Clean Energy Communities: NY’s New Program Helps Localities Lead the Way

clean energy communities

Solar panels being installed in Poughkeepsie, NY

New York has launched a new Clean Energy Communities program that offers technical guidance and funds to help localities become more sustainable. NRDC’s Donna DeCostanzo offers details.

New York’s counties, cities, towns and villages now have additional support when it comes to advancing clean energy and combating climate change at home. It comes in the form of Clean Energy Communities (CEC), a new program unveiled earlier this week by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the state’s clean energy agency.

Some of the Empire State’s local jurisdictions have already been working hard to address climate change—New York City, for one, is considered a world leader. The CEC aims to help even more of our communities become key actors in the state’s efforts to accelerate the deployment of clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including its recently approved, nation-leading target to get 50 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

That’s not just a feel-good undertaking; it’s a smart strategy: The state’s local jurisdictions play an important role in addressing global warming emissions given, among other things, their control over building codes and zoning policy. They also may have climate and clean energy goals of their own, along with the energy bills of schools and firehouses, streetlights, and libraries to pay. Localities can also implement key, community-wide policies to cut energy use and emissions and often serve as excellent catalysts for change, acting as trusted role models and advisors to businesses and residents alike.

Unfortunately, though, many counties, cities, towns, and villages don’t have their own sustainability departments and energy managers and the resources on hand to develop and implement clean energy initiatives. That’s where CEC is designed to take up the slack, providing on-demand technical assistance and other forms of support—including model ordinances and RFPs, project development support, and case studies—along with local advisors. And there’s more. Once localities become designated by the state as Clean Energy Communities by completing and submitting information about four of ten “high impact action items,” new opportunities arise for them, including the possibility of grants for as much as $250,000 for additional, local clean energy programs, with no matching funds required.

These CEC action items include: adoption of a building energy benchmarking policy; clean energy upgrades in municipal buildings; LED street light conversion; installation of electric vehicle infrastructure; undertaking a local Solarize campaign; adoption of the state’s Unified Solar Permit; Energy Code enforcement training; Climate Smart Communities certification (the extensive framework led by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to encourage wide-ranging climate action by local communities); Community Choice Aggregation; and, adoption of an Energize NY Finance program, which allows commercial or non-profit property owners to pay back the cost of clean energy upgrades through their property tax bills. These actions aren’t only qualifying activities, though. They’re just the kind of efforts that will help the participating jurisdictions drive economic development, cut their climate-changing pollution, save consumers money on energy, improve public health, and create good, local jobs. (The Clean Jobs New York report released by E2 and its partners earlier this year found that more than 85,000 New Yorkers work in the clean energy industry.)

Take, for example, the high impact action of benchmarking building energy use, which allows building owners to keep track of how much energy their buildings use over time. Benchmarking plays a key role in cutting energy waste. After all, as the saying goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” It is a great way to understand just how your building is using energy and enables informed building efficiency investments. Larger communities hoping to qualify must also pass ordinances requiring benchmarking and energy-use disclosure by large, privately own buildings, thereby encouraging energy-cost savings community-wide.

NRDC looks forward to continuing to work with NYSERDA to ensure that the CEC is as successful as possible, and with local jurisdictions across New York State as they become clean energy leaders. The New Yorkers for Clean Power campaign, recently launched with our partners, can also play a big role in connecting communities with this innovative program. We need all hands on deck to achieve our climate and clean energy goals. The CEC provides just the vehicle to get our communities the tools and assistance they need to become critical allies in the fight against climate change and in building a clean energy future for all New Yorkers.

This blog originated on the website of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The author, Donna DeCostanzo, is director of the NRDC’s Northeast Energy & Sustainable Communities, Energy & Transportation program.

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