Brian Mann spoke recently with Kate Fish, head of the Adirondack North Country Association. She's one of the region's strongest advocates for local energy production and her organization is now working on a $1 million state-funded project designed to assess how communities can shift away from costly oil and gas.
Fish says one goal of the study is to get a better understanding of just how much energy production is happening now in the region.
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“I think we have a lot of anecdotal information about that,” said Kate Fish about the state-funded project that will examine ways for communities to shift away from using oil and gas as fuel. Fish is the head of the Adirondack North Country Association.
The Cleaner Greener Communities Program will include a greenhouse gas inventory for the North Country. According to Fish, this will provide a lot of data on usage and sources of energy. Researchers will use the information to identify pilot projects and determine where the most energy is being used. “You know, how big is the renewable energy picture at this point? What’s the potential for the renewable energy picture, and what’s our actual energy cost in terms of, I think, primarily heating our buildings in the North Country?” asked Fish.
Some North Country schools and businesses have undertaken renewable energy projects, and individuals have begun to get on board as well. Fish says that these changes are happening at grassroots and municipal levels. She said, “I think you’re starting to see municipal governments, small towns, that are looking at the increase in their own energy bills and just saying, ‘Is this a good use of tax-payer money? Are there some incentives out there where we can transition to putting solar panels on the roof or putting a woodchip or wood pellet plant at our municipal building?’”
According to Fish, the North Country has reached a tipping point, and the use of renewable energy is no longer just a fringe activity. She said, “It makes so much sense economically. I mean, when you’re talking about a single school district saving up to five starting teachers’ salaries because of the fuel costs that they’re not having to spend on oil as a result of converting to wood chips or wood pellets, you just go, every single school that doesn’t have access to natural gas needs to be considering this.”
The capital cost up front is often high, and this can prevent both individual consumers and companies from making the switch. Converting to renewable energy can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and is more expensive for school districts and municipalities. Even though usage of renewable energy will pay for itself over time, Fish said, “That is a big hurdle, and I think that the state of New York is stepping in and helping out in many areas.”
The Green Jobs, Green New York program gets consumers over the first hurdle by providing a free or low-cost energy assessment. Afterward, the program supports consumers as they figure out how to afford the improvements that the assessment recommends. “I think there are a lot more incentive programs out there; people don’t necessarily know about them yet,” said Fish. “But the state has made huge commitments in terms of reducing its CO2 emissions and increasing the amount of renewable energy that residents, businesses, municipalities across the state are using.”
Fish hopes that as more incentive programs are developed, more people will express interest in renewable energy. She said, “As we develop the sustainability plan for the North Country, how do we make access to these programs much, much more legible, accessible, easy to navigate to people? That needs to be part of the plan.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $100 million Cleaner Greener Sustainability Program back in November of 2011. On the behalf of the North Country, Essex County was awarded $1 million to plan the implementation strategy, the list of projects, the greenhouse gas inventory and everything else associated with the sustainability plan. According to Fish, that plan will be completed by the end of December.
“This is a sustainability plan, so we’ll be looking also at transportation recommendations; how do we move people through the region in a way that’s more efficient than what we have at this point?” said Fish. She says that North Country residents can expect to start seeing measurable changes in their lives and communities in terms of energy consumption.
“The more I learn about this, the more impressed I am about the resourcefulness and the little experiments and the projects that are already happening. That’s going to become much, much more visible,” said Fish. “There are really interesting and cool projects happening across the entire region.”