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OCSL in Action

Join Us! People’s Climate March • 9/21 • NYC

2 years 1 month ago
The People’s Climate March well may be the largest mobilization of people in history to urge our political leaders to take strong and (hopefully) legally binding action on climate change.
In New York City, just prior to the annual United Nations Climate Summit, and coinciding with the events of Climate Week NYC, the streets of Manhattan will be flooded with committed people concerned about their future, their children’s future, and the future of humanity and all life on this planet. 
The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) will be there. We hope you’ll join us, either in person in New York City, or in spirit at an event near you.
In the words of the event organizers:
“With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: A world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.”
In supporting this historic event, the OCSL is partnering with over 1,000 businesses, unions, faith groups, and environmental organizations to urge world leaders, in both government and business, to take decisive, scientifically meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is no time to lose.
Read more about the logistical details of the People’s Climate March. If you can’t make it to New York City, there are solidarity events organized around the nation and around the world. Please consider taking part in one, or organize one of your own.
Our deepest thanks, and, again, please join us in supporting this historic event. 

ACTION ALERT: Omega & the Hudson Valley Need Your Help

2 years 1 month ago

Please help preserve the environmental health, cultural heritage, and beauty of the Hudson Valley. Every voice counts—especially now!

The state Public Service Commission (PSC) has released a proposed outline for moving forward new transmission line projects. The proposal basically starts the whole process over—without addressing any concerns raised by the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition (HVSEC) and its member organizations.

We have until Tuesday, September 2 (extension deadline), to tell the PSC there are big problems with this proposal!

In a nutshell, here’s what it contains:

By January 15, developers may submit their original plan, a modified plan or, with no obligation or incentive, an alternative that stays within existing rights-of-way.

Assisted by the New York Independent Systems Operator (NYISO), PSC staff will rank each plan based on six criteria, including amount of increased transfer capability, cost to ratepayers, new rights-of-way needed, and assessment of environmental compatibility, including visual impacts. The proposal gives no indication of how these criteria will be applied or weighted. The rankings, along with recommendations for which projects should proceed, will be submitted to the PSC by March 2, 2015. The public will have only three weeks to respond and comment on the recommendations. 

Under this proposal, 90 percent of the cost of any projects will be passed to downstate customers (including Dutchess County residents) and 10 percent to upstate customers. Furthermore, developers will suffer only 20 percent of the risk of going over budget—with ratepayers picking up the remaining 80 percent of the tab.

Here are HVSEC’s main concerns:

  1. Need. The proposal leaves off the table the question of need. To date, there has been no independent study taking into account trends in electricity usage, technological innovation, parallel generation, and advances in demand-side management. Instead, the process starts from an assumption of need.
  2. Context. There are currently many electricity-related projects and applications proceeding simultaneously in New York, each within its own “silo,” none being considered in the context of others. To avoid duplicative, inefficient, or unnecessary development, there should be a comprehensive state energy policy taking into account all of these initiatives.
  3. Uncertainty to property owners. Hudson Valley property owners will continue suffering economic harm from decreased property value, diminished farmland, stifled tourism, and an uncertain real estate market. The PSC is offering reimbursement to developers for their costs in creating proposals, but offers nothing to businesses, landowners, or communities taking an economic hit during this lengthy process.
  4. NYISO. Although the NYISO has the word “Independent” in its name, there are legitimate concerns about the transparency of its methods. Some feel NYISO’s makeup of previous electricity industry professionals inclines it to favor projects beneficial to the industry. Because this perception exists, NYISO should display maximum transparency regarding its evaluation process and methodology.
  5. Ranking. Although it is encouraging to see right-of-way usage, visual impact, and innovative technologies among the six criteria by which projects would be ranked, there is no mention of how the criteria would be weighted in the selection process. What might be most important to the PSC or NYISO could negatively impact the Hudson Valley’s economic vitality.
  6. Cost allocation. Based on cost allocation proposed in the new document, ratepayers in the area to be economically hardest hit by a new transmission project—the Hudson Valley—also must pay the lion’s share of the costs of selected projects, as well as the vast majority of cost overruns and likely all the expenses of unsuccessful applicants. Having the public assume 80 percent of the financial burden of cost overruns incentivizes developers to come in over budget and discourages efforts on their part to cut costs.

Time is short. This Tuesday, September 2 is the deadline for commenting on this new proposal via the PSC’s website.

