Setting an example in sustainable energy, one public corporation at a time

In connecting a five-megawatt solar array to the power grid, the Monroe County Water Authority is providing cost-certainty for its electricity use while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Water Authority, a public benefit corporation, also is setting an example for private enterprise by investing in sustainable energy and embracing environmental stewardship, officials say.

“This project demonstrates how public entities can help lead the way,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said. “The future generations are looking at the actions we’re taking now.”

The MCWA partnered with Sol Energy, a renewable energy company based in Washington, D.C., and the New York Power Authority on the project. Energy from the array is fed into the Rochester Gas & Electric grid, and the MCWA then receives a credit on its bill, reducing the annual costs for the pumping and treatment of water by about 15 percent.

“Not only are costs reduced, but it provides steady, predictable costs,” said Mark Cooper, associate vice president of operations for Sol Systems, referring to the ever-fluctuating cost of other energy sources.

The solar array was built on 29 acres of unused Water Authority property, part of a 140-acre plot just off Route 441 in Penfield. The remaining acreage eventually will be home to a new reservoir, when the need arises.

A 5-megawatt solar array will slice 15 percent off the Monroe County Water Authority’s annual electric bill. (Photo by Kevin Oklobzija)

“This project is the first step in our efforts to reduce the carbon footprint and foster sustainability,” said Nick Noce, executive director of the MCWA.

The array was built with bifacial panels, meaning light will be captured by both sides (especially on snow-covered ground in the winter, when sunlight reflects upward). The motorized panels also use a single-axis tracking system, so panels adjust as the sun moves, providing greater efficiency in capturing solar energy.

But the solar panels aren’t the only environmentally friendly feature of the project. A carefully selected cluster of vegetation — “fuzz and buzz,” Cooper called it — was selected for planting within the array panels to enhance bee and insect sustainability.

“It’s really, truly green and is helping the environment,” Noce said.

Productivity and results will be analyzed to determine whether the MCWA considers similar projects in the future.

Bello already is championing the efforts. The county has its own 13-megwatt solar array, part of the administration’s wide-ranging climate action plan meant to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This project fits really neatly into some of the goals we have to become a climate-smart community,” Bello said. “When I took office we did not have a climate action plan, and that’s why leadership by example is so important.”

Other elected leaders also are calling for increased efforts within the business community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Three members of the Monroe County Legislature — Carolyn Delvecchio Hoffman, Susan Hughes-Smith and Mercedes Vazquez Simmons — and Rochester City Council member Mitch Gruber joined elected officials from 23 states in signing a letter urging Walmart to install solar panels on the roofs of its stores, where viable.

The nonprofit Environment America released a report in January that said the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of America’s big-box stores could power nearly 8 million homes. Sol Systems worked with Walmart to install solar arrays on seven stores in California last year.

“It makes a lot of economic sense for businesses that have high-energy demand and rooftop space,” Hughes-Smith said. “And using already available rooftops means you’re not taking up space elsewhere.

“The challenge is always the upfront investment, but over the long run they would save money. But a lot of companies are not looking at the ROI (return on investment) over a 20-year period.”

To accelerate private investment in renewable energy close to home, Monroe County introduced the C-PACE (Commercial-Property Assessed Clean Energy) program last year. C-PACE provides low-interest loans for hard and soft costs associated with clean energy upgrades and building updates.

“Businesses can borrow money at low costs for energy-efficient upgrades or green technology,” Hughes-Smith said. “And they can put the loan on the tax assessment; it stays with the building, not the business.”

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PaintCare establishes paint recycling sites

There are 22 paint stores and hardware stores in the Rochester area participating in PaintCare’s recycling program. (Photo provided)

A paint recycling program through the nonprofit PaintCare is now operational in Rochester and surrounding counties.

The program allows individual households as well as schools and businesses to recycle leftover paint, stain and varnish in an environmentally friendly way.

There are 22 drop-off locations in the Rochester metro area and surrounding communities, including Brockport, Le Roy, Canandaigua, Batavia, Geneseo, Geneva and Newark. Participating retail outlets are paint and hardware store. To find a location, visit the PaintCare drop-off locator website.

Most PaintCare sites accept latex- and oil-based architectural paint products, including paints, stains, sealers and varnishes. Paint must be dropped off in its original container with its original manufacturer’s label. There is no charge. The website has information on products accepted.

