The most urgent step towards stabilizing the climate and protecting our environment is to accelerate the transition to clean energy. By 2040, we need to be getting 100% of our electricity from clean, renewable sources. We need to retrofit our homes and businesses into healthy, comfortable, high-efficiency spaces that no longer need to burn fossil fuels. And we need to ensure that all of our residents have access to clean, efficient electric transportation.
Ulster County has been advancing our own clean energy transition for many years now. When our new solar array on the site of a former tire dump at Quarryville comes online in late 2021, we will be more than halfway to meeting our goal of using 100 percent locally-generated renewable electricity to power the County’s operations by 2030. By the end of 2021, we will also have our first electric buses on the road, and we will add to our growing network of publicly available electric vehicle charging stations throughout the County.
Now we need to bring that same transition process out into our communities. Through programs we launch in 2021, we will help our residents, our businesses and organizations, and our municipalities access local renewable electricity, decarbonize their operations, and save money on energy. We will also start a Community Climate Action Planning process to map out our clean energy transition for the whole County.
By 2025, we need to be well underway with that transition. Our 2025 goals include high-efficiency, low-carbon standards for all new buildings and scaling up the retrofit of existing buildings to 1000 homes per year. We will also establish voluntary energy benchmarking for public and commercial buildings to help building owners and their users track progress towards meeting climate goals.
On the transportation side, we are updating the County’s Green Fleet policy to establish a 2025 goal that 20 percent of the fleet will be green vehicles, with at least 20 percent of those battery-only. We will also ensure a County-wide network of electric vehicle chargers is available to all residents and pilot electric micro-transit in at least three communities in the County. We also need to ensure that our communities are safe and accessible for the most low carbon transportation options of all – walking and biking.
By 2040, our electricity transition needs to be complete, so that 100 percent of all electricity used within the County comes from zero-carbon renewable sources. Similarly, 100 percent of all County vehicles will be powered by renewable fuels, and all County residents will have access to zero-carbon transportation, including safe and accessible walking and biking in all of our population centers. The intensive work of retrofitting our homes and businesses needs to be at least halfway complete, with the capacity built to complete it by 2050.
The programs we will launch in 2021 include the following.
Renewable electricity is the foundation of the clean energy economy. Ulster County currently gets less than ten percent of our electricity from local renewable sources, mostly solar and small hydro. We get another few percent from large wind and hydro installations further north.
Community solar allows anyone to purchase solar electricity from solar projects located here in Ulster County and the Hudson Valley, without having to install anything at your home. The community solar provider works with Central Hudson to bill the customer for solar electricity rather than the utility default supply.
This year, Ulster County is working with three community solar providers to solarize Ulster County. Subscribers will save up to ten percent on your electricity bill. Each provider will donate $100 for every new customer to our Green New Deal fund, which will support all the rest of the programs in this plan. Learn more and sign up for community solar at http://solarizeulster.org.
The County is also making community solar available to municipal accounts at our Quarryville project in Saugerties. Municipalities can contact the Ulster County Department of the Environment to sign up.
Green Business Champions
Nearly 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Ulster County come from our businesses and organizations. Just like our homes, our commercial buildings need investment to improve aging structures and systems, increase energy efficiency, and access renewable energy. Green investments often make good business sense! Most of these investments will reduce energy bills, in some cases paying off the upfront cost within three years or less. Others improve building comfort, employee productivity, and customer safety.
We know that many business owners are interested in greening their operations, but don’t know where to get started. They are juggling many other concerns – especially now – and don’t have time to sort through all the options and the variety of state and utility programs available to help with upfront costs.
The Green Business Champions program aims to help every business in the County green its operations. We will help you determine which green investments make sense for you and help you connect to service providers and financial assistance. We will also be recognizing and celebrating businesses that take the green plunge. The program is expected to launch in Fall 2021.
Climate Smart and Clean Energy Communities
New York State provides support and incentives for municipalities to green their operations through the Climate Smart Communities (CSC) and Clean Energy Communities (CEC) programs. Fifteen of the County’s twenty-three municipalities participate in the Climate Smart Communities program. Five – the towns of Marbletown, Saugerties, and Woodstock and the town and village of New Paltz – are Bronze certified, while the city of Kingston is Silver Certified. Ulster County has been Silver certified since 2016 and recently submitted our recertification application. The Clean Energy Communities program has recently launched a new round of actions and funding incentives.
The Department of the Environment supports municipalities in pursuing Climate Smart Communities certification through trainings and facilitation via the county Climate Smart Committee and its new Municipal Task Force. In Spring 2021, we also piloted a program with Bard College to pair graduate-level climate policy students with municipal CSC committees to assess community resilience to climate impacts. The Ulster County CSC Municipal Task Force looks forward to continuing this work and facilitating additional partnership projects with local educational institutions.
Drawing the Line on Fossil Power
Investing in cleaner sources of energy is an essential component of our climate stabilization strategy. We also have to acknowledge that the time has come to stop building older, polluting technology. Ulster County opposes the construction of any new fossil fuel power generation in the Hudson Valley. While advocates of fossil power installations argue that dispatchable plants are needed to “back up” a renewable grid, we believe such backup must prioritize clean, fossil-free sources, rather than relying on business-as-usual strategies.
We therefore oppose the expansion and repowering of the Danskammer gas facility and urge serious consideration of cleaner alternatives for the site. And we will work with our municipalities to review their zoning for any loopholes that could make them vulnerable to unwanted power plant proposals.
Community Climate Action Plan
To take this work further, in 2021 we will begin a Community Climate Action Planning process that will lay out a road map to a clean energy transition for all communities in the County. It will develop detailed action steps to reach our 2025 and 2040 goals, review and set additional goals for the coming years and – using strategies from the second and third pillars of our Green New Deal – ensure that the opportunities and benefits of this work reach everyone in the County.
Next page: Build the equitable green economy