Westchester Joins March For a Clean Energy Revolution

By guest writer: Ellen Weininger -Director, Educational Outreach, Grassroots Environmental Education   www.grassrootsinfo.org

On a blistering hot day at the end of July, scores of diverse Westchester residents swelled the ranks of more than 10,000 people headed to Philadelphia to march for a Clean Energy Revolution, flooding the streets of Philadelphia on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. More than 900 endorsing organizations representing health, environmental, student, faith, labor, indigenous, justice and other groups nationwide sponsored the event, sending the urgent message that we must keep fossil fuels in the ground and make a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy if we are to avert further exacerbation of our climate crisis. Displaying colorful and creative props and banners bearing bold messages, marchers conveyed the imperative of aggressive climate action.

Powerful speakers called for consistent policies and leadership as they marched to Independence Hall Park and declared independence from fossil fuels. Messages highlighted that more fracking, mining and other fossil fuel extraction, along with increasing buildout of infrastructure to transport more and more fossil fuels further accelerates climate change and undermines climate action goals. Others implored decision makers to aggressively commit to achieving 100% renewable energy within the next twenty to thirty years.

One of the most inspiring speakers was the daughter of slain environmental leader, Berta Caceres. Berta was killed for defending the rivers that supported the life of the Lenca Indigenous People of Honduras. Marchers were reminded of her profound exhortations which continued to reverberate throughout the day in Philadelphia in the Earth’s hottest month on record, “ Wake up humanity, time is running out!” Indeed, time is running out. Last year, world leaders at COP21 recognized the imperative of limiting global warming to a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap instead of the 2 degree goal if we are to avert further catastrophic acceleration of climate change. The best science tells us we have the next 10 years to fully implement meaningful climate action and that we cannot continue to promote and perpetuate the burning of fossil fuels which fill the atmosphere with heat trapping gases that are destabilizing the climate, acidifying the oceans and significantly escalating air pollution and growing rates of chronic disease.

The proposed Clean Power Plan is a case in point of the shortcomings of federal initiatives to address the climate crisis. The Plan includes a buildout of over 300 natural gas power plants, a direct contradiction of its stated intent to create clean energy. Natural gas is methane, which is 86X more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Research by Dr. Robert Howarth at Cornell University and other leading scientists reveals significant methane leakage at every point in the supply chain from natural gas extraction and production sites, in transport along pipelines, at compressor stations and along distribution lines that deliver to our homes, schools, and businesses. Those studies have measured methane leak rates as much as 7.9%. Their findings demonstrate that the greenhouse gas footprint across the full life cycle of natural gas is about the same as or even worse than coal. Dr. Howarth warns that total greenhouse gas emissions, after dipping slightly in 2007, have been rising since at their most rapid rate ever, due to shale gas development and large methane emissions. Although carbon dioxide emissions must be significantly cut, reducing carbon dioxide alone will not slow global warming in the next few critical decades. The climate system responds much more quickly to reducing methane emissions.

The oil and gas industry is the single largest source of methane pollution in the U.S. and a recent EPA report indicates that methane pollution is 34% higher than previously reported.

Furthermore, the Public Service Commission’s recent approval of New York State’s Clean Energy Standard fails to address our climate crisis because of its continued support for and reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Steep nuclear power subsidies will draw precious resources away from critical funding for expeditious deployment of renewable energy.

On the home front, climate change and pollution issues are right at our own doorstep in Westchester. Time is running out as completion and operation of the massive Spectra Algonquin (AIM) pipeline expansion approaches in just over 2 months, on November 1st. The AIM project includes the construction of a new 42” wide, high-pressure gas pipeline 105 feet from critical safety structures at the Indian Point nuclear power plant located in a major seismic zone. The siting of the AIM pipeline at this location further endangers Indian Point and more than 20 million people who live and work within the 50 mile radius. According to safety experts, a pipeline rupture at that location could result in a nuclear catastrophe worse than the Fukushima nuclear disaster. A pipeline rupture would significantly impact millions of people even if Indian Point is permanently shut down with 40 years of highly radioactive spent fuel stored on site.

