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Ithaca will help property owners swap natural gas appliances for electric

Ithaca held a launch event for its Electrify Ithaca program at the Southside Community Center. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)
Ithaca held a launch event for its Electrify Ithaca program at the Southside Community Center. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

The City of Ithaca wants to make it easier for property owners to replace gas, oil or propane appliances with electric ones. The city launched its Electrify Ithaca program last week as part of the Ithaca Green New Deal initiative, which aims to completely eliminate the city's net carbon emissions by 2030.

"We need to move away from fossil fuels and embrace new technologies, including heat pumps, induction cooktops, and solar energy," said acting Mayor Laura Lewis.

The program is the result of a deal with Brooklyn-based green energy company BlocPower and private equity firm Alturus, based in Boston.

BlocPower will coordinate projects for home and building owners with local heating and electric contractors. Those projects could include installing electric heat pumps and new electric appliances. Home and building owners can also use the program to improve insulation in attics, windows and doors to improve energy efficiency.

BlocPower Chief of Engineering, Dom Lempereur said his company will also help property owners find rebates and subsidized loans to pay for the improvements.

"Decarbonization can be expensive for individuals, owners who are wanting to do the right thing for Ithaca," Lemperer said. "BlocPower will be offering financing options."

Ithaca is financing those subsidized loans with $100 million from private equity firm, Alturus.

The city estimates if all building owners opted in, Ithaca could cut its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40% — though that assumes the city could transition its electricity supply to all renewable sources.

Sarah Cox is a home energy advisor with Halco, one of the largest heating and electric contractors in the Finger Lakes. Cox works with clients on projects like the ones Electrify Ithaca hopes to promote.

Cox said before the program was rolled out, many of her clients were already willing to pay the upfront cost to transition their buildings to electric appliances and heating systems. But she said for others, the upfront cost is a major barrier.

"Often times it comes down to okay, it's gonna be [up to] $5,000 more, essentially, to make the environmentally preferable choice," Cox said. "And not everyone's ready to take that on, for good reason."

Cox said she's hopeful the new program will encourage more building owners to begin the process of swapping out their old gas appliances.

Thomas Hirasuna is one of those building owners. He's also a co-chair of the Finger Lakes chapter of the Climate Reality Project, a national climate change advocacy group.

Last year, Hirasuna swapped his gas stove for an electric cooktop. He's now in the process of changing out his gas furnace to a geothermal heat pump and plans to eventually replace his gas water heater with an electric one.

Despite the upfront costs, he's confident the change to electric is worth it long term, both financially and ethically.

"People may think natural gas is cheap, but there's heavy, heavy government subsidies towards an illusion that it's cheap," Hirasuna said.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed a set of laws designed to incentivize green energy retrofit projects like Hirasuna's.

State lawmakers are also currentlyconsidering a bill to restrict the use of fuels like natural gas. If passed, the All Electric Building Act would prohibit fossil fuel powered appliances or heating systems in new construction.