June 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 51°F


City works to improve sustainability and energy efficiency

The City of Ithaca plans to improve the sustainability of buildings in 2023, as well as provide more electric vehicle charging stations to certify the city as a healthy and energy efficient community. 

The resolution for the original Green New Deal proposal was unanimously adopted by Ithaca’s Common Council in June 2019. Then, in 2021, the City of Ithaca declared itself a national leader in sustainable city planning and community carbon neutrality. The biggest goals of the Green New Deal are to make the City of Ithaca carbon neutral by 2030, for the city to reduce its fleet of vehicles to 50% by 2025 and for the city to be able to produce 100% renewable electricity by 2025. 

Ithaca College senior Gus Dunn-Hindle currently works as an intern for the City of Ithaca’s Office of Sustainability Planning. Dunn-Hindle said his role is to write policy proposals and is currently focusing on making the deconstruction of buildings more sustainable. In order for the city to complete any of these projects, initiatives and commitments, the city needs funding. Dunn-Hindle says that while the sustainability planning office has a small team, it has been able to get plenty of work done to obtain state funding and keep the goals of the Green New Deal moving forward.

“The difficulty arises from trying to make this really aggressive change happening in an environment where you don’t have all the money in the world,” Dunn-Hindle said. “You have to figure out where to put the money you do have and how to bring in outside investment, which we’ve been really successful in actually. … Everyone’s been working really hard.”

On Feb. 1, Rebecca Evans, acting director of sustainability, gave an update on the city’s Green New Deal to the Common Council. During the meeting, Evans spoke about the sustainable project recommendations for the Common Council to keep in mind for 2023, like collaborating with Cornell University, adding more solar arrays to buildings and installing EV charging stations and obtaining a city LEED certification for Ithaca. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and certifies that a building within a city or the city itself is fully energy efficient and sustainable. 

Ithaca College has several LEED certified buildings, for example the Dorothy D. and Roy H. Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise and the Peggy Ryan Williams Center are both LEED platinum buildings, meaning these buildings are fully energy efficient and are powered entirely by renewable energy, in this case geothermal energy. 

The City of Ithaca also has several LEED certified buildings, like the Stone Quarry apartments in Downtown Ithaca which is certified gold meaning it does not have as much efficiency as LEED platinum buildings, along with an engineering company’s office in the city, called TAITEM engineering which is LEED platinum. 

Evans said the reception from Common Council to the update was overall positive, but that the update contained an abundance of information that tends to be hard to process in a short amount of time.

“One of the issues with giving an update on a program this big, is we tend to information overload people,” Evans said. “I see this with any organization that I give these updates to, and Common Council is no exception. There’s sometimes this lag of absorbing this information that was just presented and being able to have a deep discussion about all of it.”

Nicolas Land-Kazlauskas ’22, an Ithaca resident, said there is not much communication between the city’s Common Council and its residents. He said the main way to get information about the meetings is to attend them, yet accessibility to meetings is limited. Common Council meetings take place at 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month.

“I’ve gone to Common Council meetings once or twice, it’s important,” Land-Kazlauskas said. “It’s not something that’s super openly available to the average interest. I mean, yes it’s open to people, but if you’re working a nine to five or if you have to do something for your job or you have kids that you have to take care of, you don’t have that liberty to go to town hall and have a meeting and sit down and listen about this Green New Deal.”

Land-Kazlauskas also said that if the city’s Common Council were to post about meetings, summarizing the decisions and topics of discussion, that more Ithaca residents would be aware of things like the city’s Green New Deal. 

“If there was an article written on the City Council’s website that could be something very available to a load of people,” Land-Kazlauskas said. “Let’s say someone’s taking a 20 minute lunch break at work, they sit down, they read a news article, and they don’t have to go out of their way and take two hours to go [to a Common Council meeting].”

 Evans also spoke to the council about tax breaks and spending regarding the Inflation Reduction Act, highlighting the national support the Green New Deal has received since its adoption and monitoring external factors. New York State has incentives like tax exemptions for households and companies for installing solar, rebates for installing geothermal heat pumps, and a $2,000 refund for purchasing an electric vehicle are built into the plan. Evans said the city is constantly monitoring the IRA to determine when new incentives become available and affordable for New York State residents to install renewable energy equipment.

Evans said one of the strategies to achieve these sustainability goals has been to purchase renewable energy credits, meaning they will tap into renewable energy sources like wind or solar generated elsewhere. A downside to renewable energy credits is that they are unreliable and can cause equity issues, yet the city is currently purchasing them. Evans said fewer renewable energy sites, like wind or solar farms and geothermal heat pumps, are located in communities of Black, Indigenous, people of color and low-income communities than in predominantly white communities.

“This means that this state of the grid and these areas [BIPOC and low-income communities] still continue to have dirty energy sources,” Evans said. “Access and affordability issues are certainly part of it. The public engagement process — when it comes to actually siting these projects — also comes into play.”

Evans said the city is fighting for affordable energy for all of its residents and to keep energy prices down. 

“We want to have local energy supply,” Evans said. “We don’t necessarily want to be paying a premium for wind energy in Idaho, when we could be spending money here to bring down electricity demands locally, for all of our community members.”

In 2022, Evans said that the Sustainability and Climate Justice Advisory Commission launched a program called Electrify Ithaca, one of the Green New Deal’s successes in 2022. The program was approved Nov. 3, 2021, and will be used to electrify all 6,000 buildings in the City of Ithaca. The primary technology company the city plans to use for this project is BlocPower. This Brooklyn-based company specializes in electrifying old buildings, which Ithaca has an abundance of.

Phase one of Electrify Ithaca is to provide electricity to 1,000 residential and 600 nonresidential units, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. These buildings have not been electrified yet, but will be during 2023. Ithaca has made progress on this front, by tightening regulations on building permits. This means that a building cannot be built without being energy efficient, like having reliable ground source heat pumps in housing and electrifying new buildings meant for commercial cooking.

Ithaca College has a similar Green New Deal and although the college is outside the borders of the city and is in the Town of Ithaca a similar Green New Deal exists for the town.

“The Green New Deal is a city project, city initiative and a city commitment,” Dunn-Hindle said. “The Town of Ithaca is an autonomous political entity. They sort of act in coordination with one another but they’re not beholden to one another either. They [the town] are doing their own sustainability measures that are sort of in line with the [city’s] Green New Deal but they’re different things.”

Beth Clark, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who teaches a course in sustainability, said these incentives will act as motivators for people to invest more in renewable energies.

“It seems to me that the City of Ithaca is jumping into that power vacuum where there’s a need for embracing these incentives, embracing these goals and getting the word out to those of us that are in the community, who have lived here for a long time and are comfortable in our homes and don’t see a need to improve our energy efficiency,” Clark said.

Clark said that Ithaca is a hub for innovation where education about what is happening in the city is a necessity, no matter if people are from the town or City of Ithaca. 

“I think it’s really important to bring everyone up to speed on some of the most recent innovations [in sustainable energy],” Clark said. “It’s also important to educate people about the incentives that are available to make our energy systems more efficient.”


Vivian Rose can be reached at vrose@ithaca.edu