Welcome

to the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative

309 North Aurora Street | Ithaca, NY 14850 | info@tccpi.org

March 2022
February 2022
January 2022


Narch 2022

Cryptocurrency Mining, Pt. 2 – Anna Kelles

Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-125) spoke at our October meeting about the development of cryptocurrency mining in New York, its environmental impact, and her bill calling for a moratorium on proof-of-work cryptomining at power plants in the state. She joined us again this month to provide an update on her bill and the status of the Greenidge Generation application for an air permit.

  • Peter welcomed Anna back and started the discussion by asking her about the March 31st deadline for DEC to issue a decision on the Greenidge air permit renewal application
  • Anna pointed out that DEC can extend deadline indefinitely – also noted that the governor could impose moratorium using her executive authority
  • White paper issued by Sabine Center at Columbia University said legally it was within her purview to issue an executive order for a moratorium – likened it to the use of executive authority to put moratorium on fracking in NYS
  • But limited authority to place moratorium on issuing air and water permits, not on cryptocurrency mining in general – that’s why Anna’s bill calls for full environmental impact assessment of GHG emissions and air and water quality
  • In intense negotiations for the past 12 months to keep moratorium bill from getting stuck in committee – passed out of Environmental Conservation Committee earlier this month in spite of Republican opposition claiming it was an overreach on the part of the legislature and should be left to the appropriate regulatory agencies
  • Less than 8 years to meet goals of the CLCPA – Irene Weiser and Karen Edelstein’s work shows that if all of the proposed cryptocurrency mining operations in upstate NY were launched it would consume 1.3 to 1.6 gigawatts, equivalent of about 750,000 homes
  • Would require us to increase our wind and solar infrastructure by 77% – argument that cryptocurrency can be part of climate solution by taking up excess production is profoundly disingenuous
  • Focused now on getting members of the Ways and Means Committee to support bill and line up necessary number of co-sponsors
  • Cryptocurrency mining industry has spent $50M on efforts to oppose bill, according to NYT
  • Only way cryptocurrency mining can be truly renewable if renewable energy infrastructure is physically on site and energy generated is used by the facility behind the meter
  • Hydroelectric power not unlimited – lot of stress on system currently – due to increase in demand largest hydroelectric dams in state exceeding their capacity
  • Dawn Montanye: Reducing demand should be part of the strategy for achieving our climate goals
  • Anna agreed and said that we need to recognize that renewable energy infrastructure is itself energy intensive and we can’t just keep producing more power to meet growing demand
  • Also solar is in direct competition with farms we depend on to produce our food supply – will be increasingly critical if climate change continues and Northeast becomes country’s breadbasket
  • Increasing opposition in upstate to large wind development will also place constraints on expansion of renewable energy
  • In addition, electrification of buildings and transportation is going to place serious pressure on grid
  • Sara Hess: How is it still a good investment to be putting money into expanding proof of work technology in face of newer, less energy intensive methods for validating transactions?
  • Anna: Greenidge made $40 million gross in the third quarter of last year alone and that was with 7,000 rigs – their goal is to expand to 32,000 rigs
  • Tremendous resistance to making transition due to consolidation of wealth and market in bitcoin mining – against self-interest of industry and investors to make transition
  • In addition, they claim proof of stake, which is a lot less energy intensive, not as secure – lots of researchers dispute that claim
  • Proof of stake not competitive in nature – system designed to randomly select a user to validate a transaction, unlike proof of work, where validators are directly competing with each other and thus resort to increasing their computer power, which in turn consumes more energy
  • Guillermo Metz: Do you think it’s viable to require cryptocurrency mining operations to put any renewables they develop behind the meter?
  • Anna: That’s why full environmental impact assessments are so important – they will provide us with data required to determine what kind of regulations need to be implemented and to what extent cryptocurrency mining will keep us from meeting our CLCPA targets – will help us understand whether putting renewable energy behind the meter can be solution to cryptocurrency mining
  • Guillermo: Do you see a place for countywide or more localized legislation?
  • Anna: Very difficult to come up with local solution like zoning – environmental permitting operates at state level
  • Tom Hirasuna: What about General Assembly bill A7866 which directs NYSERDA to conduct study on powering cryptocurrency mining facilities with renewable energy?
  • Anna: For me it’s more important to get moratorium in place – afraid that this approach could be seen as alternative, which would simply delay action – A7866 would be a fallback – my main concern is rate at which the industry is moving into NYS – need to put industry on pause
  • David Kay: Why is NYS so attractive to cryptocurrency mining industry?
  • Anna: Number one factor is availability of cheap energy – second factor is moderate climate where it is less expensive to keep building from heating up due to the computer operations – third factor is clean air to prevent computers from gumming up works with low air quality
  • David: Why are the upstate grid, which is less carbon intensive, not well connected to the downstate grid? What is the status of efforts to improve the interconnection?
  • Anna: NYISO studies still underway – seem to be taking long time to complete – meeting coming up to find out what’s holding them up and when they are expected to be finished
  • Brian Eden: North-South connector recently granted certificate to go into production -- Champlain Hudson runs from Hydro-Quebec down to NYC
  • Hydro power has downsides, especially if you need to create new dams and flood new lands and thus you create more methane – no solution that doesn't have some downside to it – in any event, there will increasing electricity flowing to NYC through that Champlain Hudson connector
  • Anna: Also long-term battery storage technologies need more attention – wish there was more happening at state level than I'm actually seeing – would love to see legislative briefing this summer on the issue with scientists working on technologies for long-term battery storage
  • Irene Weiser: NYISO’s 2022 Power Trends coming out in June – should have update on transmission upgrades
  • There are west to east transmission constraints as well as north to south – also constraints where west to east intersects with north to south lines – but plans are in place and processes underway
  • Anna: My concern is there will be significant costs over and above the usual maintenance expenses – that conversation did not occur during budget season
  • Irene: These added costs should be addressed through state budget process and not through rate cases
  • Anna: Too late, unfortunately, for this budget season but should be priority for next budget – we need to make sure connections exist between environmental advocates pushing state legislators, data on how much it would actually cost to put in place required renewable energy infrastructure, and agencies responsible for it
  • Peter noted that Renewable Heat Now coalition designated Anna a champion legislator for her support of four bills in the RHN legislative package: All-Electric Building Act, Gas Transition Act, a bill to update appliance and equipment energy efficiency standards, and another bill to provide tax credits and sales tax exemptions for geothermal installations
  • Anna: Pushing hard to get geothermal tax exemption into budget this year – the gas transition act would remove the 100-foot rule and that’s an uphill political battle
  • Need to make sure that those left on natural gas aren't disproportionately low-income individuals and households left with burden of fixed cost infrastructure – a lot of pieces to work out, but not insurmountable
  • Governor’s building electrification proposal aimed at 2027 but many of us think that’s too far down road and we should be aiming for 2025 to require all new construction to be fossil free
  • Peter asked about bill to end $350M+ in state fossil fuel subsidies – Anna said she thought prospects of getting it passed this year are not good

