LOWVILLE — For Lewis County, hugged by the Adirondack Mountains and the Tug Hill Plateau, traversed by mighty rivers and meandering creeks, dotted with tiny ponds and impressive lakes, every day is Earth Day on one level or another, but increasingly, the county is a “green” leader, officials say.
In 2017, the county became the first community in the north country to earn the Clean Energy Community designation from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
To earn that designation, the county developed an energy benchmarking policy for its buildings to track and report energy use; added an electric Ford Focus to the county fleet and created a charging station; streamlined approvals for solar projects by developing a unified solar permit system; and provided training for code compliance officers and municipal authorities on energy code best practices.
As Mr. Pace said in 2017, after Lewis County’s designation, “It’s a live program,” and actions to add to the efforts are continuing.
With the grant made possible by the designation, the county has made a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings by replacing the lights with LED bulbs in all county buildings. They are now continuing with LED’s in the parking areas and the Public Safety Building, county Planning Director Frank J. Pace said.
To encourage electric car use, two car charging stations have been installed and opened for public use at the county building on Outer Stowe Street and at the Lewis County JCC Education Center on Maple Ridge and another electric vehicle may be added to the county fleet.
The town of Leyden in the southern part of the county is also now a Clean Energy Community, according to the NYSERDA website.
The county solar array initiative was completed in April 2018 but because the array only started generating power in June, the savings in both energy and money are hard to determine, Mr. Pace said.
“We can’t really say yet how much it’s saved, partially because in the winter it doesn’t generate as much as in the summer, so it has to be figured out over time,” said Mr. Pace, “By June 2020, we will have some figures.”
Lewis County’s recycling program is one of the most stable in the area and has often been a proving ground for projects and practices. Most recently, in February 2018, the county and the Development Authority of the North Country launched a mattress recycling pilot program to test for feasibility in other counties.
While the downturn in the recycled material market is an issue, an increase in fees at the county dump and a subsidy from DANC has mostly offset that loss. As a whole, the department balances itself and the recyclables continue to be kept from landfill, according to County Manager Ryan Piche.
In general, the county has been at the forefront of the emerging green energy economy since the 195 turbines of the Maple Ridge Wind Farm were put into operation in 2006, officials said. Now, the 40 turbines of the Copenhagen Wind Farm became operational at the end of last year, creating a combined output of about 401 megawatts at full power for the two existing farms.
Three more projects are in the approval process that would produce about 265 megawatts combined: up to 25 turbines in the Deer River Wind Farm, 20 turbines in the Roaring Brook project and between 30 and 43 turbines in the proposed Number Three Wind Farm.
The town of Denmark, Croghan and Turin are in the planning process for a total of five solar arrays and many schools and municipalities from the county are joining the Tri-County Energy Consortium which are coming together on six solar arrays to help cut costs and use cleaner energy.
Individual businesses and home owners across the county can also be seen with solar panel set-ups of various sizes on their properties.
One of the biggest environmental challenges that still needs to be faced in Lewis County is agricultural plastic, the thick white plastic used to cover hay bales and how to dispose of it — but they’re working on it, Mr. Piche said.