“SOS — I can’t breathe” was written on a handpainted cardboard sign over two images of the Earth, worn by Kitty Brown, a lifelong environmentalist, former member of the New Paltz Town Board, Planning Board and Environmental Commission and one of the original advocates for the Town of New Paltz to purchase the abandoned Wallkill Valley Railroad right-of-way and turn it into a linear public park. She was accompanied by others wearing signs that read “Heat Pumps, not Pipelines” at a gathering of local, County and State officials at the almost-completed New Paltz Firehouse: a local model of green design that clean-energy supporters wanted to showcase as an example of how buildings can either be constructed or retrofitted without requiring fossil fuels as a source of heating, cooling or electric usage. “My sign is a bit more dramatic, but it’s true,” said Brown, with her never-waning smile.
Because the New Paltz Firehouse is considered a “model building,” and one that is aligned with the State’s climate goals, officials thought it the perfect place express support for a rapid statewide shift to a clean-energy economy. It also expressed the common environmental goals of the political leadership of the Town and Village of New Paltz, State senator Michelle Hinchey, Ulster County executive Pat Ryan and former State senator Jen Metzger, who all gathered together as precursor to the Hudson Valley public hearing in Peekskill on the State’s plan to eliminate climate-damaging emissions over a period of time.
Buildings are the largest source of climate-damaging emissions in the state (32 percent), primarily from combustion of fossil fuels for heating and hot water, and a key strategy of the Scoping Plan is to require construction of new buildings to be efficient and all-electric, beginning in 2024 for most residential buildings and in 2027 for commercial buildings and residential buildings over four stories. A bill introduced in the State Legislature, the All-Electric Buildings Act, would require all-electric new construction for all buildings in 2024, and was the subject of a State Assembly discussion on the same day as the New Paltz event and Hudson Valley Scoping Plan hearing. Both Senator Hinchey and former State Senator Metzger have fought hard towards achieving these goals and getting these bills on the floor and the hearings open to the public.
“There is no question that building a clean and renewable energy-powered society must be our top priority. It’s our path to fight the climate crisis and to bolster a new industry that is good for our economy and will make life more affordable for everyday New Yorkers,” said Senator Hinchey outside the new fire station. She pulled no punches when it came to the urgency of passing these laws and getting rid of fossil-fuel dependency. “We have to get off fossil fuels to save our planet, and we need to do it now,” she said. “We have the technology; we have the resources. It will only create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs and help to save our planet for our children.
“Buildings in New York have the highest rate of any other state of carbon emissions. We need to turn that around and require all clean energy for existing and new buildings. There are false narratives out there being pushed by highly funded fossil fuel companies that want to tell people that it can’t be done. I love that we get to put a spotlight on this new, local example of a municipal building for a volunteer fire department that shows the State that it can be done!” Hinchey is aco-sponsor of the All-Electric Buildings Act.
The all-volunteer, highly trained and skilled New Paltz Fire Department has been operating out of a tiny garage and office off Plattekill Avenue for over a half-century. Members did not have enough room to get their trucks in safely, to store their equipment or even change from their civilian attire into their firefighting gear when the alarm sounded – which it does, on average, three times day.
The New Paltz Firehouse, a collaboration between the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and the Village and Town of New Paltz, will be a nearly-16,000-square-foot facility with an emphasis on energy efficiency and safety for the New Paltz Fire Department’s (NPFD) all-volunteer membership. The building is thermally insulated, with an efficient HVAC system for heating and cooling and heat pumps for hot water. It has been constructed so that there will be no fossil fuels used in daily operations (there is a gas-powered generator in case of emergency.) According to Village mayor Tim Rogers, power will be procured from renewable sources off-site initially, but the plan is to install an on-site photovoltaic system on the roof.
In fact, it was Rogers who pushed back against plans that were submitted in response to their Request for Proposals on the new firehouse that were calling for fiberglass insulation, gas heating systems and little to no energy-efficient elements. “I kept asking for a cost-effective, energy-efficient building for our Fire Department and was receiving one uninspired bid after another. I was told that what we were looking for would cost us millions of dollars and was impossible,” said Mayor Rogers.
So, he decided to do a reality check with local architect Rick Alfandre, who has been a leader in his industry in green design. “I said, ‘Rick, am I mad? Can this be done?’” The mayor was assured that it could be done, and so he scrapped all of the plans and went back to the negotiating table and brought Alfandre in. “The bar has to be set higher than the bare minimum,” he said. “And I want to thank our volunteer Fire Department, who does set the bar high, and who answers an average more than 900 calls a year, which is three per day, many of them in the middle of the night. We need to do whatever we can to support this incredible culture of men and women and provide them with a building worthy of their efforts. It can be done and it should be done; and it should be required by law to stop these energy-guzzling buildings that aren’t healthy for our planet or the people in them.”
Like the other speakers at this gathering, the mayor noted that we are in a “global climate emergency,” saying, “This state-of-the-art building should make our green- and taxpayer-minded community proud.”
“Shifting to a clean-energy economy is not only essential for our survival, but it can also be done through initiatives that provide long-term savings for taxpayers as well,” said Town of New Paltz supervisor Neil Bettez. He and the mayor explained that the Village owns the building, but the Town owns the land, and thankfully, both governments support these green building and design efforts.
Executive Ryan concurred and noted that Ulster County has already adopted the Green New Deal, which calls for 100 percent clean energy by 2030. “We already have three electric public buses running. New York City has less than 15,” he said. “If you have any doubt about our need to get off fossil fuel, look at how it makes us beholden to dictators like Vladimir Putin. We need to be free of our dependence, both politically and environmentally.”
New Paltz Fire Department chief Cory Wirthmann, who also serves as the Village of New Paltz’s building inspector, was introduced by emcee Metzger as “a person who fights for public health and safety every day in many ways.” “No one is happier about this building than I am, or the people I represent from the NPFD. Firefighters are not good at asking for help. We’re the ones who are used to giving it,” Wirthmann said, referring to the decades-long plea to build an adequate firehouse for his trained volunteers and the millions of dollars of equipment they’re charged with operating, maintaining and overseeing.
“Choosing to construct an energy-efficient building is furthering our commitment to the environment within our district that will ultimately affect the residents and businesses we serve. And people are noticing. We’re getting a lot of comments and inquiries about our building from other towns and counties and from other states. We’re really happy to be a leader on the environmental building front as well.”
“The firehouse’s design and purpose could not have come at a more critical time for this community and beyond with its climate-friendly technology, as well as the pressing need it answers for our Fire Department,” said William Wheeler Murray, who is both a New Paltz Village trustee as well as a volunteer firefighter for the community he serves. “Renewable and independent energy are key to a positive future, and the firehouse is a testament to what can be done with forward thinking design and leadership.”
County legislator (D-New Paltz) Eve Walter said that, while she was fortunate enough to be able to live in a zero-net home (which eliminates all utility costs except for a “service fee” from Central Hudson), as well as drive an electric car, “That costs a lot of money. I also get to live in New Paltz, where the taxes might be a little bit more, but I have access to charging stations at Village Hall and a community garden and public preserves. How do we make these opportunities affordable for absolutely everyone?” Part of the answer is to change public policy, as the Scoping Plan is attempting to do.
The public comment period on the Scoping Plan is open through June 10. People can submit comments by going to https://climate.ny.gov/our-climate-act/draft-scoping-plan, as well as learn more about the details of the Climate Action and Community Protection Act and the Scoping Plan.