TCCPI Issues & Topics for 2022-23 – All

We broke into small groups for 20 minutes and shared thoughts about what issues and topics participants would like to see TCCPI focus on in 2022-23. Then we came back together and shared out. Below are the main points covered in this discussion.

  • Monitor state legislative bills and policies regarding climate and energy issues – also state agency issues (DEC, NYSIO, PSC)
  • How do we prepare folks to be effective advocates?
  • Help develop questionnaire tor candidates running in the new 22nd congressional district race -- work with League of Women Voters?
  • Support city’s building decarbonization & electrification campaign
  • NYSEG rate case underway in late May & impact on IGND
  • Evaluation of climate work in terms of communication, collaboration, and coordination on climate – getting the word out about success stories
  • Cornell faculty research & other work
  • Supporting Ithaca Green New Deal beyond building decarbonization effort --> climate justice/equity
  • Climate impact on lake & related environmental issues – CLEAN, etc.
  • Fears, anxieties, and concerns regarding CLCPA and transition to green economy
  • Transportation issues & challenges need more attention – EVs & multimodal models
  • NYSERDA Energy Hub – awards announced later this spring/early summer
  • Development and growth of green jobs and who benefits? How can we ensure they are shared in equitable way?
  • Community Choice Aggregation – what will it take to work in the City and County?

February 2022

Tompkins Food Future – Don Barber

Tompkins Food Future is a two-year community planning effort aimed at engaging the community in the development of a long-term food system plan. Don Barber, chair of the Food Policy Council of Tompkins County and former Town of Caroline supervisor, provided an overview of the findings from this planning work. He and Katie Hallas, the Community Food System Plan coordinator, are gathering ideas for what should be included in the food system plan, with an eye towards submitting a final draft of the plan to the Tompkins County Legislature this spring.

