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  • Fossil Free Tompkins members

Tompkins County is a Sustainability Leader

Recently, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was in town to help celebrate Cornell University’s 150-year milestone. While here, she took a detour to the Cayuga Power Plant, which is being considered for conversion to burn coal and methane. That conversion, if permitted, would saddle us far into the future with dependence on unsustainable, finite and ever-more expensive fossil fuels.

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo is as enthusiastic as he says about supporting not only renewable sources of energy but also business startups for New York, then there are a lot of other local tours that Hochul could have taken.

We see Tompkins County as a leader in using a combination of innovative and old techniques to adapt our built environment to the new economy. There is a strong, demonstrated, commitment to sustainability here.

As a partial list for the governor’s touring consideration, we offer the following:

•Tompkins County is home to EcoVillage, a world-renowned and oft-copied sustainable living community, begun 22 years ago and home for 100 households. Two 50-kilowatt solar arrays provide most of the energy for the community.

•Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College all have aggressive sustainability plans and goals that include photovoltaics and heat pump technologies to reduce the use of natural gas.

•Ithaca College has two new LEED-certified buildings on campus, and a commitment to make all new construction LEED-certified.

•Town halls in Caroline, Danby and Dryden are solar-powered; Dryden and Caroline have geothermal heating/cooling systems.

•Cornell lists 18 sustainable green buildings on campus.

•Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County hosts an annual, countywide “green buildings” tour of homes — so many that it is now spread over two days.

•Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, in conjunction with the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, has launched an energy efficiency program for small commercial buildings.

•Renovus Solar is in the midst of a huge expansion, representative of the many local firms providing renewable energy construction and installations.

•With nearly $3 million of mostly local investment, Black Oak Wind Farm will, when completed, produce somewhere between 12 and 16 megawatts of electrical power, all to be purchased by Cornell.

•The Solar Tompkins program has enabled installation of 500 new solar systems since 2013, a doubling of distributed power in the county which has resulted in more than 50 new, permanent, full-time, living-wage jobs in our community. It is now being used as a model for solarize programs all over New York.

There are many more initiatives happening here, but we invite Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Hochul to come see for themselves. Tompkins County may then top their list as a good example of the ways switching to renewable energy helps build a new economy!

If so, they also must present effective ways to ease the financial strain on the local tax base as the transition is made away from the outdated Cayuga Power Plant.

Marie McRae, Elmer Ewing, Pat Dubin, Brian Eden, Sara Hess, Judith Pierpont and Reed Steberger are members of Fossil Free Tompkins.

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