In light of record-shattering heatwaves, extreme wildfires, and other climate change-related events, there is a pressing need to transition to renewable energy. The release of greenhouse gases from nonrenewable energy sources like fossil fuels is the main contributor of global warming and its associated effects. Federal and state governments have taken steps to reduce our fossil-fuel dependence through far-reaching renewable energy targets. For example, in 2019, New York State enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The Climate Act promotes a quick ramp up of renewable energy development in the state with an ambitious target: 70% of New York’s electricity demands must be met by renewable sources by 2030. But what does this target look like at the local level?
This summer, I had the opportunity to tackle this question as an intern for the Cazenovia Preservation Foundation (CPF) through the Upstate Institute Summer Field School. CPF is an accredited land trust founded in 1967. The organization initially focused on historical architecture preservation. Today, in addition to holding historical facade easements in the village, CPF practices land stewardship and protects more than 3,100 acres of open space and agricultural lands through direct ownership or conservation easements. CPF has a long history of involvement in local land use and comprehensive planning topics to ensure that Cazenovia’s historical, natural, and agricultural resources are protected, and for that reason, CPF is a stakeholder in the renewable energy development conversation. Renewable energy development, in the form of solar in this region, has the potential to endanger these community resources if these projects are not carefully planned and sited.
Proper planning is essential for this area of upstate New York as the rural, agricultural character of the region makes central New York an attractive location for solar developers. In order to address the rapid interest in the region and to provide a framework for discussing solar energy development at the community level, the nonprofit organization Scenic Hudson has produced a “How to Solar Now” toolkit for communities in the Hudson Valley. My project adapts this GIS (Geographic Information Systems) model for the greater Cazenovia area. We are working to conduct a GIS-based suitability analysis that incorporates data about topography, natural resources, agricultural soils, proximity to transmission facilities, zoning, and other features to identify those areas that are most, or least, suited to solar development. The toolkit will be a resource for CPF, town and village officials, and community residents.
This work comes at a pivotal time for the Town of Cazenovia. In June, the town placed a 12-month moratorium on solar energy development to allow time to update the municipal code to better address solar project siting and project requirements in response to recent commercial-scale proposals. To provide a common base of knowledge for Cazenovia residents on this topic, CPF is one of several community organizations that is co-hosting the event “Beyond Rooftop Solar,” a series of four panel discussions about commercial solar projects in the area. On Sept. 29, I will present my project to the community during the second installment of the panel series, titled “Adapting Scenic Hudson’s ‘How to Solar Now’ Toolkit for the Cazenovia Area.” The remaining two panels will take place on Oct. 13 (“Industry and Economics”) and Nov. 10, 2021 (“Farmland Conversion to Renewable Energy Generation”). For more information on the panel series check out CPF’s website: https://www.cazpreservation.org/beyond-rooftop-solar-series/.
I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to apply my interests in land conservation, stewardship, and climate change mitigation to this project. I was drawn to the Upstate Institute program this summer for the ability to conduct research that would have a practical, meaningful application, which I plan to achieve through the creation of the decision-support tool for Cazenovia. I have also enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the working group sessions in which I have participated, including the Cazenovia Town Board’s Working Group on Solar. In the future, I hope to continue working hands-on with communities on climate mitigation strategies that respect their local resources.
Submitted by Cassie Ferrante ’21, one of 35 students doing community-based research this summer as a fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School