing integration of sustainability into campus learning and research, 100% of Cornell students now graduate with sustainability learning outcomes, beginning with a requirement that all incoming students complete a sustainability assessment and learning module.

Over 40 living laboratory projects take place each year using the campus as an innovation hub for sustainability solutions. Students can major, minor or concentrate in 87 programs focused on sustainability. Nearly all academic departments are currently undertaking sustainability-focused research, including 619 faculty fellows associated with the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

These and other achievements earned the university a third consecutive Platinum rating in 2022 from STARS, the international gold standard for assessing campus sustainability work.

At CCE-Tompkins, the Energy and Climate Change team worked with city staff and other key community stakeholders to explore strategies for community education and outreach around the Ithaca Green New Deal (IGND). The city sustainability office and CCE-Tompkins joined with the training program Roots of Success to begin development of a regional workforce training ecosystem.

In addition, CCE-Tompkins staff created resources for CCE educators across the state on large-scale solar development and reducing energy use. Get Your GreenBack, which became part of CCE-Tompkins in late 2021, saw its volunteer Energy Navigator program expand dramatically with a NYSERDA grant to revise its curriculum and take its operation statewide.

The tiny home PowerHouse proved to be a big hit, demonstrating at outreach events and school programs how to reduce energy use and transition to renewable energy. Together with HeatSmart Tompkins and Sustainable Finger Lakes (formerly Sustainable Tompkins), these efforts helped to increase the adoption of home energy retrofits and heat pumps.

PRI/Museum of the Earth, the Sciencenter, New Roots Charter School, the Ithaca 2030 District, TCCPI and the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council carried out other important educational work regarding climate, energy and sustainability in 2021.

Advocacy activities took on an increasing sense of urgency as climate change accelerated in 2021. The local chapters of Citizens Climate Lobby and Climate Reality Project worked to raise awareness about federal legislation such as the carbon dividend bill and the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which in 2019 established aggressive climate targets.

Fossil Free Tompkins (FFT) and HeatSmart Tompkins actively participated in the statewide Renewable Heat Now coalition, which scored important victories in the recent legislative session, including passage of a moratorium on the use of fossil fuel plants for cryptocurrency mining.

FFT and other local environmentalist organizations campaigned to ensure that Greenidge Power Plant did not get its air permit renewed, and these groups also supported the successful purchase by Finger Lakes Land Trust of NYSEG’s Bell Station property. Sunrise Ithaca held events throughout 2021, including a Green Building Policy Town Hall, several climate rallies and a community forum on the implementation of the IGND.

At the heart of all this outstanding work, as always, was the Park Foundation. Without its generous, ongoing financial support and guidance, many if not most of the activities captured in the TCCPI report would not have occurred. The community owes a debt of gratitude to the foundation and its extraordinary record of civic betterment.

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