All sites accept up to five gallons of paint from each customer, and some sites may accept more. Those planning to drop off paint are encouraged to call ahead to ensure the site can accept the amount and type of paint they want to recycle and confirm the site’s hours of operation.

Recycling is paid for through fees on the sale of new paint (45 cents for a half pint up to smaller than one gallon; 95 cents for one gallon up to two gallons; and $1.95 for larger than two gallons up to five gallons.

PaintCare was created by the paint industry to manage leftovers in states that enacted paint stewardship laws.

“Paint products can harm the environment if not managed properly,” said Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a news release. “New York State’s Paint Stewardship Program will simplify the process for those looking to dispose of paint by providing a collection network of paint retailers, local government facilities, and reuse stores at more than 300 drop-off sites across the state.”

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Four EV charging stations added at Batavia businesses

The city of Batavia last week marked the installation of four new electric vehicle charging stations. City officials were joined by community leaders and representatives of National Grid to commemorate the installation that was made possible by National Grid’s Make-Ready Electric Vehicle program, which funds electricity infrastructure costs associated with new EV charging stations for its upstate electric business customers.

“The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce is proud to promote, support and connect our local business and tourism communities. We believe passionately in collaborations that enhance our abilities to live, work and play in Genesee County,” said Chamber President Erik Fix. “We are grateful for our partnership with National Grid and the BID (Business Improvement District) and appreciate them working together to bring EV car charging stations to downtown Batavia.”

National Grid’s program covered more than 90 percent of the infrastructure costs to install the charging stations, which includes two at Mancuso Bowling Center and two at the City Church.

“The Downtown Batavia Business Improvement District board of directors was excited to pursue this project and are thrilled to see four EV charging locations within our downtown,” said BID Executive Director Beth Kemp in a statement. “We would not have been able to move forward with these progressive additions to our downtown without the assistance of National Grid, NYSERDA, Rick Mancuso and Marty Macdonald. Thank you to all partners involved.”

National Grid’s EV charging program is available for businesses, multi-unit residential buildings and retail stores, as well as parks and vacation destinations. The company also offers a program for companies looking to electrify their fleets, which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and meet the decarbonization goals of the states where the utility operates, officials said.

“Electric vehicle adoption is on the rise in New York state, and EV charging stations are a great way to attract employees and also a great way to attract and retain new customers,” said Paul Gister, customer and community engagement manager for National Grid.

Gister also said that EV charging stations have become more popular among landlords seeking to attract and retain tenants, as well as help the state achieve its energy targets.

“These programs include incentives for customers who have an eye on the future, who support clean energy initiatives and are providing a necessity for the vehicles that will take us there,” Gister added. “Initiatives like these are at the heart of how we collaborate with customers and significantly impact our communities and community partners. These kinds of collaborations are central to our Project C Initiative, which was created to inspire change and create a more equitable future for our customers and communities.”

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Rural youth to help strengthen climate-related readiness

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded three partner organizations nearly $450,000 to fund a program that will help rural youth strengthen their communities’ readiness for climate-related challenges.

The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the Alliance for Climate Education received the funding in support of their project Empowering Rural Youth for Community Climate Resilience in New York State.

The three-year collaboration will support leadership opportunities for rural youth as they work with community partners and municipalities on climate resilience best practices and planning. The project also will increase awareness of the state’s Climate Smart Communities program and ongoing NOAA climate research, officials said.

“Climate change is here and we are seeing this manifested in degradation to Finger Lakes water quality from warmer surface water temperatures, more extreme precipitation events and higher frequencies of harmful algal blooms,” said FLI Director Lisa Cleckner.

Project partners are building on the success of the youth climate summit movement, which began in 2019 at the Wild Center to empower students to take climate action. The positive impact of the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit inspired the inaugural Finger Lakes Youth Climate Summit in 2017. The Finger Lakes Youth Climate Summit has served more than 350 high school students from the region since its creation with funding from sponsors Siemens and the Wyckoff Family Foundation.

“Young people are extremely motivated to be part of the solution to climate change,” said FLI’s Associate Director for Educational Programs Nadia Harvieux. “We are very excited about the NOAA-supported opportunities these new initiatives will provide youth in the Finger Lakes region, Adirondacks and beyond.”

