Using Low Risk Opt-in Loans to Decarbonize Buildings Equitably

Description: In 2019, the Common Council of Ithaca, New York approved the Ithaca Green New Deal (IGND), which allowed the city to assign additional staff and resources to create and implement a plan to decarbonize Ithaca. The city hired Luis Aguirre-Torres as Director of Sustainability to find ways to achieve Ithaca’s goal of decarbonization by 2030. This led to the implementation of the Energy Efficiency Retrofit and Thermal Load Electrification Program (EER-TLEP), one of ten programs included in the IGND to achieve Ithaca’s decarbonization goals. The EER-TLEP uses private equity to motivate building owners to decarbonize their buildings. Ithaca is creating a lending program to provide low- or no-interest loans to fund the program with private equity. Ithaca raised $100 million by offering investors entry to a large-scale, low-risk program with potential for considerable cash flow, which will facilitate rapid decarbonization of Ithaca’s 6,000 buildings.

On May 5, 2021, Ithaca approved the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement (IECS). The IECS established code requirements for new buildings and major renovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially while emphasizing affordability. In the fall of 2021, Ithaca hired BlocPower as a program manager in charge of a consortium of other companies and organizations to help with the implementation of the EER-TLEP. BlocPower is responsible for bringing the investors on board to pay the upfront costs of retrofitting buildings. The EER-TLEP could create over 400 jobs; the BlocPower Consortium is committed to meeting the labor demand through the local workforce.

Also in 2021, the IGND was refined as a people-first, socially-driven economic strategy in response to the economic and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The overall plan aims to create 1,000 new jobs by 2030 and promises to redirect half of the anticipated financial benefits to low-income residents. Through this program, home and building owners can maximize building performance, reduce energy use, and replace oil and gas use with cleaner energy. For example, a homeowner could take advantage of a low-interest opt-in loan to add insulation, install high-performance windows, and swap a gas furnace or gas hot water heater for heat pump technology, all of which would normally have a high upfront cost. This method serves multiple purposes: a) building owners save money in the long term with the lower utility costs, b) the city saves money from the improved performance of its own buildings and can use the savings to help fund the overall electrification program, and c) the city will redirect at least half of the economic, social, and environmental benefits to disadvantaged communities, which allows these communities to continue to take advantage of the program while also continuing to fund the program itself.

The program will remain affordable by reducing risk, bringing down the cost of capital through state and federal incentives and manufacturer rebates, and operating at scale. The program will be implemented in phases, with the first phase anticipating 1,000 buildings in the first 1,000 days. This will provide more consistent work for the contractors and lower overall procurement and material costs.


  • City-wide building decarbonization using low-risk loans
  • Community decarbonization by 2030
  • Redirect financial benefits to low-income residents
  • Reduce vehicle fleet emissions by 50% and transition to 100% renewable electricity for government operations by 2025


  • Net reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from buildings
  • Number of loans to low-income homeowners for building decarbonization
  • Net reduction of emissions from Ithaca’s vehicle fleet
  • Percentage of city government operations met by renewable electricity

Time to Implement: Two years to adopt; implementation expected to be complete in eight years (by 2030)


The Guardian – The US City that has raised $100m to climate-proof its buildings

City of Ithaca – Common Council Document

City of Ithaca – Common Council Agenda (see Agenda Item 5.5, page 154 of 211)

City of Ithaca – Retrofitting Electrification RFP

City of Ithaca – Green New Deal

CNBC – Ithaca is First US City to Begin 100% Decarbonization of Buildings

The Ithaca Voice – Ithaca’s Common Council approves a plan to decarbonize the City’s building stock that could “change the world”

Additional Information:

Buildings account for a large portion of carbon emissions in the United States (nearly 40% according to The Guardian), so it makes sense to target them first to create a large initial impact in the fight against climate change.

Decarbonizing buildings not only goes a long way toward fighting climate change, but it also goes a long way toward benefiting the economy, both on a government level and on an individual level.

According to Donnel Baird, BlocPower ( founder and CEO, 100 million buildings throughout America waste $100 billion every year on fossil fuels.

Rewiring America (, and believes that programs such as the IGND could electrify nearly 12 million households in the United States. If every one of those households were to commit fully to decarbonization, the reduced energy use would save an average of $750 per household per year

Code Red: What Municipalities Can Do (Dr. Aguirre-Torres’ presentation begins at about 1:02:00.)

Contact Info:

Luis Aguirre-Torres
Ithaca Director of Sustainability
(408) 219-1776

Svante Myrick
Mayor of Ithaca
(607) 274-6501

Donnel Baird
CEO and founder of BlocPower
(718) 924-2873

Sectors(s) Buildings, Energy, Equity
Date First Adopted June 5, 2019 (IGND) and November 3, 2021 (EER-TLEP Program)
Last Updated March 4, 2022
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