Beacon: The Region’s Greenest Community?

City leaders strive for environmental excellence

Earlier this year, shortly before Beacon received its bronze certification from the state’s Climate Smart Communities program, Mayor Lee Kyriacou remarked during a City Council meeting that he hoped Beacon would soon become “the greenest community in the Hudson Valley.”

Roughly two months later, even amid a pandemic, the city is making strides.

Last month Beacon became the first municipality in the state outside of New York City to adopt “one-step ahead” energy-efficient construction standards. At the same time, a volunteer committee is discussing how to improve recycling and composting.

The NYStretch Energy Code, which was adopted by the City Council on April 20, was developed by the state Energy Research and Development Authority after Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015 set 15-year targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, increased renewable energy production and less construction-based energy consumption.

The NYStretch code will change incrementally, so that its standards — which this year include metrics such as improved insulation and window performance, whole building electrical consumption monitoring, and renewable and electric vehicle readiness — stay one “cycle” ahead of the state’s standard energy conservation construction code. The authority says that in 2020 the stretch code should provide participating municipalities with energy savings of around 11 percent.

It will apply to new construction and renovations.

An aerial view of the solar farm at the former Beacon landfill (BQ Energy)

“While some of Beacon’s new projects already use more energy-efficient construction, adopting NYStretch will improve our environment and save residents money over time,” Kyriacou said. “We like environmental goals to be measured, and the stretch codes are something you can actually measure.”

Kyriacou this year put together a task force, headed by Council Members Amber Grant and Air Rhodes, focused on recycling, composting and renewable energy. The group, which also includes the city’s volunteer Conservation Advisory Committee, as well as other residents, began work on those projects after seeing the results of a community survey distributed in February and March.

Beacon is “uniquely positioned” to hit the ground running on those projects “because there are so many people who are already invested” in them, Grant said.

The group plans to create goals for each initiative and create action plans before reporting to the City Council.

A symbolic kickoff was planned for Earth Day on April 22, but COVID-19 changed that.

“We’re sensitive to the fact that these people are volunteers, too, so it’s understandable if this takes a little bit longer” than planned because of social distancing guidelines, Grant said. The hope is to return to the council by midyear before applying for grants, many of which have July deadlines.

Since the city received its bronze certification in March, the Conservation Advisory Committee has also been readying itself for work on an Open Space Index — the next step after the city’s Natural Resource Inventory, which was completed this year but must be adopted by the City Council. The open space plan will identify undeveloped land that, if city leaders agree, would become a priority for preservation.

It would also propel the city toward the silver level of climate smart certification and the increased funding opportunities that come with it. Only three communities in the state — Tompkins, Ulster and Suffolk counties — have reached silver certification since the state program launched in 2009.

Along with Beacon, Dutchess and Orange counties have been certified bronze. Putnam County (enrolled in 2019), Philipstown (2017) and Nelsonville (2018) are also participating in the program.

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