The city of Ithaca in New York is paving the way for others with its ambitious project of converting thousands of privately owned commercial and residential buildings into carbon-free and sustainable structures. The upstate city is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College and contains over 30,000 homes. As part of a deal signed in 2019, the city seeks to involve homeowners in a program that will decarbonize buildings.
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Ithaca plans to offset all its carbon by 2030, and officials recognize that can only be achieved by addressing building emissions. The city plans to help homeowners acquire funding to retrofit buildings by installing electric heating systems, solar panels and batteries, among others. The aim is to reduce energy consumption and replace traditional heating with more environmentally friendly alternatives.
While similar projects have been launched before, funding has always been a problem. Ithaca is exploring an option that will prove effective and attractive to homeowners. With a city budget of less than $80 million, Ithaca has raised $100 million through a private equity program.
Luis Aguirre-Torres, Ithaca’s new director of sustainability, is offering a large-scale program that he has pitched as a low-risk, high reward opportunity for investors. The program aims to provide low-interest loans for building owners. As The Guardian reports, “The first batch of building owners could sign up as soon as September.”
According to Aguirre-Torres, the program goes beyond just turning the buildings green. It is an elaborate plan that seeks to improve livelihoods, create jobs and upgrade living conditions. “We’re talking about a people-first approach, rather than just purely environmental,” Aguirre-Torres said.
It remains a watch-and-wait game to see if the program will be successful. According to Ethan Elkind, the director of the climate program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment, these types of programs are an easy sell. “If you have the money to do something to your house, putting in a new bathroom or kitchen is much more appealing to people than an invisible efficiency upgrade that pays for itself over eight years,” Elkind said.
Via The Guardian
Lead image via James Willamor