  • Want to share what we’ve been learning about our local food system and where we’re headed as we put together county’s first ever community food system plan
  • Initiative focused on cultivating better understanding of and appreciation for local food system challenges and strengths, while generating collective vision for our community’s food future
  • Food system plan a roadmap or blueprint for long-term planning, actions, policy, advocacy, and support
  • Can provide common vision and collective energy to strengthen local farm and food economy, take proactive steps to mitigate climate change, and ensure equitable food system
  • After several years of pandemic, even more imperative to build more resilient food system – need to plan now to ensure we have robust farming economy and food secure population
  • Need to collaborate within regional and state food system to become less dependent on global food system
  • Food vital to public health, safety, and welfare of residents – takes up huge portion of urban and rural landscapes
  • Food system intersects with many facets of community: economic development, transportation, environment, energy, water quality, equity, neighborhoods, and more
  • Local food system needs to be strengthened
    • GHG emissions & climate change: food travels 1,500 miles on average to our tables
    • Food expensive in Tompkins County: $8,556 annual expenditure per household on average
    • 9% of adults and 13.6% of children considered food insecure – poor diet contributes to chronic disease and 24% obesity rate in county
  • Equity and community health can benefit from a local, sustainable, equitable food system that everyone can afford
  • Food plan process:
    • Identified key challenges, vulnerabilities, and assets in local food system
    • Captured stories, struggles, concerns, and hopes
    • Will articulate recommendations for future actions and policies based on input
    • After plan developed, will implement changes that move us towards our shared long-term vision
  • Many community members supporting this effort as volunteers – community engagement and input includes public meetings, surveys, interviews, conversations, databases, and reports
  • Farmers in Tompkins County in decline – 55% of farms report net losses and 70% of farms sell less than $40,000 a year
  • 94% of farmland devoted to growing animal feed
  • < 0.9% of farmers are of color
  • Average age of a farmer is 56.8 years old
  • 75% of farms < 180 acres in size – “small farms”
  • 55% of farms reporting net losses
  • Challenges we heard about in conversation with farmers include:
    • Labor / workforce issues (costs, limited, shortage)
    • Transitions (mature farms ready for new ownership, no one to take up reigns, barriers for new and minority farmers)
    • Profitability (supplemental off-farm income, regulations, limited access to retail markets, distributors to wider markets, and processors for value add, high costs of production)
    • Scale and markets (biggest challenge is marketing, limited capacity)
    • Regulatory burden (one size fits all, impedes access to new and diverse markets)
    • Land access (systemic racism, rising costs, dev pressures)
    • Climate change (significant impacts w/ more time / energy / resources required)
  • Production opportunities for farmers:
  • Financial incentives and transition support for retiring and beginning farmers
  • Education, training, and mentorship program expansion to prepare and support beginning farmers
  • Financial investment in small farmers who wish to expand would increase capacity in our local food system
  • Climate impact education would help farmers prepare, plan, and maintain resiliency
  • Climate mitigation funds would help farmers invest in infrastructure
  • Payments for ecosystem services would increase the carbon carrying / water retention capacity of cultivated areas
  • Collective infrastructure such as a grower’s cooperative would help farmers position themselves for growth
  • Food systems education expansion for children and area residents
  • Food insecurity in Tompkins County on rise – $7.5M needed to make up budget shortfall of food insecure families – higher levels of food insecurity among Black residents
  • Average meal here 17% more expensive than national average
  • 62% of county residents eligible for SNAP benefits are not enrolled – one-third of food insecure residents not eligible
  • Climate uncertainty promises food system instability – warming, extreme weather events, flooding, drought will likely reduce ability to access preferred foods and increase grocery bills
  • Opportunities to address food insecurity include:
    • Pay living wage to help more households afford food
    • Make SNAP participation easier to increase food budgets of the 62% of eligible households not currently enrolled
    • Provide free transportation for food access to support use of SNAP and WIC benefits
    • Provide free/low-cost food delivery for low-income households to minimize burden transportation places on food access
    • Expand community outreach to inform residents about their options and reduce stigma associated with financial food assistance and free grocery programs
    • Improve data and resource management for food donations, food rescue, and perishable items to optimize distribution of emergency food
    • Develop food assistance workforce to increase quality food and service in emergency food program
  • Food waste misuse of valuable resources – food single largest component of solid waste in landfills and incinerators – major source of methane emissions
  • 3M pounds of food waste composted annually by Cayuga Compost – 120K pounds of food scraps collected