We’ve created a shortcut for you. Log onto http://tinyurl.com/psccomments and click on “Post Comments” near the top of the page. You’ll be directed to a form where you can state your concerns.'

To submit comments electronically: You can post your comments here, and see others' comments here

Please don’t delay. Let the PSC know today that their current proposal does not address the major concerns of Hudson Valley residents.

Our deepest thanks.

Omega Staffers Building Rain Garden for Fox Haven Organic Farm

2 years 2 months ago

Current Omega seasonal staffer Brandon Sickbert, along with Joe MacDonald, former production crew chief at Omega, have teamed up to design a rain garden for Fox Haven Organic Farm and Learning Center

Sickbert says the experience he gained taking the Barton Kirk and Pete Muñoz rain garden workshop at Omega was instrumental in the project. Both Kirk and Muñoz are teaching another round of participants this year in the Ecological Literacy Immersion Program

“Rain gardens are created to slow water and filter sediment, pollutants, and nutrients before runoff meets groundwater or the creek, protecting our waterways and drinking water,” MacDonald says. “At Fox Haven this rain garden will slow and cleanse the water before reaching the Lewis Mill Creek below, a tributary to Catoctin Creek, which flows into the Potomac River.” 

According to EPA estimates, storm water runoff is responsible for about 70 percent of all water pollution in lakes, rivers, and streams. 

Fox Haven adds, “The garden will be planted with native flowers, shrubs, and trees that will provide valuable habitat for birds, butterflies, and other pollinators—including plants like milkweed to help support a struggling Monarch butterfly population.”

Omega’s Eco Machine™ Inspires Sustainable Schools Start-Up

2 years 3 months ago

Hundreds of individuals and groups have toured the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) building and Eco Machine™ since the facility opened. Recently Schools for Sustainability (S4S) visited, describing the OCSL in a Huffington Post blog, as “a shining example of green building at its finest.” 

S4S says, “we envision our schools to possess many of the same qualities as the [OCSL]…a vibrant learning environment, a model for positive impact living…a place that exemplifies a healthy interdependence between humans and the planet.” 

Schools for Sustainability, based in Philadelphia and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is establishing a residential farm school in Monte Plata on land donated by former president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández. There they will, “combine education and local food production with comprehensive integrated water, waste, and energy management, that can be demonstrated to the surrounding community.”

One of the aims of S4S is that the model established in this first school will be copied globally. 

S4S cofounder Alyssa Ramos-Reynoso says, “Touring Omega was the perfect chance to learn about an environmentally net-positive water purification system, a technology that we will emulate and teach in our schools.”

Learn more about the OCSL building.

Omega CEO Responds to New York Times Article

2 years 5 months ago

Omega CEO, Robert "Skip" Backus, responded yesterday to a New York Times article covering local community reaction to the proposed upgrade of power lines in the Hudson Valley.

In the article titled, "With Power Comes Ambivalence," a number of residents—from farmers to homeowners and real estate agents to business owners—expressed deep concern about the possible economic, health, and environmental impact of the upgrade. They also shared how they are organizing to ensure their voices are heard in the development of the final proposal for the upgrade. 

In his response, Backus said, "We need to be sure to have a full and rich conversation about all the costs involved in this proposal. It’s easy to point out numbers concerning congestion costs to businesses and residents’ utility bills, but other short and long term costs are less transparent. Let’s be sure to understand what best serves all the communities both upstate and downstate."

Read the New York Times article and Skip Backus' full response

Learn more about No Monster Power Lines 

Keep Power Lines Within Current Footprint

2 years 5 months ago

Continuing their campaign against proposed power line expansion plans in upstate New York, Scenic Hudson and Omega Institute have had a letter to the editor published in the Albany Times Union. 

Signed by Omega CEO Robert “Skip” Backus and Scenic Hudson president Ned Sullivan, the letter says any plan to expand the state’s electricity transmission infrastructure must ensure power lines remain “within the footprint of existing infrastructure,” and urges “the [Public Service Commission] to accelerate selection of bidders that fully meet these goals.”

Doing so will allow farm, home, and business owners, whose properties abut or are in the viewshed of proposed utility expansion corridors, some much needed clarity on how their lives and properties will be affected in the future. 

Read the full letter to the editor.

Learn more about the Omega Center for Sustainable Living.

