To fight climate change, Ithaca votes to decarbonize its buildings by 2030

Ithaca votes in favor of decarbonizing its buildings by 2030 to combat climate change
This image can be enlarged by clicking the toggle caption Heather Ainsworth/AP Heather Ainsworth/AP

Ithaca, New York voted this week to electrify and decarbonize buildings by the end the decade. This goal was part of the city’s Green New Deal, and is one of the parts of the plan that will make the city carbon neutral by 2030.

Ithaca is the U.S.'s first city to create such a plan. The city claims that it will reduce Ithaca’s annual carbon dioxide emissions of 400,000 tons by 40%. Ithaca's timeline for achieving its goal is significantly shorter than other cities around the globe have promised.

Ithaca's decision to abandon natural gas and propane is part of a wider political struggle over renewable energy. More than a dozen states have seen lawmakers who are backed by the oil industry resist local efforts to ban gas hookups and electrify buildings. New York State Electric and Gas claims they are working with Ithaca in decarbonizing.

Luis Aguirre Torres, Luis Aguirre Torres' director of sustainability in the city, stated to NPR that "To combat climate change, it is necessary to reduce carbon emissions." "The whole world is looking towards 2050. It was incredibly difficult to achieve because [Ithaca] looked at 2030.

Decarbonization and electrification will involve installing solar panels, replacing natural gas stovetops and installing electric ones. This will also mean installing more efficient heat pumps. Aguirre Torres stated that the city passed legislation in June that said new constructions and renovations are not permitted to use natural gas or propane. This means the entire city will be moving away from natural gas, and propane.

He stated, "I believe that we are the first to try something so insane in the entire world,"

Aguirre Torres stated Wednesday night that the vote was worth celebrating for their unique achievement, but he also celebrated how reproducible he believes this project to be.

"We have shown that this works, and it can be replicated across the United States."

Researchers agree that it is a long time to go

Timur Dogan, Cornell University's researcher, is helping Ithaca achieve carbon neutrality.

He stated that reducing the energy used by buildings is more important than focusing on other emission. It's also easier to do because technology exists to fix it. The impact is huge.

Dogan stated that more than 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions were caused by buildings. Dogan said that buildings use electricity and heat with fuel oil or gas.

He said that the timeline for making the city carbon neutral by 2030 was a "very ambitious agenda". Dogan has been collecting data since last summer to assist the city with the process. He will present his findings to city officials in the coming months.

Climate change: A social restructuring

Aguirre Torres is excited about the decarbonization vote, but also the people behind it.

BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based climate tech startup, was chosen to be a partner with Ithaca in its plan to decarbonize their buildings in 2019. BlocPower was founded by Donnel Baileyrd and focuses on low-income communities as well as communities of color in order to create safer and more sustainable decarbonized buildings.

Aguirre Torres, a Latino, said that working with Baird, and other BlocPower employees, gave him hope, especially in Ithaca, a predominantly white city.

According to data, the majority of those involved in the environmental movement are white. Baird and his team in Ithaca are also doing "social restructuring," he said.

"When you look at the demographic makeup of upstate New York, and then you have a Brown dude like myself and a few Black guys at BlocPower driving that transformation, it gives hope that many things are happening that are not only technological but also financial. He said that there is a social restructuring taking place in our community.

"At its core is the structural change we are witnessing, and I believe it's beautiful, beautiful."