  • Barriers to improving food waste situation:
    • Access to food scrap drop spots difficult for people without bike or car transportation, especially in low-income neighborhoods
    • Lack of small- to medium-sized collectors and community composting sites limit composting options for residents and businesses
    • Funding isn’t sufficient to expand all aspects of food reduction and recovery, small and moderate food scrap collectors, and processors
    • Curbside food scrap collection not currently available in any municipality, despite successful, since-concluded pilot program in City of Ithaca
    • Education and training related to composting needed -- people often don’t see direct benefit, have had negative experiences due to incorrect practices, or simply lack know-how
    • Having space to compost outdoors is challenge for many residents, especially those who rent in city (70%)
    • Businesses concerned about liability and food safety, refuse to donate all of edible, yet unsalable food
  • Process of how good gets to our plates complex, obscure, and poorly understood
    • Nationally, 85% to 90% of food produced processed, distributed, and marketed by agribusiness conglomerates
    • Supplying seasonal items from local farms at wholesale levels requires great deal of flexibility, lessens competitiveness with larger, diversified distributors
    • Scaling up operations at farms and value-added processing requires access to capital, facilities, technical expertise, understanding regulatory environment, sourcing supplies, and sufficient business support
    • Access to USDA-approved slaughterhouses limited due to regulatory requirements and shortage of trained butchers, causing multi-year backlogs
    • Hiring workers ongoing challenge due to national shortage of drivers, packers – low-skilled workers hard to come by and high cost of labor in NYS makes production expensive
  • “Food environment” includes grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, specialty markets, institutional food service, farmers markets, restaurants, public schools, and emergency food shelters
    • 105 full service and 74 fast food restaurants – only five provide living wage
    • 3,279 workers in food retail sector – annual average wage of $37K
    • Food service workers feel undervalued – lack of visibility and support
    • Hiring and retention significant challenges in food retail
    • Corporate decision-making restricts local retailers’ ability to buy local
    • Institutional food service limitations make it hard to incorporate local, seasonal
    • Local farmers lack incentives to sell to institutional buyers who require low prices relative to direct market sales
    • Volume and consistency of local food supply most challenging variables for retailers and restaurants trying to source local products
  • Key findings about food consumption in county
    • Fruits and Vegetables: 9 out of 10 Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables – in TC, only 32% of our community survey respondents claimed to eat two or more servings daily and 24% admitted to eating less
    • Limited Access to Nutritious, Fresh, Culturally Appropriate Foods: Produce challenging to distribute and keep fresh, so small retailers and many pantries opt for shelf-stable food options – convenience foods do not fill the nutritional, cultural, or preferential needs of county residents
    • Eating Out: Almost half of our meals are prepared by others – added salt, sugar, and fat in restaurant and other prepared foods difficult to identify and manage when ordering from menu or picking up quick meal
    • Chronic Illness: More than half of adults and more than one-quarter of school-age youth in Tompkins County are at risk for progression to diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease
  • Food system vision: sustainable, equitable, healthy, and affordable for all members of our community
  • Need to move local food system in three directions:
  • Build Resilience
  • Cultivate Equity, Sovereignty, and Economic Opportunity
  • Promote Human and Ecosystem Health
  • Steps towards implementation of plan:
    • Collaborate with community and stakeholders to develop food system plan recommendations and finalize it in spring 2022
    • Provide support and coordination for collaboration among local governments, organizations, institutions, businesses, and community groups to implement recommendations and achieve shared food systems goals
    • Develop and gather signatures on a Tompkins Food Future Charter based on Food System Plan – encourage stakeholders to become champions, get involved in food system, provide endorsements, and provide funding as sponsors

 

Recent Developments with the Finger Lake Land Trust – Andy Zepp

The Finger Lakes Land Trust has been especially active in recent months, most notably with efforts involving Bell Station and Camp Barton. Andy Zepp, executive director, updated the group on this recent land and water conservation work that will strengthen the climate resiliency of the region.

