Montgomery County

Montgomery County executive seeks Smart Climate tag

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort is hoping to have the county eventually designated as a C
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Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort is hoping to have the county eventually designated as a Climate Smart Community with a handful of initiatives aimed at increasing energy efficiency and drawing more power from solar energy.

Ossenfort plans to bring the proposal to the county Legislature in February. The Legislature would have to formally adopt a Climate Smart pledge via resolution.

“We’re already doing some of these things, why not set that as a goal?” Ossenfort said. “I think that’s a positive thing to strive for.”

The 10-point pledge, a program of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, states the municipality will work to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate,” according to the DEC website.

About 170 communities across the state have made the pledge, including the city and county of Schenectady, the town of Niskayuna, the city of Saratoga Springs and the town of Clifton Park. No municipalities in Montgomery, Fulton or Schoharie counties have made the pledge.

Once the pledge is made, the municipality begins racking up points through environmentally friendly moves, aiming for 125 to get the designation.

“I don’t see this as something that’s going to happen next month,” Ossenfort said. “I think this is something that’s going to be a goal over the long term.”

The county recently began a comprehensive upgrade of its municipal buildings to increase energy efficiency, from replacing old light bulbs and windows to installing low-flow toilets. The move is expected to begin saving the county about $190,000 annually after the upgrades are finished later this year.

The upgrades follow a study done by SmartWatt Inc. of Ballston Lake. The costs will be covered by the savings on energy bills, according to a news release from the county, as well as a $134,000 grant from National Grid.

In addition, the county recently renegotiated its energy supply rate for a savings of about $64,000 a year.

In the coming months, county leaders will be evaluating proposals for a solar energy contract that could significantly shift the county’s energy consumption from conventional energy sources to solar.

In a request for proposals released last week, the county is looking to meet potentially all of its municipal energy needs — now costing about $400,000 a year — with solar energy, both to reduce costs and lower its carbon footprint.

Montgomery County Senior Planner Bill Roehr on Friday said the county is already seeing “phenomenal interest” in the request.

The plan would be to buy energy via a power purchase agreement, which locks discounted energy rates in for a certain period of time, from a new or existing solar energy system. With the state’s remote net metering policy, the system would not necessarily have to be located in Montgomery County.

So far, Roehr said, it’s too early to know if the proposals are likely to involve building a new array in the county, building one out of county, or drawing from an existing system — but whatever happens, the county will not be taking ownership of the array.

“Renewable energies have just been very, very heavily incentivized,” Roehr said. “All of a sudden, the net costs are way, way down for installers. So what we want to do is have the preponderance of those savings passed on to us as the consumers.”

Those incentives, he said, have led to a “flurry of solar activity” in the county, with solar developers approaching municipalities, businesses, and residents with proposals. In response, the county Planning Department has developed a model approach to help guide municipalities through the process.

The department is hosting its first workshop on zoning for solar facilities on Jan. 28, based largely on an ordinance developed in the town of Florida.

In addition, Roehr said, the county is looking to move to a paperless filing system as it works to consolidate its municipal offices.

All those efforts should add up in its pursuit of the Climate Smart Communities designation, as well as save money.

“In terms of larger, broader awareness of how we need to produce and acquire our energy, the county’s being pretty damn progressive on this stuff and I’m kind of proud to be part of that,” Roehr said. “I’m always focused on the funding, but believe me, I’m very proud to be associated with that.”

Reach Gazette reporter Kyle Adams at 723-0811, [email protected] or @KyleRAdams on Twitter.

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