to the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative

Cornell and Ithaca Join Together in Finger Lakes Energy Compact

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Partnership Recognized by the UN

Cornell University and the City and Town of Ithaca on Sept. 24 officially became the first partnership between a college campus and city to be recognized by the United Nations in support of the international organization's sustainability goals.

The Finger Lakes Energy Compact was made to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 and transition to sustainable energy for all of Ithaca, aiming to support the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change and impart solutions towards a clean, just, renewable energy future.

“[The compact is] nothing more than a couple of stakeholders getting together in a group before the United Nations to do the best they can do to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy and increase access to clean energy,” said Luis Aguirre-Torres, the City of Ithaca’s new director of sustainability.

As part of the compact, the City of Ithaca is in the process of integrating community choice aggregation — purchasing renewable energy in bulk on behalf of all its residents to make the transition to more sustainable energy sources cheaper.

Another plan the compact implements is the Energy Efficiency Retrofit and Thermal Load Electrification Program, which aims to replace the use of natural gas in homes with electricity, Aguirre-Torres explained.

To accomplish this, the City and Town of Ithaca are in the process of creating the Ithaca Electrification Fund, which would offset some of the costs of replacing fossil fuel energy with renewables for its residents. The fund, in conjunction with providing financial assistance to lower-income communities, will help cover costs for the replacement of fossil fuel-based space and water heating systems with zero-cost energy performance lending and leasing programs.

Part of moving forward, Aguirre-Torres said, is showing the people of Ithaca what is possible.

“Everybody knows about climate change, but the next level is education on what’s possible and what’s not,” Aguirre-Torres said. “And what’s possible [is] figuring out a way of making it cheaper. That’s the way we make progress.”

The programs are only two of several steps being taken to move toward affordable and clean energy by 2030 — Sustainable Development Goal 7 of the United Nations Development Program.

“I’m very happy and proud to say [this is] the most aggressive program … in the entire country,” Aguirre-Torres said. “Nobody else in the U.S. is doing this.”

Aguirre-Torres sees the compact as essential because federal climate legislation is stagnating, which necessitates more local solutions.

“[Local governments] are literally the last line of defense,” Aguirre-Torres said. “If [the federal government is] not going to do it, I’m going to do it, because it’s not going to happen at the macro level. We tried that and we failed.”

In a major step towards the decarbonization of the building sector in the City and Town of Ithaca, the two municipalities recently adopted the Energy Code Supplement (ECS), implementing code requirements for new buildings and major renovations aimed at substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions while emphasizing affordability.

The City of Ithaca Common Council approved the ECS on May 5 and the Ithaca Town Board did so at its June 14 meeting.

- Meher Bhatia, Cornell Daily Sun, 10/19/21