March 2023 TCCOG Report

Monthly Report

Tompkins County Council of Governments

for March 8, 2023

by Councilperson Robert Lynch

Enfield TCCOG Representative

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) has not met since our Town Board’s February 8th meeting.  However, TCCOG’s Energy Subcommittee met on Thursday, March 2nd to set its priorities for the New Year.  Although I am not a formal member of the energy Subcommittee, the subcommittee’s Chair, Ithaca Town Supervisor Rod Howe, invited me to attend its session, and I did.  In this report, I will summarize the subcommittee’s discussions.

Representatives from six of Tompkins County’s municipalities attended the March 2nd meeting, as did several Tompkins County officials having responsibility for energy and sustainability matters.  Gay Nicholson of Sustainable Fingerlakes (formerly Sustainable Tompkins) also attended.  Discussion focused on energy conservation and transformation issues, topics that the Energy Subcommittee may want to bring before TCCOG’s membership during the remainder of 2023.

Supervisor Howe began the meeting strongly recommending the subcommittee move beyond the discussion of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) collective electricity purchasing initiatives, which he observed have preoccupied the subcommittee deliberations for the recent year or two.  CCA, Howe said, appears to be moving forward, at least with the City and Town of Ithaca.  Howe opened the meeting up to members considering other energy-related priorities.

Of primary concern among subcommittee attendees was the adequacy of the local electric grid, particularly in view of state and local emphasis on conversion from fossil fuel energy consumption to that derived from electricity.  When heat pumps replace oil furnaces—and by 2030, New York may outlaw new fossil fuel heating, we were told—electrical demand must increase.  Electric utilities must provide adequate infrastructure to handle the load, members observed.

Terry Carroll, Tompkins County’s Chief Sustainability Officer, told the subcommittee that his office is “working on the modeling of electrification demand.”  The effort, in part, he said, looks at where development in Tompkins County is most likely to occur.  The study then seeks to compare the expected growth against existing (or planned) electrical grid adequacy.  The underlying fear is that a mismatch between demand and supply not only could hamper development or desirable energy transitions; it could also drive up the cost of electrification.

“We must marry demand and supply so that prices don’t skyrocket,” Gay Nicholson remarked.

Terry Carroll made passing reference to the planned 33-unit “Breezy Meadows Farm” subdivision in Enfield and remarked that electrical infrastructure must be adequate to power those new homes.  (At the Enfield Planning Board’s March 1st site plan review, a Breezy Meadows development representative stated he believed grid capacity for prospective new residents was sufficient.)

I reminded the subcommittee that grid adequacy impacts not only electrical consumption, but also electrical production.  I noted that Enfield’s largest proposed solar farm (Norbut Solar’s planned Applegate Road array) had to scale back from 20 Megawatts production to 15 Megawatts because of NYSEG’s transmission limitations.  TCCOG members acknowledged similar problems elsewhere.

TCCOG members supported inviting NYSEG representatives to future meetings to further discuss infrastructure opportunities and challenges.  Without knowing NYSEG capacity, “we’re firing into a void,” Village of Lansing Mayor Ronny Hardaway remarked.

The Energy Subcommittee also took up the topic of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

Subcommittee members acknowledged that municipalities are moving toward having electric fleets. But there’s also a lack of knowledge about what vehicles are available.  One idea raised was for Tompkins County to put on a “car show” of sorts for municipal leaders.   They’d showcase what’s available, both in terms of the vehicles themselves, and also the chargers to power them.  The County may do that.

Though County Sustainability Coordinator Hailley Delisle admitted the county doesn’t have it yet in place, subcommittee members were intrigued by what Tompkins County may soon procure; a vehicle charging station powered by its own solar panel energy source.  The advantage here, members were reminded, involves more than just energy conversion.  Self-powered chargers respond best in public emergencies.

“If the grid goes down, how do County cars get electricity?”  Nicholson insightfully asked.

Newfield Councilperson Heather McCarty attended the meeting.  Newfield, it was noted, got a major grant to purchase electric school buses.  Problem is there’d be too few chargers to power those buses.  And eventually, we were reminded, New York will mandate all school buses use only electric power.

Subcommittee members addressed other forms of motorized equipment.  Mayor Hardaway encouraged municipalities to acquire electric lawn mowers to replace their gas-powered equivalents.  Apparently, Lansing has already done so.

Expect electrical grid sufficiency, electric vehicle conversion, and charging infrastructure to enter into TCCOG’s discussions later this year.

TCCOG has scheduled its next general meeting for March 23.  

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Lynch, Councilperson  

Enfield TCCOG Representative