Putnam County going solar, saving energy and making streets smart

The solar panels that power Putnam County’s Kern Building went live in July, providing 58,5508 kilowatts of clean energy in the first year to the county’s Department of Motor Vehicles and Department of Health, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell announced.

“This is an exciting step on the road to energy independence,” County Executive Odell said. “But it is only one, highly visible step. For years now, we have been quietly working to make all county facilities more energy efficient, and we have been steadily building out a green infrastructure plan that will benefit our offices, our employees and our taxpayers well into the future.”

Odell started developing the plan to reduce the county’s carbon footprint in 2016, when she served as co-chair of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, or NIMTC.

Soon after, the county made an $8 million investment in the future by hiring Ameresco, a leading renewable energy company, to assess the energy use at all county facilities, present the county leadership with various ways to save and then implement the approved changes.  

That investment is already paying off. Putnam is saving more than $300,000 a year in energy bills, while also reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The reduction is the equivalent to planting 2,793 acres of forest.

The energy audit led to the upgrade of nearly all county facilities with energy-saving measures. In addition to the solar arrays on the Kern Building on Geneva Road in Brewster, the County Office Building will be outfitted with solar panels when its roof repair is complete and the buildings on the Donald B. Smith campus will soon follow.  In all, the solar panels will provide 464,029 kilowatts of clean energy to Putnam County in the first year.

Less obvious changes, such as converting from oil to natural gas, replacing windows and antiquated HVAC systems, upgrading indoor and outdoor lighting and switching to smart building management technology have also done a lot to reduce energy use. 

“When COVID-19 shut down most of the county office buildings, we went to work,” said Vincent Tamagna, who is a project manager in the planning department as well as the county’s transportation manager. “The buildings shut down but we didn’t shut down. From March 2020 to July 2020, we were in the buildings, removing thermostats, installing new lighting systems and more. We took advantage of the county buildings being empty of workers for COVID-19 and now the work is 70 percent complete.”

The county’s climate smart plan doesn’t stop at the building doors. Tamagna is working on a smart streets plan. He is looking at how bike lanes intersect with bus routes and how those match up with park and ride spaces. The goal is to go beyond simple compliance with the rules and regulations, but to do all that can be done.

“That’s my job,” Tamagna said. “I got rid of every single diesel bus we had because they pollute the air. We got smaller, more energy efficient buses. Now we are looking at the future and electric charging stations.”

In fact, it’s the job of county leaders in every department. Climate smart goals must be at the forefront of every infrastructure project the county takes on. .

“Our job is to inspire the public to build a climate-smart community,” County Executive Odell said. “We have smart streets and clean energy and we are doing everything we can to ensure we have the best green infrastructure in the region. Putnam residents should feel good about all the county has accomplished in the past few years. Together we can really have an impact”