Until a crisis like Hurricane Sandy hits, the notion of sustainability finds many of us scratching our heads. We grasp the concept of installing LED bulbs, protecting the Skaneateles Lake watershed and filling our blue bins, but beyond that the topic seems nebulous at best. Sam Gordon acknowledges this, but he still wants Central New Yorkers to contribute their ideas to Vision CNY.
“It’s a word that gets thrown around quite a bit and maybe is a little bit difficult to define at times,” said Gordon, a senior planner at the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board. “It’s about conserving resources, protecting our natural areas, looking at projects that could reduce carbon emissions.”
Now that the idea is defined, next comes the purpose of the exercise. “The goal,” said Gordon, “is to provide a sustainable future for the different regions of the state. We’re in Central New York, so we’re approaching the goal in a few different areas: energy, water/natural resources, transportation and infrastructure, and climate adaptation, an important issue right now in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. There are lingering impacts of the storm that need to be addressed at the local level.”
The CNYRPDB is asking residents to help by submitting their ideas at visioncny.org. There they can learn about the planning team and process, take an online sustainability quiz, and contribute ideas to promote sustainability through a message board, survey and tools to add photos to an existing map or proposed green projects.
That input could become part of the final Vision CNY Sustainability Plan, which must be forwarded to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) by Jan. 31. “We’re looking for people’s creative ideas on the future they see for the region,” Gordon noted. “Residents have a lot of good ideas about how to move our community forward, and we’d like to hear from more people so we can incorporate their ideas into the document.”
Consultants from O’Brien & Gere are working with the CNYRPDB to provide analysis of the ideas received on the website. Senior project manager for environmental projects Rob Neimeier and regional marketing director for energy Neil Webb are the consultants.
“Our role in the project has been to look at the energy side of things and the waste management side of things,” said Neimeier. “We are looking at opportunities and strategies to improve energy strategy and efficiency, security and reliability.”
For example, the consultants are studying wind and solar energy options, as well as heating with steam. “We’re hoping that this plan will give the region a new and better way of looking at using energy and increasing our efficiency much beyond where we currently are as a region,” Neimeier added.
Not that Central New York is lacking in energy resources, but those resources—and the infrastructure that delivers them here—are finite. “We’re on license extensions for our nuclear facilities, and our hydropower facilities have been online for 100 years,” said Webb. “The installed energy generation that we have—nuclear, natural gas, oil and wind—the age of most of these assets is 30 years; they’re not designed to run forever. We need to be planning for the next step.”
While there are long-range considerations for this sustainability plan, Chris Carrick, program manager from the CNYRPDB, stressed there is still more to think about. “We’re looking at providing short-term recommendations but also a long-term strategy,” he said. “Part of the goal is not only to enhance energy security and reliability, but also economic development. Locally sourced energy can provide direct economic development benefits, including reinvesting more money locally to create jobs.”
Meanwhile, the team asks you to visit visioncny.org to submit your sustainable ideas. For this process, Gordon defined Central New York as Onondaga, Cayuga, Cortland, Madison and Oswego counties. “The Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board is leading the regional sustainability planning effort for Central New York,” Gordon explained, “and this effort has been supported by the state Cleaner Greener Communities Program of Governor Cuomo.”
That support includes $1 million to develop the regional plan. “The state provided funding for eight regions in the first round,” Gordon added, “and two more in the second round. Ultimately, all 10 regions of the state will be covered, and then New York state will be the only one in the nation that will have plans that cover the entire state.”
If you’re still mulling just exactly what “sustainable” means, Gordon provided a tangible example. “We worked with Preble to make improvements to their town hall, constructed in 1906 as a two-room schoolhouse, town hall and post office.” The old building’s windows were drafty and the price of fuel oil, used to heat the structure, has nearly tripled. “So we ended up with a project that drastically improved insulation and heating in the building. After replacing most of the windows, they put in a 9-kilowatt solar tank system. The town is going to be saving almost $8,000 a year in fuel costs, and making about $2,000 in electricity with their solar system.”
That’s a small example of even greater potential. “That type of project is what we’re hoping to accomplish but even on a larger scale in the region,” Gordon noted. “We’re thinking a little bit differently, employing new technologies, educating others in how we can all take a little bit different approach. We are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also saving energy and money and making people’s lives more comfortable.”
The plan must be completed and sent to NYSERDA by Jan. 31, so time is of the essence if you choose to contribute. For more information, call Sam Gordon at 422-8276, Ext. 204.