ITHACA, N.Y. –– On August 2 Luis Aguirre-Torres, Ithaca’s Director of Sustainability, released a plan for an Energy Efficiency Retrofitting and Thermal Load Electrification Program. The program is part of Ithaca’s Green New Deal goal of being carbon neutral by 2030 and will be implemented in existing residential and commercial buildings. 

The plan aims to reduce emissions by assessing buildings and determining potential energy efficiency improvements including heat pumps and smart thermostats for heating and cooling, efficient lighting and more. 

“One of the main sources of emissions are buildings because in every building, you have some form of combustion; you have either a heating system that uses natural gas or propane, you have a stove, you have a clothes dryer, or you have a water heater, all of those probably in most cases, use either natural gas or propane,” Aguirre-Torres said. “For me to reduce carbon emissions from buildings means I need to substitute that to make sure there’s no combustion anymore.”

Solar power is another main energy-saving alternative to combustible fossil fuels as part of the new plan. Aguirre-Torres said that in order to embrace it, the city will have to investigate the best solutions for retrofitting its old buildings, as well as  make sure the city has a power grid that can support huge uses of electric power and that there are backups in place in case of an overload.

“At the same time, we have a problem because everybody using electricity at the same time can impose an extra load on the utility company,” Aguirre-Torres said. “We need to make sure that this doesn’t overload the whole thing.”

Thus, the two main challenges that Aguirre-TorresAguirre-Torres emphasized are — how do you implement this program and how do you pay for it? 

To start, the city will be hiring a program manager that will be working with multiple companies to identify which companies can do the jobs required to switch to clean and efficient energy. They will also be responsible for assisting with property energy assessments.

“That way, we can identify what the actual needs are….it might be just a matter of changing the windows in some [buildings],” Aguirre-Torres said. “But in some cases, you’ll have to do a whole assessment and [the project manager is] going to coordinate the work.” 

Aguirre-Torres also said that there will be stages to the program where the city will start with retrofitting a handful of buildings and over time build that up to the entire city. Aguirre-Torres plans to have 1,600 buildings as part of the program within three years. 

However, the latter half of the question remains –– where will the money come from the finance the project? In the plan, Aguirre-Torres lays out the cost of the initial phase of the project to be $100 million –– a sum that the project manager will be tasked to come up with. Once that is secured, the plan is to provide financial assistance to individuals and commercial entities, in the form of long-term (10 to 15 years), zero- to low-cost energy performance lending and operating leasing programs.

“The key part of this lending program is that it’s going to be either zero percent interest or it’s going to be very, very low interest,” Aguirre-Torres said. “The other thing is that it’s going to be a very long term. Normally, these types of loans are five years or 10 years, but we’re gonna do these for either 15 or 20 years, it’s almost like a mortgage.”

By doing this, Aguirre-Torres said payments will be small which he hopes will encourage people to participate. 

“We’re gonna be the first city in the entire country that is trying to do something as aggressive and as massive as this,” Aguirre-Torres said. “There are many cities that have electrified a few buildings but at this scale, we’re the first one in the entire country.”

The document released by the city that details this project can be found here.

Mikayla Rovenolt

Mikayla Rovenolt interns with the Ithaca Voice and is also a contributing writer for Queers for a Cause, an online based Lgbtq news and advocacy blog. Tips or stories? Contact mikaylarovenolt@gmail.com.