By John Bradley
Some Columbia County Wins
Climate Smart Task Forces across New York State and the County are active in completing actions to address the warming climate at the local level working toward Climate Smart Communities certification from Bronze to Gold, each level unlocking incentives and funding. Statewide, 382 communities participate in the program, including 19 of the 23 jurisdictions in Columbia County. Certification is a recognition of accomplishment and provides benefits in applying for grants. Eleven towns in Columbia County, plus the County itself, have achieved Bronze Certification. This is a certification rate of 63%, compared to the State average of 31%. Bravo for this work! Click here to access Columbia County Climate Smart information.
Climate Smart is a NYS program to incentivize towns to engage the community and to take actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through energy efficiency and renewable energy, to adapt and build resilience to the changing climate. Mitigation, adaptation, and resilience are the foundation of climate policy.
What are some examples of climate actions around the county?
New Lebanon was the first town in the County (March 2021) to achieve Bronze with 22 completed actions. They conducted a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, implemented ongoing energy benchmarking, replaced their streetlight with LED lighting, and undertook various practices to facilitate better energy management.
Austerlitz was a leader in the county in installing renewable energy, achieving Bronze in 2022 with 22 completed actions. They installed heat pumps to heat and cool their new town hall plus solar panels on the town garage. The garage’s energy use was reduced by 54% and energy costs cut by 74%.
Taghkanic achieved Bronze in April 2023 with 22 completed actions. In addition to installing heat pumps in the town hall, it undertook numerous actions for conservation and resilience, including zoning to protect natural areas, improving riparian buffers, water quality conservation planning, and community education.
Claverack is about halfway to the 120 points needed for Bronze Certification. We are currently working on an update of the Greenhouse Gas Inventory and a municipal Climate Action Plan (CAP) for government operations. These two projects provide a framework for multiple actions to decrease energy use, and shift to clean, renewable energy systems over time.
These examples are but a sample of the broad range of actions being taken across the County to reduce emissions (and energy costs), adapt to the changing climate, and build resilience against growing risks of our changing climate.
A look at Cost/Benefit
Addressing climate change will come with costs. Renewables like solar and wind, energy efficiency for buildings, converting to LED lighting all incur upfront costs. Increasing resilience by protecting wetlands, replacing culverts, raising bridges and reducing erosion can be expensive too. Nevertheless, we need to think about these as investments rather than costs. Fuel oil, ongoing preparation of infrastructure, loss of habitat and the quality of the natural environment we love in Columbia County are costs we will pay over and over again. The dollars we spend on renewables, energy efficiency and shoring up our natural environment are investments that yield longer term savings and ensure a high quality of life within our communities.
Climate change increases the complexity and uncertainty for both operational and capital budget decision-making. To deal with mitigation, adaptation and resilience at any level (global, national or local) is truly mind boggling. Business as usual often means not taking action which in turn means paying further down the line.
Not only should we think of this as money well invested in our town BUT the state is willing to help pay for many of these actions through grants and subsidies thus alleviating future fiscal burdens on the community. One intention of the Climate Smart program is to bring more financial and volunteer resources to support communities to meet these challenges, sooner than later as we are all aware, how small investments now can prevent huge expenditures later.
Since NYS initiated the Climate Smart Program in 2018, state agencies have provided limited funding to incentivize these climate actions. The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides more money that can mobilize volunteers, initiate planning, compete for grants and implement projects. A recent article in the Columbia Paper reported that climate smart activities have brought in $720,000 in match free funding for clean energy projects in the County. Other funds have supported comprehensive planning, park development, and conservation, among other climate related public functions. The new funding for Climate Smart Task Forces will be competitive and require a 50% match, a significant aid for towns who are stepping up to the NYS Climate Smart challenges. This is our tax dollars being offered back to us. We would be unwise not to use them to benefit our own towns.
One can learn more about other town’s Climate Smart actions by visiting their website via the County Climate Smart website. The Village of Philmont, although a part of Claverack, has a separate Climate Smart Committee with its own interesting story, available in an entertaining and informative short video by Philmont’s Tom Paino here.
Columbia Paper - https://theupstater.com/news/climate-smart-projects-yield-big/
County Climate Smart Website - climatesmart.columbiacountyny.com
Climate Action: Mitigation and Adaptation – What’s the Difference? https://www.climatesmartclaverack.com/post/climate-action-mitigation-and-adaptation-what-s-the-difference
Information on All CSC towns’ certification status and actions completed is available at:
Click on Participating Communities-
Choose List View and the Select town to learn about;
A box on the map appears - Click Certification Report
Scroll down on all PEs (action)s completed - drill down on anyone of interest