Dan Burgevin's Mural, "Sunrise on the Green New Deal," located on the corner of West Buffalo Street and North Fulton Street in downtown Ithaca, NY. (Ithaca Murals)

ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca’s ambitious plan to decarbonize its building stock garnered the unanimous approval of the City’s Planning and Economic Development Committee at their Wednesday meeting, and is now set to go before the Common Council. The council will soon vote to give Mayor Svante Myrick the power to authorize an unprecedented relationship between government, business, and private equity as it’s outlined in the The Energy Efficiency Retrofitting and Thermal Load Electrification Program. 

It’s a pretty complicated plan, but you can read more from the Ithaca Voice on the details of the Efficiency and Electrification Program here.

The plan to address the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions coming from Ithaca’s building stock, in essence, aims to turn this massive undertaking into a low-risk investment opportunity to attract private equity. Funds from private investors would back opt-in loan and leasing programs that Ithaca’s home and building owners would be able to utilize to pay for efficiency and electrification projects. These projects—e.g.: replacing poorly insulated windows, swapping out a furnace for a heat pump, or ditching a gas range for one that runs on electric induction—have steep upfront costs but, typically, are advertised as paying for themselves through energy savings while also reducing GHG emissions.

This strategy to make Ithaca’s buildings go green en masse is Luis Aguirre-Torres’ vision. He’s been tasked with implementing the Ithaca Green New Deal (IGND), which aims to decarbonize Ithaca’s economy by 2030, and while also putting social equity at the forefront of the City’s efforts to fight climate change. According to Aguirre-Torres’ estimates, Ithaca needs to account for 400,000 metric tons of CO2 going into the atmosphere every year. Around 40 percent of that is coming from the 6,000+ homes and buildings in the City.

The City has already attracted $100M in commitments, and an additional $250M in soft commitments, to the Efficiency and Electrification Program if it gets off the ground. But the City of Ithaca actually wouldn’t be the entity handling any of this money. 

With the Common Council’s approval, Myrick would designate a Program Manager to handle this money and establish and manage a financing facility to administer the loans and leases as well as a host of other obligations like managing relationships with local contractors; manage supply chains; and assist the City with developing a workforce to take advantage of the wave of job opportunities that will be flowing into town, currently estimated at a mix of 400 permanent and temporary positions. 

Aguirre-Torres has already put forward a recommended program manager in a consortium of companies and organizations: BlocPower, Guidehouse, Taitem Engineering, Alturus, and Energetic Insurance, which would be receiving support from Cornell Cooperative Extension, NYSERDA, and the US Department of Energy.

This consortium was identified through a competitive process, a Request for Proposals, for which Ithaca received three submissions total. Aguirre-Torres has described this group of organizations and companies as ideal for fulfilling the goals of the Efficiency and Electrification Program. 

Utilizing a Program Manager takes care of two issues for Ithaca: (1) It allows for the City to attract specialized operational and financial expertise it wouldn’t otherwise be able to put on its payroll; (2) The financial facility, along with investors, is supposed to bear the risks of the loan and leasing program.

In the resolution the Council will be voting on, it specifies that an agreement between the City and a Program Manager, “will not include an obligation of the City of Ithaca to provide loan guarantees, or include any obligation that would negatively affect the City’s financial liability and credit rating…”

The Common Council could approve the RFP and give Myrick the go-ahead to authorize the Program Manager during any of the meetings they have throughout the Oct. budget season, or as late as their next regularly scheduled council meeting, on Nov. 3.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn