Ithaca Common Council and Town Board Endorse Report
This article provides the latest news about the Ithaca Green Building Policy, a groundbreaking sustainability initiative being led by the City of Ithaca and the Town of Ithaca.
In 2016, the City of Ithaca was awarded a $100,000 grant to study green building policies with the Town of Ithaca. In 2017 the City and the Town began working on the Green Building Policy (GBP) project with a local consultant team led by Stream Collaborative and sub-consultants Taitem Engineering and Randall+West Planners. The project team conducted a comprehensive study of Ithaca’s existing and future building stock, and of green building standards for new construction and the potential economic, social and environmental impacts of policies that incentivize or mandate those standards. The main deliverable of this project is the Green Building Policy Report, which provides background and results of the studies and makes policy recommendations for energy efficiency requirements and related incentives to substantially reduce carbon emissions in all new buildings while emphasizing and supporting affordability.
Details of the Proposed Policy
The recommended policy requires all new buildings and major renovations to be constructed in a way that will result in an estimated 40-50 percent reduction in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions compared to what New York State energy code currently requires. The policy would become more stringent in 2025, and by 2030 would require all new buildings to be designed to a net-zero energy standard, producing as much energy as they use on an annual basis.
The recommended policy offers two compliance paths to all property owners. The “Easy Path” is a point system where the builder chooses from a menu of over 20 features to achieve six points (equal to 40-50 percent GHG reduction). Using the Easy Path, it is possible to comply with the requirements using only “affordability-driven energy efficiency measures” that would keep construction costs the same or lower than the average new building. This focus on affordability is a unique strategy developed by the consultant team to address social equity issues. In addition, the point system highly incentivizes fossil-fuel-free development. For example, many points are awarded for the use of heat pumps, which operate on electricity as opposed to natural gas.
The second method of compliance is a “Whole Building Path” that allows the use of well-known third-party programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index to show 40-50 percent GHG reduction. The Whole Building Path allows more flexibility, but would likely have higher construction costs than the Easy Path.
The report also makes other recommendations, such as: 1) Consider conducting a similar study and policy for existing buildings; 2) Consider adopting a benchmarking policy to require the tracking of energy usage for existing buildings; 3) Consider evaluating an institutional compliance path; and 4) Develop specific requirements for buildings with large internal loads (such as labs).
Two members of the GBP project team recently presented at the 16th annual NYS Green Building Conference. While there, they also met with representatives from the NYSERDA team that is working on the New York State Stretch Energy Code. State Officials are very interested in what we are doing; Ithaca is one of only a few municipalities that have expressed early interest in using the Stretch Code (it is proposed to be used for smaller renovations under the GBP).
Project Oversight and Outreach
A steering committee made up of Town of Ithaca and City of Ithaca elected officials and senior staff members guided the project. An advisory committee made up of 13 community stakeholders met five times to provide feedback. In addition, extensive outreach was done to reach the general public, municipal boards, and other interested parties.
Through this review process, over 200 comments from several local organizations and community members were received. Many comments expressed general support, others stated that the policy recommendations are not strong enough to meet local climate goals. Comments from large institutions expressed concern with elements of the proposed policy and their ability to comply with the requirements. The final Ithaca Green Building Policy report incorporates changes and clarifications prompted by public comments.
The Green Building Policy report was adopted by the City of Ithaca Common Council on May 2 and accepted by the Town Board on May 7. Both municipalities have directed staff to codify the policy recommendations contained in the report. The draft legislation will then be reviewed and considered for adoption by Common Council and the Town Board.
Additional work, such as research and stakeholder outreach, is needed to provide a level of detail sufficient to develop code language for the green building policy. However, as documented in the public comments, it is important to stress that the need for careful vetting of any proposed legislation must be balanced with the need to act quickly to address climate change amidst a local building boom. A thorough but swift codification and adoption process will give the Town and the City of Ithaca the best chance of meeting their ambitious climate goals and securing Ithaca’s reputation as a leader in environmental action.