North Country slated to receive part of $30 million in state grants to increase use of biomass, improve transportation, revitalize downtowns
Friday, June 28, 2013 - 6:31 am

The North Country is slated to receive part of a $30 million round of state grants to increase energy efficiency, including increasing the use of biomass, improving downtown areas, protecting water supplies and increasing transportation efficiency.

The North Country portion, endorsed by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, aims to increase the use of biomass, improve the transportation infrastructure, protect water quality, grow the agricultural and forestry industries, and revitalize downtowns, state officials said in a prepared statement.

The $30 million will be divided between the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils. The plans were developed as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $100 million Cleaner, Greener Communities program, a statewide initiative to invest in “smart growth” planning and sustainability.

“The North Country aims to be a leader in New York State's Clean Energy economy. The Cleaner, Greener Communities Plan identifies areas to expand our efforts and supports the NCREDC’s vision to create the greenest and most self-reliant energy economy in the state. While wind and hydropower are well established in the region, this plan shows us ample room for growth in all renewables, including thermal heating energy for households and buildings, and for the generation of utility-scale energy with biomass,” said Anthony G. Collins, president of Clarkson University and co-chair of the North Country council.

The North Country has more than four million acres of timberland and almost 600,000 acres of cropland. Although the region covers 24 percent of the state’s land area, the North Country contributes to only three percent of statewide greenhouse gas emissions. The North Country already generates 94 percent of its electricity through renewable sources.

The highlights of the North Country plan follow:

· Renewable energy recommendation: Exponentially increase the use of biomass as a thermal heating fuel. With more New York State manufactured high-efficiency, low-emissions biomass heating systems available, transitioning homes, businesses, and institutional buildings from heating with imported oil to heating with biomass will generate stable, local jobs in the forestry, processing, manufacturing and distribution industries and keep energy dollars in the local economy.

· Transportation efficiency recommendation. Improve road and freight infrastructure and promote regional collaboration. Transportation strategies in the Plan call for inter-county collaboration to expand public transit routes; expanding broadband installations to promote telecommuting and e-commerce opportunities and reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMTs); creating more affordable transportation options for residents; improving aging transportation infrastructure; and developing intermodal sites for freight shipping with an emphasis on rail for freight.

· Working lands recommendation. Protect excellent water quality and grow agriculture and forest industries. The North Country’s working lands and waters, including forests, agricultural lands and access to some of the best recreation assets in the Northeast, are a driver of the region’s economy, quality of life and community development. The growth in demand for locally produced and value added food products is already attracting young farmers, driving growth, and expanding eco-, agri- and cultural tourism experiences. In addition, growth of the renewable energy market through locally grown and produced biomass grows the foresty industry.

· Vibrant downtowns recommendation. Revitalize existing main streets and build resilient communities. Most North Country towns and villages were founded on what we would now call Smart Growth principles – concentrating development in walkable downtown areas that offer local amenities and constructing solid, long-lasting buildings. These communities retain historical value with unique architecture and cultural sites and are already embarking on revitalization efforts which reduce emissions by adopting higher energy-efficiency standards and reducing dependence on cars.

The complete North Country Sustainability Plan is available at www.adirondack.org/green/.