Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Green Building, Practices, Local Knowledge & Efforts: Part Two

February 27, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

Energy and buildings are quite inseparable topics, so I thought I’d post a bit about some local initiatives here in Tompkins County I have enough knowledge to write about (there are many others, and the TCCPI newsletters are probably the best resource for this purpose). The bulk of this article contains a basic explanation of the utility-based renewable incentive structure in New York State. If you’ve ever purchased electricity in New York State since 1996, it’s been on your utility bill (unless your utility company is LIPA, which has its own programs, NYPA, a municipal or cooperative grid).

I’m leaving out Cornell University and Ithaca College, since the AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) program assessments already provide lots of superb documentation about sustainability per each institution (and there’s just way too much to go through):


Cornell University STARS Scorecard

Ithaca College STARS Scorecard




The Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI) is a coalition of those in the area that are involved in sustainability within the organizations they work for (or with), and/or run programs themselves. The Members List provides a good idea of the organizations involved. The group meets each month for presentations from members and guests, and also to talk informally about strategies and efforts.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated projects is the Black Oak Wind Farm, a wind turbine installation breaking ground this year that will erect seven wind turbines on Buck Hill in Enfield, with a production capacity of 11.9 megawatts.

Solarize Tompkins has led workshops, educational events, and has coordinated well over 100 solar installations in Tompkins County by leveraging NYSERDA incentives, and contracting through Solar Liberty, a large solar installer based out of Buffalo, NY.

Per building codes at the state level: the 2010 Energy Conservation Construction Code of New York State (NYS Energy Code, which originates from the collaboration of ASHRAE, the International Code Council & US Department of Energy) requires new construction to be certified through a verification process, screening the heating/cooling devices, lighting, building envelope, and various components of the project for energy compliance. The codes have been in effect since Dec 28th, 2010. There’s a good map online showing National Energy Building Code Adoption Statuses.

As far as incentives, New York State (and many other states) have setup mandates for usage-based charges on customer utility bills that direct funds to energy-efficiency and renewable-energy grant programs through the public service regulators, in New York’s case: the Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC has oversight of utility providers, telecom companies, and regulated water service providers (natural monopolies). NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority was setup and is regulated by the PSC to administer programs and funds for the purpose of energy-efficiency and renewable incentives, and also research grants.

There are two separate charges, usually combined into one charge on the utility bill, but they have different objectives. The System Benefit Charge (SBC) was setup in 1996, and has been utilized for programming that reduces peak load. The first two five-year periods of authorization focused funding into a variety of programs: basically everything from customer-sited photovoltaics and weatherization to small R&D grants. Since 2012, the programming has shifted more towards providing funding for broad energy-efficiency programs in commercial buildings, including Combined Heat & Power, and market development incentives.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was enacted in the State Legislature in 2004, and mandated the PSC to provide enough programming to bring the state’s grid consumption to 29% renewable by 2015 (it’s commonly called “RPS 30 by 15,” but the original target was 25% by 2013). The program is split into two tiers: a Main Tier, and a Customer-Sited Tier. The Main Tier receives the bulk of funding, and provides incentives for new renewable production capacity and producer-plant upgrades, with most of the funding going to large-scale wind projects, but also hydro, biogas, and biomass. The Customer-Sited Tier, or “behind-the-meter” programs incentivize private property owners to install photovoltaics, anaerobic digesters, small wind, fuel cell, and solar thermal projects. The majority of the funding goes to photovoltaic installations, commonly through the NY-Sun Initiative.

The New York State Energy Planning Board has released their 2014 draft NYS Energy Plan, which contains information about where New York stands in energy production, consumption, emissions, grid stability, and provides policy recommendations for legislative consideration. There are numerous public comment sessions, and anyone is free to comment on the draft plan. The Tompkins County Planning Board has drafted a resolution for the Tompkins County Legislature to provide commentary on the plan, which calls for an interim goal of carbon-reduction of 50% by 2030, in addition to the State’s goal of 80% by 2050. Interim goals are a good idea in order to dissuade from “moving the goalpost” in the future, and the energy market has massive commercial interests involved, so it’s no surprise that the scope and draft plans have less progressive first runs.

Out of over 600 pages of narrative and documentation, the graphs and charts are great, so I’ve chosen a selection here that give a good sense of where we stand now, and what’s been happening over the past decade or so:


As you can see from these two charts, transportation and combustion-heating of buildings comprise the overwhelming majority of C02 emissions.





There was also a great 2012 study done by a Cornell University graduate student on the supply and demand of energy in Tompkins County:

Link to 2012 report by Johnson Grad student


Also- as a follow-up on Ian Shapiro’s Green Building Illustrated: there will be a local release celebration March 7th from 5pm-7pm at the Tompkins County Sustainability Center.