Thank You: The PSC Responds to Community Input

2 years 8 months ago

Dear Friends,

I want to thank all of you who took the time to post a comment concerning the construction of transmission power lines. The Public Service Commission (PSC) has clearly heard and responded to our concerns.

The PSC will encourage transmission line developers to conform their proposals to Governor Cuomo’s policy that any new power lines stay completely within existing developed corridors.

While this is a move in the right direction, there is still a long process ahead of us with what I am sure are many twists and turns. I honor the PSC’s commitment to open process and their desire to reach the highest and best solution, keeping in mind our concerns for both the economy and the environment.

Thank you once again for your commitment to protecting the Hudson Valley's natural assets, communities, and businesses. I will stay in touch as this important issue unfolds.

With appreciation,

Robert "Skip" Backus
Chief Executive Officer
Omega Institute 

Omega's Chief Executive Officer Speaks at the Net Positive Energy + Water Conference

2 years 8 months ago

Robert "Skip" Backus, chief executive officer of Omega Institute, spoke about the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) at the Net Positive Energy + Water Conference hosted by the Living Future Institute. The event, which took place February 4–5 in San Francisco, California, brought together leading experts from around the world to develop net-zero energy and water concepts through the restorative framework of the Living Building Challenge, the world's most rigorous green building standard.

Learn more about the Net Positive Energy + Water Conference

Learn more about the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL)

Offshore Freshwater Aquifers: Which Law Will Apply?

2 years 8 months ago

This past December, vast groundwater reserves were discovered off the coasts of China, Australia, North America, Greenland, Suriname, Nigeria, and South Africa, raising hopes that these resources could offer a solution for water-scarce regions. However, there are technical and legal issues that must be resolved before these transboundary aquifers can be used.

Renee Martin-Nagle, a visiting scholar at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, DC, and secretary/treasurer of Omega's board, addresses the pressing legal implications.

Learn more about these transboundary aquifers

Omega Receives New York State Environmental Excellence Award

2 years 10 months ago

Department of Environmental Conservation Recognizes Eight Innovators in Sustainability at the 10th Annual New York State Environmental Excellence Awards

RHINEBECK, NY – Omega Institute, home of the award-winning Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL), received a NYS Environmental Excellence award on Tuesday at a ceremony cohosted by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Price Chopper/The Golub Corporation. The award recognizes New York's environmental and conservation leaders, who are solving environmental challenges by using innovative and environmentally sustainable practices or creative partnerships.

“We are honored to be recognized by the state for our environmental stewardship and the development of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living. Our goal is to help people better understand natural systems and how to live and work within them, so together we can build a truly regenerative future,” said Robert “Skip” Backus, chief executive officer at Omega.

Founded four years ago, the OCSL includes the first green building in America to receive both LEED® Platinum and Living Building Challenge™ certifications, and has evolved into an emerging environmental leader, offering programs that teach regenerative environmental practices modeled by the building. Omega Institute is integrating similar designs into other facilities on its Rhinebeck, New York campus. A recent addition to the Omega Women’s Leadership Center is the first commercial project in the United States to meet Passive House certification standards—the building uses very little energy and the space is designed to reduce heating costs by 75%.

The DEC established the awards program in 2004 to recognize and give visibility to selected businesses, schools, municipalities, governments, and not-for-profit organizations achieving outstanding environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and economic viability. Since the program’s inception, the DEC has honored 52 award recipients. Winners have included entrepreneurs competing in global markets and schools empowering future environmental leaders. Municipalities have been awarded for investing in green infrastructure, implementing a cost-effective food waste composting program, and financing an energy efficiency retrofit program. Universities and school districts across New York State have been recognized for developing energy efficiency programs and engaging students and administrators in impressive sustainable practices. Small businesses have been honored for innovative and green technologies, such as a lighting manufacturer that demonstrated how innovative design does not necessarily translate to higher costs.

Omega’s commitment to sustainability also includes recycling, composting, and conservation, powering 100% of campus electricity through the purchase of wind and solar power, supporting sustainable agriculture and local business, and reducing greenhouse gases through shuttle services, ride sharing, and LiveNeutral™ options.

About Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
Founded in 1977, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is the nation's most trusted source for wellness and personal growth. As a nonprofit organization, Omega offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. Located on 200  acres in the beautiful Hudson Valley, Omega welcomes more than 23,000 people to its workshops, conferences, and retreats in Rhinebeck, New York, and at exceptional locations around the world. eOmega.org

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