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Ithaca Forms Strategic Initiative to Electrify 6,000 buildings

City of Ithaca

Ithaca, NY

As part of their own Green New Deal, Ithaca has a goal to decarbonize by 2030. With its buildings making up 40% of its greenhouse gas emissions, the council has created a strategic initiative to electrify all 6,000 of its buildings in a phased plan supported by private investors.

Topics Covered

Buildings
Energy Efficiency

Cost

Initial: 100 Million USD

Funding

Grants

Philanthropic grants

Project Status

In Progress/Under Construction since 2022

Gov Champion

Director of Sustainability

Problem Addressed

As part of its Green New Deal, Ithaca has a goal to completely decarbonize by 2030.

Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. alone. Ithaca is no exception, with buildings representing its number one source of emissions. As a result, Ithaca's common council voted to electrify and decarbonize all buildings, making it the first city in the country to take on such an initiative.

The city of 30,000 has around 6,000 buildings. About 40% of the city's homes were built before 1920 and around 50% of them have not been renovated. The plan will target appliances that use fossil fuels, from furnaces to clothing dryers. Because a lot of the houses are older, a simple retrofit is projected to significantly save energy. 

However, many community members and non-profits are apprehensive because the funds came from private investors rather than the government itself. With electrification posing such high costs, Director of Sustainability, Luis Aguirre-Torres says that the city could not generate enough revenue with taxes alone. 

With an ambitious timeline, the city was pressed for funds, partnership, and community approval.

Solutions Used

Ithaca is implementing a phased plan to electrification supported by a partnership with BlocPower and private investments.

Electrification is not simple, nor inexpensive. Director of Sustainability, Luis Aguirre-Torres, sought out private investments, raising over $100M, which he plans to offset through philanthropic funds and government grants. The city plans to also establish a fund, supported by philanthropic donations, to further lower the program cost. 

To confront hesitant homeowners, Ithaca is lending homeowners money to do the electrification upgrades, with no interest. "Their property value increases, they don't pay extra money and they have a better home," says Aguirre-Torres. 

In order to best support the city's electrification, Ithaca has partnered with BlocPower, a climate technology company that has already "greened" 1,200 buildings across the states. BlocPower will update 1,600 buildings in the first phase and 4,400 in the second. 

Part of BlocPower's mandate is to work with residents and city officials to assess buildings before issuing recommendations. Once evidence-based recommendations are developed, BlocPower will work with local partners to install energy efficiency measures from appliance electrification to electric vehicle charging. 

Ithaca is currently negotiatiating the final contract, with the intended start date in December 2022. In the meantime, they are creating a building pipeline so they can get started once the pen hits the paper. 

Outcomes

1

A large step towards meeting the city's decarbonization goal, with 40% of the city's emissions coming from buildings alone.

2

A phased plan to electrify Ithaca's 6,000 buildings.

3

Necessary funds from private investors to begin retrofitting and a plan to offset the interest costs through philanthropic funds and government grants.

4

Option for homeowners to borrow money from the city with zero interest and perform the retrofitting themselves.

5

Community collaboration to best understand improvements crucial to the city's decarbonization.

Something Unique

Ithaca capitalized on private funds to front project costs. Their entire city budget was only $80M, and they were able to raise $100M from private investors alone.

Who Should Consider

Local governments with ambitious decarbonization goals, looking to decrease building emissions.

Government Project Team

  • Luis Aguirre-Torres, Director of Sustainability

Last Updated

May 4th, 2022
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