Decline in emissions indicate progress in the state’s Climate Smart program
By Chloe Bennett
A resolution passed in Saranac Lake five years ago pledged to take at least 10 steps toward a more environmentally sustainable government. At the time, the village was producing more than 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from buildings, police cars, government-run dams and other sources.
The May 2018 resolution was one of several requirements from the state to designate the village as a Climate Smart Community. By 2020, Saranac Lake was registered as a bronze community, the first level of state certification.
By taking some of the steps it committed to, the village government decreased its carbon emissions by 24%, according to utility records and a recent analysis from the program’s local working group.
Climate Smart Communities was initiated in 2009 by the Department of Environmental Conservation to help local governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Places such as Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Lake George pledged and passed local resolutions to reduce energy use in government buildings and vehicles, address water and wastewater energy and other climate concerns.
Starting in 2017, Harry Gordon, an architect and a member of Climate Smart Community’s working group, pulled data from Saranac Lake’s utility records and analyzed the local government’s energy inventory. Gordon, who lives near the village, used a formula provided by the federal EPA to convert energy units into carbon dioxide tons. Last year the government produced 852 metric tons of carbon with fuel oil, electricity and gas.
Heating buildings with fuel oil accounted for a large part of last year’s emissions, Gordon said, but some may be surprised by the role of groundwater and wastewater.
Carbon emissions from electricity totaled 208 metric tons, equivalent to emissions from 12,220 gasoline-powered cars driven for one year. Nearly half of those emissions came from wastewater treatment, Gordon said. The treatment of wastewater involves burning captured methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to regulate the water’s temperature. Before switching to methane capture, capturing the methane, the village used fuel oil to keep the treatment process moving.
Gordon said water’s and wastewater’s large role in total carbon emissions likely mirrors nearby facilities.
“The patterns we see in the village of Saranac Lake for water and wastewater are pretty typical of what you would see if we looked at other communities,” he said.
The village is looking for a lower emissions inventory in the years to come with more energy efficiency. The program’s working group met Wednesday to strategize.
“I think the prevailing attitude among the village is we want to be able to do more,” Gordon said. “And our Climate Smart Communities group is helping them to identify what those new strategies can be.”
The program uses a rating system to assign gold, silver or bronze levels of climate certifications. As of April 2023, there are 376 communities registered with Climate Smart Communities, though only 100 of them received a bronze or silver certification. Standards for the gold level are still being developed by the state.
Although communities are responsible for collecting emissions data according to the state’s guidelines, Climate Smart Communities Coordinator Carlie Leary said she is unaware of nearby efforts to analyze energy use. It is unclear if registered communities are required to make greenhouse gas emission inventories available to the public.
Several North Country locales are registered with the state’s climate program, including Tupper Lake, Jay and Essex County, though they have not yet received certification. Lake George took the pledge and was awarded bronze certification in 2020. Lake Placid followed suit last year, obtaining a bronze status in September.