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New campaign aims to reduce carbon footprint

On Thursday, Sept. 23, Causewave Community Partners will unveil a new campaign to promote the use of carbon-free electricity to power the region’s buildings and vehicles.

AMPED, an initiative that was developed by a number of community partners including Climate Solutions Accelerator, Greater Rochester Clean Cities, New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, the city of Rochester and several others, will launch Thursday with a program at Imaginarium at I-Square in Irondequoit.

Event speakers include:
• Todd Butler, president and CEO, Causewave Community Partners
• Abby McHugh-Grifa, executive director, Climate Solutions Accelerator
• David Keefe, coordinator, Greater Rochester Clean Cities
• Tamara Mayberry, director of intergovernmental affairs, Empire State Development
• Scott Ensign, VP client solutions, Butler/Till
• Donna VonDerLinn, creative director, Butler/Till
• David Belaskas, director of engineering and facilities management, Regional Transit Service
• Michael Waller, director of sustainability, Rochester Regional Health
• Adrienne Pettinelli, director, Henrietta Public Library

The event also will include networking.

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NYSERDA opens applications for $15 million Carbon Challenge

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has launched the third round of the Commercial and Industrial Carbon Challenge, making $15 million available as part of Round XI of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative.

The C&I Carbon Challenge will help reduce carbon emissions at commercial and industrial businesses and institutions, combat climate change and drive economic growth statewide, officials said, and supports the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

“Launching the third round of the C&I Carbon Challenge demonstrates Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo’s steadfast commitment to investing in private-public partnerships that help to make some of New York’s largest energy users cleaner and more efficient,” said NYSERDA President and CEO Doreen Harris. “This funding will allow more commercial and industrial business owners across the state to adopt clean energy measures to reduce the onsite emissions and carbon footprint of their buildings while moving us closer to the achievement of the Governor’s nation-leading climate and clean energy goals.”

The C&I Carbon Challenge is a competitive program that provides funding to large commercial and industrial energy users to implement various cost-effective clean energy projects that reduce carbon emissions. The third round of funding is being made available to eligible businesses including manufacturers, colleges, health care facilities and more.

Funding will be provided in two categories. Category A is $10 million for proposals that include key solutions around beneficial electrification and reducing emissions related to manufacturing processes, while Category B is $5 million for proposals that employ energy efficiency, onsite clean energy generation or any other greenhouse gas reducing solution not included in Category A.

The challenge will provide awards ranging from $500,000 to $5 million. The deadline to apply is July 30.

“Building back better in New York state means continuing to fight climate change and investing in clean energy,” said Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President and CEO-designate Eric Gertler. “NYSERDA’s $15 million challenge through the Regional Economic Development Council initiative will help commercial and industrial energy users find and implement projects to cut carbon emissions, supporting economic growth and encouraging greater sustainability across the state.”

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Rochester brownfield projects receive federal funding

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $1.4 million in Western New York for three brownfield cleanup projects, including one in the Rochester region.

Nationwide, more than 150 communities will receive 154 grants totaling $66.5 million through the EPA’s Multipurpose, Assessment and Cleanup Grants. The funding will support underserved and economically disadvantaged communities nationwide in assessing and cleaning up contaminated and abandoned industrial and commercial properties. Roughly half of the selected recipients will receive EPA Brownfields Grant funding for the first time and more than 85 percent are located in or serve small communities.

“Cleaning up brownfields helps protect the environment and serves as a catalyst to jumpstart much-needed economic growth in Western New York communities, often in historically underserved areas,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan in a statement. “These grants address decades-old sources of pollution and bring together a broad spectrum of stakeholders who work in concert to make their communities better and more sustainable places to live, work and play.”

The city of Rochester will receive an $800,000 multipurpose grant to be used to conduct an environmental site assessment at the Bull’s Head Plaza on West Main Street, as well as an environmental site assessment and cleanup at the 42 York St. property.

The mostly vacant Bull’s Head plaza was constructed as an automotive-oriented commercial and retail shopping center in the 1950s and is contaminated with chlorinated volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and semi-volatile organic compounds, officials noted.

The 42 York St. property previously was developed with residential properties and parking areas. Fill material historically deposited on the property is contaminated with heavy metals and SVOCs.

Grant funds also will be used to conduct community outreach activities.