The AIM pipeline and its compressor stations and other components, many of which are in this immediate area, push the gas through and spew millions of tons of greenhouse gases and hazardous air pollutants each year accelerating climate change, polluting our air, water and soil and negatively impacting our health. Westchester is already classified as a non-attainment zone for air quality standards with excessive levels of particulate matter and ozone pollution that are linked to adverse health effects. In just the last few months alone, Westchester residents have been subjected to an unprecedented number of days with air quality health advisories for alarmingly high levels of ozone pollution. For more information about the Algonquin pipeline expansion, please visit www.sape2016.org

Locally, Westchester groups have been actively mobilizing deployment of solar installations and energy efficiency improvements. Much more still needs to be done to conserve energy altogether. Thankfully, advances in renewable energy technology are broadening and accelerating the scope of possibilities for our fossil fuel free energy future. To learn more about these timely solution tools, Grassroots Environmental Education is presenting the Sustainability and Renewable Energy Conference on Tuesday, September 27, 8:30 am – 12 noon at the Jacob Burns Film Center, which is co-sponsored by Federated Conservationists of Westchester County and New Yorkers for Clean Power. Save the date and stay tuned for more details. www.grassrootsinfo.org

 

 

Solarize Westchester Outshines Expectations

By Nikki Coddington, Abundant Efficiency

Over 400 homeowners and commercial property owners in Westchester County are going solar, thanks to Solarize Westchester, a community program created to encourage the growth of solar power by lowering the cost and simplifying the process.

These solar contracts represent over 3.7 megawatts of solar power capacity and will produce clean, renewable energy, significantly reducing electric bills and demand from the electric grid.

Solarize Westchester ran a total of eight campaigns in partnership with sixteen municipalities. The residential portion of campaigns in Hastings-Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, Somers-New Castle, and Rye Brook ended in March, and the commercial portion of those campaigns concluded at the end of April. Campaigns in Bedford-Mt Kisco, Cortlandt-Croton, Larchmont-Mamaroneck, and Ossining-Briarcliff concluded in June of last year.

Solarize is designed to dramatically accelerate the adoption of solar technology in participating communities. Contracts signed through the most recent 20-week residential campaigns represent an average 190% increase compared to solar energy systems installed during the prior 12 years in those communities.

And the value of a Solarize campaign lies not only in the contracts signed, but also in the broader impact of community education and awareness about solar. The Solarize campaigns received an enthusiastic response, generating more than 2,700 requests for solar evaluations during the eight campaigns.

Research shows that after a Solarize campaign ends, homeowners continue to install solar at higher rates than prior to a campaign. The more that homeowners see solar on neighborhood roofs and talk to the solar homeowners, the more likely others are to think about getting solar themselves, so continued growth in solar adoption in Solarize communities is expected.

Nina Orville, Program Manager of Solarize Westchester, said, “The results of Solarize Westchester have surpassed our expectations. We are thrilled with the number of installations as well as the deep community engagement that has made these campaigns such a success. Elected officials, community volunteers and municipal staff partnered with the selected installers and the Solarize Westchester team to provide their communities the opportunity to to install high-quality solar from vetted installers at a lower cost. There is clearly strong demand in Westchester County for the low cost clean energy that solar installations provide.”

One element key to the success of the campaigns was the support of the chief elected officials. Rob Greenstein, Supervisor of the Town of New Castle, said, “Our incredibly successful Solarize Somers-New Castle campaign has come to an end.  88 homes signed up!   This is another example of both communities taking positive steps to reduce long-term energy costs and preserve the environment.  Residents realize that when something is good for the environment, it’s good for them. That’s exactly why I enrolled!”

In addition to the Solarize campaigns, the Solarize Westchester program included outreach to all municipalities in Westchester to encourage adoption of solar-friendly permitting and zoning practices to reduce barriers to solar installation. Seventeen municipalities have made improvements and many others are considering them.

Solarize Westchester (www.SolarizeWestchester.com) is one of several clean energy initiatives of Energize NY and is supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) under NY-Sun, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s $1 billion initiative to advance the scale-up of solar energy and move the state closer to having a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry. In his 2016 State of the State address, the Governor called for additional solar projects to be installed at 150,000 homes and businesses by 2020.

John B. Rhodes, President and CEO, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), said, “The Solarize Westchester campaign is a great example of how communities are working to make solar energy affordable for residents and businesses, while advancing New York’s clean energy goals. The success of this program builds on the significant growth of solar under Governor Cuomo’s NY-Sun initiative and will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and better protect our environment.”