  • Finger Lake Land Trust works with variety of farms – primary goal is to secure land base for future so best soils available for farming and to ensure adequate watershed protection
  • Trying to find scalable niche for our region other than growing commodity crops for cows and other animals a huge challenge – taking the long view
  • Work in 12 counties that equal size of Vermont – been in operation for about 32 years – have protected more than 28,000 acres to date
  • Lot of work is watershed based, especially in light of increase in toxic algae outbreaks – 40% of FLLT service area in upper Susquehanna watershed
  • Network of more than 35 nature preserves open to public -- established with trails, parking lots, and wayfinding signage
  • 160 conservation easements – perpetual agreements on land that remains in private ownership protect land ranging from small area of pristine lake front to 600-acre farm
  • Unlike many other land trusts, FLLT has developed enough financial liquidity to buy land in partnership with other nonprofits or state and local governments that would otherwise be lost to market
  • Bell Station is most ambitious effort so far along these lines – originally site of proposed nuclear power plant that was never built – 500-acre property originally put together by NYSEG more than 50 years ago
  • FLLT has been pursuing this property for decade – single largest tract of undeveloped shoreline in all of Finger Lakes – 3400 feet that is easily accessible due to railway that runs along entire length
  • Includes significant amount of forest land as well as land leased for agriculture
  • Plan was to put it up for public auction but thanks to community call for Governor Hochul to step in, which she did
  • FLLT negotiated purchase contract – expects to own property by early May due in large part to generous low-interest loan from Park Foundation as well as FLLT’s own internal revolving loan fund
  • So far $360,000 raised towards gap of $500,000 – hope is that FLLF will be made whole when entire $500,000 raised and then dollars raised will go back into internal revolving fund for future use
  • Forest and first row of fields will be taken over by NY DEC to be used as state wildlife management area that is publicly accessible – should be really popular site for outdoor recreation
  • Fields beyond that to Lake Ridge Rd. may be possible 200-acre site for solar array – but FLLT doesn’t want to be involved in any project that would facilitate bitcoin mining at nearby Milliken Station
  • Eventually hope to sell shoreline to NYS – will probably take at least 1 to 1 ½ years
  • Acquired 200 acres just north of Myers Point from Sims family for Cayuga Cliffs Nature Preserve in 2021 – Sims family also donated conservation easement on land they are retaining
  • Would like to use open fields on property for grazing but challenging to find right arrangement for that
  • Away from lake, FLLT has been working on putting together a green belt – the Emerald Necklace – as ecological resource and recreational attraction
  • Another recent acquisition involved a seven-acre field in a key location bordering Route 13 on Finger Lakes Trail near Treman Park
  • Land zoned as industrial but bought by the trust for $133,000 to avoid its likely fate of becoming a mini-storage or propane facility – site of informal parking lot that people use on weekend as public access point to trail
  • Emerald Necklace includes 50,000 acres of former Depression-era farms acquired by state and federal governments
  • FLLT trying to maintain connections between these lands as development in valleys spreads out from Ithaca – includes headwaters of all streams that feed Cayuga Lake and 100 miles of Finger Lakes Trail and dozens of county-designated unique natural areas
  • Will expand trail system as opportunities arise but not completely connected yet
  • Part of purpose behind Emerald Necklace is climate resiliency – these areas of conservation important to plant and animal migration over time because tracts of development can sever their ability to move north
  • Partnering with NYS, Wildlands Project, Nature Conservancy, and other similar organizations to ensure forests extending east and west from Emerald Necklace remain continuous as possible
  • Bobcats, fishers, and black bears making comeback in population as captured by wildlife cameras – underscores importance of sustaining this habitat
  • Another area of focus is south end of Coddington Rd. in Caroline – acquired several properties here and retaining one to manage as Eberhard Nature Preserve
  • Finger Lakes Trail insecure through Coddington-White Church valley so FLLT rerouting it through this nature preserve – building parking area and kiosk and opening it to public this summer
  • Within Emerald Necklace, Sue Compton and John Saylor donated conservation easement on 65 acres of land they own – bordered on three sides by Hammond Hill State Forest and includes headwaters Owego Creek, one of best trout streams in area
  • Conservation easements primary tool for farmland protection
  • FLLT receives state funding through NYs Department of Agriculture and Markets to purchase development rights using conservation easements – provides flexibility in designing agreements involving farms
  • Cyanobacteria outbreaks due in significant part to influx of nutrients from farms using fertilizers – FLLT encouraging proper farming practices to improve lake health, as well as quality of water supply
  • Overly dense residential development on lakefronts also contributes to these outbreaks
  • More frequent and more intense rain events due to climate change have worsened impact of pesticide and fertilizer runoff
  • Boy Scouts need to sell Camp Barton to raise money for indemnification from lawsuits – FLLT and State Parks have been in discussions over the past year about acquiring property
  • Town of Ulysses and Village of Trumansburg in agreement with state about playing role in managing site so it looks like state will purchase about 90 acres for public park and lease property to respective municipalities for them to manage
  • May be gap in timing so FLLT will step in to fill that gap

January 2022

Solar Siting and Land Use – David Kay & Guillermo Metz

David Kay is a senior extension associate in the Department of Global Development at Cornell University and Guillermo Metz is the energy team leader at the Cornell Cooperative Extension – Tompkins County. David and Guillermo have been working on issues raised by large-scale solar development and the opposition that has emerged in response. If New York State is going to achieve the ambitious goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions established by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, then the thorny problems encountered by efforts to build utility-scale solar farms need to be understood and addressed.

