by Briana Binkerd-Dale

Peter Cann and his wife Nancy are both New York natives, hailing from Schenectady and Syracuse respectively. Peter came out to Syracuse as a Northeastern engineering student to work in a cooperative program for Carrier Corporation and has been in the area ever since. He spent 31 years as a Carrier design engineer, department manager, product planner and marketing manager, picking up an MS in engineering and a MBA along the way. After leaving Carrier, he became the Executive Director of the Madison County Industrial Development Agency and spent 11 years helping business grow and prosper in Madison County. Peter’s next step was starting a flex time renewable energy business, Cann Geothermal Plus, from their house.

Nancy and Peter knew from the beginning that they wanted to be landowners. As newlyweds in the 1970s they bought a four family apartment building in Syracuse where they lived and saved money so they could buy land where they could build a house. In 1973 they found 70 acres (a little more acreage than they were looking for, but a wonderful piece of land) close to Syracuse where they both worked. The land is located on the east side of the Canaseraga Creek Valley facing west. Their land is bounded by the Link Trail, a rail to trail hiking path following the old Lehigh Valley railroad bed. The highest part of the land, where they built their home (finished in 1975), has an elevation of about 900 feet, the land then drops 250 feet to the bottom of the valley where it crosses the creek. They have views of parts of Perryville, Chittenango, Radisson, Oswego, and Onondaga Lake from the house.

The 70 acres consist of about 30 acres of hardwood and 30 acres of softwood, dominated by maple, with some oak, basswood, ash, beech, hemlock, and black cherry. Ten acres of field rounds out their acreage. They have done one harvest and continue to work on woodlot improvement. When they first bought the land they worked with their local DEC forester to develop a management plan and become a certified tree farm, planting in abandoned fields around 7000 softwood seedlings acquired from the state. “Those Norway and white spruce and larch are pushing 30 feet tall now,” Peter remarked. A project completed just last year was the installation of a one acre pollinator wildflower garden with the assistance of their local Soil & Water Conservation District office. Earlier projects included a multiflora rose elimination campaign and some ginseng planting as part of an agroforestry program.

There are also five ponds of various sizes on the property, all of which they created themselves, including a trout pond, a recreational pond and a pond by a creek and hemlock grove where they built a lean-to. Three spring fed streams run through the property to the Canaseraga, and they have about 3 miles of trails for walking, skiing, and snowshoeing. “With close to 40 years on the land, we’ve had lots of time to develop various projects,” Peter mused. “You get an idea and you make it happen.” They’ve learned a lot in the process; how to make a dam, what size pipe to put in for maximum flow… the pond below the house has a full liner to combat water loss, which also makes it easy to clean as it is possible to vacuum it. The frogs and green herons on the property are especially fond of that one.

All of the work on the property is done by Peter, Nancy and friends. They love to share their land with relatives and friends, new and old, as they enjoy hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, swimming in the ponds, birdwatching, and just relaxing. They mow and grade trails a few times a year, maintain ponds and place and maintain resting spots at various locations. When they bought the property, it was an abandoned dairy farm. “The hardwoods were unmanaged and many areas were overgrown with grape vines. What trails there were, were fast disappearing. We have reversed all that to a managed woodlot, open trails and fields, stands of hardwoods and beautiful ponds,” Peter said proudly.

The list of projects they have completed for their net zero home is no less impressive. Over the years they have installed a 2.4kW windmill, a 5kW solar array, and a micro hydro setup which consists of a small water turbine that runs off of water from their pond that runs down the hill. With a 70 foot change in elevation, a four inch firehose and one psi for every three foot of drop, they are able to produce just over 600 watts with the micro hydro, which can out-produces the windmill and solar array due to the continuous nature of the water flow.

Peter and Nancy now make more energy than they use. They’re connected to the grid via a net-meter and went into winter with 3000 kW of credit due to producing more energy than they needed … they still have about 1000 kW of credit left. Micro hydro is relatively easy, Peter says, and would be his first recommendation for folks who are interested in alternative energy production. Of course, he is no less excited about geothermal and heat pumps. “Thirty-five percent of the carbon produced in New York state is generated by space heating — put a heat pump in and you don’t have to do that anymore,” he said. A typical geothermal heat pump uses one unit of electric energy to access three units of stored solar energy from the earth to deliver a total of four units of energy to heat the house. From these numbers, geothermal is a 400% efficient system where you are only paying out of pocket for one unit while receiving four units of energy.”

Peter is driven to help others to move towards net zero carbon energy systems like that at his and Nancy’s home. “Geothermal eliminates on-site burning of fossil fuel while solar, wind, and/or hydro generate all the energy the house needs,” he explained. His first assignments at Carrier were developing heat pumps in the late 1970s and 80s: he and Nancy have heated and cooled with geothermal since the 1980s in their house, starting with prototypes that he built and updating them over the years.

Peter’s advice to other forest owners is safety first — know your equipment and how to operate it properly. Projects are a lot easier and faster with the right tools. They started out with a brush hog, and have since over the years added a Gator and a 4WD Kubota with a bucket, back blade, post hole digger, tiller, and a back hoe. “We were always setting priorities on what to acquire next,” Peter said. He completed a chainsaw safety course with the National Park Service through his membership with the North Country Trail Association, and is constantly aware of safe tractor operation on his hilly land. Still, it is possible to run into trouble in a hurry — he is currently recovering from a fall from a ladder that broke seven ribs. “Think ahead and stay vigilant!”

Peter heartily recommends joining NYFOA, which he says introduced him and Nancy to like-minded people, providing a forum to share ideas and learn as a community. He was inspired to become a Master Forest Owner (MFO) in order to help others with their woodlots, often times inspiring those he met to join NYFOA themselves. Being a forest owner has allowed Peter to integrate two of his passions — the love for the woods and the hands on mechanical engineer that enjoys planning and executing projects. He and Nancy most enjoy living on their land and having it there when they walk out the door, as well as sharing it with friends and neighbors — “Our land is available to friends old and new who respect it,” he said.

Briana Binkerd-Dale is a student in Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology at Cornell University. If you are interested in being featured in a member profile, please email Jeff Joseph at

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