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Evanston may follow the lead of Ithaca, New York, which made headlines in November 2021 when it voted to electrify all 6,000 homes and buildings to help fulfill its ambitious climate goals
The City of Evanston hosted a webinar May 18 to discuss the steps Ithaca is taking and to consider whether Evanston should do the same.
Evanston must look at more drastic measures if it hopes to reach its goal of achieving 100% carbon neutrality by 2050, according to a recent presentation by Cara Pratt, the city’s Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator.
The city set a number of goals including carbon neutrality in 2018 when it passed its Climate Action and Resilience Plan, or CARP.
Ithaca’s sustainability and resilience plan, called the Green New Deal, resembles Evanston’s CARP but with a much more aggressive timeline of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
To do so, the Ithaca City Council approved a plan to electrify all of its buildings by partnering with BlocPower, a Black-owned climate tech company based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that helps finance, design and implement projects that create all-electric buildings.
BlocPower’s partnership with the City of Ithaca is the first of its kind, said Ariel Kalishman Walsh, the company’s Director of Enterprise Partnerships, during the webinar.
Kalishman Walsh explained that in the U.S., buildings are responsible for 30% of greenhouse gases.
“Deferred maintenance, poor ventilation and air quality can really make our lives incredibly unhealthy, in addition to having negative impacts on the climate,” Kalishman Walsh said. “However, buildings can also really be engines of opportunity and change.”
BlocPower simplifies the process of retrofitting, or updating a building to make it more energy-efficient, he said.
Typically, building owners looking to retrofit have to work with at least six stakeholders, including a contractor, an engineering partner, and a lender to finance the project, she said. BlocPower provides a single point of contact. The organization then coordinates the other stakeholders, while using a software that cuts costs throughout the process, she added.
To help with financing, BlocPower also offers a lease designed for low- and moderate- income community members.
“We pay for all of the installation upfront, and then we offer low predictable monthly payments over a 15-year life of the lease,” said Kalishman Walsh.
In its wide-scale projects, like the one in Ithaca, BlocPower works with community-based organizations and local leaders, to build trust with the community. BlocPower is also committed to workforce development and working to create a program that will train and employ community members.
“Together with Ithaca, we’re going to address emissions and create jobs, while keeping it affordable and accessible,” said Kalishman Walsh.
Luis Aguierre-Torres, Ithaca’s Director of Sustainability, discussed the overall steps the upstate New York city is taking to reach its 2030 carbon neutrality goal.
The city is looking to become more energy-efficient by improving insulation and ventilation systems, reducing overall miles traveled by vehicles and improving public transportation, Aguierre-Torres said.
Ithaca is also looking to electrify as many buildings, vehicles and appliances as possible, and to decarbonize by installing solar panels, he added.
Aguierre-Torres said the city’s top goal is creating carbon-neutral buildings, which could actually bring down overall emissions by more than 55%.
Ithaca is exploring how to go about implementing these changes in an equitable way, Aguierre-Torres said.
“Without climate justice, we have nothing,” he added.
The webinar concluded with some community questions. One of the questions addressed community engagement and how Ithaca drew community members to attend public meetings.
“The moment that you start talking about having a large scale program, people become interested,” said Aguirre-Torres.
He added that there was misinformation that has spread, but by being available to answer any question, sharing as much information as possible and hosting public meetings, the city of Ithaca showed that it was committed to hearing from the public, which helped engage the community.
Aguirre-Torres also said he learned a lesson early on the process that Evanston may benefit from. Many local sustainability groups in Ithaca also worked to electrify buildings, but on a much smaller scale.
He said one mistake he made was not collaborating with these organizations early enough and making them feel like they weren’t needed. Now, these organizations and the city collaborate on the program, he added.
Moderator Joel Freeman, a board member of Citizens Greener Evanston, concluded the webinar, saying “The city of Ithaca has been forging ahead with sustainability for quite a while now. This latest endeavor with BlocPower shows how much they’re willing to stretch to reach their goals.”