David Kay

  • David and Guillermo have been working together closely for the past few years on the issue of solar siting, but especially in the last year
  • David noted that the size of development in solar energy in NYS is important to consider when considering solar siting issues
  • How much do we have, how much do we need, and how do these relate to each other?
  • NY Sun Residential Project
    • About 1.5 GW in NYS (already constructed or in pipeline), broadly distributed across the state
    • Not all solar projects are on record – most projects are completed, with some in construction and a small portion not on record
  • NY Sun Nonresidential Projects
    • About 3.7 GW in NYS – most projects are under 5 MW, which NYSERDA classifies as distributed power
    • Most projects are in pipeline
  • About 4.6 GW in large-scale solar currently – 72 projects in development with 8 cancelled
  • Projects initiated through NYSERDA’s Large-Scale Renewable Energy Program sell their renewable energy credits to NYS through a competitive bidding process
  • Smaller projects with less than 20MW of power go through the SEQR process
  • Large number of 20 MW proposed projects (100+ acres in size per project)
  • 9 GW currently in queue – 80% of capacity in projects 50 MW or larger
  • Two large solar projects in queue in Tompkins County, 160 and 200 MW respectively – two other projects have been withdrawn – total of 115 MW across all categories
  • What are factors that affect solar siting?
  • Most important one is access to grid – proximity to transmission line and its capacity
  • Except for Adirondacks most of transmission lines run through rural areas – not as many downstate, around NYC and Long Island
  • Land most suitable for solar projects that are also adjacent to transmission lines tends to be located away from load centers downstate
  • Solar existing or in pipeline:
    • NY Sun: ~5.2 GW
    • NYISO Queue: ~12.2 GW
    • Total ~17.4 GW
  • How much do we need? We don’t really know – NYS official policy is that “market will decide”
  • Back of envelope guesstimate: about 23 GW solar
  • NYSERDA study on supply curves found that at $60/MW maximum economic potential was 2 GW – little supply response above $60/MW
  • Another estimate incorporating impact of climate change concluded we may need between 31 and 39 GW of solar by 2040
  • How much solar we will need obviously affects how much land will be affected
  • Study of 40 largest solar projects (Article 10) found land cover within project’s boundaries distributed as follows:
    • Forest: 33%
    • Cultivated crops: 25%
    • Pasture/hay: 23%
    • Wetlands:12%
    • Other: 7%
  • Total of 48% farmland compared to 46% of acreage classified as agricultural by local assessors
  • Soil types within boundaries of same 40 Article 10 projects:
    • Farmland of statewide importance: 31%
    • Prime farmland: 21%
    • Prime farmland if drained: 25%
    • Not prime farmland: 23%
  • Analysis of “land cover” (satellite data) is similar: 48% agriculture, forest 33%, woody wetland 12%
  • What’s a “small” fraction of prime farmland???
  • 40 Article 10 projects account for 6.5 GW capacity in 28 counties – if all of them are built they would have following impact on farmland:
    • 8% of all soils with agricultural potential in the 28 counties hosting projects
    • 4% of prime farmland soils in those counties
  • What happens when you scale 6.5 GW to 20 GW capacity, assuming similar geographic distribution as current 40 large-scale projects and projected need for solar is about 20 GW?
    • About 6% of all soils with agricultural potential in those 28 counties
    • 4% of prime farmland soils (28 counties)
  • What if we need 40 GW of solar?

 