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About Solarize Westchester: Solarize Westchester is one of several clean energy programs offered by Energize NY. The program includes two rounds of Solarize campaigns, each with four pre-selected communities (or coalitions of communities). In addition, Solarize Westchester includes a Solar-friendly Permitting and Zoning

Long Island Sound Study Updates

By Tony Sorrell, FCWC Board Member
The Long Island Sound Study-Citizen’s Advisory Committee (LISS-CAC) Quarterly Meeting was held on March 10, 2016 in New York City. Seventeen representatives from member organizations in Westchester, Long Island and Connecticut attended as well as representatives from the EPA and the NY DEC. The conversation at this meeting focused on nitrogen in Long Island Sound. Generally, nitrogen levels in the Sound are on a downward trend, which is the good news.
Mark Tedesco of the EPA LISS office  presented on a Nitrogen Reduction Strategy overview and then James Tierney of the NY DEC  presented the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan.  Participants were informed about nitrogen reduction outreach programs that took place  in Galveston Bay, Tampa Bay and Puget Sound. It is suggested that best practices used in these areas could be implemented for an outreach and marketing program in the LIS region.

Hypoxia 20 year average

Hypoxia over past 20 years
In Westchester, our sewage treatment plant upgrades are helping to reduce nitrogen levels, however more work needs to be done to address non-point sources of pollution such as storm water, septics, and turf fertilizer.  Remediation alternatives like aeration and bio extraction still need to be explored to understand how they can help improve water quality in LIS.
Upcoming meetings and events
  • 2016 Long Island Sound Research Conference on Friday, May 13, 2016 in Bridgeport, Connecticut
  • 25th Annual Long Island Sound Citizens Summit on Friday, June 3rd at Stony Brook University’s Student Activities Center
  • LISS-CAC Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) in NY, June 17, at Stony Brook.
  • LISS-CAC quarterly meeting June 23 with be held in CT

Westchester Power Program launches first-in-state energy aggregation

Something remarkable happened when the Sustainable Westchester team working on the community choice energy aggregation program opened the energy supply bids from leading energy service companies last month.

Clean energy won BIG!

In February 2015, the New York State Public Service Commission approvwestchester-map4ed Sustainable Westchester’s petition to pilot a municipal energy aggregation program in Westchester County with an order that enabled this first-in-New-York effort.

What is a community choice or municipal energy aggregation program?

In states with deregulated energy supply markets, energy service companies m
ay sell electric or gas supply to consumers. New York deregulated about twenty years ago. About seventy energy service companies are authorized to sell supply as a commodity to New York customers. Some are more scrupulous than others. Acquiring retail supply customers one at a time is expensive for the supply companies. As individuals, customers have no bargaining power with the suppliers.

When all the homes and small businesses in a city bid out their combined electric supply together, suddenly, economies of scale help both the customer and supplier reduce costs and increase rate choices. Community choice programs have been commonplace and successful in six other states, but now for the first time, in New York State as well.

Ever since the February order, the Sustainable Westchester’s team hit the road to visit with dozens of city, town and villages all across the County. Municipalities that were interested in joining the aggregation program needed to adopt local legislation enabling them to proceed. Benefitting from great pro-bono advisers, the team prepared draft legislation and resolutions to assist the municipalities.

Next, the team pre-screened energy service companies to identify those that best fit our criteria, such as transparent business practices, good customer service, creditworthiness and ample experience supplying community choice aggregation programs in other states. In addition, the team developed a comprehensive Electric Service Agreement with ample protections for the municipalities and consumers and worked with attorneys from twenty municipalities to finalize all the language.

The Westchester Power Program introduced a few conditions that went well beyond the February Order to benefit the consumers. First, the energy bid required that bidders accept the Electric Service Agreement terms and conditions verbatim. Second, bidders needed to provide a basic supply rate for a fixed period of no less than 24 months that would be lower than the benchmark of the average 2015 basic supply rate from the default local distribution utility (ConEdison or NYSEG). Third, bidders needed to provide a 100% renewable energy supply rate as well for that same period. Fourth, bidders had to allow individual customers in a participating municipality to leave or enter the program or switch between the two rates with no added fees or penalties.

By the time, the team sent out the Request for Proposals to the pre-screened supply firm, over 110,000 homes and businesses in twenty cities, towns and villages were included as potential customers. This buyers group represents four out of ten county residents, a remarkable feat of collective action all by itself.

The day the bids were opened led to a startling realization that both the basic supply rate and the 100% renewable supply rates were below the 2015 benchmarks from ConEdison and NYSEG.

“Suppliers who really wanted to enter the New York aggregation market stepped up,” notes Glenn Weinberg, the lead consultant. “In the end, buying 100% renewable energy green supply for the next two or three years will cost less than buying the basic, brown supply last year.”

By the time the program goes live in May, over 70,000 homes and small businesses will be buying 100% renewable energy supply in the fourteen cities, towns, and villages that chose to make that option the default for their jurisdiction. These customers “going 100% green” represent three out of ten county residents and, astoundingly, two-thirds of the entire 110,000 consumers in the program.

