ENVIRONMENT: Plan to focus on regional sustainability

Justin Roj. PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE

BY JEREMY MOULE

A $900,000 state grant will fund the development of a sustainability plan for the Rochester region, and Monroe County officials will lead the effort.

The plan is part of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Cleaner, Greener Communities program. The idea is to get local governments and communities thinking about energy issues and greenhouse gas emissions, says NYSERDA spokesperson Dayle Zatlin.

Although Monroe County is technically receiving the grant and overseeing the project, the plan will cover the same nine counties as the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. And each of those counties will be involved in the plan’s development. An executive committee will guide the effort.

Justin Roj, deputy commissioner of Monroe County’s Department of Environmental Services, says one of the first steps will be to conduct a greenhouse gas inventory. Using that data, the executive committee will look for ways to reduce those emissions, Roj says.

“The main goal of the project is to see where you can have environmental benefit and economic development,” he says.

Committee members will look at topics including transportation, storm water management, waste water treatment, land use planning, and the potential for building retrofits, he says.

Some possible energy generation projects will also be included in the plan, Roj says. For example, Monroe County’s waste water treatment operations use anaerobic digestion, which is a way to break down biodegradable material. That process could also be used to create energy, Roj says.

The plan will tie in with the work of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. The executive committee will develop project proposals, which will be reviewed and scored by the Council and then passed along to NYSERDA, where they will compete with proposals from other parts of the state. The state is setting aside up to $90 million for the winning projects.

Roj offers one example of a possible project, which would deal with fuel cells. General Motors is researching and developing hydrogen fuel cell technology in Honeoye Falls. But for the technology to be commercially successful, the fuel cells need a sustainable source of hydrogen.

Most of the hydrogen on the market is derived from methane, using a process involving steam, high temperatures, and a catalyst.

The county has a project at Mill Seat Landfill, where methane-producing waste is burned off in large generators to produce electricity. The sustainability plan’s executive committee could lay out a plan for some of the methane to be converted into hydrogen, which would fuel the cells.

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