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Going Green at CANA meeting

June 7, 2012

by Jaired Crofut

City residents learned about saving energy and reducing their carbon footprint at the Council of Albany Neighborhood’s Association meeting Wednesday night. Elizabeth Staubach, who is the sustainability coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Energy and Sustainability, promoted the Neighborhood Energy Challenge, a program that got its kick-start this Spring by Mayor Jerry Jennings on Earth Day. So far there has been little involvement.

“What we’re doing is encouraging our neighbors to take advantage of these programs,” said Louise McNeilly, who attended the meeting in to promote the Neighborhood Energy Challenge and works on special projects for the Community Development Alliance.

Staubach Presenting

The energy challenge is a program driven by the Affordable Housing Partnership, which permits most residents to receive a free home energy assessment from an expert at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The program is free for low-income residents, and those in a higher income bracket pay a fee for the assessment.

After completing an assessment, program operators are hopeful residents will be better informed about the  ways they can reduce their home energy costs. Then, they are left to decide for themselves which course of action they wish to pursue. For some that could mean buying a new refrigerator or replacing insulation—for others it could be as simple as changing a light bulb. The Affordable Housing Partnership is willing to assist residents who have taken advantage of the assessment by guiding them on how they can reasonably finance changes to make their home more energy efficient.

“I think it’s fabulous,” said Virginia Hammer, a member of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association who attended the meeting who also participated in the Neighborhood Energy Challenge.

“We made some significant changes, and things you wouldn’t expect, too,” said Hammer. “We had our windows replaced.”

In addition, the Neighborhood Energy Challenge is also a competition. At the end of the year the neighborhood with the most energy assessments will receive a prize. This is supposed to create incentive among citizens to participate.

“The prize will be sitting down with the neighborhood that wins and figuring out what would benefit their neighborhood in terms of energy assessments,” said McNeilly. Potentially, neighborhoods could receive solar powered signs, trees or more plants and gardens.

However, for the Pine Hills Neighborhood, winning the challenge could mean extra finances to renovate the park next to the police station near the intersection of Madison and Western avenues, also known as the point.

“The neighborhood program could help,” said Hammer. She said that the Pine Hills Neighborhood has been working on a plan for renovating the park. She estimates that the cost is around $75,000.

“We do have a plan,” said Hammer. “Right now it’s a blue print with a lot of little circles that represent trees.

A large bulk of the program is paid for through volunteer effort. The financing for home assessments come from a pool of funds that the state energy authority has specifically reserved for initiatives with the intent of saving energy.

“I think what it really takes is for a neighbor to be energized enough to actually want to go door to door and talk to people about signing up for the program,” said Hammer. “ I think that personal contact really counts and really matters.”

The office of energy and sustainability has been trying to promote the program through the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. “The success is getting people involved and active in programs,” said Staubach. In addition, an informational stand was also set up at this year’s Tulip fest in Washington Park.

The beginning of May marked the inauguration of the city’s “sustainable spring campaign,” intended to encourage both businesses and residents to consider their environmental impact. The goal of the campaign is twofold, first to help save money, and second to promote a cleaner environment.

“The city is trying to lead by example,” said Staubach. “If people learn more about what the city is trying to do and the changes that they’ve made in their operations, maybe the public’s more likely to make similar changes in their own lives.”

Since the office of  Energy and Sustainability was created in 2010 the city has taken an inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions and built a rain garden on State Street to better help manage storm water. The Neighborhood Energy Challenge is the latest initiative.

“The city has made great strides,” said Staubach. “It’s the right thing to do.”

More information can be found at  -30-


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