Working with a startup, one US city is going to electrify all of its buildings

Updated: Nov 6

On Wednesday night, the town of Ithaca, NY voted to electrify and decarbonize all of its buildings.

It could be a big step forward for the movement to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and it comes from a very small town on the southern shore of New York’s Cayuga Lake.


The municipal government from this town of 30,000 people will have to figure out how to replace the gas boilers, heaters, stoves, and other appliances that rely on fossil fuels with electric equipment.


“We are being very aggressive,” the town’s director of sustainability, Luis Aguirre-Torres told the Washington Post. “I’m very excited, but at the same time, it’s a lot of work ahead.”

To help the college town, which is home to Cornell University, with its efforts to decarbonize, Ithaca turned to the New York-based startup BlocPower.


The company has already made a name for itself in New York, where it’s working to replace fossil fuel appliances and heaters with electric alternatives.

But the initiative in Ithaca marks a milestone and perhaps points the way forward for other cities around the country.


“There isn’t a single day where I don’t worry about what climate change means for our kids,” Donnel Baird, the co-founder of BlocPower told the Post. “To me, the hardest part is done. The hardest part is finding the city with the courage to make the commitment.”


Behind the push to replace fossil fuel in buildings is the fact that buildings account for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US (as the Post reported).


In Ithaca, reducing reliance on natural gas and oil in buildings would remove about 160,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Post report.


To fund the plan, Ithaca is turning to a mix of private equity, federal and state loans and manufacturer rebates. The project could cost at least $550 million based on city estimates.

But there’s a lot of money that’s looking to invest in green projects globally, which Ithaca — and other cities — could potentially tap.


Just yesterday, global investment firms managing over $100 trillion announced commitments to fund initiatives to mitigate climate change at the international summit on climate change being held right now in Glasgow.


“I don’t look at this as an environmental issue,” Aguirre-Torres told the Post. “It’s an economic issue that can be solved with creative financing schemes.”


Some companies are approaching individual homeowners with opportunities to replace their fossil fuel appliances and weatherize their homes. Those are companies like the FootPrint Coalition-backed startup Sealed.


The international COP26, has already produced significant financial and regulatory commitments from national leaders, but the actions that need to take place are local. And they look a lot like what Ithaca is doing.


“It’s something that’s replicable and scalable,” said Keith Kinch, in an interview. “Ithaca looks more like the rest of the country. The idea of being replicable fits more in Ithaca than in New York City.”


To find out more about FootPrint Coalition’s investments click here.

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