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Town of Byron committee's efforts lead to NYSERDA Clean Energy Community designation

By Mike Pettinella

The chair of ad hoc committee charged with exploring clean energy initiatives in the Town of Byron sees the municipality’s Clean Energy Community designation by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority as a springboard for further action.

Now, she just has to get the Town Board’s support.

“By completing the five action items as required by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, the Town of Byron has earned a $5,000 grant to assist with future clean energy initiatives,” Candace Hensel said today. “We are looking to use the money towards completing additional high impact actions that will help us progress in the CEC program.”

Hensel is the driving force behind the Clean Energy Resources Information Committee, an informal group that reports monthly to the town board. Active members include Kaitlyn Moucha, Sara Stockwell and Brian Stacy. Other town residents participate, depending upon the project.

The action items completed by the town to receive the CEC designation are benchmarking, energy code enforcement training, adopting a unified solar permit and an LED conversion of the town’s streetlights. Hensel said it was credited for a fifth action item for advanced benchmarking.

Points are awarded for each of the 14 action items identified by NYSERDA, with grant amounts based on the number of points.

The Town of Byron now joins the Town of Batavia and Village of Bergen as NYSERDA Clean Energy communities. Other municipalities in Genesee County participating in the program are the Village of Corfu, Town of Pembroke and City of Batavia.

Hensel said her “eyes were opened” to what was going on in New York State regarding clean energy when she heard about the 280-megawatt Excelsior Energy solar project in the Town of Byron.

“I had tried to get the town to look into some of the incentives available to communities, but I really didn’t get anywhere with the town so – about two years ago – I created a petition and got a list of names of other people who at least thought the town should look at into some of these programs,” she said.

Eventually, the town board authorized Hensel to chair a committee (CERIC) to explore the possibility of attracting grants to assist with community clean energy projects.

Hensel said she felt much better about putting a group together and pursuing clean energy opportunities knowing that she had the town board’s backing.

“In New York State, from the governor’s standpoint and to the trickle-down effect to DEC and NYSERDA and then you go on to the utilities, they’re all required to participate – to an extent – and comply with a lot of these clean energy programs that have been enacted,” she said.

Hensel said CERIC was unsuccessful in its bid to receive intervenor funds from the Excelsior Energy solar project, but that hasn’t stopped the group from its goal of “investigating incentives and reporting back to the town with our recommendations for participating (in the Clean Energy Communities program) and the advantages of doing so.”

“The town board listens to our report monthly but really, as a whole feels its capacity is limited or can’t put the time in; so, we do get stonewalled,” she said. “They did, however, let us pursue the Clean Energy Communities program, and no town funds were expended toward this CEC designation.”

She said CERIC also is looking into the Climate Smart Communities program administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The benefits of participating in the DEC program are much greater,” she said. “Grant incentives are much greater – with funding of up to 50 percent of major clean energy projects. So, we see that the carrot at the end of the stick is much greater.”

Hensel said CERIC requested that the town board vote to join the Climate Smart Communities program “because all of the actions that we completed in one, we can apply to the other.”

“Representatives of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council did a presentation for the board and a resolution was made, but at that board meeting, no one would second the motion to continue on for a vote for that particular program,” she said.

CERIC isn’t giving up on that, however, as it plans to approach the board again on the DEC program next month.

Town Supervisor Peter Yasses said CERIC must report its recommendations and proposals to the board but can “make no commitments” while Town Councilman Eric Zuber said his concerns center upon the stipulations for receiving the grants, especially those that include the town having to match funds for a particular project.

“There are a lot of bells and whistles – hoops you have to go through,” Zuber said. “Anything that we do has to make sense for the town in the long-term.”

Hensel said the committee currently is involved with a clean heating and cooling campaign in conjunction with Pathstone and the GFLRPC that kicked off in April at the Genesee County Home Show.

“They are following up to complete energy audits and have them as part of the Heat Smart Finger Lakes North program,” she said. “Hopefully, people will sign up with a contractor, who will evaluate their homes and make recommendations on heat pumps or geothermal and to see if anyone wants to learn more about those and the tax credits that go with them.”

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