Albany County secures grant toward climate action plan

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Snow plows from Albany County headed to Buffalo on Dec. 26 to help that region combat a serious winter storm. Vehicles made up almost 30 percent of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2013. 

ALBANY COUNTY — Although its greenhouse gas emissions study won’t be completed for several months, Albany County is gearing up to create a plan that will use that data to guide climate initiatives.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced last week that it was chipping in $35,000 as part of its Climate Smart Communities program. The DEC is awarding more than $11.6 million to 25 municipalities across New York State.

County spokeswoman Mary Rozak told The Enterprise this week that the contribution will cover about half of the projected cost of creating the plan. 

“The purpose of the plan is to use the data from the County’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which will be completed by June of 2023, to establish a comprehensive set of goals and corresponding actions that the County can implement to reduce our operational emissions as well as emissions in the Community,” Rozak said in an email answering Enterprise questions.

“It will organize the County’s extensive efforts to increase sustainability that are already underway (i.e. fleet conversion, building efficiency, renewable energy generation, etc.) into a framework that can be tracked and built upon.” 

She added that the plan, which will be written by the county executive’s office, is to be finished by the last quarter of this year, or the first quarter of 2024. 

Along with the state, Albany County has accelerated its environmental efforts so that it can effectively address what Executive Daniel McCoy termed the “climate emergency” of global warming. 

In 2021, McCoy announced alongside executives of Suffolk and Westchester counties that they’d push to fully electrify their vehicle fleets by 2030. McCoy also announced then the installation of seven new vehicle-charging stations on either end of the county’s rail-trail.

That year was when Albany County was certified as a bronze-level entrant to the Climate Smart Communities program, meaning that it earned more 120 points through various actions, such as establishing community partnerships and carrying out studies, each of which came with a value of anywhere from 3 to 20 points. Albany County is one of 100 certified communities, with an additional 369 communities registered (meaning they have not yet earned enough points for bronze or silver certification), altogether representing 9.4 million people.

In 2022, McCoy announced the county’s greenhouse gas study, which will determine the county’s own emissions and help track reductions while providing an outlay for future actions. 

The last greenhouse gas study by the county was conducted almost 10 years ago and looked at the county’s energy use in 2013. That study found that the county spent $6.5 million on energy and emitted almost 35,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas.

Buildings made up the largest share of emissions at 69 percent, while vehicles followed at 28 percent. Wastewater treatment made up the difference of 3 percent. 

Greenhouse gases are the primary contributor to climate change, since they trap heat from the sun and warm the earth, leading to raised ocean levels, among many other things that threaten communities either directly, such as through flooding in the case of rising oceans, or indirectly, through conflict over use of resources as communities grapple with fallout from climate change. 

In addition to studying ways to limit its role in climate change, Albany County is also studying ways to deal with the effects of it through its climate resiliency plan. Creation of the plan includes inventorying important assets and figuring out how acclimate weather conditions that are more likely under advanced climate-change scenarios (like floods and extreme heat) will impact these. 

The technical advisory committee for that plan has met sporadically since September of 2021. 

However, by making necessary changes to its operations, Albany County hopes to avoid impacts altogether. It’s part of a larger effort by the state to do the same. 

In 2019, New York State announced its intention to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2050, and has made significant steps toward doing so, such as incentivizing solar-energy development and disbursing grants such as the one Albany County just received for its own climate plan.

Just before Christmas, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation that intends to conserve 30 percent of the state’s land and 30 percent of its water. 

Specifically, the law “establishes the goal and requires the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to develop strategies and a methodology to achieve the goal while collaborating with a broad group of stakeholders,” according to the state website. 

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