“As we work together to restore the vitality and prominence of Bull’s Head, I am extremely grateful for the Environmental Protection Agency’s continued commitment to rebuild and restore this important part of Rochester’s west side,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. “The EPA’s award of $800,000 through their Brownfield Grant Program is a critical investment towards our transformative redevelopment at Bull’s Head. Together with local resources and the EPA’s previous award of $408,000 last year, this historic part of our city is poised for remarkable positive change.”

The EPA expects to award the grants once all legal and administrative requirements are satisfied by the selected recipients.

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Power Authority develops sustainability plan

The New York Power Authority last week said it has developed a five-year plan that establishes goals and strategies to achieve the state’s climate leadership goals through a comprehensive sustainability agenda.

Progress against NYPA’s Sustainability Plan will be measured with annual sustainability reports that will detail the organization’s progress as the Authority continues to lead New York State’s transition to a carbon-free, economically vibrant New York, the agency said.

“As we at the New York Power Authority take bold steps to lead our state’s transformation to a clean energy economy, we need to do so in a transparent way that informs our stakeholders about our business decisions and priorities while keeping our commitment to sustainability at the forefront,” said NYPA Chairman John Koelmel in a statement. “We will rely on clear policies, practices and controls to guide our sustainability efforts as we continue to provide clean, affordable electricity and energy services to our customers and reliable generation and transmission for all of New York.”

The 2021-2025 Sustainability Plan serves as a roadmap to deliver on a best-in-class sustainability strategy to meet the present and future needs of stakeholders and enhance long-term ESG performance, officials said. The plan outlines the steps NYPA and its subsidiary, the New York State Canal Corporation, are committed to taking to advance sustainability efforts across 15 environmental, social and governance (ESG) focus areas. The plan will evolve as the ESG initiatives advance to support VISION2030 implementation.

“By using an ESG framework to manage and measure NYPA’s sustainability commitments and successes, we will be able to share key milestones as we advance some of the nation’s most ambitious climate targets,” said NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones. “Everything we do as we embark on transforming our energy system for a clean energy future will be shaped by our sustainability strategy as we pursue decarbonization, foster economic growth and create an ESG blueprint for others to follow.”

Sustainability, measured through an ESG structure, is a foundational pillar of VISION2030, NYPA’s recently introduced strategic plan to help lead the state energy infrastructure’s transformation into a clean, reliable, resilient and affordable system over the next decade. NYPA will assess its business through the ESG framework, which guides long-term business investments and shows transparency and accountability.

The Sustainability Plan describes NYPA goals and strategies that have been identified for 15 key sustainability focus areas, in alignment with VISION2030, the CLCPA, state energy programs and executive orders and industry leading practices. The areas, ranging from renewable energy to employee development to risk management, are considered to have the greatest potential impact on NYPA’s business and to be of most importance to stakeholders, officials said. The plan has been developed with guidance and input from business units and department leaders across the organization, including Sustainability Advisory Council members, subject matter experts and other key stakeholders.

The report highlights NYPA’s sustainability commitments and accomplishments in 2020, including:

• Work toward a 2035 target for eliminating carbon emissions from NYPA’s small clean power plant portfolio, a significant step toward meeting the state goal of a carbon-free power system by 2040.
• The financing of hundreds of millions of dollars of customer energy efficiency and clean energy projects.
• Supporting 400,000 jobs across New York State through economic development programs.
• Supporting the development and engagement of a diverse workforce through a 10-Point Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan.
• Continuing to fund a $300 million Reimagine the Canals initiative to revitalize the Erie Canal corridor as a prime tourism and recreation destination.

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On Earth Day, majority of New Yorkers concerned about pollution, climate change

Nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers say they are very concerned about water pollution, air pollution and deforestation, a new Siena College Research Institute (SCRI) survey shows.

More than half of the respondents to the Earth Day poll said they are very concerned about climate change.

“New Yorkers, by over two-to-one, believe policies designed to protect the environment are more likely to help rather than hurt the economy,” said SCRI Director Don Levy. “Just under 60 percent say that we are at the point of no return and if our government, businesses and population don’t actively address the threats to our environment, we will do irreparable damage to our planet.”

In nearly every category, more female respondents said they were very concerned about pollution and climate-changing factors. Sixty-nine percent of female respondents said they were very concerned about water pollution, compared with 58 percent of male respondents. Some 62 percent of female respondents said they were very concerned about climate change, compared with 51 percent of males. And 54 percent of women said they were very concerned about waste disposal, compared with 44 percent of men.

