Council Acts On Energy Efficiency Goals

New Rochelle’s Sustainability Plan, GreeNR, sets a goal of reducing municipal energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2020. We’re off to a very good start, with comprehensive energy efficiency upgrades already underway in our two largest municipal buildings.

This week, the City Council took another big step forward by approving the installation of high-efficiency LED light fixtures in the New Roc City and Transit Center garages. The new lights are expected to cut energy use by about 60%, from roughly 1.9 million kilowatt-hours to about 1.1 million kilowatt-hours, with an equivalent reduction in CO2 equivalent emissions. That’s a big environmental benefit.

Taxpayers also come out ahead. Energy costs will be cut by about $160,000 per year. Because the initial capital costs of about $1.5 million are funded by a loan from the New York State Power Authority, our net savings will initially be smaller — between about $5,000 and $25,000 per year, depending upon variable interest rates. Once the loan is paid off, between years 7 and 10, all the savings will flow to the City. Over the expected 20-year lifespan of the new lights, total savings for local taxpayers will be about $2 million.

Efficiency and savings must be ongoing priorities for our community, especially in a time of fiscal challenge, so we will continue seeking opportunities to be both green and cost-conscious.

Celebrating Trees by Planting More of Them

Not everyone is foolish enough to show up for a tree-planting in a suit and tie, but apparently that’s how mayors celebrate Arbor Day. Last month I assisted a great group of students from NRHS (who were all dressed much more appropriately for the task at hand) and we placed a new sapling in the ground by the Twin Lakes.

Trees are unsung heroes of our city. By providing shade and creating a pleasing streetscape, trees make New Rochelle a nicer place to live (and help increase property values). Through photosynthesis, trees clean the air we breathe and reduce carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere. With strong roots and a healthy thirst, trees also help control flooding and erosion.

Not that one tree can make that sort of difference … but thousands can. New Rochelle has nearly 400,000 trees, 30,000 of which are under public ownership. And one of the goals set forth in last year’s GreeNR Sustainability Plan is to plant 10,000 new trees on public property by 2030.

So maybe Arbor Day really is worth dressing up for.

GreeNR Receives NY State Planning Honors

What American youngster, growing up here in our great nation and thinking about his or her future, doesn’t dream of one day winning a Heissenbuttel Award?

Well, OK, maybe not. And I’ll admit that, until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of the Heissenbuttel. But, it turns out to be a pretty big deal.

The Heissenbuttel Award is one of a handful of honors given annually by the New York Planning Federation for outstanding accomplishment in the planning field. And this year’s Heissenbuttel goes to . . . GreeNR, the New Rochelle Sustainability Plan.

GreeNR was produced through an outstanding partnership among citizen volunteers and municipal staff. Since its approval last year by the Council, it has helped shape City action on multiple fronts, and it will continue serving as a useful framework for local policy-making over the next twenty years.

Achieving positive outcomes for our environment, economy, and community is its own reward, but it is certainly nice to see this terrific collaborative effort recognized by experts in the field at a state-wide level. So congratulations to all who were responsible for this accomplishment.

How Does Your Energy & Water Use Stack Up?

Most of us want to be more efficient when it comes to our household energy and water use. Less consumption, after all, is better for the environment and also better for our wallets. But sometimes it’s difficult to judge how well we are doing.

Here’s a tool that could help. The City’s green page now contains a link to the service “Sage Steps.” By entering information about your own utility use, you can receive a score that compares your efficiency to that of residents of the same zip code in similar housing. If your resource use is greater than average, chances are you’ve got some good opportunities to achieve savings.

Of course, this kind of rough general comparison is imprecise and is certainly not a substitute for a full energy audit or other measures specifically tailored to an individual home. But it is a helpful — and interesting — means of getting a quick read.

There’s also a broader benefit to having a service of this kind available. Social competition is a powerful motivator, and there is evidence that many people will take action in order to keep up with community norms. Encouraging friendly social competition is among the initiatives in our Sustainability Plan, GreeNR.

Sustainability Plan Moves Toward Implementation

In March, the City Council approved New Rochelle’s first-ever Sustainability Plan, GreeNR — a twenty-year blueprint for economic and environmental initiatives intended to improve the vitality and quality of life in New Rochelle, while also saving money.

Last week, the City Administration and our Sustainability Coordinator, Deborah Newborn, presented a memorandum detailing an implementation strategy for GreeNR’s short-term recommendations. The staff’s implementation strategy prioritizes actions for 2011, 2012, and 2013, identifies primary departmental responsibility for each activity, and notes which initiatives would benefit from volunteer participation or public-private task forces.

In light of the immediate fiscal challenges confronting New Rochelle — and all cities — the short-term implementation strategy focuses heavily on measures that either require no additional costs or will achieve immediate savings. Other initiatives may depend on receiving outside grants, which New Rochelle has already been aggressively pursuing as a way to invest in our local infrastructure without further burdening local taxpayers.

Writing the Sustainability Plan was a challenge, and implementing its recommendations will be a challenge, too. But the effort will be well worth our time and energy, and will help New Rochelle better achieve a positive vision for the future.