Guillermo Metz

  • Cornell Cooperative Extension has put together team to develop and implement system-wide response around ag and solar issues
  • Working with ag educators in CCE offices around state to make sure staff inside system understands the issues and what facts are, and then provide them with tools necessary for them to reach out to their communities
  • Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) of 2019 governs overall decarbonization of economy – it establishes following goals:
    • 85% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050
    • 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040
    • 70% renewable energy by 20309,000 MW of offshore wind by 2035
    • 3,000 MW of energy storage by 2030
    • 6,000 MW of solar by 2025
    • 22 million tons of carbon reduction through energy efficiency and electrification
  • CLCPA created Climate Action Council and directed it to develop plan for how these goals will be achieved
  • Draft Scoping Plan recently released and is open for public comment through late April – final draft issued by end of year
  • Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act establishes new rules for siting electricity generating facilities – designed to streamline approval process for solar and wind projects
    • Created Office of Renewable Energy Siting and Article 10 process for projects >25 MW
    • Projects between 20 and 25 MW can choose Article 10 route if they wish
    • Project approval still guided by local laws/zoning, however, unless they are found to be “unreasonably burdensome”
  • Concerns from various stakeholders:
    • Municipal planners – concerned about loss of ability to control development within boundaries, but also opportunities.
    • Ag and farmland groups – loss of farmland
    • Rural communities – loss of rural character/viewsheds, but also opportunities
    • Farmers – loss of farmland, but also opportunities
  • NYS doesn’t have eminent domain authority to construct solar and wind projects – but private developers offering farmers attractive payments for their land
  • NY Ag land has long been subject to development pressures but solar adds to these pressures
  • Statewide:
    • 9 million acres land in farms, according to 2018 Agriculture Census
    • 2 million acres of “ag land use” (including 4.6 million in crops, 2.3 million in pasture)
    • American Farmland Trust (AFAT) estimate for NY: about 5 million acres of “high quality agricultural land”
  • Other forms of farmland loss:
    • 253,500 acres of farmland permanently converted over 15 years – about 17,000 acres per year on average
    • Of that, 128,300 is in AFT’s “Nationally Significant” farmland class, a conversion of about 8,600 acres per year
  • What are farmers’ main concerns?
    • What does a lease look like?
    • What protections do I have?
    • Can I still farm the rest of my land?
    • Can I pick where it goes as a part of my farm?
    • How long are leases for?
    • What happens at the end of the lease term?
    • Payment: How much? When?
  • Opportunities for co-siting: how can you keep farmland in production and still have solar capacity?
    • One possibility is to space panels out so you can farm underneath
    • Sheep grazing is another option
  • How is the Cooperative Extension responding to the farmland and solar discussion?
    • Two-day Ag & Solar Summit last year – planning another one for this year
    • Putting together resources and making them available online
    • Established listserve
    • Other activities: lunch & learns, train-the-trainer sessions, road show
    • Einhorn Center for Community Engagement Public Issue Network proposal to fund students working on project
    • Clean Energy Communities program: work with local municipalities on solar siting permits, training for code officers, educating municipal officials about solar and land use issues
  • Cornell’s research focuses on co-siting (pollinators, grazing, food), environmental impacts of solar arrays, planning implications/siting recommendations, and social science research (acceptance, barriers, etc.)
  • Public acceptance for smaller-scale projects and community solar greater than that for large-scale, commercial projects
  • NY-Sun has recently increased rebate for rooftop solar to $0.50/watt to stimulate market

 

Q&A:  

  • What questions and concerns does group have and what would it like to see happen in way of resources for stakeholders, and programs?
  • Irene Weiser: Why not put solar in parking lots?
    • Solar canopies have many issues – bottom line: not affordable compared to installing solar in field
  • Al George: Access to transmission lines – so many places aren’t connected. Why?
  • Political barriers prevent building new transmission lines
  • Economic factors also play big role: transmission lines cost about $1million per mile
  • Certainly not going to happen for a 20 MW facility
  • Most of the money is going into upgrading the capacity of current transmission lines
  • Rick Mancini: NYISO assesses reliability of system annually to figure out where reliability issues will appear in future – once they identify issues, they solicit bids on upgrades to system to alleviate issues
  • Ingrid Zabel: Is growing crops under solar panels actually feasible?
    • Depends on crop -– there are farmers doing this in Europe and parts of U.S.
    • Some herbs can be high profit on relatively small amount of land
    • Early research shows some areas can benefit from solar arrays such as high-drought or heat-stressed areas
  • Peter wrapped up the discussion by pointing out important role offshore wind is going to play going forward if NYS is to meet its climate goals

 

Dairy Farms and Renewable Natural Gas – Irene Weiser

Irene Weiser is the coordinator of Fossil Free Tompkins and a longtime climate and clean energy activist. She has been paying close attention recently to the problems posed by the production and distribution of gas generated by manure ponds big dairy farms in the region.

