100 Clean Energy Communities and Counting in New York State

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) Clean Energy Communities (CEC) program is flourishing, with now 100 communities becoming certified and hundreds more still getting state support to reduce energy waste, cut emissions and combat climate change. The program, launched last August, helps local communities develop and implement clean energy goals, provides important technical assistance and tools, and awards incentives to invest in additional clean energy initiatives once communities implement four high impact action items and receive their CEC designation. Local governments do not always have capacity and technical expertise to tackle the full spectrum of clean energy and climate issues; state programs like CEC help facilitate action and can serve as a model for other state-local partnerships across the country.

The CEC program is innovative, pragmatic and builds on best practices from across the country to encourage effective local action. Having been in place for less than two years, a total of 100 counties, towns, and villages have already received their CEC designation. And more than 240 communities are participating in the program. These communities range from bustling cities like White Plains, to suburban communities like Huntington, to small villages like Falconer. In total, these local jurisdictions have completed more than 645 high impact action items, ranging from converting their streetlights to lower energy consuming LED bulbs to installing electric vehicle charging stations at city hall to streamlining the approval process for new solar installations. NYSERDA has created a user-friendly map documenting the participating communities, showcasing the popularity of the program across the state and the wide variety of high impact action items that these communities are undertaking.

One of those action items is a requirement that buildings benchmark and annually report their energy use. Benchmarking buildings is a high-value, low-cost efficiency strategy, which is the foundation of effective building energy management, enabling owners to understand their buildings’ performance, identify energy efficiency opportunities, and save money. As part of CEC, many of New York’s communities have created requirements for reporting energy use of public buildings, and we expect that their example will help encourage private building owners around the state who also want to save money and improve their buildings’ performance.

NRDC’s new report, America’s Clean Energy Frontier: The Pathway to a Safer Climate Futureoutlines how the U.S. can curb greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, largely by substantial increases in clean energy, noting the important contributions from actions at the local level.  As more and more communities around the country sign on to meet the commitments of the Paris agreement (including 26 in New York State), these local jurisdictions must be empowered with the information and tools needed to implement the policies and programs to achieve these goals. NYSERDA’s CEC program offers a great example of what states can do, helping to bring about local climate and clean energy action in individual towns, cities, and counties, while saving local governments and their citizens money on their energy bills, creating good, local jobs and realizing the tremendous opportunities provided by expanding the green economy.