Recap: Westchester Clean Energy Summit

April 2, 2020

On March 5th, 2020, the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, Sustainable Westchester, and Pace Energy & Climate Center co-hosted the Westchester Clean Energy Summit. The Summit focused on the future of clean energy in Westchester. Panelists from local and state government, academia, and business spoke about New York State’s new climate law—the Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (CLCPA)—and the opportunities that it presents to transition Westchester County to renewable energy sources. The event was divided into two parts: the first explained major components of the CLCPA, and the second focused on scalable solutions for powering homes and businesses using renewable energy across a diverse and densely populated county. 

Part One

The first panel focused on the CLCPA, which was signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2019. NYLCV President Julie Tighe moderated the panel. Kara Allen from New York’s Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) discussed the ambitious new climate legislation, which commits New York to net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Specifically, the law requires New York to reduce GHG emissions 40% from 1990 levels by 2030, and 85% by 2050. “Net-zero” allows emissions to be offset by other projects that remove GHG from the atmosphere. 

The CLCPA also creates the Climate Action Council, a body of 22 state leaders and appointees who are required to develop a scoping plan for how the state will achieve the mandates of the law. Kara Allen reported that on March 4th, the Climate Action Council had their first meeting. She emphasized the importance of stakeholders and local leaders participating in this process.

In addition to its ambitious renewable energy requirements, the CLCPA includes provisions for environmental justice communities. It sets a target for disadvantaged communities to receive up to 40% (and no less than 35%) of the benefits from the state’s climate programs. The law also creates a Climate Justice Working Group, which will be tasked with identifying criteria for what constitutes a disadvantaged community. Radina Valova from Pace Energy & Climate Center summarized these provisions and highlighted their importance.

Next, Anjali Sauthoff, an independent environmental health consultant, emphasized how health outcomes are influenced by environmental factors such as air pollution and heat. She suggested that New York’s climate policy should focus on environmental justice communities since they are often hit hardest by pollution and the impacts of climate change. 

Peter McCartt, Westchester County’s Director of Energy Conservation & Sustainability, highlighted local efforts to make operations more energy efficient. He acknowledged that large-scale renewable energy projects sited further upstate, hydroelectric power, and offshore wind could all help the county transition to cleaner energy. Continuing the conversation, Nancy Seligson, Mamaroneck Town Supervisor, discussed how she has led several projects in her town to improve the energy efficiency of public buildings. She also mentioned how important it is for local leaders to get involved in these issues and be vocal spokespeople to skeptical residents about the benefits of renewable energy.

Part Two 

The second panel, moderated by Pace Energy & Climate Center’s Craig Hart, focused on existing local programs that can be scaled up. Sustainable Westchester has helped the county establish itself as a leader in the state through various community solar and solarize programs. Nina Orville summarized Sustainable Westchester’s efforts to green the grid in Westchester and make clean energy solutions available and financially feasible for companies and residents. Michel Delafontaine, also from Sustainable Westchester, highlighted how much of the clean energy that Westchester needs will have to come from outside the county, through the Empire State Connector and other transmission upgrades. 

The next set of presenters focused on existing state programs that can help the county transition to renewables. Vennela Yadhati highlighted NYPA’s streamlined process for expanding community solar programs. Brad Tito from NYSERDA provided a snapshot of the county’s energy mix, and which municipalities are leading the way on clean energy by being certified Climate Smart Communities and Clean Energy Communities. Tito also focused on how to get more residents enrolled in community solar, and how municipalities can ensure that their residents are getting their energy from clean sources through community choice aggregation. NYSERDA’s Marilyn Dare also discussed how to use NYStretch energy codes to support improvements to the energy efficiency of buildings. 

Ryan Boniello, a developer in Westchester, discussed how his company has incorporated geothermal systems in its developments. Mark Brescia of ConEdison discussed how the company manages energy demand, and how residents can transform their homes to be more energy efficient through energy audit programs. Hart reviewed the benefits of Combined Heat and Power, an energy efficiency solution that uses a combined system to produce both heat and electricity. 

The Summit made it clear that there are many existing programs and opportunities for Westchester County to shift toward renewable energy. To scale them up, it is essential that communities and residents are aware of these programs and have access to these opportunities. 

NYLCVEF would like to thank our special guest speakers, State Senator Peter Harckham and Westchester County Legislator Nancy Barr, for participating in the event. We also extend thanks to our Summit sponsors: ConEdison, JetBlue, Direct Energy, and Constellation. The slideshow that was displayed at the forum can be viewed here.

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