Newly formed North Country Clean Energy Hub aims to connect homeowners, communities to energy efficiency, renewable energy programs and incentives
By Chloe Bennett
An energy transition away from fossil fuels in the U.S. calls for large-scale investments in renewables such as solar, wind, hydropower and other sources, scientists and advocates say. In New York, changes are already underway as part of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 through investments in renewable energy. How that goal affects individuals and small communities, though, can seem unclear.
A new program administered by a cluster of North Country organizations may clarify that.
The North Country Clean Energy Hub, led by The Adirondack North Country Association, is planning to be the renewable energy and building efficiency nerve center in the region. In December, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority awarded ANCA $4 million over four years to help create the program.
Erin Griffin took the role of director of the hub after working in ANCA’s Climate Smart Community program. What sets this initiative apart from others, Griffin said, is its immediate benefits to residents.
“A really important thing for people to recognize about the hub is it’s not just about saving the environment,” Griffin, 36, said. “It’s about making sure they have access to healthy and safe housing.”
Three branches of the hub will employ energy advisers who answer renewable energy and building efficiency questions for residents. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County is set to host two advisers. Volunteers who complete a multi-week renewable energy course through the Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, which will have an energy adviser, will also be part of the effort.
The operation plans to focus on jobs to bolster the labor force in the North Country. But finding contractors able to work with low-income residents and renewable energy projects will be a challenge, Griffin said. The Adirondack workforce has declined since the pandemic and many prospective employees are unable to find affordable housing.
“There’s not enough energy efficiency contractors or heat pump contractors, really any type of contractor,” Griffin said. “But particularly, we have a lot of needs around building auditors and energy efficiency contractors.”
Working with SUNY Canton’s Career Ready Education And Success Training program could alleviate that shortage, Griffin said, by adding trained contractors to the pipeline through a renewable energy training program.
Before addressing energy concerns, Griffin said people may need help making their homes safer. Organizations like the Home Energy Assistance Program which helps people heat and cool their homes could also play a role in the hub. Many people in the North Country face health and safety issues in their homes, Griffin said.
“You’re not going to insulate a house that has mold in there or something like that,” she said. “So there’s a lot of those other issues that have to get addressed first.”
Now in its “soft launch” phase, the hub’s next step is researching which renewable energy technologies are already in use in the North Country. Griffin said ANCA will also host outreach events in the next few months.
Griffin said she anticipates concerns and misconceptions from residents about switching to renewable energy, but she hopes the new program will clear some of those up.
“We don’t want the North Country to miss out on that because of different political opinions or whatever,” Griffin said. “There’s opportunities for everyone to save money and to make their homes more comfortable.”