While 70 percent of New Yorkers very often recycle waste including paper, cardboard and plastic and 69 percent very often use reusable bags, fewer than half very often conserve electricity by lessening use, try to conserve water or use reusable beverage containers. Majorities engage in each of those conservation measures at least sometimes, and a majority at least sometimes also cut back on the amount of computer paper that they use, and use forms of transportation that could include public transportation, carpooling, walking or biking in order to reduce auto emissions.

“While Democrats overwhelmingly support pro-environmental policies, believe those policies will spur economic activity and think failing to protect the environment will lead to irreversible harm, Republicans disagree,” Levy said. “Not only does a majority of Republicans think that pro-environmental policies will hurt the economy, but nearly two-thirds despite supporting efforts to protect clean water and air, say that we’re doing as much as we should and doing too much is too expensive for us and our nation.”

When it comes to environmental policies, Levy added, majorities of New Yorkers support making our cities more pedestrian-friendly, promoting the widespread use of electric cars, having New York produce 100 percent of its electricity with zero emissions by 2040 and the U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Accords.

“A small majority even supports encouraging New Yorkers to move toward a more plant-based diet,” Levy noted.

A new Gallup poll shows that four in 10 Americans consider themselves environmentalists. That is down considerably from the 78 percent who called themselves environmentalists in 1991. A decline has been seen across the board from Republicans, Democrats and independents, the poll found, and today 50 percent of Democrats, 44 percent of independents and 24 percent of Republicans think of themselves that way.

Environmentalists differ most from non-environmentalists in the level of concern about global warming and climate change, the poll found, with 63 percent of environmentalists and 29 percent of non-environmentalists worrying “a great deal” about the issue.

Some 70 percent of environmentalists say the U.S. is doing too little to protect the environment, compared with 46 percent of non-environmentalists. Nearly three-quarters of environmentalists think the effects of global warming already have begun to happen, while 50 percent of non-environmentalists feel the same way.

In a separate poll, Gallup found that roughly 70 percent of U.S. workers say that a company’s environmental record matters to some degree in whether or not they would take a job with that company. Nearly one-quarter of those say it is a major factor in their decision to work for a company.

U.S. workers who identify as Democrats are the subgroup most likely to say a company’s environmental record is a major factor in taking a job. Women also are a bit more inclined than men to prioritize environmental records when looking for work.

“If Americans become more likely to perceive climate change as a pressing issue, employers who do not have a strong record on protecting the environment may have a harder time finding employees,” Gallup’s researchers noted.

In a recent ranking of the nation’s “most sustainable cities,” Lawnstarter, a startup lawn care service with locations here and in dozens of locations nationwide, ranked Rochester sixth, behind San Francisco, Boston, Sacramento, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

Key factors in Rochester’s high rating include:
• Third in the number of incentives and policies supporting renewables and energy efficiency
• Seventh for its alternative-fuel stations per 100,000 residents
• 29th for its median air quality index where a lower value equates to better quality
• 28th in its share of workers who walk, bike, carpool, or ride public transit to work
• Sixth for its farmers markets per 100,000 residents

Lawnstarter ranked 200 of the nation’s largest cities for the “Most Sustainable Cities in the U.S.”

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Climate change coalition rebrands

climate-solutions-accelerator-logoThe Rochester People’s Climate Coalition has rebranded as Climate Solutions Accelerator of the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region. The organization also unveiled a new logo and a new website.

The regional climate advocacy organization was founded in 2014. The rebranding is the culmination of strategic planning undertaken to advance the accelerator’s mission to create a healthier, more equitable and environmentally sustainable community by catalyzing local efforts to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and address the effects of climate change.

“Our new name better articulates who we are what we do and where we do it,” said Executive Director Abigail McHugh-Grifa in a statement. “Climate Solutions Accelerator reflects our focus on mobilizing effective climate action among governments, organizations and citizens across our nine-county region; it highlights the urgency of the climate crisis that drives our work and our community’s ability to quickly implement systemic solutions.”

McHugh-Grifa added that the new name will allow the organization to engage a broader and more diverse range of collaborative partners in order to expedite the region’s transition to a clean energy economy.

“We’re thrilled to share it publicly and get right back to work,” she said.