  • Two industrial-sized dairy farms outside Auburn, NY capture methane from manure using anerobic digesters
  • They have proposed shifting from using the biogas on site to transporting it through Tompkins County to sell on the market: Bluebird Renewable Energy Petition to PSC - Case #21-G-0576
  • Project consists of installing a 5.5-mile pipeline to connect these dairy farms, then collecting and transporting biogas from farms
  • Company would purchase biogas as it leaves each anaerobic digester, condition it to remove impurities, compress it, and then load it into tube trailers – the project “anticipates” delivery to an injection point about 70 miles away near Corning, NY
  • At the injection site, the RNG would be unloaded from tube trailer by a process that would include re -heating, filtering, drying, confirming quality, and metering before the gas enters receiving pipeline
  • Petitioner “currently anticipates that the Project will ship one (1) tube trailer per day.”
  • According to the petition, "depressed power prices and the approaching expiration of carbon credit contracts make conversion to production of pipeline quality RNG a more attractive option“
  • The farms currently use the biogas to generate electricity and heat onsite and sell excess electricity into the electric grid.
  • But now, via petition to PSC, they propose to truck methane through Tompkins County to an injection point in Corning because it makes more economic sense than selling into the grid
  • BUT it may not be better for the environment
  • Methane leakage and use has dramatic impact on climate change – 86x more potent than CO2 over the next 20 years
  • The 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) calls for 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2035
  • The petition applies for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCM) due to state’s lack of action to meet this goal
  • Similar to certificate of occupancy: “In making such a determination, the commission shall consider the economic feasibility of the corporation, the corporation's ability to finance improvements of a gas plant or electric plant, render safe, adequate and reliable service, and provide just and reasonable rates, and whether issuance of a certificate is in the public interest”
  • Questionable statements in the petition regarding claim of renewable energy benefits – states “the Project will benefit the participating farms and further New York State’s goals of reducing GHG emissions, as set forth in the Climate Leadership and community Protection Act, by reducing the release of methane and other pollutants into the atmosphere”
  • Then later says “the RNG from the Project will participate in both the U.S. Federal Renewable Fuel Standard and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard programs. The Project’s RNG will annually displace 926,143 gallons of diesel fuel consumed by the transportation market.”
  • But only the owner of the renewable energy credits (RECs) – in this case, California and U.S. can claim the environmental benefit – not clear how NYS derives environmental benefit since it won’t own carbon credits
  • RECs sold to owners who can claim they benefited the environment – attached to renewable energy products to differentiate them from fossil fuel energy products
  • Trucking natural gas dangerous – recent incidents in region:
    • 2/11/17 rollover – Forest Lake, PA
    • 5/27/17 spontaneous venting – Binghamton (closed 4 lanes of interstate)
    • 7/12/17 tipover into ditch – Forest Lake, PA
    • 9/12/17 rollover – Hartwick, NY
    • 12/21/17 collision with car – Little Falls, NY
    • 2/9/18 slide off road – Hartwick, NY
    • 2/22/18 slide off road – Hartwick, NY
    • 3/5/18 mechanical out-of-service, towed – Hartwick, NY
    • 6/2/18 rollover – Bethlehem, NY
    • 6/8/18 spontaneous venting – Little Falls, NY
    • 7/9/18 mechanical out-of-service – Oneonta, NY
    • 7/11/18 rollover (gas leak, evacuated ¼ mile radius, road closed 12 hrs) – Exeter, NY
  • Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PMHSA) has recommended following to reduce these kinds of incidents:
    • Verify Driver Training for High Center of Gravity Vehicle
    • Equip Trucks with Electronic Roll Stability
    • Electronic Monitoring (black box) to record vehicle/drive actions in case of crash
  • Why are NY farmers shipping their gas out of state? What is wrong with NYS policy that it drives farmers to ship their gas out of state instead of getting paid for offsetting their emissions here?
    • NYSERDA program providing carbon credits for biogas are expiring, not plans to extend
    • CLCPA doesn’t regard biogas as renewable energy – hence biogas-generated electricity is not eligible for RECs or VDER pricing
    • Climate Action Council has been divided on RNG issue
    • Best option is to convert biogas to electricity via fuel cell (no combustion) – still experimental and costly – also will it count as renewable per CLCPA?
  • Issues that need to be addressed in comments to PSC:
    • Per CLCPA 7.2, need full lifecycle analysis of GHG emissions from proposed project vs existing biogas system.
    • No Double Counting Carbon Credits!!
    • Safety requirements per PHMSA need to be addressed – also safety and evacuation planning with emergency responders for all municipalities CNG trucks will pass through
    • Instead of transporting biogas out of state, we need to push for NYS policy change to provide more reimbursement for farmers who generate electricity onsite and feed it into the grid
  • Petition leaves many questions about the project unanswered
  • Public Statement Hearing Feb 2 (register by Feb 1)

Meeting Highlights: 2022