Op Ed: Making Strides in Energy Efficiency

Tompkins County is the newest member of the Energy Improvement Corp...

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Dan Klein
Dan Klein

Tompkins County is the newest member of the Energy Improvement Corp., a nonprofit New York state local development corporation. Joining this organization allows us to offer an innovative program called Energize NY.

Energize NY offers businesses that want to do energy efficiency improvements on their buildings a creative means of paying for it. This program offers loans for these improvements, but with special conditions. One is that the dollar amount of the energy to be saved is greater than the loan's annual payment. The business saves money from day one, even though it has just taken out a loan.

Another unique feature is that the payments are not made to a bank, but to Tompkins County directly as part of the business's annual property tax bill.

There are several advantages to this system, including the idea that the loan transfers to the new owner if the building is sold. The new owner then continues the payments, but also continues to see the energy savings. This arrangement takes some of the risk away from business owners who may not be sure that they will be in a building for the five-to-20-year life of the loan.

The county's involvement allows for these loans to be offered at a low interest rate by taking some of the risk away from the banks. Decreased risk means that projects are more likely to happen.

Some people have asked if the same program could be established for homeowners. This is not possible at this time. Almost all home mortgages are backed in some way by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage corporations. These organizations have decided that they do not want to be involved in this type of financing, commonly known as PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy). So individual houses are not eligible, but incorporated and cooperative multifamily dwellings, nonprofits and religious houses of worship are.

Like any big financial transaction, there are a number of details that apply. If you are a business owner who would like to find out more about making your building more energy efficient while saving money from day one, start on the Energize NY website and let our county planning staff know you'd like to be added to the mailing list for local training sessions being planned.

There are many other energy efficiency projects that Tompkins County has become involved in just in the past few months. Tompkins has just received a state grant to do a feasibility study on establishing a microgrid in the area around the airport. A microgrid is a small-scale power grid that can operate independently or in conjunction with the area's main electrical grid. Microgrids can lead to increased reliability and innovative means of energy production. They could be the beginning of a whole new way of thinking about how energy is produced and transferred.

Tompkins County also has recently agreed to be the project sponsor for the Heat Smart Tompkins program. This is an outgrowth of last year's wildly successful Solar Tompkins program. Heat Smart Tompkins will be focused on energy efficiency and heat pumps, and you will be hearing a lot more about it soon. I believe that playing a supportive role with local nonprofit organizations is one of the things that Tompkins County government does best.

The county is soon to get its third large solar panel farm. Like the ones at Tompkins Cortland Community College and on Cornell University land in Lansing, this one will be approximately 10 acres. This newest solar farm will be on land at the county airport. The energy that it produces will be purchased by the City of Ithaca.

These are just a few of the newest energy efficiency efforts in which Tompkins County is involved. There is more coming, and things are moving quickly. More information about any of these initiatives can be found at tompkinscountyny.gov.

Dan Klein is a Tompkins County legislator.

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