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ON THE SCENE: Volunteers step in to help green Keene

May 25, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

A vision of the Common Ground Alliance, the annual gathering of the political, environmental, and economic leadership and related stakeholders of the Adirondack region, is healthy communities and ecosystems thriving together in a protected and unique landscape.

They hope to achieve their vision through a range of initiatives, such as encouraging local governments, businesses and homeowners to facilitate energy conservation and renewable sources of energy. Keene, perhaps not surprisingly, is one community that's taken that challenge on and made significant progress in relatively short time of eight months, warp speed for local government.

Not a surprise because Keene was a leader in expanding high-speed internet, now reaching about 95 percent of its households at a time when many other communities were only just articulating the desire. Keene is often able to move quickly, as it also did in response to the ravages of Tropical Storm Irene because of its energized citizenry and small-sized bureaucracy.

Article Photos

Town of Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. and Carolyn Peterson, co-chair of Keene’s Clean Energy Committee
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The opportunity for Keene was to become recognized as a Clean Energy Community by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, opening the door to grant funds that will enable the town to achieve additional clean-energy goals. Keene resident Dan Mason, a retired former manager of a Fortune 500 energy company and founder of the North Country Clean Energy Conference, has worked with the Adirondack North Country Association on clean energy strategic planning. Last fall, he attended a Mothers Out Front meeting in Keene and floated the idea of seeking grant funding as a means of reducing the town's energy consumption.

Several attending, along with others since, decided to join him. Carolyn Peterson of Keene, the retired mayor of Ithaca, agreed to co-chair the effort. It should be noted that Dan's brother Dave Mason and his partner Jim Herman facilitated the strategic planning process known as Adk Futures for the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance. They, too, are Keene residents.

A local government has to achieve four out of 10 High Impact Actions set by NYSERDA to become recognized as a CEC community. Their initial challenge was to identify which four actions to take on and gain the Keene town board's approval to pursue the designation. Their pitch to the board was that saving energy equals saving money, with the bonus that the grants don't require a cash match, a big incentive for towns trying to stay within the state's 2 percent tax cap.

Their desire wasn't to identify the lowest hanging fruit out of the 10 actions, but those that made sense to Keene. The four actions they selected were: adapting benchmarking to track the energy use of town buildings; demonstrating the effectiveness of a campaign to encourage the installation of solar photovoltaic by homes and business (more than 50 achieved that goal); facilitating the success of that campaign through a unified solar permit; and training a code officer in the application solar PV installation codes.

"We developed an excellent relationship with the Keene town board," said Dan Mason. "With their support, we were able to help the town seek and become certified as a CEC community. As a result, the town received permission to apply for a $50,000 grant, which was submitted a few weeks ago."

"We had a lot of informational to take in and to share, so we initially met with the board members one on one, brought in materials, and tapped into the resources of the Adirondack North Country Association," said Peterson.

Their initial grant request was for funding for solar panels on town buildings, switch their lighting to LEDs, and conduct energy audits. In effect Dan Mason, Peterson and their team of volunteers became the town's de facto energy department. Both say that their progress would not have been possible without the help of ANCA, citing former Lake Placid village Mayor Jamie Rogers and Amanda Lavigne for their crucial insights and support. No less critical was the universal support of the town board.

"I think the Keene community group, which is doing all the legwork, has outlined a good model that we believe can work well across the region," said Lavigne. "They're demonstrating that the heavy lift doesn't have to fall on the shoulders of the municipal leaders; instead, they can take a team approach partnering with local volunteers."

One of the Keene group's next goals is to seek funding to switch the approximately 130 streetlights in the community to LED and, as part of that, use lights with downward focused as a means of reducing the impact on night skies as Keene has a growing number of amateur astronomers.

"Amanda helped create the concept of circuit riders," said Dan Mason. "ANCA's experts, people like Jamie Rogers and Nancy Bernstein, go around the 14 counties of the park serving as a free energy consultant resource to the communities. As an example, the LED lights for streetlights have evolved somewhat since we first heard about them. Nancy came in and gave us an hour of her time, and as a result, we now have an excellent path forward."

Once installed, the LED streetlights will cut the annual operating cost by 50 percent the first year. Those savings, coupled with the savings generated by LED lighting within the buildings, and the added savings generated by the solar PVs will quickly add up.

"This program and process make so much sense on so many levels," said Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. "You're conserving taxpayer dollars, and you're saving energy, which made it a program worth exploiting to the fullest.

"On another level, without them, it would have taken me at least a year to do what the committee accomplished in just a few months. I would have been crazy to say no to a group of volunteers willing to put in the time while keeping the town board looped in and do so much heavy lifting."



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