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REMADE Institute to offer $35 million for recycling technologies

The REMADE Institute is issuing its fourth request for proposals to invest up to $35 million for research and development of transformational technologies to transition to the circular economy.

REMADE has made it a priority to focus on the plastic value chain by seeking proposals that will significantly increase the domestic recycling of plastics. Using recycled plastic instead of virgin plastic can reduce energy consumption by up to 79 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 67 percent, officials said.

The RFP is for technologies that will increase the recovery, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling of metals, polymers, fibers and e-waste. The funding will be matched by project participants, for a total investment of up to $70 million.

Nabil Nasr
Nabil Nasr

“With the challenges facing industry today, it is increasingly important to improve U.S. manufacturing competitiveness,” said REMADE CEO Nabil Nasr. “Our partnership of 100 industry, national laboratory and academic innovators are working together to reduce the energy and environmental burden of domestic manufacturing while delivering value to industry, the economy and the environment.”

REMADE has invested $20 million in projects to date. The organization was founded in 2017 and is a $140 million Manufacturing USA Institute co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. It is the only national institute primarily focused on the development of transformational technologies to support U.S. manufacturing in the transition to a circular economy. It is based in Rochester.

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New York to ramp up truck, bus electrification

Fifteen states, including New York, and the District of Columbia have signed on to develop an action plan to ramp up the electrification of buses and trucks.

In a joint memorandum of understanding, New York state has committed to collaborate with others to accelerate the market for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including large pickup trucks and vans, delivery vehicles, box trucks, school and transit buses and long-haul delivery trucks. The goal of the MOU is to ensure that 100 percent of all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales be zero-emission vehicles by 2050, officials said.

The states have an interim target of 30 percent zero-emission vehicle sales in those categories by 2030.

“With a lack of federal leadership and an outright failure to follow science, it has fallen to the states to address the climate crisis by working together to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from all sources,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in Tuesday’s announcement. “Reducing pollution from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles will result in cleaner air for New Yorkers, particularly low-income neighborhoods and communities of color that have historically and disproportionately borne the brunt of the worst environmental consequences.

“As New York continues to implement nation-leading climate initiatives, this multi-state agreement furthers the critical leadership roles of the states in combatting climate change and establishes an example for other states to follow,” he said.

Other signatories to the MOU include California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

“Getting to school or commuting to work shouldn’t include a daily dose of toxic pollution or increase the chances that people will get sick,” said Matt Casale, transportation campaign director for U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, in a separate statement. “These states’ commitment to 100 percent zero-emission school and transit buses, along with other heavy- and medium-duty trucks, will help slash lung-damaging pollution and save lives. The sooner we get more electric buses and trucks on the road, the healthier our kids and communities will be.”

The transportation sector is the nation’s largest source of climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to unhealthy levels of ozone and smog in part of the U.S., officials said. Trucks and buses account for an estimated 4 percent of vehicles on U.S. roadways but contribute nearly one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

“No package delivered by a diesel truck is worth dirty air, asthma and climate change. It’s time to shift past the old ways of thinking and move toward a clean environment with trucks that don’t pollute,” said Morgan Folger, Clean Cars Campaign director for Environment America. “Clean electric trucks can clear the air and help stave off the worst impacts of climate change. That’s the delivery we are all waiting for. This plan will play a major role in realizing that goal. We applaud the states involved for charting a path for zero-emission electric trucks to clean up our roads.”

MOU signatories will work through the existing multistate ZEV Task Force facilitated by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management to develop and implement a ZEV action plan for trucks and buses.

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Avangrid companies file energy plan

New York State Electric & Gas Corp. and Rochester Gas & Electric Corp. have filed their 2020 Distributed System Implementation Plan, the Avangrid Inc. subsidiaries’ strategy to integrate distributed energy resources (DER) into the New York grid.

The plan outlines the framework for how the companies will support New York state energy and decarbonization goals by building integrated planning and interconnection, grid operations and market services functions.

“The electric power industry is in the midst of unprecedented change, enabled by innovation and advances in emerging clean energy, power delivery, and information technologies,” said Rita King, senior director of Smart Grids Innovation and Planning at Avangrid. “The DSIP provides an actionable roadmap for our companies to support the decarbonization of New York’s economy, including the electrification of transportation and buildings, and will enable the integration of greater amounts of DER within our service areas. Our approach is customer-centric, clean, integrated and smart.”

