Winner Category 2: Sustainable Westchester
Full Speed Ahead...Sustainable Westchester jumps powerfully into action
Homeowners want to live a greener, more affordable lifestyle by becoming less dependent on fossil fuels and minimizing energy use, but with rapidly changing technology, it can be daunting not only to keep up but also to prioritize home energy improvements, identify service providers, and negotiate prices. This is why Herb Oringel and his Westchester neighbors gathered in 2008 to create Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium (NWEAC), the predecessor to the newly minted Sustainable Westchester, formed last year when NWEAC merged with its southern Westchester counterpart.
Sustainable Westchester is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that seeks to create a livable future for 800,000 residents in 40 Westchester communities. By “livable,” they mean moving toward a sustainable reliance on solar, wind, and hydro power rather than the limited supply of fossil fuels.
The organization provides an arena in which communities can share services and ideas and develop effective responses to important sustainability-related opportunities, such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste management, land use, transportation, water conservation, sustainable food, and more. For example, in coordination with Energize New York, the consortium provides free home energy audits to resident home-owners that result in comprehensive reports with suggested energy-efficiency improvements and expected returns on investment.
A similarly structured new community campaign, Solarize, will assist local communities in selecting competitively chosen solar photovoltaic installers to make solar energy more accessible and affordable for residents and businesses.
Sustainable Westchester’s programming doesn’t just focus on individual home-owner and business installations. Inspired by a 2011 initiative in Lewisboro, Sustainable Westchester’s Complete Streets program fosters safer roads for all modes of travel, instructs policymakers and local highway officials to consider all users of the roadways—including pedestrians and cyclists—when making roadway improvements, decreases both automobile travel and its carbon footprint impacts, and improves access to better transit connections for human-powered transportation.
Another shared program, the Municipal Solar Buyers Group is currently in the process of identifying suitable sites on public property for solar photovoltaic installations. Each community’s solar team will systematically build economies of scale and financing packages to generate solar power as a long-term, least-cost energy option.
Affordability has been key since Oringel’s team first applied for energy stimulus funds in 2008. They realized the value of shared knowledge and scale—work together with neighboring towns and increase the chances of winning a grant. “Aggregation is at the heart of everything we do,” explains Oringel, a retired IBM executive and passionate activist. “Our numbers allow us to drive the cost of energy down.” When they won a three-million-dollar grant, they knew they were on the right track.
Looking toward the future, Sustainable Westchester hopes to launch programs that will facilitate adaptive—or smart house—technology that will adjust home environments to maximize efficiency, to facilitate installation of electric-car charging stations at commuter parking lots, and to develop capabilities for waste conversion to energy. On a policy front, Sustainable Westchester is promoting decentralized energy supply decision-making for municipalities in order to enable the market to work effectively and boost the demand for renewable energy sources.
Pictured above: SUSTAINABLE WESTCHESTER’S BOARD
Bedford town supervisor Chris Burdick, Joule CEO Mikle Gordon, Westchester Community Foundation’s Laura Rossi, Eastchester Environmental chair Peter McCartt, SW board chair Herb Oringel, White Plains mayor Tom Roach.