“Collectively, our consumers choosing the green option will buy 650,000 megawatt-hours per year of certified renewable energy credits,” states Leo Wiegman, Sustainable Westchester’s Executive Director, “That amount is the energy output equivalent to adding 84,000 residential solar systems in the county overnight.”

“Our instant market for clean, non-fossil, non-nuclear energy supply is the largest collective action in New York to date to address climate change and create real market demand for clean energy.” concludes Weinberg.

For more information, visit www.westchesterpower.org.

 

Happy Healthy Lawns

By: Larry O’Connell FCWC Board Member
It is spring and in a few weeks summer will be here, and we celebrate these seasons by inviting friends and family to outdoor barbecues and festivities.  We serve them delicious food and drink.
Other guests have already arrived at our banquet doorstep: crocuses, daffodils 8010448820_6644af638e_mand tulips as well as squirrels, songbirds, robins, blue jays and  butterflies and bees.  “How are do we provide their meal?”  Often with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other toxic materials via fertilizing lawns and gardens with commercial products.
As many of us realize, the chemicals in formulated, commercial fertilizers and pesticides are unhealthy, to  us, our pets and the wildlife that depend on our responsibility to be stewards to our environment.
So, this spring and summer, let’s go natural – let the dandelions flower – if ever drive along an upstate parkway and see the bright yellow dandelions contrast against the green grass – it is a wonderful and breathtaking sight.  OK – if do not like dandelions, then bend down and trowel them out – good exercise!
At FCWC, along with universities and conservation centers, we suggest the best natural fertilizer is from mulch taken from past years’ leaves, vegetable peelings, coffee grinds, etc. (no meat or egg products).  You can ensure this fertilizer is healthy – “You served it to your children!”
The science on the toxicity of these chemicals is well known, but often hidden from us, the public by the manufacturers and marketers.  As just one example, Professor Tyrone Hayes, of The University of California – Berkeley, studied the relationship of the herbicide atrazine on frogs.  He found the chemical altered the endocrine system of male frogs that feminizes the male frogs, while the company that manufactured the herbicide claimed no ill effects – for frogs or people.
Other studies demonstrate that grass or lawns develop an addiction to fertilizers, requiring more and more each year, much like a heroin addict, to maintain their greenery, but are less hardy and sustainable.  Other research show that sandy soil may require fertilizer; but the majority of Westchester County is not composed of sandy soil – so, wasting your money and time.
Let us become stewards of our natural environment where the flowers, birds and bees want to come to our banquet without the worry of being sickened – just like our human friends and family.  Let’s not purchase commercial products – the wondrous land has been long before us without our assistance.
In closing, let us welcome our friends and neighbors to a healthy and bountiful banquet, just as we do for ourselves – by avoiding commercial chemical treatments to our soil and lawns.

Federation Meeting 2016: A Major Opportunity for Westchester’s Environmental Community

March 2016 E-News

For those who came, FCWC’s 2016 Federation Meeting was a major opportunity for environmental organizations to directly talk to County and State level elected officials about the issues they care about – and the ones who showed up seized it.

Each year FCWC hosts a Federation Meeting for our member organizations to come together, build networks and share; but this year we decided to make the meeting a little more interesting. In addition to allowing for our traditional programming, we invited elected officials from the County and State level to discuss environmental legislation on the horizon, and then offered the attending organizations an opportunity to share about their work and issues of interest.

The meeting welcomed 9* elected officials and members of their staff from the County and State level – all of whom dedicated three hours to talking about environmental legislation. Additionally we were very pleased to have representatives from 29 environmental organizations from around the county who came to discuss their work, their concerns, and what help they could use from the policy-makers.

This meeting was simply invaluable because it was a dialog – not a lecture. Representatives from each organization were allowed time to stand up and deliver on their main projects and issues, the elected officials then spoke about those prompted concerns.

The panel of elected officials opened the meeting. Some key topics mentioned by the legislators included the need to pause and consider the risks of the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion and how it can affect Indian Point; the need to continue investment in renewable energy sources and alternative transportation methods and funding and programs are available statewide to address these issues; the hesitation and opposition to Governor Cuomo’s proposal for a tunnel that would connect Long Island with Westchester County; increased financial resources available to protect and improve inland waterways throughout Westchester, the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act –which will help to cleanup local and regional waterways and the need to expand and diversify the environmental movement in Westchester.