The five-year implementation plan involves investments in several key areas, including grid automation, energy storage, electric vehicles (EV), smart meter (advanced metering infrastructure) implementation and market services.

Within those areas, the utilities plan to:
• Make significant progress in implementing a long-term grid automation program to improve the responsiveness, reliability, and efficiency of the distribution system. Investments will be made in grid devices that measure, monitor and control electric power flows along the network;
• Proactively support the identification and development of energy storage projects that benefit customers and the grid and are attractive to developers;
• Support the development of the EV market within its service territories through continued development of capabilities, including integrating EV load while minimizing the impact on peak demand, supporting EV growth with sufficient charging infrastructure while understanding impact and needs on the system. As part of the recent rate case settlement filing, the companies proposed and are preparing to implement a comprehensive EV Program that would accelerate EV adoption throughout its service territories;
• Deploy smart meters, planned to begin in the spring of 2022, after approval of the recent rate case settlement filing. Smart meters will help customers manage their energy usage, and support time-varying pricing and innovative rate structures; and
• Develop an online marketplace. The platform will empower customers to make better energy management decisions by connecting them to pricing options and programs, as well as to products and services offered by competitive suppliers.

In June, after months of negotiations, NYSEG and RG&E agreed to a slate of gas reduction strategies, retracted $128 million for gas infrastructure including pipelines and funded $1.5 million for renewable heating systems for low-income residents.

As part of the settlement agreement on the gas case, filed on June 22, environmental groups secured utility commitments to plan their systems around no growth in gas use and to offset new customers’ gas use through energy efficiency, heat pumps, and other non-gas alternatives. The companies also plan to study and possibly implement district geothermal pilots. The companies further agreed to end their oil-to-gas conversion incentives in favor of approximately $1.5 million for low-income renewable heating rebates.

“We celebrate the efforts of all the groups that worked together to achieve these precedent-setting concessions in the gas rate cases,” said Jessica Azulay, executive director of Alliance for a Green Economy. “Most of the organizations who worked together to win this agreement had never been involved in a rate case before, but together we successfully went toe-to-toe with a multi-billion-dollar multinational corporation to advance our renewable energy transition.”

As part of the settlement, RG&E average residential bills will rise over the next three years to $100 more per year than before the rate case started, based on an increase of 15.5 percent in delivery rates, environmental organization officials noted.

“The transition to a clean energy future must be affordable for all New Yorkers to be sustainable,” said Kristen Van Hooreweghe, project manager for Rochester People’s Climate Coalition. “The gas case settlement, even with its environmental initiatives, has nominal rate increases. Conversely, the companies and Gov. Cuomo’s Department of Public Service failed to develop a rate plan on the electric case that adequately addresses the disproportionate energy burden facing our low-income community members, especially during the current COVID pandemic.”

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Grapes don’t lie: their fate dependent on climate change

The fossil fuel industry, that one guy at work, and your Uncle Larry can say whatever they want about climate change impacts, but the grapes don’t lie.  Climate change is causing physiological changes in grape vines, increasing pest and disease pressure, changing the characteristics of wines (flavors), and is expected to result in the redrawing of the world wine map within my lifetime.

Fine wine grapes are fussy. They need narrow temperature ranges for optimal flavor development and ripening. That is why regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux and other areas with optimum microclimates have been so noteworthy.  It also explains why my ancestors started planting grapes along the hillsides of Keuka Lake in the 1830’s. They sought out the microclimate created by the lake’s moderating effect on air temperatures and airflows along the surrounding terrain.

Experts are quick to point out that, due to the sensitivity of grapes (particularly vinifera), increases in local temperatures due to climate change could spell disaster in wine regions that are already bordering on too warm for premium wine production. While the precision of a given climate model or the accuracy of a certain prediction can be debated, there is no doubt that the impacts of climate change are already being felt – and tasted – by the winemakers of the world today. Warmer nights in parts of France have resulted in reduced acid levels – which results in “flatter” wines.  Winemakers in parts of Germany have seen warming trends that help with ripening and increasing sugar content. But this warmer air also holds more moisture, and botrytis mold (dubbed “noble rot” because it develops late in the growing season giving late harvest wines complex desirable flavors of raisin, honey, and dried apricot) is starting to develop in the vineyards earlier in the season leading to sour rot (self explanatory and bad). And they are losing their famed Eisweines, which require very cold temperatures.

