by Katie Borgella
Energy and climate change are global issues with both global and local impacts. Over the past ten years, Tompkins County has steadily played a larger role in planning for local energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. It has been exciting to see the level of community support as the County and its partners develop plans, programs and policies to reduce energy consumption in the community. County residents seem to be heartened by the ability to proactively address a global issue in a meaningful way at the local level.
The County’s commitment to reducing energy use began in 2000, with the installation of solar panels on the library. Since then, the County has taken many steps to reduce its energy use. These include making energy upgrades to County-owned buildings that have achieved savings equal to their cost, shifting from diesel to biodiesel for highway fleet vehicles, and adopting policies promoting sustainability and energy conservation in the governmental fleet, procurement, waste management, and facility operations. Though the initial focus for energy reduction was on government operations, in recent years the County has broadened its efforts to include the larger community.
With the strong backing of the County Legislature, in 2008 the Tompkins County Planning Department directly engaged over 400 people in discussions about energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The result was an amendment to the County Comprehensive Plan that outlines policies and actions to reduce energy demand, improve energy efficiency, make the transition to renewable sources of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The overall goal of this new comprehensive plan element is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the community by at least 80 percent by the year 2050.
The County Planning Department staff, in coordination with a host of community partners, developed an energy strategy that lays out how to reduce the first 20 percent in emissions by 2020. This short-term goal depends on existing state and federal programs, continued progress by institutions of higher education, public schools, and local governments, as well as the actions of every member of our community. While the County can play a role in clearly stating the vision for our energy and emissions future, community energy goals can only be met with the active involvement of every resident of Tompkins County.
A focus of the County Planning Department and its partners this year is to provide Tompkins County residents with the tools they need to reduce their energy use. Such tools include local financing programs that fund energy improvements, easy access to information about existing incentives and loans, green job opportunities, and outreach to motivate everyone to take concrete steps to reduce energy use.