The exchange between elected officials and organizations continued during the latter portion of the meeting, where the environmental community was given the opportunity to share their concerns. Some key themes mentioned during the meeting were: food waste and where it can go in the County; LED lighting in municipalities; Algonquin Pipeline and calling for a halt to the pipeline expansion; water issues including storm water infrastructure, rising waters, flooding, and watershed planning; the Complete Streets Program and how to implement more pedestrian-friendly and cyclist-friendly streets; the concern about nitrogen from fertilizers entering local waterways; the need to engage to communities that don’t traditionally have access to open space; and finally, the need to we need to help the next generation care deeply about these environmental issues in order to create the next generation of environmentalists.

Thank you very much to all who attended. Our speakers were informative and interesting, leaving attendees feeling invigorated and ready to get back to work. And again we thank all of the elected officials who joined the event, and are very appreciative of their fellow concern for the environment.

We plan to share a more comprehensive report of what was discussed at the Federation Meeting our website in the near future. http://www.fcwc.org


 

*Elected Officials in attendance:

Hon. Shelley Mayer

Hon. Steve Otis

Hon. Amy Paulin

Hon. David Buchwald

Hon. Sandra Galef

Hon. George Latimer

Hon. Andrea Stewart-Cousins

Hon. Frances Corcoran

Hon. Thomas Abinanti

Making a Sound Investment in Energy

March 2016 E-news

solar-panels-homepage

Some events over the last few weeks are a reminder that we should take pause to fully assess the energy sources that we, residents of Westchester County, are investing in.

Over the course of four weeks our backyard has endured a ‘radioactive’ water leak from Indian Point Energy Center, and a home-heating oil spill contaminating the Bronx River. Not to mention there has been the ongoing battle concerning the high-pressure natural gas AIM pipeline expansion, which has received countless calls demanding construction to be halted.

We think it is high time that we collectively take stock and reevaluate where we want our energy to come from.

Background:

Indian Point ‘radioactive’ water leak

Indian Point has been at the center of many contentious discussions for decades. The facility is aging, and for years there have been reports of cracks, spills, and accidents. On Tuesday, February 6th, it was reported that Indian Point recorded a severe spike in radioactive, tritium-contaminated water at several monitoring wells[i]. The follow-up tests done a few days later on February 10th noted that the highest concentration was 80% higher than originally reported.

This leak is a major concern; it potentially threatens the health of the Westchester’s residents and environment. Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken steps to address this issue, starting a state investigation into the nuclear facility[ii]. Entergy, the company that owns the Indian Point facility, states that this latest leak should be of no concern to the public.

Home-heating oil spill contaminating the Bronx River

On Saturday, February 28th as much as 600 gallons of home-heating oil contaminated the Bronx River[iii]when a truck delivering to an apartment complex in Yonkers began to leak.

Approximately 2,100 gallons of oil spilled onto the roadway, of which 600 gallons drained down the storm drain on the road.[iv] The Department of Environmental Conservation and the Coast Guard were notified, and are staying on top of the situation.

Let’s make a sound investment:

We know that accidents happen, due to either human or mechanical error, mistakes are a normal occurrence in our daily lives – we get it. However we also think that these latest events are a window into the real risks these energy sources pose.

Renewable energy offers significant public health and environmental benefits. Air and water pollution emitted by coal and natural gas is linked to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer; and replacing these energy sources with renewables has been found to reduce premature mortality and lost workdays, and reduced overall healthcare costs.[v]

 


 

We think it is time to seriously invest in safer, greener, renewable fuels and move away from potentially contaminating sources.

[i] Riverkeeper, Environmental and Health Organizations Call for Immediate Indian Point Shutdown (http://www.riverkeeper.org/news-events/news/stop-polluters/power-plant-cases/indian-point/environmental-and-health-organizations-call-for-immediate-indian-point-shutdown/)

[ii] LOHUD, NY to probe ‘radioactive’ water leak at Indian Point, 2/6/16 (http://www.lohud.com/story/news/politics/politics-on-the-hudson/2016/02/06/ny-probe-radioactive-water-leak-indian-point/79929984/)

[iii] LOHUD, Oil truck leaking near Bronx River, 2/27/16 (http://www.lohud.com/story/news/2016/02/27/oil-truck-leaking-near-bronx-river/81030662/)

[iv] DEC- DHSES Statement on Heating Oil Spill in Yonkers, NY (http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/NYSDEC/bulletins/1399a46?reqfrom=share)

[v] Machol, Rizk. 2013. Economic value of U.S. fossil fuel electricity health impacts. Environment International 52 75–80 (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/public-benefits-of-renewable.html#references)