In New York, scientists have been recording grape bloom dates for about 50 years and budbreak (when tender new buds emerge from the vine) for about 35 years.  With the generally warming winters, budbreak dates have moved about 10 days earlier over the last half-century on average, while bloom moved about eight days earlier.  That may sound all fine and good, but we’re also experiencing more erratic and extreme (hot, cold, wet, dry) weather. Vines come out of their deep winter dormancy and become active when the weather warms and, historically, the threat of winter had passed. But the new reality of early warming and unpredictable cold snaps can hammer newly-emerged buds, which only need to die once to create crops losses of 100% for that year’s harvest.

Climate change is affecting different wine regions, grapes, and wines in different ways.  While some regions are likely to decline, others expect benefits, but all will experience more erratic and extreme weather – if they aren’t already. The vintners of the world are not taking this lying down. They are of course adapting. Modifying everything from trellis systems, to grape varieties, to yeasts used, to moving to new cooler and less flood prone regions. Here at Hunt Country Vineyards, we’re doing things like tying canes for each vine to wires on the ground in the late fall and covering them with hay to help protect the vines from polar air periodically being pushed farther south by the changing atmospheric dynamics. Because we’re here to stay.


Our family roots are sunk deep in the land here in the Finger Lakes, so our response is to do everything possible to address the root problems. By investing in less polluting energy systems that result in cleaner air and water. By using compost, mulch, cover crops and biochar to return excess carbon dioxide in the air back to the soil where it enhances soil health and vineyard resilience. And by stewarding the farm as a complete ecosystem made up of woodlands and streams and wildlife of all kinds, not just as isolated blocks of grapes.

Maybe you don’t even drink wine, but I’m guessing that you eat. The changing climate is impacting food crops as well, not just premium wine grapes. The proof of climate change is on the table right in front of us, and we all need to do more about it.

Suzanne Hunt is part of the Hunt family of Hunt Country Vineyards ( in Branchport, NY and she is the president of Hunt Green LLC (, an environmental innovation, policy and business consulting firm.

Film inspires two days of talks on sustainability at Fisher

A powerful film about environmental damage inspired faculty at St. John Fisher College to put on a two-day, cross-disciplinary program about sustainability and invite the public to join in Oct. 9 and 10.

Among a variety of film showings, panel discussions and lectures comprising The Albatross Project, business people might be most interested in a workshop and talk the afternoon and evening of Oct. 10.

“The Power of Impact Assessment: Tools and Strategies for Measuring Business Success” is a workshop featuring speakers from the Measure Up Finger Lakes Initiative, The Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation and Delaware North Companies. The public is welcome, but there’s a $25 fee for attending the workshop. Participants can register online. That hour-long program takes place at 4:30 p.m. in the Golisano Gateway Midlevel and a networking reception will follow.

Fisher alum Scott Socha, president of parks and resorts at Delaware North Companies, is the keynote speaker for The Albatross Project. His talk, titled “You Don’t Need to Be a Scientist to Be Sustainable,” takes place at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10, in Fisher’s Basil Auditorium.  The talk is free and will cover Delaware North’s effort to become a sustainable business.

“Albatross,” the film that inspired the two-day event, depicts the grisly deaths countless albatrosses suffer after consuming plastics in the ocean. It will be screened twice during the event, along with several other environmentally related films.

The grisly fate of abatrosses in the northern Pacific is the subject of a film that inspired Fisher's "The Albatross Protect."
The grisly fate of albatrosses in the northern Pacific is the subject of a film that inspired Fisher’s “The Albatross Protect.”

“’Albatross’ is a powerful film that’s a metaphor for our current environmental crisis and a warning to us all,” said Linda MacCammon, of the religious studies department. “I can’t think of a better way to live Fisher’s mission than to bring faculty, staff, students, and members of the Rochester community together for two days to explore the breadth and depth of our environmental crisis and think about what we can do to live more sustainably. For me, there’s nothing more important.”

A full schedule for The Albatross Project is available online. The program is sponsored by the college, the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation Delaware North and Genesee Brewery.

Program coordinators are MacCammon; Michael Boller, a biology professor and director of Fisher’s Center for Sustainability; and Jason Berman from the college’s Management Department.

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